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  • ("Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery." - Jane Austen, "Mansfield Park")

  • 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 19th 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 confirm "the 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.

  • If you're a fan of Jane Austen, check out this lesson on another British literary giant.

  • Writing 100 years later, Virginia Woolf had a complicated, ever-evolving admiration for Austen.

  • And she might just be the author you need to read next.

("Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery." - Jane Austen, "Mansfield Park")

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The wicked wit of Jane Austen - Iseult Gillespie

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    Vera posted on 2022/09/11
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