Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Northanger Abbey

Austen’s earliest novel, Northanger Abbey is one of those novels that started to criticize the most famous genre of eighteenth century- the Gothic novel. Written in response to contemporary fiction, it exhibits the most visibly comic relation to that fiction of all Austen’s full-length works. An eminent critic Jan Fergus says: “It insists on pointing up, and treating comically, the incongruities between literature and life, and the tendencies of novels to imitate each other rather than life.” Begun as a satire on the improbable plots and characters of the typical Gothic novel, Northanger Abbey developed into a treatment of Austen’s favourite theme, the initiation of a young woman into the complexities of adult social life. An adaptation of Northanger Abbey with screenplay by Andrew Davies, was shown on ITV on 25th March 2007 as part of their “Jane Austen Season”. This adaptation is aired on PBS in the United States as part of the “Complete Jane Austen” on Master Piece in January, 2008.

Northanger Abbey, though published posthumously, was probably the first to be completed, in the nearest to its original form. It belongs with Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice to an early period of writing, though all three were revised in later life, after the author had moved in 1809, with her widowed mother and her sister, to Chawton, the Hampshire home of her father’s brother, who had come into riches. The novel was written by Austen in 1798, revised for the press in 1803, and sold in the same year for £10 to a London bookseller, Crosby & Co., who after allowing it to remain for many years on his shelves, was content to sell it back to the novelist's brother, Henry Austen, for the exact sum that he had paid for it at the beginning, not knowing that the writer was already the author of four popular novels. In March 1817 (Letter 141) Jane told Fanny Knight: “Miss Catherine is put upon the Shelve for the present, and I do not know that she will ever come out.”The novel was further revised before being brought out posthumously in late December 1817 (1818 given on the title-page), as the first two volumes of a four-volume set with Persuasion.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous novels of english literature.

The twentieth century however, has seen Austen elevated by critics of diverse hues, to being one of the best female novelists and of the six novels she wrote, all are deemed classics, with at least three (Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility) of them being counted among the best in English fiction. Among all the novels of Austen Pride and Prejudice is the greatest work. It is regarded as the masterpiece not only of Jane Austen, but of English literature too. It has always been the one most widely read and most often reread. “The research carried out for cafĂ© chain Costa declared that Pride and Prejudice is third of the most re-read books in the world.”It is also the one that has chiefly invited dramatization, for both stage and film, partly perhaps because of its abundance of bright dialogue and its highly dramatic symmetry of structure. Not only today, but in her age too the book was very popular.
Pride and Prejudice had a long and varied life before it finally saw publication on January 28, 1813. Its manuscript was first written between 1796 and 1797, and was initially entitled First Impressions, but was never published under that title. The novel, First Impressions, was probably in the form of an exchange of letters between characters (epistolary form). Her father submitted it to a London Publisher the following year, but unfortunately for Austen (and perhaps for the publishing house), the manuscript was rejected and remained in her household. She continued to work on the book, and the story remained a favourite with close circle of friends, relation, and acquaintances she took into her confidence. Although the original ideas of the novel came from a girl of twenty-one, but the final version had the literary and thematic maturity of a thirty-five year old woman who had spent years painstakingly drafting and revising, as is the pattern with all of Austen's works.

Pride and Prejudice is a major work of art in its own right.It represents Austen’s first complete success along a certain line of experiment, the tracing of a young woman’s progress from immaturity and inexperience to a better understanding of herself and her world. It is a criticism of life expressed in terms of comedy and shows Austen’s greatness, limitations and aesthetical view on different colours and aspects of human life. The key point in the novel is the study of human behaviour; Austen is almost like Shakespeare in this respect.
Pride and Prejudice is a beautiful creation of the eighteenthcentury because of the emphasis on man in his social environment rather than in his individual conditions. The use of satire and wit, a common form of eighteenth century literature, also contributes in labeling the book as eighteenth century. Jan Fergus comments : “In Pride and Prejudice, Austen intentionally uses eighteenth-century literary devices to an eighteenth century end, moral and emotional didacticism."The story is based on a conventional eighteenth century idea- a misunderstanding about the central character. Discoveries about the real characters of the protagonist form the denouncement of the novel. The moral life is to be equated with delicacy and integrity of feeling, and its capacity for growth under adverse conditions.

Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen is one of the literary giants of the eighteenth century. A supremely comic writer and moralist, she redefines the novel as a delicate instrument.


Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811, was Austen’s first published novel and the one now most scrutinized by historicist, moralists and feminist scholars, who offer new, complex readings of the work. Contemporary critics of Austen's novels tended to overlook Sense and Sensibility in favour of her later works. Mansfield Park was read for moral edification; Pride and Prejudice was read for its irony and humour; and Emma for its subtle craft as a novel. Sense and Sensibility did not fall neatly into any of these categories, and critics approached it less eagerly. However, although the novel did not attract much critical attention, it sold well, and helped to establish “the author of Pride and Prejudice” as a respected writer. Only in the twentieth century have scholars and critics come to address Sense and Sensibility's great passion, its ethics, and its social vision. In recent years, the book has been adapted into feature films. It has recently been made into an Oscar-winning film starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Today, the three-volume novel by an anonymous lady has become a famed and timeless favourite.
Austen began writing Sense and Sensibility in 1797, when she was twenty-two (a very little senior to her heroine, Elinor Dashwood). It was to be a novel in the form of a series of letters, entitled Elinor and Marianne (the epistolary style), but in later drafts between 1797 and 1799 Austen abandoned this form and the novel today presents incidents and action almost entirely from a single point of view (that of Elinor Dashwood). After further revision between 1809 and 1810, financed by Austen’s brother and attributed only to “A Lady,” Sense and Sensibility finally appeared in print in 1811. It was the first of her novels to be published, and it was fourteen years in preparation.
Sense and Sensibility is therefore a novel of her girlhood (although revised in comparative maturity) and the ideas handled in it (the concept of ‘sensibility’ and the taste for ‘picturesque’ beauty are examples) are late eighteenth-century ideas. Despite this, the book enjoyed a mild success that encouraged its author to attempt further ventures. On this, her first publication, she probably bestowed great pains; she was ‘never too busy’ to think of it at proof-stage; ‘I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child’, she wrote.

Jane Austen: An Introduction

Jane Austen is my favorite novelist. I read all her six novels. Really they are very interesting, and the main thing her all six novels have a universal appeal.

Austen is by common consent an author remarkably sure of her values. She is the novelist, whose work is considered part of the western canon. Her insight into woman’s lives and her mastery of form and irony have made her one of the most noted and influential novelists of her era despite being only moderately successful during her lifetime. She is generally acknowledged to be one of the great English novelists.

For the first time the novel at her hands acquires perfection of form and structure. She has remained unsurpassed in her artistic mastery of limited materials. She is the writer whose novels are among the acknowledged classics of English literature, studied in schools and universities throughout the world (at the least count in thirty-five languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Persian, and Bengali), with an enormous bibliography of scholarship and criticism. Yet the six novels also attract an audience quite unconcerned about Austen’s critical reputation and status, who turns to the novel simply for enjoyment. This is the only instance in English literature where Samuel Johnson’s image of ‘the common reader’ really comes alive: the idea that the ultimate test of literary greatness is not in the formal recognition of the academics but rests with ‘the common- sense of readers, uncorrupted by literary prejudices,’ and that this individual judgement should prevail over ‘the refinements of subtlety and the dogmatism of learning.’
Austen was born at the rectory in Steventon, Hampshire, on 17th December 1775. She was the seventh child of the Rev. George Austen (1731-1805), and his wife Cassandra Austen (1739-1827). She is one of the descendants of King Edward III of England. Her father was the comfortably prosperous rector of the parish and was an important influence in Austen’s early writing career. She was the youngest but one of the family, her only sister Cassandra, being two years older, was closer to her than any other human being. They shared a room until the day Austen died, and their mother used to say, “if Cassandra were going to have her head cut off, Jane would insist on sharing her fate.”
Austen’s oldest brother, James, became a clergyman; her second brother, George, was subject to fits and was never referred in the family chronicles; Edward was adopted by the rich knight family and grew up to take their name and become a respected landowner. Austen’s favorite brother Henry was the charming drifter, the inveterate ideal-man, and the incurable optimist who became, among other things, a banker, a soldier, and his sister’s sometime public relations man, against her wishes, and ended up a bankrupt, and finally, in optimistic desperation, a clergyman. Francis and Charles, who bracketed Austen, one born just before, one just after, both became admirals and through the years has been lumped together as “Jane Austen’s sailor brothers.”
She was mostly tutored at home, and irregularly at school, but she received a broader education than many women of her time. In 1783, she was educated briefly by a relative, Mrs. Cawley, in Oxford, but was brought home due to a local outbreak of disease. Two years later she attended the Abbey Boarding School in Reading, reportedly wanting to follow her sister, Cassandra. Even so, less than a year later the girls were back at home, their schooldays at an end. Happily George Austen’s library helped fill the deficiency in his daughter’s education and it was his wish that she should browse amongst the hundreds of volumes he kept stacked on the bookshelves. She read extensively, enjoying the works of Fielding, Swift, Johnson and Defoe. She was also fond of Gothic novels like The Castle of Wolfenbach and Horrid Mysteries, as well as Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. To his credit Austen’s father never attempted to censor or limit his daughter’s literary choices and at twelve she was already writing book reviews and essays for The Loiterer, a periodical produced by two of her brothers. Her first novel, Love and Friendship, was written at the age of fourteen. Very shy about her writing, she wrote on small pieces of paper that she slipped under the desk plotter if anyone came into the room.
Austen's literary talent was precocious and by the age of twenty she had also completed the full-length manuscript of Lady Susan and was working on Elinor and Marianne, which was eventually published as Sense and Sensibility. The plot of Lady Susan was rather racy for the times and rumors have it that it was inspired by the conduct of Mrs. Craven, the grandmother of Austen’s friend Martha Lloyd.
Compared with writers like Dickens or her contemporary Mary Wollstonecraft, the course of her life does seem to run exceedingly quietly and smoothly. Really her life was relatively uneventful. Her nephew states in Memoir: “Of events her life was singularly barren: few changes and no great crisis ever broke the smooth current of its course.”Her life in the country consisted of long walks and socializing with her many Hampshire friends. Her favorite and most enjoyable activity was dancing and she attended many of the neighborhood balls. That is why her family’s announcement in 1801 came as considerable shock to her that they would be moving away to Bath. She greatly disliked the confines of a busy town and missed the life she once had at Steventon. In 1802, on the eve of her twenty-seventh birthday Austen received a marriage proposal from a wealthy but “big and awkward” man named Harris Bigg-Wither, who was six years her junior. Such a marriage would have “established” her (in the terminology of the day), and freed her from some of the constraints and “dependency” then associated with the role of a spinster who must rely on her family for support. Such considerations influenced her to accept his offer first, but next day she changed her mind and refused him. She did not believe in that marriage, which is held without love.
George Austen’s death in 1805 left Cassandra and her two daughters, Jane and Cassandra, in a devastating financial state. From one house to another and some visiting, Mrs. Austen and her daughters settled in Southampton, sharing a roomy house with the Francis Austen. In 1809, a final move was made to Chawton cottage on the Hampshire estate of Edward Knight. This was the place where Austen felt at home. She again started writing as well as revision of early written works. Sense and Sensibility was given a final polish and published at the author’s own expense in 1811, and Austen set to work upon Mansfield Park. Sense and Sensibility met with no spectacular success, but was sufficiently well received for a publisher to be willing to undertake the risk of launching the newly revised Pride and Prejudice in 1813. Mansfield Park was published in May 1814 and by November, Austen was able to report that the first edition was all sold.
In the autumn of 1815, Henry Austen had a long, serious illness during which Austen nursed him devotedly, and her own health suffered in consequence. In December 1815 Emma appeared duly dedicated to Royal Highness Prince Regent, who was an admirer of her work. In 1816, Persuasion was written, and to be laid aside, eventually published after her death by Henry Austen, bound up with Northanger Abbey. Her health already tried by anxieties on Henry’s behalf began to fail seriously in 1816, and by 1817 she was invalid to the extent of spending much of her time resting on two chairs. Even sometimes, she was unable to leave her bedroom and she owned to, “a good deal of fever at times.” Nevertheless, she wrote part of a new novel (which was published in 1825, under the title of Sandition), between January and March 1817.
Austen’s illness came to be regarded in the family as decline. In May 1817, she and Cassandra moved into Winchester in order to have more expert medical advice. On July 18th, 1817, Austen died at the age of forty-one. But it was only in the 1960s that the cause of her death was established from the symptoms as she described in her letters during the last year of her life. In the British Medical Journal for July, 1964, the doctor who made the diagnosis wrote: “Jane Austen did something more than write excellent novels- she also described the first recorded case of Addison’s disease of the adrenal bodies.”She was buried in Winchester Cathedral.