Jane and her books: A brief overview

(continuing Jane Austen Week  here at TBG…)

So, for the past few days, you’ve read about Jane, her family, and even had some alcoholic punch. That is all well and good.

But why do we care about her, anyway?

Because of the novels she wrote.

Below are quick “capsules” about each novel, with publication date, summary, and any pertinent Jane thoughts about the book. And the plot outlines are outlines–I don’t want to give anything away.

More in-depth posts will follow, especially about Mansfield Park, since that’s the book club selection. But this is enough to get you started.

Sense and Sensibility

  • Begun in 1795 as Elinor and Marianne, and as an epistolary novel–a novel told through letters. In 1797-98 it was changed to Sense and Sensibility, and in the current novel format we know now it as. It was updated in 1809 and offered for publication in 1810, finally being published in October 1811 as a three volume work, “by a lady.”
  • The story revolves around two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, and their pursuits of love. At the death of their father, the girls and their mother and younger sister Margaret are forced to leave their luxurious estate and move to a cottage on a distant cousin’s property. The plot follows Elinor and Marianna as they fall in love: Elinor with Edward Ferrars, her brother-in-law, and Marianne with John Willoughby. Elinor embodies the “sense” of the title, while Marianne is the “sensibility”.
  • Central conflict: Passion vs. reason

Pride and Prejudice

  • Begun in October 1796 as First Imrpessions. During 1811-12, Jane “lop’t and crop’t” the manuscript and sold it for 110 pounds. It was published in January of 1813 in three volumes, and the second printing followed in autumn of that year. In 1817, the third edition was released.
  • It was been translated into 35 languages.
  • The classic story of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy–can these two opposites overcome their initial impressions of each other and find love? Many wonderfully drawn characters and priceless comic scenes.
  • Much of P&P is based on Jane’s relationship with Tom LeFroy (the story behind the film Becoming Jane). I’ll write more on this later.
  • Jane called P&P her “own darling child,” and it was the fashionable novel of Spring 1813.

Mansfield Park

  • Planning began in 1811, actual writing in 1812. It was published May 9, 1814, with a second edition in 1816.
  • Fanny Price, the heroine, goes to live with her well-off relatives in hopes of gaining some education and social polish that she cannot gain living with her impoverished family. She is constantly reminded that she is “not as good” as her other two female cousins, Maria and Julia, and is somewhat of the family Cinderella. Her worth to the family rises when a wealthy man, Henry Crawford, begins to pay her attentions.
  • Has caused more debate than any other novel.
  • Fanny is probably the most criticized of Austen heroines (one of the reasons I wrote my thesis defending her!).
  • Fanny’s cousin Edmund is one of Jane’s favorite characters.

Emma

  • Started January 1814 and finished March 29, 1815. Published December 1815 (but dated 1816), with a run of 2,000 copies.
  • Jane wrote that Emma is “A heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”
  • Emma Woodhouse– “handsome, clever and rich”–is an independently wealthy young woman who is, for lack of a better term, a busybody. Having had some limited success in matchmaking, she now attempts to set up her friend, Harriet, with the local cleric. Emma is a bit spoiled, and the only person who really tries to correct her is her neighbor and brother-in-law, Mr. Knightley.
  • Jane was far from confident that Emma would be well-received, although many current critics call it her finest example of ironic writing.

Persuasion

  • Her last completed novel. Shorter, and a more thoughtful reflection of love among “older” people.
  • Finished August, 1816, and published with Northanger Abbey after her death.
  • “At once the warmest and coldest of Austen’s works, the softest and the hardest.”
  • The story of Anne Elliot, a woman in her late 20s who fell in love when she was younger, but was persuaded not to marry the man because he was poor. Now, her family has lost their fortune and he is a Naval captain with wealth and position. Can their feelings for each other survive the opinions of others?

Northanger Abbey and Other Works

  • NA written first, but published last.
  • A send-up of  the Gothic novel.
  • Catherine Moreland, her heroine, has a very overactive imagination, which she puts to unpleasant use when she visits a well-off family at their Abbey (of the title).
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