Jane Austen was born in 1775 and died in 1817, age 41.
She was the 7th Daughter of a rector (a Priest) in a town called Stevenson, in Hampshire where she and her family lived until they moved to Bath in 1801. There were only around 30 families in the whole of the town.
Austen had 1 sister (Cassandra who she was very close to) and 6 brothers
Though her family were members of the English gentry, they were never wealthy.
Austen's brothers went off into the world in various professions. Jane went to Boarding school age 7-11 then spent her time at home, where she made a life for herself as a writer.
In some ways Jane, like women of her social class and time, had a very small and restricted life. Lived with her parents until she died. An independent life for an unmarried woman in those days, in her social class was out of the question. She stayed for most of her life in the country she was born in.
Yet Austen is able to delve with such a sharp insight into characters and society. She had important relationships, and none more so than with her sister Cassandra. Cassandra said she never had a thought that she didn’t confide in Jane. She also read voraciously the new novel form and had the exciting stories of her French relatives.
Even though her books focus on the intricate rituals of courtship and marriage among the British middle class, neither she nor her sister Cassandra ever got married. When she was 27 it was thought that she was in love and when writing to her sister says she’s expecting a proposal from Thomas Lefroy. Instead though
He went away and she never saw him again. His family didn’t think she was good enough for him. Later Cassandra’s fiancé died in the West Indies when trying to make money so that they could get married.
After her father retired the family moved to Bath. But Jane preferred village life. When their father died her mother, sister and her settled in a small home on the estate of a relative. Jane fell very ill. She wrote sitting on a chair with her feet on another as she wrote. (so that her mother could sit on the only sofa). She died in 1817.
Her novels were published anonymously and her identity as the author was kept a secret until after her death, when her authorship became known. Though not unheard of for women to publish under their own names at the time, it was still a rarity. Austen was very modest about her work, but throughout her life produced some of the most well known masterpieces of English literature including her novels: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Persuasion.
England at the time of Austen’s life mostly rural. Cities were small and the workers mainly tended the land, but when Jane was seven years old the steam engine was invented and then the threshing machine. The industrial revolution had began.
The world of Jane Austen was totally different in many ways. How women are treated and how class governs people is very different to today. The customs and social rules for women for example were so different. Women didn’t have choices or powers we have in this part of the world today. To quote L P Hartley “the past is a foreign country – they do things differently there.”
Austen’s novels are famous for the way they seem to exist in small, self-contained universes. She creates a microcosm – a miniature world. There are almost no references in her work to the events of the larger world. This is perhaps the strength of her novels. She takes a situation and stays with it as though it is being looked at under a microscope. As she said “three or four families within a community is the very thing to work on.”
Jane is 14 when the French Revolution takes place. Austen lived through Britain’s wars against Napoleon, including both eh Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, when Napoleon was finally defeated by the British (two years before Austen’s death). All of Europe was embroiled in war and politic al chaos. No mention is ever made of the imminence of the French invasion. The war would have seemed impossibly far off in those days. Fifty miles would have seemed a big journey. These historic military events were not the subject of Austen’s work, although military officers often appear in her novels including P and P she looks and the social dynamics of their presence and their relevance on the lives of her characters like the Bennet sisters.
Austen’s work focuses on the middle and upper classes with which she was familiar, examining how people from these classes behaved, their snobberies, marriages and family lives.
Austen and the Novel Form
The novel is a long, developed prose, (not verse), fiction narrative
Between the late 18th and early 19th centuries, English literature underwent a dramatic transition. The 18th century had seen the rise of the novel in the works of writers like Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe and Mol Flanders) - sometimes. Defoe is called the Father of the Novel. These novels focused on broad social issues of morality and domestic manners.
With the turn of the century and the rise of Romanticism, however the novel began to explore human relationships with a greater degree of emotional complexity.
Jane Austen decided to be a novelist at the age of about 20. She is no a Classicist nor a Romantic, instead she led the way in the development of the novel, the bridge between the didactic novels of the earlier era to the great works of psychological realism of the Victorian period by writers such as George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. Her subject is human behaviour.
She had no time for gothic novels. (She pokes fun at them in Northanger Abbey). Instead P and P is all about psychology – why people do what they do. It’s not a book that relies on complicated plot. The action is in the minds’ of the characters especially Darcy and Elizabeth have to overcome the aspects of pride and prejudice within themselves to be able to come together. She created highly detailed portraits of character. This is how she described her work:
“The little bit of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush.”
It is through characters that she builds a story. She writes almost exclusively about the gentry – her own social class. She very rarely writes about other classes, and other than occasional references to servants as a plot device she stays to her own
Key facts about the novel
Pride and prejudice was
written from 1797 and published in 1813
Austen’s initial title for her manuscript was “First impressions.” Though the book was eventually published as Pride and Prejudice, in 1813 the initial title hints at the story’s concern for social appearances and the necessity of finding people’s true qualities beneath the surface.
Literary period: Classicism/ Romanticism
Genre: Novel of manners
A novel in 3 volumes released periodically
Written in chapters.
Structuring devices: letters, places and journeys
Climax the search for Lydia and Wickham
Setting: Herefordshire, London and Pemberley, all in England at some time during the Napoleonic Wars (1797-1815)
Setting in Jane Austen’s novel means strictly social background. She doesn’t write detailed descriptions of the weather, scenery to create atmosphere and mood, but she does give places moral significance for example places hold qualities that represent characters and themes.
Jane Austen disliked towns, and disasters happened there in her novels, e.g. Lydia unrestrained in Brighton
Darcy’s country house, Pemberley – she sees the order and grace that would’ve been part of her life.
Point of view
Third person omniscient
Antagonist: There is no single antagonist. The sins of Pride and prejudice function as the main antagonising force.
Pride and Prejudice was first adapted for movies in a 1940 production starting Laurence Olivier
It was made into a TV mini series in 1995, starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and Colin Firth as Mr Darcy
The latest version stars Keira Knightly as Elizabeth and was filmed in 2005