Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Whether she’s describing bickering families,

  • quiet declarations of love,

  • or juicy gossip,

  • Jane Austen’s writing often feels as though it was written just for you.

  • Her dry wit and cheeky playfulness informs her heroines,

  • whose conversational tone welcomes readers with a conspiratorial wink.

  • It’s even been said that some readers feel like the author’s secret confidante,

  • trading letters with their delightfully wicked friend Jane.

  • But this unique brand of tongue-in-cheek humor

  • is just one of the many feats found in her sly satires

  • of society, civility, and sweeping romance.

  • Written in the early nineteenth century,

  • Austen's novels decode the sheltered lives

  • of the upper classes in rural England.

  • From resentment couched in pleasantries

  • to arguing that masks attraction,

  • her work explores the bewildering collision of emotions and etiquette.

  • But while romance is a common thread in her work,

  • Austen dismissed the sentimental style of writing so popular at the time.

  • Instead of lofty love stories,

  • her characters act naturally, and often awkwardly.

  • They trade pragmatic advice, friendly jokes

  • and not-so-friendly barbs about their arrogant peers.

  • As they grapple with the endless rules of their society,

  • Austen’s characters can usually find humor

  • in all the hypocrisy, propriety, and small talk.

  • As Mr. Bennet jokes to his favorite daughter,

  • For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors

  • and laugh at them in our turn?”

  • And though her heroines might ridicule senseless social mores,

  • Austen fully understood the practical importance of maintaining appearances.

  • At the time she was writing,

  • a wealthy marriage was a financial necessity for most young women,

  • and she often explores the tension between the mythical quest for love,

  • and the economic benefits of making a match.

  • The savvy socialite Mary Crawford sums this up in "Mansfield Park;"

  • “I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly:

  • I do not like to have people throw themselves away.”

  • Unsurprisingly, these themes were also present in Austen’s personal life.

  • Born in 1775,

  • she lived in the social circles found in her novels.

  • Jane's parents supported her education,

  • and provided space for her to write and publish her work anonymously.

  • But writing was hardly lucrative work.

  • And although she had sparks of chemistry,

  • she never married.

  • Elements of her circumstances can be found in many of her characters;

  • often intelligent women with witty, pragmatic personalities,

  • and rich inner lives.

  • These headstrong heroines provide an entertaining anchor

  • for their tumultuous romantic narratives.

  • Like the irreverent Elizabeth Bennet of "Pride and Prejudice,"

  • whose devotion to her sisterslove lives blinds her to a clumsy suitor.

  • Or the iron-willed Anne Elliot of "Persuasion,"

  • who chooses to remain unmarried after the disappearance of her first love.

  • And Elinor Dashwood,

  • who fiercely protects her family at the cost of her own desires

  • in "Sense and Sensibility."

  • These women all encounter difficult choices

  • about romantic, filial, and financial stability,

  • and they resolve them without sacrificing their values

  • or their sense of humor.

  • Of course, these characters are far from perfect.

  • They often think they have all the answers.

  • And by telling the story from their perspective,

  • Austen tricks the viewer into believing their heroine knows best

  • only to pull the rug out from under the protagonist and the reader.

  • In "Emma," the titular character feels surrounded by dull neighbors,

  • and friends who can’t hope to match her wit.

  • As her guests prattle on and on about nothing,

  • the reader begins to agree

  • Emma is the only exciting character in this quiet neighborhood.

  • Yet despite her swelling ego,

  • Emma may not be as in control as she thinksin life or love.

  • And Austen’s intimate use of perspective

  • makes these revelations doubly surprising,

  • blindsiding both Emma and her audience.

  • But rather than diminishing her host of heroines,

  • these flaws only confirmthe inconsistency of all human characters.”

  • Their complexity has kept Austen prominent on stage and screen,

  • and made her work easily adaptable for modern sensibilities.

  • So hopefully,

  • new readers will continue to find a friend in Ms. Austen

  • for many years to come.

Whether she’s describing bickering families,

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B2 UK TED-Ed austen jane emma wit humor

The wicked wit of Jane Austen - Iseult Gillespie

  • 620 44
    Vera posted on 2020/03/13
Video vocabulary