by Katie McBride Earley (AKA my best friend-and a brilliant reader and writer. She's writing about her favorite author. I hope you enjoy it as I have. I'd love to have some of you write about your favorite authors/books as well!)
I love Jane Austen. I have for years. It's a good time to love Jane because she's been pretty popular this past decade or so thanks to Colin Firth jumping into a pond and a flurry of films starting with Emma Thompson's remake of Sense and Sensibility. I must admit that the latter is what brought me to Jane in the first place.
(Side note: It has taken me years to get comfortable with calling Ms. Austen by her first name. I strongly feel that if you're just getting to know her, you should address her by her full name or Ms. Austen.)
1. Jane Austen is not a Victorian writer. Queen Victoria didn't take the throne until 20 years after Jane's death. If Jane Austen was a Victorian writer, Lydia and probably 90% of the cast of Mansfield Park would have died for their sins and general annoyingness (or at least gone blind). Jane wrote during the Regency or Georgian period - the early 1800s.
2. Jane Austen has nothing to do with Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte (Emily? No Charlotte.) Bronte. It is a travesty of our public school system the number of people who have asked me if Jane Austen wrote Jane Eyre or vice versa. Jane Eyre IS a Victorian novel.
3. Jane Austen is NOT, I repeat--NOT!, chick lit. Jane Austen might have inspired some good chick lit (I heart Bridget Jones a lot.), she might have some similar plots to chick lit (Chick lit stole from her, don't blame Jane!), but Jane is so much more than chick lit.
- Yes, all of Austen's novels end in happy marriages for the heroines. The bulk of the novels follow the heroines' path to the happy marriage, against a variety of odds. But Austen's heroines have a lot more at stake than love and happiness.
- During Austen's time, women could not work and were generally incapable of supporting themselves. (Jane never married but had brothers to help support her.) All the acceptable occupations (governess or...governess) for women were about as appealing as burger flipping at McDonald's. Jane's heroines had to marry (except for Emma and Anne...well, maybe Anne because her dad was wasting their fortunes) in order to stay off the streets and out of the school room. Next time you chuckle at Elizabeth's refusal of Mr. Collins and roll your eyes at Mrs. Bennet (which I do every time), keep in mind that Elizabeth's deprived her family of financial security. It all turns out well in the end, but at that point they have no guarantees that they won't be turned out into the streets. Say what you want about crazy Mrs. Bennet, but she is much more pragmatical about her family's future than Mr. Bennet.
- Courtships in Austen have a lot more at stake than those in any book at Borders with a pink cover. It's not quite a matter of life and death, but it's close.
- Not all of Austen's characters have a happy ending. For every good marriage in Austen there are at least two unhappy ones: the Bennets, all of the Ferrars except Edward and Elinor, the Prices, the Wickhams, the Willoughbys, the Rushworths. Austen's characters lead by example and non-example. Even if it doesn't explicitly say so in the title (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion), most of her books evaluate some sort of character flaw. It's okay to love Bridget Jones just as she is; Austen's girls and boys generally still have some growing up to do. Austen gives us some good love stories and some gentle reminders on how not to suck at life.
- Austen's novels are also full of examples of the problems with society and how people treat each other within the bounds of society. They perfect example is Elizabeth and Darcy. As important to the story as how they overcome their pride and prejudices, there are multiple examples of how others are overly proud and prejudiced, and how we all need to look past certain classifications and evaluate people for who they are and not where there money came from. Lady Catherine says Elizabeth is inferior to Darcy, but came Elizabeth reminds her that she is a gentleman's daughter and Darcy is a gentleman's son. For all of Lady Catherine's "good breeding," her manners are about as polished as Mrs. Bennet's. Ultimately the Darcys find companionship with the Gardiners, who are -Heaven forbid! - in trade, but are good, sensible people.
Just some things to keep in mind next time you snuggle up with Darcy, Wentworth, Knightley...pick your prince! Happy reading!!
Katie blogs about random things generally related to her failed attempts at being a domestic goddess and funny YouTube videos at Whims and Inconsistencies. (All you P&P fans should know where that title's from!). Please note that despite being a member of JASNA, having read Pride and Prejudice six times (Sense and Sensibility four times) and her time as an English major, she is not an actual Austen scholar but more of a crazed fan. To make an analogy: 13-year-old girl : Jonas Brothers :: Katie : Jane Austen.