25/8/08

Jane Austen, Biography, Novels and literary works



Jane Austen was born December 16th, 1775 at Steventon, Hampshire, England (near Basingstoke). She was the seventh child (out of eight) and the second daughter (out of two), of the Rev. George Austen, 1731-1805 (the local rector, or Church of England clergyman), and his wife Cassandra, 1739-1827 (née Leigh). (See the silhouettes of Jane Austen's father and mother, apparently taken at different ages.) He had a fairly respectable income of about £600 a year, supplemented by tutoring pupils who came to live with him, but was by no means rich (especially with eight children), and (like Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice) couldn't have given his daughters much to marry on.
More than one reader has wondered whether the childhood of the character Catherine Morland in Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey might not reflect her own childhood, at least in part -- Catherine enjoys "rolling down the green slope at the back of the house" and prefers cricket and baseball to girls' play.
In 1783, Jane and her older sister Cassandra went briefly to be taught by a Mrs. Cawley (the sister of one of their uncles), who lived first in Oxford and then moved to Southampton. They were brought home after an infectious disease broke out in Southampton. In 1785-1786 Jane and Cassandra went to the Abbey boarding school in Reading, which apparently bore some resemblance to Mrs. Goddard's casual school in Emma. (Jane was considered almost too young to benefit from the school, but their mother is reported to have said that "if Cassandra's head had been going to be cut off, Jane would have hers cut off too".) This was Jane Austen's only education outside her family. Within their family, the two girls learned drawing, to play the piano, etc. (See "Accomplishments" and Women's Education.)
Jane Austen did a fair amount of reading, of both the serious and the popular literature of the day (her father had a library of 500 books by 1801, and she wrote that she and her family were "great novel readers, and not ashamed of being so"). However decorous she later chose to be in her own novels, she was very familiar with eighteenth century novels, such as those of Fielding and Richardson, which were much less inhibited than those of the later (near-)Victorian era. She frequently reread Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison, and also enjoyed the novels of Fanny Burney (a.k.a. Madame D'Arblay). She later got the title for Pride and Prejudice from a phrase in Burney's Cecilia, and when Burney's Camilla came out in 1796, one of the subscribers was "Miss J. Austen, Steventon". The three novels that she praised in her famous "Defense of the Novel" in Northanger Abbey were Burney's Cecilia and Camilla, and Maria Edgeworth's Belinda. (See also the diagram of Jane Austen's literary influences).See the Index of allusions to books and authors in Jane Austen's writings.
In 1782 and 1784, plays were staged by the Austen family at Steventon rectory, and in 1787-1788 more elaborate productions were put on there under the influence of Jane's sophisticated grown-up cousin Eliza de Feuillide (to whom Love and Freindship is dedicated). This throws an interesting light on Jane Austen's apparent disapproval of such amateur theatricals in her novel Mansfield Park (though Mansfield Park was written over twenty years afterwards, in a moral climate closer to the Victorian era; also, in 1788 one Charlotte Anne Frances Wattell eloped to Scotland with a son of the scandal-plagued Twistleton family, remotely connected by marriage with Jane Austen's family -- Mr. Twistleton and Miss Wattell had been acting together in amateur theatricals; see Tucker, p.152).
Jane Austen wrote her Juvenilia from 1787 to 1793; they include many humorous parodies of the literature of the day, such as Love and Freindship, and are collected in three manuscript volumes. They were originally written for the amusement of her family, and most of the pieces are dedicated to one or another of her relatives or family friends.
Earlier versions of the novels eventually published as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey were all begun and worked on from 1795 to 1799 (at this early period, their working titles were Elinor and Marianne, First Impressions, and Susan respectively). Lady Susan was also probably written during this period. In 1797, First Impressions/Pride and Prejudice was offered to a publisher by Jane Austen's father, but the publisher declined to even look at the manuscript.

Jane Austen's Brothers and SisterAusten family genealogical charts
Jane's eldest brother James (1765-1819) was studious, went away to Oxford university at the age of 14 in 1779, and was ordained a clergyman in 1787. He had some literary pretensions (see his poem on Sense and Sensibility), and in 1789-1790 edited (with Henry) a university magazine at Oxford called The Loiterer, which ran for sixty issues. (Some issues of The Loiterer are available on-line.) He took on the duties of the Steventon parish after his father's retirement. His second wife, Mary Lloyd, was not a favorite of Jane Austen's.
His daughter Anna (1793-1872), was Jane Austen's first niece; some pieces in the Juvenilia (written when Anna was an infant) are dedicated to her. During Jane Austen's life, she worked on a never-completed novel (to be titled Which is the Heroine?) with the help of her aunt's advice, but eventually destroyed it after Jane Austen's death.
Her younger half-siblings James Edward (1798-1874) and Caroline (1805-1880) also solicited their aunt's opinions on their youthful literary efforts (James Edward wrote a poem on being informed that Aunt Jane was the author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice). Later, Caroline wrote down her memories of Jane Austen, and James Edward (who took the last name Austen-Leigh after inheriting from his great-aunt and -uncle) wrote the Memoir.
Edward (1767-1852) was steady and business-like, and in the early 1780's was adopted by rich childless cousins of the Austens, Thomas and Catherine Knight. He was sent by them on the "grand tour" of continental Europe in 1786-1788, and eventually inherited their estate of Godmersham, Kent, and took the last name of "Knight".
His oldest child Fanny (1793-1882) was (along with Anna), one of Jane Austen's favorite nieces; some pieces in Jane Austen's Juvenilia were also dedicated to her in her infancy. Her mother died before she was sixteen. She asked her aunt Jane's advice about several of her unsettled romantic courtships, and about whether or not to break them off ( see the letters from Jane Austen to Fanny). (She finally married a baronet after Jane Austen's death; her son edited the first edition of Jane Austen's letters, and one of her descendents has married the daughter of Louis Mountbatten of Burma, a cousin to Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth II -- see this handy chart.) See the portrait of her by Cassandra (JPEG).
Henry (1771-1850) was Jane Austen's favorite brother; he was witty and enthusiastic in whatever he did, but not always successful. He entered Oxford University in 1788, married Eliza de Feuillide (who died in 1813), and eventually ended up as a Calvinist-leaning minister, after a business bankruptcy in 1815. He saw Jane Austen's novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey through the press after her death.
Cassandra Elizabeth (1773-1845) was Jane Austen's only sister, and her closest confidante. Over a hundred letters from Jane Austen to Cassandra have survived, giving us our most intimate look at some of the details of Jane Austen's life. Cassandra's fiancé Thomas Fowle died of yellow fever in the Caribbean in 1797; he had gone there as a military chaplain. Possibly Cassandra's experience is reflected in Mrs. Musgrove and Mrs. Croft's abomination of "long engagements" and "uncertain engagements" in Jane Austen's Persuasion (he and Cassandra had continued engaged since about 1794, due to lack of money; see "Money and Marriage"). After this, Cassandra never married. (See Cassandra's poem on love.) Cassandra (like Jane) frequently visited her brothers and their families, and other relatives and friends (it was the separations between herself and Jane, resulting from visits on which they did not both go, that necessitated the letters between them). See the silhouette of Cassandra.
Frank (1774-1865) and Charles (1779-1852) both entered the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth at the age of 12, fought in the British navy during the Napoleonic wars, and both eventually rose to become admirals. (Nelson once called Frank Austen "an excellent young man".) This naval connection influenced Jane's novels Mansfield Park and Persuasion. Frank was away at sea in the Far East from age 14 to 18.

Early adulthood at Steventon (-1801), and Bath (1801-1806)
Map of England, showing important places in Jane Austen's life
Rough map of Bath ca. 1800
Austen family genealogical charts
Jane Austen enjoyed social events, and her early letters tell of dances and parties she attended in Hampshire, and also of visits to London, Bath, Southampton etc., where she attended plays and such. There is a famous statement by one Mrs. Mitford that Jane was the "the prettiest, silliest, most affected, husband-hunting butterfly she ever remembers" (however, Mrs. Mitford seems to have had a personal jealousy against Jane Austen, and it is hard to reconcile this description with the Jane Austen who wrote The Three Sisters before she was eighteen).

There is little solid evidence of any serious courtships with men. In 1795-6, she had a mutual flirtation with Thomas Lefroy (an Irish relative of Jane Austen's close older friend Mrs. Anne Lefroy). On January 14th and 15th 1796, when she was 20, she wrote (somewhat sarcastically), in a letter to Cassandra:

"Tell Mary that I make over Mr. Heartley and all his estate to her for her sole use and benefit in future, and not only him, but all my other admirers into the bargain wherever she can find them, even the kiss which C. Powlett wanted to give me, as I mean to confine myself in future to Mr. Tom Lefroy, for whom I do not care sixpence. Assure her also, as a last and indisputable proof of Warren's indifference to me, that he actually drew that gentleman's picture for me, and delivered it to me without a sigh.
Friday. -- At length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over. My tears flow at the melancholy idea."

However, it was always known that he couldn't afford to marry Jane (see "Money and Marriage"). (Many years later, after he had become Chief Justice of Ireland, he confessed to his nephew that he had had a "boyish love" for Jane Austen.) A year later, Mrs. Lefroy (who had disapproved of her nephew Tom's conduct towards Jane) tried to fix Jane Austen up with the Rev. Samuel Blackall, a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, but Jane wasn't very interested.

In late 1800 her father, who was nearly 70, suddenly decided to retire to Bath (which would not have been Jane Austen's choice), and the family moved there the next year. During the years in Bath, the family went to the sea-side every summer, and it was while on one of those holidays that Jane Austen's most mysterious romantic incident occurred. All that is known is what Cassandra told various nieces, years after Jane Austen's death, and nothing was written down until years after that. While the family were staying somewhere on the coast (probably in south Devonshire, west of Lyme), Jane Austen met a young man who seemed to Cassandra to have quite fallen in love with Jane; Cassandra later spoke highly of him, and thought he would have been a successful suitor. According to Caroline "They parted -- but he made it plain he should seek them out again"; however, shortly afterwards they instead heard of his death! There is no evidence as to how seriously this disappointment affected Jane Austen, but a number of people have wondered whether or not Jane Austen's 1817 novel Persuasion might not reflect this experience to some degree, with life transmuted into art; Jane Austen would have been 27 (the age of Anne Elliot, the heroine of Persuasion) during 1802-1803, and a crucial scene in Persuasion takes place in Lyme.

A more clearly-known incident occurred on December 2nd. 1802, when Jane Austen and Cassandra were staying with the Bigg family at Manydown, near Steventon. Harris Bigg-Wither, who was six years younger than herself, proposed to Jane, and she accepted, though she did not love him (see "Marriage and the Alternatives"). However, the next day she thought better of it, and she and Cassandra showed up unexpectedly at Steventon (where their brother James was now the clergyman), insisting they be taken out of the neighbourhood to Bath the next day. This was socially embarrassing, but her heart does not seem to have been seriously affected -- Mr. Bigg-Withers, though prosperous, was "big and awkward".

Notoriously, none of Jane Austen's letters to Cassandra from June 1801 to August 1804, in which she probably would have alluded to these incidents, have been preserved. In the end, Jane Austen (like Cassandra), never married.

In 1803 Jane Austen actually sold Northanger Abbey (then titled Susan) to a publisher, for the far-from-magnificent sum of £10; however, the publisher chose not to publish it (and it did not actually appear in print until fourteen years later). It was probably toward the end of the Bath years that Jane Austen began The Watsons, but this novel was abandoned in fragmentary form.

In January 1805 her father died. As would have been the case for the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice if Mr. Bennet had died, the income due to the remaining family (Mrs. Austen and her two daughters, the only children still at home) was considerably reduced -- since most of Mr. Austen's income had come from clerical "livings" which lapsed with his death. So they were largely dependent on support from the Austen brothers (and a relatively small amount of money left to Cassandra by her fiancé), summing to a total of about £450 yearly. Later in 1805, Martha Lloyd (sister of James Austen's wife) came to live with Mrs. Austen, Cassandra, and Jane, after her own mother had died.



Maturity in Southampton (1806-1809) and Chawton (1809-1817)
Map of England, showing important places in Jane Austen's life
Jane Austen and places in the County of Hampshire, England
Austen family genealogical charts
In 1806 they moved from Bath, first to Clifton, and then, in autumn 1806, to Southampton. Two years later, Jane remembered (in a letter to Cassandra) with "what happy feelings of Escape!" she had left Bath. Southampton was conveniently near to the navy base of Portsmouth and the naval brothers Frank and Charles.

In 1809 Jane Austen, her mother, sister Cassandra, and Martha Lloyd moved to Chawton, near Alton and Winchester, where her brother Edward provided a small house on one of his estates. This was in Hampshire, not far from her childhood home of Steventon. Before leaving Southampton, she corresponded with the dilatory publisher to whom she had sold Susan (i.e. Northanger Abbey), but without receiving any satisfaction.

She resumed her literary activities soon after returning into Hampshire, and revised Sense and Sensibility, which was accepted in late 1810 or early 1811 by a publisher, for publication at her own risk. It appeared anonymously ("By a Lady") in October 1811, and at first only her immediate family knew of her authorship: Fanny Knight's diary for September 28, 1811 records a "Letter from Aunt Cass. to beg we would not mention that Aunt Jane wrote Sense and Sensibility"; and one day in 1812 when Jane Austen and Cassandra and their niece Anna were in a "circulating library" at Alton, Anna threw down a copy of Sense and Sensibility on offer there, "exclaiming to the great amusement of her Aunts who stood by, ``Oh that must be rubbish, I am sure from the title.''" There were at least two fairly favorable reviews, and the first edition eventually turned a profit of £140 for her.

Encouraged by this success, Jane Austen turned to revising First Impressions, a.k.a. Pride and Prejudice. She sold it in November 1812, and her "own darling child" (as she called it in a letter) was published in late January 1813. She had already started work on Mansfield Park by 1812, and worked on it during 1813. It was during 1813 that knowledge of her authorship started to spread outside her family; as Jane Austen wrote in a letter of September 25th 1813: "Henry heard P. & P. warmly praised in Scotland, by Lady Robert Kerr & another Lady; -- & and what does he do in the warmth of his brotherly vanity and Love, but immediately tell them who wrote it!". Since she had sold the copyright of Pride and Prejudice outright for £110 (presumably in order to receive a convenient payment up front, rather than having to wait for the profits on sales to trickle in), she did not receive anything more when a second edition was published later in 1813. A second edition of Sense and Sensibility was also published in October 1813. In May 1814, Mansfield Park appeared, and was sold out in six months; she had already started work on Emma. Her brother Henry, who then conveniently lived in London, often acted as Jane Austen's go-between with publishers, and on several occasions she stayed with him in London to revise proof-sheets. In October 1813, one of the Prince Regent's physicians was brought in to treat an illness that Henry was suffering from; it was through this connection that Jane Austen was brought into contact with Mr. Clarke.

At Steventon she and Cassandra had had a private "dressing room" next to their bedroom (in the later years, after their brothers had mainly moved out), which she used to write her Juvenilia and early versions of her first three novels in relative privacy. At Chawton, she didn't have any such study, and James Edward tells the story of the famous creaking door, which Jane Austen requested not be fixed, since it gave her warning of any approaching visitors, so that she could hide her manuscript before they came into the room.

In addition to her literary work, she often visited her brothers and their families, and other relatives and friends, and they sometimes came to Southampton or Chawton. She had a reputation for being able to keep young children entertained, and was also attached to her oldest nieces Fanny and Anna. In a letter of October 7th 1808, she wrote about her niece Fanny: "I found her... just what you describe, almost another Sister, -- & could not have supposed that a neice would ever have been so much to me". In a letter of October 30th 1815 she wrote to her young niece Caroline, after her sister Anna's first child had been born: "Now that you are become an Aunt, you are a person of some consequence & must excite great interest whatever you do. I have always maintained the importance of Aunts as much as possible, & I am sure of your doing the same now."

In a letter of November 6th 1813 (when she was 37 years old) she wrote: "By the bye, as I must leave off being young, I find many Douceurs in being a sort of chaperon [at dances], for I am put on the Sofa near the Fire & can drink as much wine as I like." A few days earlier she had written, "I bought a Concert Ticket and a sprig of flowers for my old age." (See also the reflections on the recompenses of old-maidhood from Emma.)

In December 1815 Emma appeared, dedicated to the Prince Regent. A second edition of Mansfield Park appeared in February 1816, but was not a sales success; her losses on the reprint of Mansfield Park ate up most of her initial profits on Emma.

She had started on Persuasion in August 1815, and finished it in August 1816 -- although during 1816 she was becoming increasingly unwell. In early 1816 her brother Henry's business went bankrupt; Edward lost £20,000.

In early 1817 she started work on another novel, Sanditon, but had to give it up in March. On April 27th she made her will (leaving almost everything to Cassandra), and on May 24 she was moved to Winchester for medical treatment. She died there on Friday, July 18th 1817, aged 41. It was not known then what had caused her death, but it seems likely that it was Addison's disease. (See also Cassandra's letters to Fanny Knight announcing Jane's death.) She was buried in Winchester Cathedral on July 24th 1817 (at that time, so we are told, women did not usually attend funerals -- three years afterwards, Victoria's mother was not allowed to attend her husband's funeral -- so Cassandra was not present).


Read the light poem that Jane Austen wrote soon before her death.
The inscription on her grave in the cathedral has become rather notorious in recent years. First, because it lays such emphasis on her "sweetness" and Christian humility, even though it is rather clear from Jane Austen's novels (let alone her letters) that she was no Fanny Price. However, this could well be simply the conventional (and somewhat empty) eulogistic pieties of the day, heightened by Henry Austen's mid-life crisis.

Jane Austen's Novels
Three of Jane Austen's six novels were written, at least in their first versions, before 1800, while the other three were not started until after Sense and Sensibility was accepted for publication in 1811. Jane Austen published four of the novels in her lifetime, and the two others were published together soon after her death in 1817; none of the books had her name on the title page (though the two posthumous works were published together with a short biographical preface by her brother Henry identifying her as the author for the first time). Her various minor works were not fully published until the 20th century.


Search the text of Jane Austen's six novels
In addition to the locations linked to here, the Project Gutenberg e-texts of the novels are also available from various mirror sites; for more information (or in case you should, unaccountably, want e-texts of books not by Jane Austen), the best place to start is The On-line Books Page.



Northanger Abbey
This playful short novel is the one which most resembles Jane Austen's Juvenilia. It is the story of the unsophisticated and sincere Catherine Morland on her first trip away from home, for a stay in Bath. There she meets the entertaining Henry Tilney; later, on a visit to his family's house (the "Northanger Abbey" of the title) she learns to distinguish between the highly charged calamities of Gothic fiction and the realities of ordinary life (which can also be distressing in their way). Like Jane Austen's Love and Freindship, this book makes fun of the conventions of many late 18th century literary works, with their highly wrought and unnatural emotions; some of this humor derives from the contrast between Catherine Morland and the conventional heroines of novels of the day (for an idea of the latter, see the Plan of a Novel).

An early version of the book was written under the title Susan (in 1798-99 according to Cassandra). It was actually the first of Jane Austen's novels sold to a publisher (a publisher named Crosby bought it in 1803 for £10). He advertised it as forthcoming, but never issued it. Jane Austen had the manuscript bought back more than ten years later, after several of her other novels had been published, and apparently made some revisions, but finally "put it on the shel[f]" (letter of March 13, 1816). It was only after her death in 1817 that her brother Henry finally had it published (together with Persuasion). The title "Northanger Abbey" was not chosen by Jane Austen (she referred to the book in her letter as "Miss Catherine").

The most famous quote from Northanger Abbey is probably Henry Tilney's pseudo-gothic satire (see also Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland on marriage vs. dancing, the "Defense of the Novel", the walk to Beechen Cliff (Henry and Eleanor Tilney with Catherine Morland), and quotes on the opposition between the "heroic" and the "natural"). (By the way, in this novel Jane Austen uses the word "baseball" -- the first person, as far as is known, to use this word in print by almost fifty years.)


Pemberley e-text of Northanger Abbey (divided into chapters).
Plain ASCII e-text of Northanger Abbey (available in uncompressed and compressed single-file versions from various Project Gutenberg sites).
C. E. Brock illustrations for Northanger Abbey.
Summary of Northanger Abbey (with *spoilers*).
Chronology of Northanger Abbey (Ellen Moody)
Silly cover of a printing of Northanger Abbey which was marketed as a gothic novel (USA, 1965) ; Equally silly inside blurb; compare the puffed-up cover blurb with the original quote
Handy map of Bath ca. 1800


Sense and Sensibility
This novel contrasts two sisters: Marianne, who, with her doctrines of love at first sight, fervent emotions overtly expressed, and admiration of the grotesque "picturesque", represents the cult of "sensibility"; and Elinor, who has much more "sense", but is still not immune from disappointments. Despite some amusing characters and true Jane Austen touches, it is not generally considered to be her best novel. According to Cassandra, it was probably the first of the novels to be started (sometime before 1797, under the early name Elinor and Marianne); it was worked on in 1797, and probably again heavily revised before publication in 1811.

It was the first of Jane Austen's novels to be published, and appeared without her name on the title page (only "By a Lady"). It was advertised as an `Interesting Novel', which meant (in the jargon of the day) that it was a love story. Jane Austen pledged herself to cover her publisher's losses, if necessary, but actually realized £140 in profit. It was one of only two novels that Jane Austen revised after publication, when a second edition came out in 1813. The first and second editions were probably not more than a thousand copies each, but the readership would have been very much larger, due to the institution of "circulating libraries" (book rental shops), and also the fact that the novel was published in three separately-bound volumes (as was the usual practice).


Pemberley e-text of Sense and Sensibility (divided into chapters).
Plain ASCII e-text of Sense and Sensibility (available in uncompressed and compressed single-file versions from various Project Gutenberg sites).
Genealogy charts for the characters in Sense and Sensibility.
Notes on Sense and Sensibility.
C. E. Brock illustrations for Sense and Sensibility.
Penguin's Reader's Guide to Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility, the movie (official site); (other site)


Pride and Prejudice
First published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has consistently been Jane Austen's most popular novel. It portrays the initial misunderstandings and later mutual enlightenment between Elizabeth Bennet (whose liveliness and quick wit have often attracted readers) and the haughty Darcy. Jane Austen wrote in a letter about Elizabeth, "I must confess that I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know". The title Pride and Prejudice refers (among other things) to the ways in which Elizabeth and Darcy first view each other. The original version of the novel was written in 1796-1797 under the title First Impressions, and was probably in the form of an exchange of letters; First Impressions was actually the first of Jane Austen's works to be offered to a publisher, in 1797 by Jane Austen's father, but the publisher turned it down without even looking at the manuscript.


Annotated HTML Hypertext of Pride and Prejudice on this server.
Chronology.
List of characters.
...including Genealogical Charts
List of passages illustrating the motifs of "pride" and "prejudice".
Notes on random topics, including the society of Jane Austen's day.
...including Notes on Education, Marriage, Status of Women, etc.
List of important places in Pride and Prejudice (and in Jane Austen's life), with map.
1895 Charles E. Brock illustrations for Pride and Prejudice [JPEG images] (includes notes on Regency clothing styles)

The latest version of my plain ASCII e-text of Pride and Prejudice, compressed in binary .zip format <260577> [See explanation of ".zip" here.]
Pemberley e-text of Pride and Prejudice (divided into chapters).
The 1995 TV version of Pride and Prejudice
Penguin's Reader's Guide to Pride and Prejudice


Mansfield Park
This novel, originally published in 1814, is the first of Jane Austen's novels not to be a revised version of one of her pre-1800 writings. Mansfield Park has sometimes been considered atypical of Jane Austen, as being solemn and moralistic, especially when contrasted with the immediately preceding Pride and Prejudice and the immediately following Emma. Poor Fanny Price is brought up at Mansfield Park with her rich uncle and aunt, where only her cousin Edmund helps her with the difficulties she suffers from the rest of the family, and from her own fearfulness and timidity. When the sophisticated Crawfords (Henry and Mary), visit the Mansfield neighbourhood, the moral sense of each marriageable member of the Mansfield family is tested in various ways, but Fanny emerges more or less unscathed. The well-ordered (if somewhat vacuous) house at Mansfield Park, and its country setting, play an important role in the novel, and are contrasted with the squalour of Fanny's own birth family's home at Portsmouth, and with the decadence of London.

Readers have a wide variety of reactions to Mansfield Park -- most of which already appear in the Opinions of Mansfield Park collected by Jane Austen herself soon after the novel's publication. Some dislike the character of Fanny as "priggish" (however, it is Edmund who sets the moral tone here), or have no sympathy for her forced inaction (doubtless, those are people who have never lacked confidence, or been without a date on Friday night!). Mansfield Park has also been used to draw connections between the "genteel" rural English society that Jane Austen describes and the outside world, since Fanny's uncle is a slave-owner (with an estate in Antigua in the Caribbean; slavery was not abolished in the British empire until 1833). Like a number of other topics, Jane Austen only chose to allude glancingly to the slave trade and slavery in her novels, though she was aware of contemporary debates on the subject. Mansfield Park was one of only two of Jane Austen's novels to be revised by her after its first publication, when a second edition came out in 1816 (this second edition was a failure in terms of sales).

Notes on some customs of the society of Jane Austen's day, which are part of the background to Mansfield Park, but which may not be intuitively obvious to modern readers:

Henry Crawford, as a young unrelated unmarried member of the opposite sex, is not entitled to give any personal gifts to Fanny Price. In allowing herself to be used as the conduit through which the necklace is given, Mary Crawford is committing a violation of etiquette or protocol -- and in doing this without Fanny Price's knowledge or consent, Mary Crawford is not acting with much discretion or kindness toward Fanny. (Chapter 26: "Miss Crawford, complaisant as a sister, was careless as a woman and a friend"; Chapter 36: "Do you mean, then, that your brother knew of the necklace beforehand? Oh! Miss Crawford, that was not fair.")
Similarly, Henry Crawford and Fanny Price are not entitled to correspond with each other, nor are Edmund Bertram and Mary Crawford. When Mary Crawford insists upon corresponding with Fanny Price, in order to use this correspondence to get around such restrictions, she isn't showing excessive delicacy or consideration for Fanny here either. (See Engagement and the Propriety of Correspondence.)

See some further notes on the proprieties (and modern misconceptions thereof).
N.B. -- Fanny Price is not in line to become the new Lady Bertram at the end of Mansfield Park, despite what some noted critics have said, unless there is some new unforseen occurrence that bumps off Tom Bertram: -- towards the end of the novel, Tom is recovering from his illness (and still marriageable), and Edmund and Fanny's move to Mansfield Parsonage a few years after their marriage (as reported in the last paragraph of the novel) probably indicates that Tom is then still alive.


Pemberley e-text of Mansfield Park (divided into chapters).
Plain ASCII e-text of Mansfield Park (available in uncompressed and compressed single-file versions from various Project Gutenberg sites).
Opinions of Mansfield Park, collected by Jane Austen
E-texts of Lovers' Vows by Kotzebue, translated by Inchbald:
Lovers' Vows as it appeared in Chapman's edition of Mansfield Park
Scholarly-edited text (with ponderous academic introduction)

A dialogue on the custom of girls' coming "Out"
Passages from Mansfield Park that detail Fanny Price's endearing imperfections
A Men-only dialogue in Mansfield Park
Genealogical Charts for Mansfield Park
A chronology for Mansfield Park
A comparison between the characters Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park and Darcy of Pride and Prejudice
C. E. Brock illustrations for Mansfield Park (in color)
Program of a recent conference on Mansfield Park
Ellen Moody in defense of Edmund Bertram (from the AUSTEN-L discussion list)
Comments and illustrations of harp-playing Regency ladies, in relation to chapter 7 of Mansfield Park
.gif image of funny cover illustration for a Spanish translation (`El Parque de Mansfield') [Courtesy Goucher College]
The definitive Fanny-bashing (if you can't top this, don't even bother trying to insult Fanny Price!)
What Fanny Price would have to do for some people not to find her "insipid"!
A concept illustration for a possible alternative ending to Mansfield Park (one that many people may find just as believable as Fanny getting together with Henry C.! )


Emma
Emma, published in 1815, has been described as a "mystery story without a murder". The eponymous heroine is the charming (but perhaps too clever for her own good) Emma Woodhouse, who manages to deceive herself in a number of ways (including as to who is really the object of her own affections), even though she (and the reader) are often in possession of evidence pointing toward the truth. Like Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, she overcomes self-delusion during the course of her novel. The book describes a year in the life of the village of Highbury and its vicinity, portraying many of the various inhabitants.

Emma was dedicated to the dissolute Prince Regent (George Augustus Frederick), at his request; he was the uncle of Victoria, and was Prince Regent from 1811-1820 and later king George IV (1820-1830). Jane Austen was apparently not especially pleased by this honour (see her letter on the infidelities of the Prince and his wife). This episode was productive of her amusing correspondence with Mr. Clarke.


Pemberley e-text of Emma (divided into chapters).
Plain ASCII e-text of Emma (available in uncompressed and compressed single-file versions from various Project Gutenberg sites).
Emma on Old-maidhood
A sensual scene from Emma
The charades and riddle in Emma (with answers)
Genealogy charts for the characters in Emma
Chronology of Emma (Ellen Moody)
Kali's Emma page
The 1997 TV version of Emma
Clueless, the Movie.


Persuasion
This relatively short novel, her last, was written in the last few years of Jane Austen's life, and published only after her death in 1817 (though she described it, in a letter of March 13 1816, as "a something ready for publication", she probably would have revised it further, if she had not already been ill with her eventually fatal disease by the time she stopped working on it). It involves an older heroine than any of her other novels do (Anne Elliot is 27), and is also the only novel whose events are explicitly dated to a specific year (1814-1815). Eight years before the novel begins, Anne Elliot (whom Jane Austen described in one of her letters as a "heroine [who] is almost too good for me") had been persuaded by an older friend of the family, whom she respects, to give up her engagement to the then-poor Captain Wentworth. Like Mansfield Park, this novel has a number of characters who are in the navy (two of Jane Austen's brothers were sailors), and several warm-hearted naval families are attractively depicted; these contrast favorably with Anne's own family, in which she is overlooked by her vain and rank-proud Baronet father and her cold and selfish elder sister. In its autumnal mood, this novel is more serious in tone than most of Jane Austen's other works, and perhaps is the most conventionally "romantic" of them (and thus the one which has given rise to the most speculation about her own affairs of the heart -- for example, by Kipling); however, there is still plenty of Jane Austen irony. Persuasion also contains more description of background and natural beauty than the previous novels. In her admiration for the seaside town of Lyme and dislike of Bath, Anne Elliot reflects her creator's preferences.

After she had finished the first version of Persuasion, Jane Austen was dissatisfied with the chapter in which Anne Elliot and the "unconsciously constant" Captain Wentworth are reconciled; she then wrote two replacement chapters which are universally considered much better than the first attempt. The manuscript of the cancelled chapter is the only original manuscript of any part of Jane Austen's published novels which has survived.


Pemberley e-text of Persuasion (divided into chapters).
Plain ASCII e-text of Persuasion (available in uncompressed and compressed single-file versions from various Project Gutenberg sites).
The "cancelled chapters" of Persuasion
A list of all the occurences of the words "persuade"/"persuasion" in the novel
Advertisement for Gowlands' Lotion, from Ackermann's Repository 1809 (for ladies who want to carry away their freckles)
Genealogy charts for the characters in Persuasion
Chronology of Persuasion (Ellen Moody)
Penguin's Reader's Guide to Perusasion
C. E. Brock illustrations for Persuasion.
Handy map of Bath ca. 1800
Persuasion, the movie


Minor Writings
Jane Austen's minor writings (besides her letters) include the Juvenilia (early short pieces written for the amusement of her family, before she had started on any of her novels), several incomplete beginnings of novels, Lady Susan, the Plan of a Novel, some light verse, some prayers, and a few other miscellaneous fragments.



Juvenilia
The Juvenilia mainly consist of short satiric and farcical pieces (such as Love and Freindship or Frederic & Elfrida), with some serious or darker ones (such as The Three Sisters). They were written when Jane Austen was approximately from thirteen to seventeen years old, and then copied into three volumes. Some of the humor resembles that of Ambrose Bierce ("I murdered my father at a very early period in my Life, I have since murdered my mother, and I am now going to murder my sister"), or Lewis Caroll ("The noble youth informed us that his name was Lindsay -- for particular reasons I will conceal it under that of Talbot"; or "My dear Sophia, be not uneasy at having exposed yourself -- I will turn the conversation without appearing to notice it"), and some of it has a Monty Python-esque flavor (Bless me! There ought to be eight chairs and there are but six. However, if your Ladyship will but take Sir Arthur in your lap, and Sophy my brother in hers, I believe we shall do pretty well"). As in her novel Northanger Abbey she burlesques the literary conventions of the day ("Her father was of noble birth, being the near relation of the Duchess of ----'s butler"). For example, this dialogue introduces two characters in a play-let:

Pistoletta:
Pray papa, how far is it to London?
Popgun:
My girl, my darling, my favourite of all my children, who art the picture of thy poor mother who died two months ago, with whom I am going to town to marry to Strephon, and to whom I mean to bequeath my whole estate, it wants seven miles.
(The same mini-play also includes this "immortal couplet":
"I am going to have my dinner,
After which I shan't be thinner".)

It is interesting that Jane Austen allows herself a broader range of topics in the Juvenilia than in her novels; for example, in Jack and Alice she deals tragicomically with alcoholism, a fairly common vice of the day, but one which she only tangentially alludes to in her novels. The Juvenilia are not merely humorous; a few, like Catharine, or the Bower look forward to her novels. The Three Sisters is a downright brutal character sketch, as raw a portrayal of the sordid side of the "marriage market" as a feminist could wish. And what feminist couldn't find material in the story of Miss Jane in the Collection of Letters, whose husband dies while her marriage is still a secret, and who then, unable to bear the thought of assuming her husband's name only after his death, and "conscious of having no right to" her father's name, "dropped all thoughts of either", and made a point of bearing only her first name?

I can't resist giving one more quote from the Juvenilia, a character's description of her niece from Lesley Castle: "The dear creature is just turned of two years old -- as handsome as though two and twenty, as sensible as though two and thirty, and as prudent as though two and forty. To convince you of this, I must inform you that she has a very fine complexion and very pretty features, that she already knows the first two letters of the alphabet, and that she never tears her frocks. -- If I have not now convinced you of her Beauty, Sense, and Prudence, I have nothing more to urge in support of my assertion."


E-text of Henry and Eliza
E-text of Sir William Mountague
Miscellaneous fragments of splendid nonsense from the Juvenilia
See also another site with e-texts of some of the Juvenilia.


Love and Freindship
Along with a satirical "History of England", Love and Freindship (usually cited in Jane Austen's original spelling) is the most famous of her Juvenilia. This is an exuberant parody (in epistolary form) of the cult of sensibility, which she later criticized in a more serious way in her novel Sense and Sensibility. For the main characters in Love and Freindship, including the narrator Laura, violent and overt emotion substitutes for morality and common sense. Characters who have this "sensibility" fall into each other's arms weeping the first time they ever meet, and on suffering any misfortune are too preoccupied with indulging their emotions to take any effective action ("Ah! what could we do but what we did! ... It was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself -- We fainted alternately on a sofa"). They use their fine feelings as the excuse for any misdeeds, and despise characters without such feelings:

"They said he was sensible, well informed, and agreeable; we did not pretend to judge of such trifles, but ... we were convinced he had no soul [because] he had never read The Sorrows of Werter [by Goethe]."
There are also parodies of such novelistic conventions as unlikely meetings between long-lost relatives, true love thwarted by parental opposition, the low-ranking character who is actually of noble birth, etc. Probably the most famous quote from Love and Freindship is the following last words of the dying Sophia, who relates the disadvantages of her method of reacting to a previous catastrophe:

"My beloved Laura, take warning from my unhappy End, and avoid the imprudent conduct which had occasioned it... Beware of fainting-fits... Though at the time they may be refreshing and agreeable, yet believe me they will in the end, if too often repeated and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your constitution... One fatal swoon has cost me my Life... Beware of swoons, dear Laura... A frenzy-fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the Body and if not too violent, is I dare say conducive to Health in its consequences -- Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint --"
Annotated Hypertext of Love and Freindship


Lady Susan
This novella, written in the form of an exchange of letters, portrays an amoral personality who would be termed a "psychopath" in modern jargon -- that is, someone who doesn't believe that any laws or rules of conduct apply to themselves. The recently-widowed Lady Susan Vernon is determined to make financially attractive marriages for both herself and her shy and intimidated teenaged daughter Frederica; Lady Susan wavers as to her course of action, but is always ready to lie and pretend to be inoffensive and humble, in order to get her way. Aside from its interest as a character study, Lady Susan is the only time that Jane Austen deals with the decadent London high society of the day (now loosely called "Regency").


Go to e-text of Lady Susan.
Plain ASCII e-text of Lady Susan, compressed in binary .zip format <49888> [See explanation of ".zip" here.]


The Watsons
This fragment of a novel was written by Jane Austen about 1803-1805, but was not published until 1871, as part of James Edward Austen-Leigh's Memoir (Jane Austen had left it untitled; the title "The Watsons" was provided by Austen-Leigh). It describes Emma Watson's return, after a long absence, to her family, who are on the lower financial fringes of the "genteel". She attracts the interest of a nobleman (and according to tradition in Jane Austen's family, she was later to receive and refuse an offer of marriage from him, and marry a clergyman). It is not clear why Jane Austen did not continue this fragment -- perhaps because of her father's death; or because she was discouraged by the fact that after she succeded in selling her first novel (Susan, an earlier version of Northanger Abbey, for a nominal sum in 1803), the publisher decided not to publish after all, and sat on the manuscript; or because she did not want to sustain the tone of almost "painful realism" (according to Jenkins) with which she had begun.


Go to e-text of The Watsons.
Plain ASCII e-text of The Watsons, compressed in binary .zip format <39035> [See explanation of ".zip" here.]


Sanditon
Jane Austen wrote this fragment in the last year of her life (1817), while she was still well enough to write. Much lighter in tone than her last novel Persuasion, which she had recently finished, it describes the visit of Charlotte Heywood to the seaside village of Sanditon, recently developed and promoted as a resort, and the various amusing and/or unpleasant characters she meets there. This fragment is particularly frustrating in that it breaks off just as it has finished setting the scene and introducing the characters (in a very promising way), and the "plot" proper is to begin. This is why it is a favorite with continuators (see David Hopkinson's article in Grey et. al. and the bibliography of Jane Austen sequels; a recent fairly well-received completion to Sanditon, by Anne Telscombe (?), was published in 1975).


Sir Edward Denham's sense and literary taste (or lack thereof)


Her Light Verse
Jane Austen also wrote some amusing light verse, a few specimens of which are given below; see also the poetry included in Brabourne's edition of her letters, a letter to her brother Frank in the form of a poem (congratulating him on the birth of a son, and looking forward to the Austen women's move to Chawton), and her "charades" (rhymed word puzzles): 1st, 2nd. Some poems on Jane Austen are also available, and there is an external site which has collected the poetry attributed to Jane Austen.


Hollywood movies based on Austen:




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