Jane Austen

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Posted by r2d2 04/08/2009 @ 09:15

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Jane Austen

The "cottage" in Chawton where Jane Austen lived during the last eight years of her life, now Jane Austen's House Museum

Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) was an English novelist whose realism, biting social commentary and masterful use of free indirect speech, burlesque, and irony have earned her a place as one of the most widely read and most beloved writers in English literature.

Austen lived her entire life as part of a small and close-knit family located on the lower fringes of English gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to Austen's development as a professional writer. Austen's artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years until she was about thirty-five years old. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she tried and then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but died before completing it.

Austen's works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the eighteenth century and are part of the transition to nineteenth-century realism. Austen's plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Like those of Samuel Johnson, one of the strongest influences on her writing, her works are concerned with moral issues.

During Austen's lifetime, because she chose to publish anonymously, her works brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews. Through the mid-nineteenth century, her novels were admired only by members of the literary elite. However, the publication of her nephew's A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869 introduced her to a wider public as an appealing personality and kindled popular interest in her works. By the 1940s, Austen was widely accepted in academia as a "great English writer". The second half of the twentieth century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship, which explored many aspects of her novels: artistic, ideological, and historical. In popular culture, a Janeite fan culture has developed, centred on Austen's life, her works, and the various film and television adaptations of them.

Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is "famously scarce", according to one biographer. Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen's 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned "the greater part" of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane's brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen's death was written by her relatives and reflects the family's biases in favour of "good quiet Aunt Jane". Scholars have unearthed little information since.

Jane Austen's father, William George Austen (1731–1805), and his wife, Cassandra (1739–1827), were members of substantial gentry families. George was descended from a family of woollen manufacturers which had risen through the professions to the lower ranks of the landed gentry. Cassandra was a member of the prominent Leigh family. From 1765 until 1801, that is, for much of Jane's life, George Austen served as the rector of the Anglican parishes at Steventon, Hampshire and a nearby village. From 1773 until 1796, he supplemented this income by farming and by teaching three or four boys at a time who boarded at his home.

Austen's immediate family was large: six brothers—James (1765-1819), George (1766-1838), Edward (1767–1852), Henry Thomas (1771–1850), Francis William (Frank) (1774-1865), Charles John (1779–1852)—and one sister, Elizabeth Cassandra (1773–1845), who, like Jane, died unmarried. Elizabeth Cassandra was Austen's closest friend and confidante throughout her life. Of her brothers, Austen felt closest to Henry, who became a banker and, after his bank failed, an Anglican clergyman. Henry was also his sister's literary agent. His large circle of friends and acquaintances in London included bankers, merchants, publishers, painters, and actors: he provided Austen with a view of social worlds not normally visible from a small parish in rural Hampshire. George was sent to live with a local family at a young age because, as Austen biographer Le Faye describes it, he was "mentally abnormal and subject to fits". He may also have been deaf and mute. Charles and Frank served in the navy, both rising to the rank of admiral. Edward was adopted by his fourth cousin, Thomas Knight, inheriting Knight's estate and taking his name in 1812.

Austen was born on 16 December 1775 at Steventon rectory and publicly christened on 5 April 1776. After a few months at home, her mother placed Austen with Elizabeth Littlewood, a woman living nearby who nursed and raised Austen for a year or eighteen months. In 1783, according to family tradition, Jane and Cassandra were sent to Oxford to be educated by Mrs. Ann Cawley and they moved with her to Southampton later in the year. Both girls caught typhus and Jane nearly died. Austen was subsequently educated at home, until leaving for boarding school with her sister Cassandra early in 1785. The school curriculum probably included some French, spelling, needlework, dancing and music and, perhaps, drama. By December 1786, Jane and Cassandra had returned home because the Austens could not afford to send both of their daughters to school. Austen acquired the remainder of her education by reading books, guided by her father and her brothers James and Henry. George Austen apparently gave his daughters unfettered access to his large and varied library, was tolerant of Austen's sometimes risqué experiments in writing, and provided both sisters with expensive paper and other materials for their writing and drawing. According to Park Honan, a biographer of Austen, life in the Austen home was lived in "an open, amused, easy intellectual atmosphere" where the ideas of those with whom the Austens might disagree politically or socially were considered and discussed. After returning from school in 1786, Austen "never again lived anywhere beyond the bounds of her immediate family environment".

Private theatricals were also a part of Austen's education. From when she was seven until she was thirteen, the family and close friends staged a series of plays, including Richard Sheridan's The Rivals (1775) and David Garrick's Bon Ton. While the details are unknown, Austen would certainly have joined in these activities, as a spectator at first and as a participant when she was older. Most of the plays were comedies, which suggests one way in which Austen's comedic and satirical gifts were cultivated.

Perhaps as early as 1787, Austen began to write poems, stories, and plays for her own and her family's amusement. Austen later compiled "fair copies" of 29 of these early works into three bound notebooks, now referred to as the Juvenilia, containing pieces originally written between 1787 and 1793. There is manuscript evidence that Austen continued to work on these pieces as late as the period 1809–11, and that her niece and nephew, Anna and James Edward Austen, made further additions as late as 1814. Among these works are a satirical novel in letters entitled Love and Freindship , in which she mocked popular novels of sensibility, and The History of England, a manuscript of 34 pages accompanied by 13 watercolour miniatures by her sister Cassandra. Austen's History parodied popular historical writing, particularly Oliver Goldsmith's History of England (1764). Austen wrote, for example: "Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, after having prevailed on his cousin & predecessor Richard the 2nd, to resign it to him, & to retire for the rest of his Life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered." Austen's Juvenilia are often, according to scholar Richard Jenkyns, "boisterous" and "anarchic"; he compares them to the work of eighteenth-century novelist Laurence Sterne and the twentieth-century comedy group Monty Python.

As Austen grew into adulthood, she continued to live at her parents' home, carrying out those activities normal for women of her age and social standing: she practiced the pianoforte, assisted her sister and mother with supervising servants, and attended female relatives during childbirth and older relatives on their deathbeds. She sent short pieces of writing to her newborn nieces Fanny Catherine and Jane Anna Elizabeth. Austen was particularly proud of her accomplishments as a seamstress. She also attended church regularly, socialized frequently with friends and neighbours, and read novels—often of her own composition—aloud with her family in the evenings. Socializing with the neighbours often meant dancing, either impromptu in someone's home after supper or at the balls held regularly at the assembly rooms in the town hall. Her brother Henry later said that "Jane was fond of dancing, and excelled in it".

In 1793, Austen began and then abandoned a short play, later entitled Sir Charles Grandison or the happy Man, a comedy in 6 acts, which she returned to and completed around 1800. This was a short parody of various school textbook abridgments of Austen's favourite contemporary novel, The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753), by Samuel Richardson. Honan speculates that at some point not long after writing Love and Freindship in 1789, Austen decided to "write for profit, to make stories her central effort", that is, to become a professional writer. Whenever she made that decision, beginning in about 1793, Austen began to write longer, more sophisticated works.

After finishing Lady Susan, Austen attempted her first full-length novel—Elinor and Marianne. Her sister Cassandra later remembered that it was read to the family "before 1796" and was told through a series of letters. Without surviving original manuscripts, there is no way to know how much of the original draft survived in the novel published in 1811 as Sense and Sensibility.

When Austen was twenty, Tom Lefroy, a nephew of neighbours, visited Steventon from December 1795 to January 1796. He had just finished a university degree and was moving to London to train as a barrister. Lefroy and Austen would have been introduced at a ball or other neighbourhood social gathering, and it is clear from Austen's letters to Cassandra that they spent considerable time together: "I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together." The Lefroy family intervened and sent him away at the end of January. Marriage was impractical, as both Lefroy and Austen must have known. Neither had any money, and he was dependent on a great-uncle in Ireland to finance his education and establish his legal career. If Tom Lefroy later visited Hampshire, he was carefully kept away from the Austens, and Jane Austen never saw him again.

Austen began work on a second novel, First Impressions, in 1796 and completed the initial draft in August 1797 when she was only 21. (it would later become Pride and Prejudice); as with all of her novels, Austen read the work aloud to her family as she was working on it and it became an "established favourite". At this time, her father made the first attempt to publish one of her novels. In November 1797, George Austen wrote to Thomas Cadell, an established publisher in London, to ask if he would consider publishing "a Manuscript Novel, comprised in three Vols. about the length of Miss Burney's Evelina" (First Impressions) at the author's financial risk. Cadell quickly returned Mr. Austen's letter, marked "Declined by Return of Post". Austen may not have known of her father's efforts. Following the completion of First Impressions, Austen returned to Elinor and Marianne and from November 1797 until mid-1798, revised it heavily; she eliminated the epistolary format in favour of third-person narration and produced something close to Sense and Sensibility.

During the middle of 1798, after finishing revisions of Elinor and Marianne, Austen began writing a third novel with the working title Susan—later Northanger Abbey—a satire on the popular Gothic novel. Austen completed her work about a year later. In early 1803, Henry Austen offered Susan to Benjamin Crosby, a London publisher, who paid £10 for the copyright. Crosby promised early publication and went so far as to advertise the book publicly as being "in the press", but did nothing more. The manuscript remained in Crosby's hands, unpublished, until Austen repurchased the copyright from him in 1816.

In December 1800, Rev. Austen unexpectedly announced his decision to retire from the ministry, leave Steventon, and move the family to Bath. While retirement and travel were good for the elder Austens, Jane Austen was shocked to be told she was moving from the only home she had ever known. An indication of Austen's state of mind is her lack of productivity as a writer during the time she lived at Bath. She was able to make some revisions to Susan, and she began and then abandoned a new novel, The Watsons, but there was nothing like the productivity of the years 1795-1799. Tomalin suggests this reflected a deep depression disabling her as a writer, but Honan disagrees, arguing Austen wrote or revised her manuscripts throughout her creative life, except for a few months after her father died.

In December 1802, Austen received her only proposal of marriage. She and her sister visited Alethea and Catherine Bigg, old friends who lived near Basingstoke. Their younger brother, Harris Bigg-Wither, had recently finished his education at Oxford and was also at home. Bigg-Wither proposed and Austen accepted. As described by Caroline Austen, Jane's niece, and Reginald Bigg-Wither, a descendant, Harris was not attractive—he was a large, plain-looking man who spoke little, stuttered when he did speak, was aggressive in conversation, and almost completely tactless. However, Austen had known him since both were young and the marriage offered many practical advantages to Austen and her family. He was the heir to extensive family estates located in the area where the sisters had grown up. With these resources, Austen could provide her parents a comfortable old age, give Cassandra a permanent home and, perhaps, assist her brothers in their careers. By the next morning, Austen realised she had made a mistake and withdrew her acceptance. No contemporary letters or diaries describe how Austen felt about this proposal. In 1814, Austen wrote a letter to her niece, Fanny Knight, who had asked for advice about a serious relationship, telling her that "having written so much on one side of the question, I shall now turn around & entreat you not to commit yourself farther, & not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection".

In 1804, while living in Bath, Austen started but did not complete a new novel, The Watsons. The story centres on an invalid clergyman with little money and his four unmarried daughters. Sutherland describes the novel as "a study in the harsh economic realities of dependent women's lives". Honan suggests, and Tomalin agrees, that Austen chose to stop work on the novel after her father died on 21 January 1805 and her personal circumstances resembled those of her characters too closely for her comfort.

Rev. Austen's final illness had struck suddenly, leaving him, as Austen reported to her brother Francis, "quite insensible of his own state", and he died quickly. Jane, Cassandra, and their mother were left in a precarious financial situation. Edward, James, Henry, and Francis Austen pledged to make annual contributions to support their mother and sisters. For the next four years, the family's living arrangements reflected their financial insecurity. They lived part of the time in rented quarters in Bath and then, beginning in 1806, in Southampton, where they shared a house with Frank Austen and his new wife. A large part of this time they spent visiting various branches of the family.

On 5 April 1809, about three months before the family's move to Chawton, Austen wrote an angry letter to Richard Crosby, offering him a new manuscript of Susan if that was needed to secure immediate publication of the novel, and otherwise requesting the return of the original so she could find another publisher. Crosby replied he had not agreed to publish the book by any particular time, or at all, and that Austen could repurchase the manuscript for the £10 he had paid her and find another publisher. However, Austen did not have the resources to repurchase the book.

Around early 1809, Austen's brother Edward offered his mother and sisters a more settled life—the use of a large "cottage" in Chawton village that was part of Edward's nearby estate, Chawton House. Jane, Cassandra, and their mother moved into Chawton cottage on 7 July 1809. In Chawton, life was quieter than it had been since the family's move to Bath in 1800. The Austens did not socialise with the neighbouring gentry and entertained only when family visited. Austen's niece Anna described the Austen family's life in Chawton: "It was a very quiet life, according to our ideas, but they were great readers, and besides the housekeeping our aunts occupied themselves in working with the poor and in teaching some girl or boy to read or write." Austen wrote almost daily, but privately, and seems to have been relieved of some household responsibilities to give her more opportunity to write. In this setting, she was able to be productive as a writer once more.

During her time at Chawton, Jane Austen successfully published four novels, which were generally well-received. Through her brother Henry, the publisher Thomas Egerton agreed to publish Sense and Sensibility, which appeared in October 1811. Reviews were favourable and the novel became fashionable among opinion-makers; the edition sold out by mid-1813. Austen's earnings from Sense and Sensibility provided her with some financial and psychological independence. Egerton then published Pride and Prejudice, a revision of First Impressions, in January 1813. He advertised the book widely and it was an immediate success, garnering three favourable reviews and selling well. By October 1813, Egerton was able to begin selling a second edition. Mansfield Park was published by Egerton in May 1814. While Mansfield Park was ignored by reviewers, it was a great success with the public. All copies were sold within six months, and Austen's earnings on this novel were larger than for any of her other novels.

Austen learned that the Prince Regent admired her novels and kept a set at each of his residences. In November 1815, the Prince Regent's librarian invited Austen to visit the Prince's London residence and hinted Austen should dedicate the forthcoming Emma to the Prince. Though Austen disliked the Prince, she could scarcely refuse the request. She later wrote Plan of a Novel, according to hints from various quarters, a satiric outline of the "perfect novel" based on the librarian's many suggestions for a future Austen novel.

In mid-1815, Austen moved her work from Egerton to John Murray, a better known London publisher, who published Emma in December 1815 and a second edition of Mansfield Park in February 1816. Emma sold well but the new edition of Mansfield Park did not, and this failure offset most of the profits Austen earned on Emma. These were the last of Austen's novels to be published during her lifetime.

While Murray prepared Emma for publication, Austen began to write a new novel she titled The Elliots, later published as Persuasion. She completed her first draft in July 1816. In addition, shortly after the publication of Emma, Henry Austen repurchased the copyright for Susan from Crosby. Austen was forced to postpone publishing either of these completed novels by family financial troubles. Henry Austen's bank failed in March 1816, depriving him of all of his assets, leaving him deeply in debt and losing Edward, James, and Frank Austen large sums. Henry and Frank could no longer afford the contributions they had made to support their mother and sisters.

Early in 1816, Jane Austen began to feel unwell. She ignored her illness at first and continued to work and to participate in the usual round of family activities. By the middle of that year, her decline was unmistakable to Austen and to her family, and Austen's physical condition began a long, slow, and irregular deterioration culminating in her death the following year. The majority of Austen biographers rely on Dr. Vincent Cope's tentative 1964 retrospective diagnosis and list her cause of death as Addison's disease. However, her final illness has also been described as Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Austen continued to work in spite of her illness. She became dissatisfied with the ending of The Elliots and rewrote the final two chapters, finishing them on 6 August 1816. In January 1817, Austen began work on a new novel she called The Brothers, later titled Sanditon upon its first publication in 1925, and completed twelve chapters before stopping work in mid-March 1817, probably because her illness prevented her from continuing. Austen made light of her condition to others, describing it as "Bile" and rheumatism, but as her disease progressed she experienced increasing difficulty walking or finding the energy for other activities. By mid-April, Austen was confined to her bed. In May, their brother Henry escorted Jane and Cassandra to Winchester for medical treatment. Austen died in Winchester on 18 July 1817, at the age of 41. Through his clerical connections, Henry arranged for his sister to be buried in the north aisle of the nave of Winchester Cathedral. The epitaph composed by her brother James praises Austen's personal qualities, expresses hope for her salvation, mentions the "extraordinary endowments of her mind", but does not explicitly mention her achievements as a writer.

After Austen's death, Cassandra and Henry Austen arranged with Murray for the publication of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey as a set in December 1817. Henry Austen contributed a Biographical Note which for the first time identified his sister as the author of the novels. Tomalin describes it as "a loving and polished eulogy". Sales were good for a year—only 321 copies remained unsold at the end of 1818—and then declined. Murray disposed of the remaining copies in 1820, and Austen's novels remained out of print for twelve years. In 1832, publisher Richard Bentley purchased the remaining copyrights to all of Austen's novels and, beginning in either December 1832 or January 1833, published them in five illustrated volumes as part of his Standard Novels series. In October 1833, Bentley published the first collected edition of Austen's works. Since then, Austen's novels have been continuously in print.

Austen's works brought her little personal renown because they were published anonymously. Although her novels quickly became fashionable among opinion-makers, such as Princess Charlotte Augusta, daughter of the Prince Regent, they received only a few published reviews. Most of the reviews were short and on balance favourable, although superficial and cautious. They most often focused on the moral lessons of the novels. Sir Walter Scott, a leading novelist of the day, contributed one of them, anonymously. Using the review as a platform from which to defend the then disreputable genre of the novel, he praised Austen's realism. The other important early review of Austen's works was published by Richard Whately in 1821. He drew favourable comparisons between Austen and such acknowledged greats as Homer and Shakespeare, praising the dramatic qualities of her narrative. Whately and Scott set the tone for almost all subsequent nineteenth-century Austen criticism.

Because Austen's novels failed to conform to Romantic and Victorian expectations that "powerful emotion authenticated by an egregious display of sound and colour in the writing", nineteenth-century critics and audiences generally preferred the works of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Though Austen's novels were republished in Britain beginning in the 1830s and remained steady sellers, they were not bestsellers.

Austen had many admiring readers in the nineteenth century who considered themselves part of a literary elite: they viewed their appreciation of Austen's works as a mark of their cultural taste. Philosopher and literary critic George Henry Lewes expressed this viewpoint in a series of enthusiastic articles published in the 1840s and 1850s. This theme continued later in the century with novelist Henry James, who referred to Austen several times with approval and on one occasion ranked her with Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Henry Fielding as among "the fine painters of life".

The publication of James Edward Austen-Leigh's A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869 introduced Austen to a wider public as "dear aunt Jane", the respectable maiden aunt. Publication of the Memoir spurred the reissue of Austen's novels—the first popular editions were released in 1883 and fancy illustrated editions and collectors' sets quickly followed. Author and critic Leslie Stephen described the popular mania that started to develop for Austen in the 1880s as "Austenolatry". Around the turn of the century, members of the literary elite reacted against the popularization of Austen. They referred to themselves as Janeites in order to distinguish themselves from the masses who did not properly understand her works. For example, James responded negatively to what he described as "a beguiled infatuation" with Austen, a rising tide of public interest that exceeded Austen's "intrinsic merit and interest".

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the first books of criticism on Austen were published. In fact, after the publication of the Memoir, more criticism was published on Austen in two years than had appeared in the previous fifty.

Several important works paved the way for Austen's novels to become a focus of academic study. The first important milestone was a 1911 essay by Oxford Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley, which is "generally regarded as the starting-point for the serious academic approach to Jane Austen". In it, he established the groupings of Austen's "early" and "late" novels, which are still used by scholars today. The second was R. W. Chapman's 1923 edition of Austen's collected works. Not only was it the first scholarly edition of Austen's works, it was also the first scholarly edition of any English novelist. The Chapman text has remained the basis for all subsequent published editions of Austen's works. With the publication in 1939 of Mary Lascelles's Jane Austen and Her Art, the academic study of Austen took hold. Lascelles's innovative work included an analysis of the books Jane Austen read and the effect of her reading on her work, an extended analysis of Austen's style, and her "narrative art". At the time, concern arose over the fact that academics were taking over Austen criticism and it was becoming increasingly esoteric—a debate that has continued to the beginning of the twenty-first century.

In a spurt of revisionist views in the 1940s, scholars approached Austen more sceptically and argued that she was a subversive writer. These revisionist views, together with F. R. Leavis's and Ian Watt's pronouncement that Austen was one of the great writers of English fiction, did much to cement Austen's reputation amongst academics. They agreed that she "combined qualities of interiority and irony, realism and satire to form an author superior to both". The period since World War II has seen more scholarship on Austen using a diversity of critical approaches, including feminist theory, and perhaps most controversially, postcolonial theory. However, the continuing disconnection between the popular appreciation of Austen, particularly by modern Janeites, and the academic appreciation of Austen has widened considerably.

Sequels, prequels, and adaptations of almost every sort have been based on the novels of Jane Austen, from soft-core pornography to fantasy. Beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, Austen family members published conclusions to her incomplete novels, and by 2000 there were over 100 printed adaptations. The first film adaptation was the 1940 MGM production of Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. BBC television dramatisations, which were first produced in the 1970s, attempted to adhere meticulously to Austen's plots, characterisations, and settings. Starting with Emma Thompson's film of Sense and Sensibility, a great wave of Austen adaptations began to appear around 1995. Books and scripts that use the general storyline of Austen's novels but change or otherwise modernise the story also became popular at the end of the twentieth century. For example, Clueless (1995), Amy Heckerling's updated version of Emma, which takes place in Beverly Hills, became a cultural phenomenon and spawned its own television series.

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Reception history of Jane Austen

A watercolour sketch of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra (c. 1804)

The reception history of Jane Austen follows a path from modest fame to wild popularity; her novels are both the subject of intense scholarly study and the centre of a diverse fan culture. Jane Austen, the author of such works as Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Emma (1815), has become one of the best-known and widely read novelists in the English language.

During her lifetime, Austen's novels brought her little personal fame; like many women writers, she chose to publish anonymously and it was only among members of the aristocracy that her authorship was an open secret. At the time they were published, Austen's works were considered fashionable by members of high society but received few positive reviews. By the mid-nineteenth century, her novels were admired by members of the literary elite who viewed their appreciation of her works as a mark of cultivation. The publication in 1870 of her nephew's Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public as an appealing personality—dear, quiet aunt Jane—and her works were republished in popular editions. By the turn of the twentieth century, competing groups had sprung up—some to worship her and some to defend her from the "teeming masses"—but all claiming to be the true Janeites, or those who properly appreciated Austen.

Early in the twentieth century, scholars produced a carefully edited collection of her works—the first for any British novelist—but it was not until the 1940s that Austen was widely accepted in academia as a "great English novelist". The second half of the twentieth century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship, which explored numerous aspects of her works: artistic, ideological, and historical. With the growing professionalisation of university English departments in the first half of the twentieth century, criticism of Austen became progressively more esoteric and, as a result, appreciation of Austen splintered into distinctive high culture and popular culture trends. In the late twentieth century, fans founded Jane Austen societies and clubs to celebrate the author, her time, and her works. As of the early twenty-first century, Austen fandom supports an industry of printed sequels and prequels as well as television and film adaptations, which started with the 1940 Pride and Prejudice and evolved to include the 2004 Bollywood-style production Bride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen lived her entire life as part of a large and close-knit family on the lower fringes of the English gentry. Her family's steadfast support was critical to Austen's development as a professional writer. For example, Austen read draft versions of all of her novels to her family, receiving feedback and encouragement; in fact, it was her father who sent out her first publication bid. Austen's artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years until she was about thirty-five. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she tried and then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth. With the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), she achieved success as a published writer.

However, novel-writing was a suspect occupation for women in the early nineteenth century, because it imperiled their social reputation—it brought them publicity viewed as unfeminine. Therefore, like many other female writers, Austen published anonymously. Eventually, though, her novels' authorship became an open secret among the aristocracy. During one of her visits to London, the Prince Regent invited her to his home; his librarian gave her a tour and mentioned that the Regent admired her novels and that "if Miss Austen had any other Novel forthcoming, she was quite at liberty to dedicate it to the Prince". Austen, who disapproved of the prince's extravagant lifestyle, did not want to follow this suggestion, but her friends convinced her otherwise: in short order, Emma was dedicated to him. Austen turned down the librarian's further hint to write a historical romance in honor of the prince's daughter's marriage.

In the last year of her life, Austen revised Northanger Abbey (1817), wrote Persuasion (1817), and began another novel, eventually titled Sanditon, which was left unfinished at her death. Austen did not have time to see Northanger Abbey or Persuasion through the press, but her family published them as one volume after her death and her brother Henry included a "Biographical Notice of the Author". This short biography sowed the seeds for the myth of Austen as a quiet, retiring aunt who wrote during her spare time: "Neither the hope of fame nor profit mixed with her early motives ... o much did she shrink from notoriety, that no accumulation of fame would have induced her, had she lived, to affix her name to any productions of her pen ... in public she turned away from any allusion to the character of an authoress." However, this description is in direct contrast to the excitement Austen shows in her letters regarding publication and profit: Austen was a professional writer.

Austen's works are noted for their realism, biting social commentary, and masterful use of free indirect speech, burlesque and irony. They critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the eighteenth century and are part of the transition to nineteenth-century realism. As Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert explain, Austen makes fun of "such novelistic clichés as love at first sight, the primacy of passion over all other emotions and/or duties, the chivalric exploits of the hero, the vulnerable sensitivity of the heroine, the lovers' proclaimed indifference to financial considerations, and the cruel crudity of parents". Austen's plots, though comic, highlight the way women depend on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Like the writings of Samuel Johnson, a strong influence on her, her works are fundamentally concerned with moral issues.

Austen's novels quickly became fashionable among opinion-makers, namely, those aristocrats who often dictated fashion and taste. Lady Bessborough, sister to the notorious Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, commented on Sense and Sensibility in a letter to a friend: "it is a clever novel.  ... tho' it ends stupidly, I was much amused by it." The fifteen-year-old daughter of the Prince Regent, Princess Charlotte Augusta, compared herself to one of the book's heroines: "I think Marianne & me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &tc". After reading Pride and Prejudice, playwright Richard Sheridan advised a friend to "uy it immediately" for it "was one of the cleverest things" he had ever read. Anne Milbanke, future wife of the Romantic poet Lord Byron, wrote that "I have finished the Novel called Pride and Prejudice, which I think a very superior work." She commented that the novel "is the most probable fiction I have ever read" and had become "at present the fashionable novel". The Dowager Lady Vernon told a friend that Mansfield Park was "ot much of a novel, more the history of a family party in the country, very natural"—as if, comments one Austen scholar, "Lady Vernon's parties mostly featured adultery." Lady Anne Romilly told her friend, the novelist Maria Edgeworth, that " has been pretty generally admired here" and Edgeworth commented later that "we have been much entertained with Mansfield Park".

Also read again and for the third time at least Miss Austen's very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going, but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!

Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, published together posthumously in December 1817, were reviewed in the British Critic in March 1818 and in the Edinburgh Review and Literary Miscellany in May 1818. The reviewer for the British Critic felt that Austen's exclusive dependence on realism was evidence of a deficient imagination. The reviewer for the Edinburgh Review disagreed, praising Austen for her "exhaustless invention" and the combination of the familiar and the surprising in her plots. Overall, Austen scholars have pointed out that these early reviewers did not know what to make of her novels—for example, they misunderstood her use of irony. Reviewers reduced Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice to didactic tales of virtue prevailing over vice.

In the Quarterly Review in 1821, the English writer and theologian Richard Whately published the most serious and enthusiastic early posthumous review of Austen's work. Whately drew favourable comparisons between Austen and such acknowledged greats as Homer and Shakespeare, praising the dramatic qualities of her narrative. He also affirmed the respectability and legitimacy of the novel as a genre, arguing that imaginative literature, especially narrative, was more valuable than history or biography. When it was properly done, as in Austen, Whately said, imaginative literature concerned itself with generalised human experience from which the reader could gain important insights into human nature; in other words, it was moral. Whately also addressed Austen's position as a female writer, writing: "we suspect one of Miss Austin's great merits in our eyes to be, the insight she gives us into the peculiarities of female characters. ... Her heroines are what one knows women must be, though one never can get them to acknowledge it." No more significant, original Austen criticism was published until the late nineteenth century: Whately and Scott had set the tone for the Victorian era's view of Austen.

Austen had many admiring readers during the nineteenth century, who, according to critic Ian Watt, appreciated her "scrupulous ... fidelity to ordinary social experience". However, Austen's novels did not conform to certain strong Romantic and Victorian British preferences, which required that "powerful emotion authenticated by an egregious display of sound and color in the writing". Victorian critics and audiences were drawn to the work of authors such as Charles Dickens and George Eliot; by comparison, Austen's novels seemed provincial and quiet. Although Austen's works were republished beginning in late 1832 or early 1833 by Richard Bentley in the Standard Novels series, and remained in print continuously thereafter, they were not bestsellers. Southam describes her "reading public between 1821 and 1870" as "minute beside the known audience for Dickens and his contemporaries".

Reacting against Lewes's essays and his personal communications with her, novelist Charlotte Brontë admired Austen's fidelity to everyday life but described her as "only shrewd and observant" and criticised the absence of visible passion in her work. To Brontë, Austen's work appeared formal and constrained, "a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck".

Austen's novels appeared in some European countries soon after their publication in Britain, beginning in 1813 with a French translation of Pride and Prejudice, quickly followed by German, Danish, and Swedish editions. Their availability in Europe was not universal. Austen was not well known in Russia and the first Russian translation of an Austen novel did not appear until 1967. Despite the fact that Austen’s novels were translated into many European languages, Europeans did not recognise her works as part of the English novel tradition. This perception was reinforced by the changes made by translators who injected sentimentalism into Austen's novels and eliminated their humour and irony. European readers therefore more readily associated Walter Scott's style with the English novel.

Because of the significant changes made by her translators, Austen was received as a different kind of novelist on the Continent than in Britain. For example, the French novelist Isabelle de Montolieu translated several of Austen's novels into a genre in which Montolieu herself wrote: the French sentimental novel. In Montolieu's Pride and Prejudice, for example, vivacious conversations between Elizabeth and Darcy were replaced by decorous ones. Elizabeth's claim that she has "always seen a great similarity in the turn of minds" (her and Darcy's) because they are "unwilling to speak, unless expect to say something that will amaze the whole room" becomes "Moi, je garde le silence, parce que je ne sais que dire, et vous, parce que vous aiguisez vos traits pour parler avec effet." ("Me, I keep silent, because I don't know what to say, and you, because you excite your features for effect when speaking.") As Cossy and Saglia explain in their essay on Austen translations, "the equality of mind which Elizabeth takes for granted is denied and gender distinction introduced". Because Austen’s works were seen in France as part of a sentimental tradition, they were overshadowed by the works of French realists such as Stendhal, Balzac, and Flaubert. German translations and reviews of those translations also placed Austen in a line of sentimental writers, particularly late Romantic women writers.

For decades, Scott's and Whately's opinions dominated the reception of Austen's works and few people read her novels. In 1870, this changed with the publication of the first significant Austen biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen, which was written by Jane Austen's nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh. With its release, Austen's popularity and critical standing increased dramatically. Readers of the Memoir were presented with the myth of the amateur novelist who wrote masterpieces: the Memoir fixed in the public mind a sentimental picture of Austen as a quiet, middle-aged maiden aunt and reassured them that her work was suitable for a respectable Victorian family. The publication of the Memoir spurred a major reissue of Austen's novels. The first popular editions were released in 1883—a cheap sixpenny series published by Routledge. This was followed by a proliferation of elaborate illustrated editions, collectors' sets, and scholarly editions. However, contemporary critics continued to assert that her works were sophisticated and only appropriate for those who could truly plumb their depths. Yet, after the publication of the Memoir, more criticism was published on Austen's novels in two years than had appeared in the previous fifty.

In 1913, William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh, descendants of the Austen family, published the definitive family biography, Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters—A Family Record. Based primarily on family papers and letters, it is described by Austen biographer Park Honan as "accurate, staid, reliable, and at times vivid and suggestive". Although the authors moved away from the sentimental tone of the Memoir, they made little effort to go beyond the family records and traditions immediately available to them. Their book therefore offers bare facts and little in the way of interpretation.

We see the novels praised for their elegance of form and their surface 'finish'; for the realism of their fictional world, the variety and vitality of their characters; for their pervasive humour; and for their gentle and undogmatic morality and its unsermonising delivery. The novels are prized for their 'perfection'. Yet it is seen to be a narrow perfection, achieved within the bounds of domestic comedy.

Simpson's essay was not well-known and did not become influential until Lionel Trilling quoted it in 1957. Another prominent writer whose Austen criticism was ignored, novelist Margaret Oliphant, described Austen in almost proto-feminist terms, as "armed with a 'fine vein of feminine cynicism,' 'full of subtle power, keenness, finesse, and self-restraint,' blessed with an 'exquisite sense' of the 'ridiculous,' 'a fine stinging yet soft-voiced contempt,' whose novels are 'so calm and cold and keen'". This line of criticism would not be fully explored until the 1970s with the rise of feminist literary criticism.

The Encyclopædia Britannica's changing entries on Austen illustrate her increasing popularity and status. The eighth edition (1854) described her as "an elegant novelist" while the ninth edition (1875) lauded her as "one of the most distinguished modern British novelists". Around the turn of the century, Austen novels began to be studied at universities and appear in histories of the English novel. The image of her that dominated the popular imagination was still that first presented in the Memoir and made famous by Howells in his series of essays in Harper's Magazine, that of "dear aunt Jane". Author and critic Leslie Stephen described a mania that started to develop for Austen in the 1880s as "Austenolatry"—it was only after the publication of the Memoir that readers developed a personal connection with Austen. However, around 1900, members of the literary elite, who had claimed an appreciation of Austen as a mark of culture, reacted against this popularisation of her work. They referred to themselves as Janeites to distinguish themselves from the masses who, in their view, did not properly understand Austen.

In an effort to avoid the sentimental image of the "Aunt Jane" tradition and approach Austen's fiction from a fresh perspective, in 1917 British intellectual and travel writer Reginald Farrer published a lengthy essay in the Quarterly Review which Austen scholar A. Walton Litz calls the best single introduction to her fiction. Southam describes it as a "Janeite" piece without the worship. Farrer denied that Austen's artistry was unconscious (contradicting James) and described her as a writer of intense concentration and a severe critic of her society, "radiant and remorseless", "dispassionate yet pitiless", with "the steely quality, the incurable rigor of her judgment". Farrer was one of the first critics who viewed Austen as a subversive writer.

Several important early works—glimmers of brilliant Austen scholarship—paved the way for Austen to become solidly entrenched within the academy. The first was Oxford Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley's 1911 essay, "generally regarded as the starting-point for the serious academic approach to Jane Austen". Bradley emphasised Austen's ties to eighteenth-century critic and writer Samuel Johnson, arguing that she was a moralist as well as humorist; in this he was "totally original", according to Southam. Bradley divided Austen's works into "early" and "late" novels, categories which are still used by scholars today. The second path-breaking early-twentieth century critic of Austen was R. W. Chapman, whose magisterial edition of Austen's collected works was the first scholarly edition of the works of any English novelist. The Chapman texts have remained the basis for all subsequent editions of Austen's works.

In the wake of Bradley and Chapman's contributions, the 1920s saw a boom in Austen scholarship; British novelist E. M. Forster primarily illustrated his concept of the "round" character by citing Austen's works. It was with the 1939 publication of Mary Lascelles' Jane Austen and Her Art—"the first full-scale historical and scholarly study" of Austen—that the academic study of her works matured. Lascelles included a short biographical essay; an innovative analysis of the books Austen read and their effect on her writing; and an extended analysis of Austen's style and her "narrative art". Lascelles felt that prior critics had all worked on a scale "so small that the reader does not see how they have reached their conclusions until he has patiently found his own way to them". She wished to examine all of Austen's works together and to subject her style and techniques to methodical analysis. Subsequent critics agree that she succeeded. Like Bradley earlier, she emphasised Austen's connection to Samuel Johnson and her desire to discuss morality through fiction. However, at the time some fans of Austen worried that academics were taking over Austen criticism and it was becoming increasingly esoteric—a debate that has continued to the beginning of the twenty-first century.

In an outpouring of mid-century revisionist views, scholars approached Austen more sceptically. D. W. Harding, following and expanding upon Farrer, argued in his essay "Regulated Hatred: An Aspect of the Work of Jane Austen" that Austen's novels did not support the status quo but rather subverted it. Her irony was not humorous but caustic and intended to undermine the assumptions of the society she portrayed. Through her use of irony, Austen attempted to protect her integrity as an artist and a person in the face of attitudes and practices she rejected. Almost simultaneously, influential British critic Q. D. Leavis argued in "Critical Theory of Jane Austen's Writing", published in Scrutiny in the early 1940s, that Austen was a professional, not an amateur, writer. Harding's and Leavis's articles were followed by another revisionist treatment by Marvin Mudrick in Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery (1952). Mudrick portrayed Austen as isolated, defensive, and critical of her society, and described in detail the relationship he saw between Austen's attitude toward contemporary literature and her use of irony as a technique to contrast the realities of her society with what she felt they should be. These revisionist views, together with prominent British critic F. R. Leavis's pronouncement in The Great Tradition (1948) that Austen was one of the great writers of English fiction, a view shared by Ian Watt, who helped shape the scholarly debate regarding the genre of the novel, did much to cement Austen's reputation amongst academics. They agreed that she "combined qualities of interiority and irony, realism and satire to form an author superior to both".

The period after the Second World War saw a flowering of scholarship on Austen as well as a diversity of critical approaches. One of the most fruitful and contentious has been the consideration of Austen as a political writer. As critic Gary Kelly explains, "Some see her as a political 'conservative' because she seems to defend the established social order. Others see her as sympathetic to 'radical' politics that challenged the established order, especially in the form of patriarchy ... some critics see Austen's novels as neither conservative nor subversive, but complex, criticizing aspects of the social order but supporting stability and an open class hierarchy." In Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (1975), perhaps the most important of these works, Marilyn Butler argues that Austen was steeped in, not insulated from, the principal moral and political controversies of her time, and espoused a partisan, fundamentally conservative and Christian position in these controversies. In a similar vein, Alistair M. Duckworth in The Improvement of the Estate: A Study of Jane Austen's Novels (1971) argues that Austen used the concept of the "estate" to symbolise all that was important about contemporary English society, which should be conserved, improved, and passed down to future generations. As Rajeswari Rajan notes in her essay on recent Austen scholarship, "the idea of a political Austen is no longer seriously challenged". The questions scholars now investigate involve: "the Revolution, war, nationalism, empire, class, 'improvement' , the clergy, town versus country, abolition, the professions, female emancipation; whether her politics were Tory, Whig, or radical; whether she was a conservative or a revolutionary, or occupied a reformist position between these extremes".

In the 1970s and 1980s, Austen studies was influenced by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's seminal The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), which contrasts the "decorous surfaces" with the "explosive anger" of nineteenth-century female English writers. This work, along with other feminist criticism of Austen, has firmly positioned Austen as a woman writer. The interest generated in Austen by these critics led to the discovery and study of other woman writers of the time. Moreover, with the publication of Julia Prewitt Brown's Jane Austen's Novels: Social Change and Literary Form (1979), Margaret Kirkham's Jane Austen: Feminism and Fiction (1983), and Claudia L. Johnson's Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel (1988), scholars were no longer able to easily argue that Austen was "apolitical, or even unqualifiedly 'conservative'". Kirkham, for example, described the similarities between Austen's thought and that of Mary Wollstonecraft, labelling them both as "Enlightenment feminists". Johnson similarly places Austen in an eighteenth-century political tradition, however, she outlines the debt Austen owes to the political novels of the 1790s written by women.

In the late-1980s, 1990s, and 2000s ideological, postcolonial, and Marxist criticism dominated Austen studies. Generating heated debate, Edward Said devoted a chapter of his book Culture and Imperialism (1993) to Mansfield Park, arguing that the peripheral position of "Antigua" and the issue of slavery demonstrated that colonial oppression was an unspoken assumption of English society during the early nineteenth century. In Jane Austen and the Body: 'The Picture of Health', (1992) John Wiltshire explored the preoccupation with illness and health of Austen's characters. Wiltshire addressed current theories of "the body as sexuality", and more broadly how culture is "inscribed" on the representation of the body. There has also been a return to considerations of aesthetics with D. A. Miller's Jane Austen, or The Secret of Style (2003) which connects artistic concerns with queer theory.

Critic Claudia Johnson defines "Janeitism" as "the self-consciously idolatrous enthusiasm for 'Jane' and every detail relative to her". Janeites not only read the novels of Austen; they also re-enact them, write plays based on them, and become experts on early nineteenth-century England and its customs. Austen scholar Deidre Lynch has commented that "cult" is an apt term for committed Janeites. She compares the practices of religious pilgrims with those of Janeites, who travel to places associated with Austen's life, her novels and the film adaptations. She speculates that this is "a kind of time-travel to the past" which, by catering to Janeites, preserves a "vanished Englishness or set of 'traditional' values". The disconnection between the popular appreciation of Austen and the academic appreciation of Austen that began with Lascelles has since widened considerably. Johnson compares Janeites to Trekkies, arguing that both "are derided and marginalized by dominant cultural institutions bent on legitimizing their own objects and protocols of expertise". However, she notes that Austen's works are now considered to be part of both high culture and popular culture, while Star Trek can only claim to be a part of popular culture.

Sequels, prequels, and adaptations based on Jane Austen's work range from attempts to enlarge on the stories in Austen's own style to the soft-core pornographic novel Virtues and Vices (1981) and fantasy novel Resolve and Resistance (1996). Beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, Austen family members published conclusions to her incomplete novels. By 2000, there were over one hundred printed adaptations of Austen's works. According to Lynch, "her works appear to have proven more hospitable to sequelisation than those of almost any other novelist". Relying on the categories laid out by Betty A. Schellenberg and Paul Budra, Lynch describes two different kinds of Austen sequels: those that continue the story and those that return to "the world of Jane Austen". The texts that continue the story are "generally regarded as dubious enterprises, as reviews attest" and "often feel like throwbacks to the Gothic and sentimental novels that Austen loved to burlesque". Those that emphasise nostalgia are "defined not only by retrograde longing but also by a kind of postmodern playfulness and predilection for insider joking", relying on the reader to see the web of Austenian allusions. Interest in Austen and adaptations of her novels have been common throughout the twentieth century; between 1900 and 1975, more than sixty radio, television, film, and stage productions of Austen's various works were produced.

The first feature film adaptation of an Austen novel was the 1940 MGM production of Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. A Hollywood adaptation was first suggested by the entertainer Harpo Marx, who had seen a dramatisation of the novel in Philadelphia in 1935, but production was delayed. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard and written in collaboration with English novelist Aldous Huxley and American screenwriter Jane Murfin, the film was critically well-received although the plot and characterisations notably strayed from Austen's original. Filmed in a studio and in black and white, the story's setting was relocated to the 1830s with opulent costume designs.

In direct opposition to the Hollywood adaptations of Austen's novels, BBC dramatisations from the 1970s onward aimed to adhere meticulously to Austen's plots, characterisations, and settings. The 1972 BBC adaptation of Emma, for example, took great care to be historically accurate, but its slow pacing and long takes contrasted unfavourably to the pace of commercial films. The BBC's 1980 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice adopted many film techniques—such as the use of long landscape shots—that gave the production a greater visual sophistication. Often seen as the start of the "heritage drama" movement, this production was the first to be filmed largely on location. A push for "fusion" adaptations, or films that combined Hollywood style and British heritage style, began in the mid-1980s. The BBC's first fusion adaptation was the 1986 production of Northanger Abbey, which combined authentic style and 1980s punk, with characters often veering into the surreal.

A wave of Austen adaptations began to appear around 1995, starting with Emma Thompson's 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility for Columbia Pictures, a fusion production directed by Ang Lee. This star-studded film departed from the novel in many ways, but it quickly became a commercial and critical success. It was nominated for numerous awards, including seven Oscars. The BBC produced two adaptations in 1995: the traditional telefilm Persuasion and Andrew Davies's immensely popular Pride and Prejudice. Starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, Davies's film outshone the small-scale Persuasion and became a runaway success, igniting "Darcymania" in Britain and launching the stars' careers. Critics praised its smart departures from the novel as well as its sensual costuming, fast-paced editing, and original yet appropriate dialogue were central to the serial's appeal. This BBC production sparked an explosion in the publication of printed Austen adaptations; in addition, 200,000 video copies of the serial were sold within a year of its airing—50,000 were sold within the first week alone.

Books and scripts that use the general storyline of Austen's novels but change or otherwise modernise the story also became popular at the end of the twentieth century. Clueless (1995), Amy Heckerling's updated version of Emma that takes place in Beverly Hills, became a cultural phenomenon and spawned its own television series. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), based on the successful 1996 book of the same name by Helen Fielding, was inspired by both Pride and Prejudice and the 1995 BBC adaptation. The Bollywoodesque production Bride and Prejudice, which sets Austen's story in present-day India while including original musical numbers, premiered in 2004. Yet another adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was released the following year. Starring Keira Knightley, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet, Joe Wright's film marked the first feature adaptation since 1940 that aspired to be faithful to the novel.

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Jane Austen's House Museum

Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton

Jane Austen's House Museum is a small private museum in the village of Chawton near Alton in Hampshire. It occupies the 17th century house (informally known as Chawton Cottage) in which novelist Jane Austen spent the last eight years of her life and where she wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion.

The Museum's collection includes eight music books owned by Jane Austen.

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The Jane Austen Book Club (film)

Jane austen book club poster.jpg

The Jane Austen Book Club is 2007 American romantic drama film written and directed by Robin Swicord. The screenplay, adapted from the 2004 novel of the same name by Karen Joy Fowler, focuses on a book club formed specifically to discuss the six novels written by Jane Austen. As they delve into Austen's literature, the club members find themselves dealing with life experiences that parallel the themes of the books they're reading.

The book club is the brainchild of fiftysomething six-time divorcée Bernadette, who latches onto the idea when she meets Prudie, a prim, married high school French teacher in her mid-20s, at a Jane Austen film festival. Her concept is to have six members discuss all of Austen's six novels, with each member hosting the group once a month. Also inducted into the club are Sylvia, a fortysomething housewife who recently has separated from her philandering lawyer husband Daniel after more than two decades of marriage; Sylvia's 20-year-old lesbian daughter Allegra; Jocelyn, a happily unmarried control freak and breeder of Rhodesian Ridgebacks who has been Sylvia's friend since childhood; and Grigg, a science fiction fan who's roped into the group by Jocelyn with the hope he and Sylvia will prove to be a compatible match.

As the months pass, each of the members develops characteristics similar to those of Austen's characters and reacts to events in their lives in much the same way their fictional counterparts would. Bernadette is the matriarch figure who longs to see everyone find happiness. Sylvia clings to her belief in steadfast love and devotion, and eventually reconciles with Daniel. Jocelyn denies her own feelings for Grigg while playing matchmaker for him and Sylvia. Prudie, encumbered with her inattentive husband Dean and a free-spirited, pot-smoking, aging-hippie mother, a product of the 1960s counterculture, finds herself desperately trying not to succumb to her feelings for her seductive student Trey. Allegra, who tends to meet her lovers while engaging in death-defying activities, feels betrayed when she discovers her current partner, aspiring writer Corinne, has used Allegra's life as the basis for her short stories. Grigg is attracted to Jocelyn and mystified by her seeming lack of interest in him, marked by her failure to read the Ursula K. Le Guin novels he has hoped will catch her fancy. He also serves as the comedic foil to Jocelyn and Prudie's very serious takes on the books.

In The Book Club Deconstructed, a bonus feature on the DVD release of the film, screenwriter/director Robin Swicord explains how each of the six book club members is based on a character in one of Austen's novels. Bernadette represents Mrs. Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice, Sylvia is patterned after Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, Jocelyn reflects the title character in Emma, Prudie is similar to Anne Elliot in Persuasion, Allegra is most like Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, and Grigg represents all of Austen's misunderstood male characters.

Although the film is set in Sacramento, it was shot in Southern California. Filming locations included Encino, Lakewood, Long Beach, Los Angeles, North Hollywood, Northridge, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, Van Nuys, and Westlake Village.

The soundtrack includes "New Shoes" by Paolo Nutini, "You're All I Have" by Snow Patrol, "Save Me" by Aimee Mann, "So Sorry" by Feist, and "Getting Some Fun Out of Life" by Madeleine Peyroux.

The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival before going into limited release in the US. It opened on 25 screens on September 21, 2007 and earned $148,549 on its opening weekend. It went into wide release on October 5, expanding to 1,232 screens and earning an additional $1,343,596 that weekend. It eventually grossed $3,575,227 in the US and $3,542,527 in foreign markets for a worldwide box office of $7,117,754 .

On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 69% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 86 reviews , while on Metacritic, the film has an average score of 61 out of 100, based on 27 reviews .

The film was nominated for the GLAAD Media Award for Best Film in Wide Release but lost to Stardust .

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A Memoir of Jane Austen

Victorianized portrait of Jane Austen produced for the Memoir

A Memoir of Jane Austen is a biography of the novelist Jane Austen (1775–1817) published in 1869 by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh. A second edition was published in 1871 which included previously unpublished Jane Austen writings. A family project, the biography was written by James Edward Austen-Leigh but owed much to the recollections of Jane Austen's many relatives. However, it was the decisions of her close friend and sister, Cassandra Austen, to destroy many of Jane's letters after her death that shaped the material available for the biography.

Austen-Leigh described his "dear Aunt Jane" domestically, as someone who was uninterested in fame and who only wrote in her spare time. However, the manuscripts appended to the second edition suggest that Jane Austen was intensely interested in revising her manuscripts and was perhaps less content than Austen-Leigh described her. The Memoir does not attempt to unreservedly tell the story of Jane Austen's life. Following the Victorian conventions of biography, it kept much private information from the public, but family members disagreed over just how much should be revealed, for example, regarding Austen's romantic relationships.

The Memoir introduced the public to the works of Jane Austen, generating interest in novels which only a literary elite had read up until that point. It remained the primary biographical work on the author for over half a century.

In the late 1860s, the Austen family decided to write a biography of Jane Austen. The death of Sir Francis Austen, her last surviving sibling, and the aging of those who had any memory of her prompted the family to gather their papers and to begin recording their memories. Public interest in Jane Austen was also developing and the family became concerned that an outsider or another branch of the family would produce a biography. James Edward Austen-Leigh, as the son of the eldest branch, "in a spirit of censorship as well as communication", thus began the project. With the help and support of his sisters and Jane Austen's nieces, he collected materials. The biography was largely the work of James Edward Austen-Leigh, his half-sister Jane Anna Elizabeth Austen Lefroy and, his younger sister Caroline Mary Craven Austen, and their cousin Cassy Esten. As Austen scholar Kathryn Sutherland points out in her "Introduction" to the Oxford edition of the Memoir, however, Austen-Leigh’s biography is specific to the Steventon or Hampshire Austens, for whom Jane Austen is "nature-loving, religious, domestic, middle class". The Godmersham or Kentish Austens viewed Jane Austen as more "inward and passionate...gentrified, improved willy-nilly by contact with her fine relations". Moreover, as Caroline wrote, "the generation who knew her is passing away". Much of the biography is based on the memories of those who had only known Jane Austen when they were children and she was their older aunt; the rest is based on written records passed down through the family.

As Sutherland explains, "the major ingredients of the Memoir, as well as its reverent colouring, are owed, in one way or another, to Cassandra Austen." Cassandra was the executor of Jane’s will and was responsible for the preservation and destruction of all remaining letters and manuscripts after Jane’s death. According to Caroline Austen, one of Jane Austen's nieces, Cassandra "looked over and burnt the greater part, (as she told me), 2 or 3 years before her own death—She left, or gave some as legacies to the Nieces—but of those that I have seen, several had portions cut out". Thus, while writing the Memoir, Austen-Leigh did not have access to large numbers of Jane Austen's letters. Furthermore, the rest had been scattered as bequests; a complete collection of Jane Austen's letters was only gathered in 1932.

There may have been disagreements between the descendants regarding how much information to keep private, particularly with regards to Jane Austen's romances. For example, the first edition of the Memoir states "I have no reason to think that she ever felt any attachment by which the happiness of her life was at all affected". This sentence was removed from the second edition and two romantic attachments are hinted at, with the conclusion "I am unable to say whether her feelings were of such a nature as to affect her happiness". This kind of reticence was not isolated to the Austen family, however—it was typical of mid-Victorian era biography.

James Edward Austen-Leigh began writing the Memoir on 30 March 1869 and finished it five months later in September. It was published on 16 December 1869 (though dated 1870) in an edition of about 1,000 copies. In 1871, Austen-Leigh published a second edition, which contained additional letters, family papers, and biographical material. He also included fragments of unfinished and unpublished Jane Austen manuscripts, namely a chapter Austen deleted from Persuasion and extracts from Sanditon as well as Lady Susan and The Watsons.

The Memoir is a "rag-bag, not the shaped life of the historio- or psycho-biographies of the late twentieth century, but an undesigned and unprioritized assortment" of detail, such as descriptions of clothing, a "eulogy of spinning", and a digression on the Welsh ancestry of some Austen relations. The biography does not aim to tell the unvarnished truth, either. For example, the family hid the existence of a second brother, the handicapped George Austen, and described Edward Austen as the second brother instead of the third. They also omitted the arrest and jailing of Mrs. Leigh Perrot, Jane Austen's aunt, for shoplifting in Bath. According to nineteenth-century biography standards, "neither piece of discretion is surprising".

Jane Austen herself is described as "a comfortable figure, shunning fame and professional status, centred in home, writing only in the intervals permitted from the important domestic duties of a devoted daughter, sister, and aunt". However, the manuscripts published alongside the biography suggest another portrait, one of a struggling author who endlessly revised and of a "restless and sardonic spirit".

The book had an "immediate" and "incalculable" effect on the public's perception of Jane Austen. It generated interest in the works of an author which, for half a century, had been read almost entirely by the literary elite and Austen's popularity increased dramatically. The publication of the Memoir also spurred the reissue of the Austen's novels. The first popular editions were released in 1883—a sixpenny series by Routledge. This was followed by fancy illustrated editions, collectors' sets, and scholarly editions.

The image of "dear aunt Jane" presented in the biography was not seriously challenged until 1940, when psychologist D. W. Harding argued that there was a "regulated hatred" in Austen’s works. With the exception of Harding's 1965 edition, there has been "no serious editorial engagement with the Memoir and little critical attention paid to it". However, as Sutherland writes, "James Austen-Leigh...assembled a major work of Austenian biography" which has been called the "prime source of all subsequent biographical writings".

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Source : Wikipedia