As the anniversary of the publication of Jane’s debut novel approaches on October 30th, we bring you ten facts that you might not know about Sense and Sensibility!
1) Jane’s first full length novel was originally known as Elinor and Marianne and told its story through a series of correspondances. Cassandra recalls Jane reading this novel to her family some 15 years prior to the publishing of Sense and Sensibility, although it’s unclear how much the novel changed in the intervening period.
2) Jane is said to have strongly believed that one should only marry where there is genuine affection. It is suggested that Jane is writing autobiographically when Elinor Dashwood ruminates on “the worst and most irremediable of all evils, a connection for life” with an unsuitable man.
3)Sense and Sensibility was published by Thomas Egerton on a commission basis. That is to say that the financial risk would have laid with Jane if the book had been unsuccessful .
4) To maximise his commission profit on the book, Egerton printed it onto expensive paper and sold the three volume tome for 15 shillings.
5) The first edition of Sense and Sensibility is estimated to have comprised of between 700 and 1000 copies.
6) Austen made the princely sum of £140 from sales of the first edition of Sense and Sensibility.
7) Very few people knew the author’s identity. Copies of Sense and Sensibility listed its author as A Lady and her subsequent books were attributed to The Author of Sense and Sensibility. It wasn’t until after her death that Jane’s name appeared on any of her books.
8) Dame Emma Thompson took five years to develop the screenplay for 1995’s big screen adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Her work paid off though, as it earned her an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, along with a nomination for Best Actress. Emma remains the only person to win an Oscar for both screenwriting and acting.
9) The first French translation of Sense and Sensibility was written by Madame Isabelle de Montoliue, who had only a basic grasp of the English language. As such, this translation followed Jane’s original story only very loosely with key lines and even whole scenes changed.
10) The Prince Regent was one of the first purchasers of Sense and Sensibility, having bought a copy two days before it was first advertised. Jane despised the Prince, but agreed to dedicate her fourth novel, Emma, to him.
In this guest article by a lifelong Austen fan and recent visitor to the Jane Austen Centre, Maya Mehrara shares her opinions on the numerous TV and film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that all true Austen-heads are obsessed with the most beautifully written love story of all time – Jane Austen’s one and only Pride and Prejudice. Don’t get me wrong – her other novels are all lovely in their own right. However, for me, Pride and Prejudice has a special place in my heart. I remember the first time I read it like it was yesterday. I was ten years old, and the day that I first leapt into Lizzie Bennet’s fantastical story, my life changed forever. This sounds dramatic, but it’s true. I can honestly say that we were soul sisters from the start, and since that snowy December day in 2009, Lizzie Bennet and I have been best friends (even if it is only in my imagination). I like to believe that we are both witty, adventurous, and headstrong (to a fault). We fight hard, but we love harder. Every time I re-read her story; I feel like I am visiting an old friend that I have known forever. I will be eternally grateful to my nanny who first brought Lizzie Bennet into my world so many years ago. I will never tire of reading Pride and Prejudice, for it has brought me pure joy even in my darkest days.
Whenever I chat about Austen’s works with fellow Austen lovers, it becomes apparent to me that there seems to be absolutely no one who dislikes Pride and Prejudice. More specifically, there is no one who loves Austen who dislikes the book version of Pride and Prejudice. However, the real debate begins when I talk to fellow bookworms about the numerous film and TV adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. Most Austen-heads (including myself) have very strong opinions regarding the subject. From what I have gathered, most people either seem to love the BBC 1995 television version of Pride and Prejudice (in which Colin Firth famously portrays our iconic Mr. Darcy), or they love the 2005 Keira Knightley film version of our favourite novel.
I would like to finally settle this highly controversial debate on which version is better. I’m just going to say it – I truly believe that the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice is the best adapted version of the classic novel ever made. I feel that Keira Knightley is the only actress who has ever truly captured the essence of our beloved Lizzie Bennet on screen. To be completely honest, I never really loved the BBC version, and don’t even get me started on the absolute disaster that is the 1940 Laurence Olivier version of Pride and Prejudice… I promise that I am not all opinion and no substance on this subject. Therefore, I will explain the reasons why I feel that the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice takes the crown.
Keira Knightley portrays all of Lizzie’s characteristics effortlessly – she is witty, kind, playful, and yet serious when she needs to be. She emphasizes the deep love Lizzie has for her family and her unique relationship with Charlotte. Keira Knightley depicts how Lizzie is quite stubborn and often misjudges people without realizing it (like someone else we know), but she also emphasizes how Lizzie can recognize her faults. Overall, Keira Knightley’s interpretation of Lizzie is how I have always pictured her, need I say more?
In the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, the portrayal of a character that bothered me the most was (you guessed it) Jennifer Ehle’s version of Lizzie Bennet. First of all, I feel that Ehle’s portrayal of Lizzie was way too serious and stoic! I didn’t see any of Lizzie’s wit and playfulness being depicted at all! Unlike Keira Knightley, her performance lacks character depth and variety. I found her portrayal of Lizzie made her seem somewhat arrogant and empty.
Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy— I truly believe that was one of the best casting decisions ever made. I feel that he played Mr. Darcy to a T! When I see other actors play Mr. Darcy, I often see them fall into the trap of playing him as a heartless, arrogant jerk who hates people and does not display his true feelings for Lizzie until the last five minutes of the movie. However, because Matthew Macfadyen is an extraordinary actor, he did the exact opposite of this. He managed to portray Mr. Darcy as a man who seems arrogant and distant but is actually quite loving and somewhat shy (when it comes to talking about what’s in his heart). I believe that Matthew Macfadyen accurately portrays all sides of Mr. Darcy in his performance, and I think that no other actor could have played Mr. Darcy better.
I know that many people will be offended by this, but I’m just going to say it. Colin Firth just looked constipated as Mr. Darcy for six episodes straight. I know many Austen-heads love him and have cardboard cut-outs of him, but can you really say I’m completely wrong in my observation?
The cinematography alone is unmatched, incredible, and awe-inspiring. The score for the film does not get nearly enough credit; Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s music is simply heavenly, and perfectly aids in telling the story of Pride and Prejudice.
Need I go on? For all these reasons listed, the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice is my favourite adaptation of Jane Austen’s renowned novel. However, as much as I love this movie, I am a true bookworm at heart. I can say with complete confidence that there is nothing I love more than curling up underneath a huge weeping willow tree on a sunny day and leaping into the world of early 19th century England. Experiencing Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s love story over and over again is truly magical.
Jane Austen was one of the literary geniuses of her age, a classic author whose work is recognised worldwide and who has become a household name. She was also an unmarried woman with a fierce sense of privacy and an often precarious financial situation. Jane Aiken Hodge’s latest book, Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen, investigates Austen’s fascinating double life to answer the eternal question: who, exactly, was Jane Austen?
All biographies of Jane Austen have to meet the challenge posed by the destruction of much of the author’s correspondence. Aiken Hodge’s is no exception, but she makes excellent use of the documentation available. She deftly weaves what remains of Austen family letters and other historical documents with extracts, events and characters in the author’s surviving novels and minor works. The result is engrossing, even for those already familiar with Jane Austen’s letters and other books about her life.
Aiken Hodge paints a rich picture of the turbulent and rapidly changing times of the Regency. She succinctly but effectively provides context on politics, society, religion, leisure, education, social customs, fashion and many other topics, and links them back to Austen’s work. She makes Austen’s idyllic childhood in Steventon Rectory come to life, detailing the Austens’ family dynamics and their silly sense of humour. What Aiken Hodge calls “Austen-nonsense” would prove to be a fertile ground to Austen’s signature balancing act of irony and romance. The book also dissects Austen’s Juvenilia and highlights the first buds of what we find in her more mature works.
The book does an excellent job of covering Jane Austen’s creative process and her evolution as a writer, with the ups and downs that come with any creative endeavour. It also looks at how Austen’s work reflects the events the author experienced at the time of writing. It is not always a straightforward exercise, but Aiken Hodge manages it convincingly.
It takes until the last third of the book for Aiken Hodge to begin to address the question of who Jane Austen really was. After the publication of Pride and Prejudice, when word of her authorship began to circulate, Austen had to face the dilemma of fame versus anonymity. As much as she was proud of her status as published author of some success, she had an evident desire to lead a quiet existence. Aiken Hodge provides a vivid portrait of the author’s struggle to reconcile both.
A particularly enjoyable theme in Aiken Hodge’s book is the source of Jane Austen’s inspiration for her stories. It is a fact that Austen’s beloved sailor brothers influenced her naval characters, such as Captain Wentworth. Those familiar with the writer’s life will also know that her charming and flirtatious cousin Eliza Hauton, married to a French count first and Austen’s brother Henry later, would inspire Mary Crawford, and to a lesser extent, Lady Susan.
However, Aiken Hodge goes well beyond the customary facts and excels at providing Easter eggs for Janeites. The connections she draws between fact and fiction are many. A scandalous story about a Mrs Powlett who elopes with a viscount inspires Mansfield Park; an impoverished widow of her acquaintance provides the raw material for Emma’s Miss Bates; a pompous man of the cloth may well be the spark that lit Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Collins. But beyond anecdotal encounters, the book looks at how Jane Austen “took the painful grit of experience and transmuted it into her pearl.” Aiken Hodge masters the art of pinpointing the difficulties, the humiliations, the sadness and the disappointments in the author’s life that her work would inevitably reflect.
Aiken Hodge’s book is a delightful read. She has an evident love for her subject and is not afraid to go beyond what is generally known about Austen. She also does not shy away from controversies, such as a suspected spiritual crisis when Austen was in her thirties and the interpretation of the writer’s will as a “text for feminists.” One may agree or disagree with some of her conclusions, but they are impeccably researched, admiringly exposed and beautifully written.
At the same time, this is no light read. Aiken Hodge has rightly opted for contemporary spellings for the historical sources and has kept away from footnotes and additional referencing, but the book is dense in facts and names. It would be superb if future editions included an Austen family tree, because it is easy to get lost after the first dozen nephews and nieces, not to mention the second marriages. Having said that, the effort in following the comings and goings of the many members of the Austen clan is amply rewarded. Aiken Hodge has written a remarkable biography that is likely to become a work of reference those who admire Jane Austen’s work and are intrigued by her genius.
Eliza Shearer has been an admirer of Jane Austen’s work since she picked up a battered copy of Sense & Sensibility in the local library when she was a thirteen. A member of Austen Authors and the Scottish branch of the Jane Austen Society, Eliza enjoys long walks in the countryside near Edinburgh (that sometimes result in muddy petticoats). Eliza’s first novel in her Austeniana series is Miss Darcy’s Beaux, and her second, Miss Price’s Decision, is due to come out in Autumn.
Are you more Marianne than Elinor, Lydia rather than Lizzy? Be More Jane will teach you to address life with more sense and less prejudice, taking useful lessons from the novels and letters of Jane Austen. Times may change, but many of our problems remain the same. Sophie Andrews, a young Janeite, knows from personal experience that in times of trouble, or just on matters of friendship, family and love, answers are to be found in the pages of Miss Austen’s novels!
In this brilliant extract from “Be More Jane”, Sophie channels her inner Lydia Bennet while examining marriage in Jane Austen’s time! If you’re like to read more, you can pick up a copy signed by Sophie Andrews by clicking here!
Jane on Marriage
“A woman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked.” Emma
Wise words from the financially independent Miss Woodhouse, but unfortunately, this was often the most sensible course of action in Jane Austen’s time. Love in marriage, though desirable, was a luxury. For many women, denied the opportunity to work or to inherit property, marriage was essential to gain financial security or better their social status.
Upper class women might have to accept a proposal from a man they barely knew and had never had a private conversation with, other than perhaps during a dance or two! Arranged marriages and marriages of convenience are still commonplace in some cultures today, but many of us are lucky enough to have the freedom to choose whom we marry, and to expect that love will come first.
When considering Jane Austen’s six main novels, all but one of her heroines face the need to find a husband as soon as they can, in order to secure their own future and sometimes that of their relations too. Poor Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is mocked for excessive eagerness and lack of subtlety in her matchmaking, but the urgency to marry off her five daughters is more forgivable when you consider her constant fear of losing the family home to their cousin Mr Collins, Mr Bennet’s entailed heir. Continue reading Jane on Marriage – An Exclusive Extract from “Be More Jane” by Sophie Andrews
You heard it here first! We’re delighted to announce that this November will see the publication of a new non-fiction book all about Austen’s most famous hero, Mr Darcy, and just why he is so adored.
The new book by Gabrielle Malcolm will be called There’s Something About Darcy – and indeed there is, something very special. He is enigmatic, difficult, and gallant. He is passionate, ardent, and gentlemanly.
For a character invented by the unmarried daughter of a Hampshire clergyman in the early 19th century, his longevity, popularity, and his global appeal, are staggering. From an unpromising start at the Meryton Assembly he now lives on in the hearts and imaginations of millions.
The foundation of the book ‘There’s Something About Darcy’ was the popularity of the ‘I <3 Darcy’ merchandising at the Jane Austen Centre. When I witnessed the enthusiasm with which tourists and fans snapped up the bags and badges, visible around the city, I knew that here was a topic and a history worth investigating. Follow the story with me, for some surprising twists and turns, and some unexpected companions along the way.
I want us to share in what makes Darcy so exciting and enchanting, and discover how the story of the character can bring us closer to the imagination and creativity of our beloved Jane Austen.
You can join the conversation and share what you love (or hate!) about Darcy on social media with the hashtag #Darcymania ahead of the book’s release. A release which, incidentally, will see the Jane Austen Online Gift Shop able to offer signed copies of Malcolm’s great new read.
If you can’t wait until November to find out more about the book, then we hope that you’ll enjoy reading the extract below from There’s Something About Darcy.
In the autumn of 1995, a quiet cultural revolution took place, first in the UK and then around the world. It was quiet because it mostly concerned the emotions generated from private reading habits. It was quiet because it arose from Sunday evening television viewing. And it was quiet because it was almost exclusively driven by the reading and viewing habits of women.
Writer and journalist Helen Fielding was one of the first to pick up on this at the time. Through the lens of her column in TheIndependent newspaper, ‘The Diary of Bridget Jones’, she scrutinised the week-by-week run of a six-part BBC TV period drama series awaiting the moment the two leading characters would ‘get off’ with each other. Bridget Jones started life as a caricature of a thirty-something single woman steeped in self-absorption, self-criticism and self-scrutiny – from the number of calories consumed to the size of knickers required in any given social situation. She evolved over the weeks, months and subsequent years into a character that came to lead the vanguard in modern reinterpretations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813).
The trigger for this revolution in popular culture, and the object of Fielding’s scrutiny, was of course the broadcast of the new BBC TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which unexpectedly sent reverberations around the world that still echo today. It was the product of the dovetailing of a specific group of talents: the genius of Jane Austen, the inventiveness of scriptwriter Andrew Davies and the vision of television director Simon Langton, together with a sterling cast headed by Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.
One particular scene became etched on the popular consciousness: when Mr Darcy (played by Firth), strides across a field, a wet shirt clinging to his body. Awkward, yet utterly masculine, he strode right into the hearts and dreams of millions.
The result was a television event that has had no serious rivals since, and the birth of an epoch of unprecedented Austen fandom, for the author and her hero. Austen is now unique amongst period novelists in that she occupies a place in contemporary twenty-first century fan culture that very few modern writers can rival. Austen’s creations, particularly Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, are as much a focus of today’s online fan culture as, for example, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter characters and the Star Wars or Dr Who universes.
The idea for this book came to me when I was waiting at a bus stop in Bath. Next to me stood a young woman carrying an ‘I <3 Darcy’ tote bag. I tracked this item down to the Jane Austen Centre shop, just off Queen’s Square. That was my introduction to the notion that there was a demand for Austen and Darcy related things that went beyond the novels and their adaptations. When I heard that Chatsworth House in Derbyshire had to put away the bust of Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy (from the 2005 film version) because visitors kept kissing it, I decided that this urge ought to be investigated.
The fascination with Darcy has grown into a mania, and this book will examine why that is. Darcy now appears in innumerable guises: in fist-fights on screen, slamming his Ferrari into gear in the pages of a romance novel, running a digital media company in San Francisco, as a vampire, a heart surgeon, a neurosurgeon, and even slaying zombies in films and graphic novels. He is especially favoured in the now classic trope of a man emerging – dripping wet – from a lake or pond, wet shirt clinging to his body. Even actors who have never played Darcy use this as a kind of shorthand for masculine gorgeousness. Benedict Cumberbatch, star of Sherlock for the BBC and Dr Strange in the Marvel Universe, appeared in a charity photoshoot in 2014 as a ‘sexy wet ’n’ wild’ tribute to Firth as Darcy.
Time travel fantasies undertaken to meet Darcy, updated sequels to Pride and Prejudice, modern adaptations and even dragon-taming versions of Darcy (as in Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon, Longbourn: Dragon Entail, Netherfield: Rogue Dragon, a three-book series by Maria Grace, White Soup Press, 2016–2018) populate the thriving genre of Jane Austen fan fiction. This is probably one of the most telling and revealing aspects of Austen’s modern-day popularity – the huge, ever-increasing, concentrated output of fan fiction. These are stories – mostly circulated online, but many published in print through independent channels – that are based on Austen’s original narratives and characters. They explore alternative plotlines, are told from an individual character’s perspective or explore ‘what if?’ scenarios that test the much-loved characters in new and dramatic ways. The figure of Darcy dominates these alternative re-tellings of Pride and Prejudice, demonstrating how vivid, personal and meaningful are the relationships between readers and writers of Jane Austen fan fiction, the author and her creation.
The Darcy we know today has a 200-year history behind him. And beyond that history are the influences that might have operated on Austen to create him. He has moved from being the secondary character to Elizabeth, her love interest, to influence later heroic creations. He is now an archetype that defines a whole strand of characters in fiction, drama, media and popular culture. These are identified by a single name – Darcy.
So, what is it that Austen delivers for readers and viewers that turn them into such fans, and superfans, of her novels, her characters and of Darcy in particular? This book will search for some answers to this, and in doing so explore the origins of the character, the depiction of him in the novel and the legacy of his influence.
Women’s Circles Broken: The Disruption of Sisterhood in Three Nineteenth-Century Works
The author of the following work, Meagan Hanley, wrote this multi-part post as her graduate thesis. Her focus was works of literature by female authors, one of whom was Jane Austen. We thought that the entire essay was wonderful, and so, with her permission, we wanted to share it with you.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Austen).
If rich men must go wife-hunting, then the women presumably are lucky to get them, spending their time scrambling and fighting to beat out the competition and become the chosen wife. However, Jane Austen and other nineteen-century women authors such as Louisa May Alcott and Christina Rossetti saw the truth played out in the society around them. Of course, on the surface, the frantic search for wealthy husbands was reality; women were trained to become wives. Since women had such limited opportunities available to them, marriage was the most viable option for survival. An interesting connection found, though, among the literature written by women at the time is the way in which women thrive together in communities with each other—up until the men enter the scene. Many women are extremely unhappy after marriage and mourn the loss of community they had shared with their sisters. Once the men, or more commonly, one man who is also the future husband, disrupt these women-centered communities, the close bond among women is severed.
Three works of literature sharing this similarity are Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, early in the nineteenth century, when many people had yet to question the societal relegation of the “woman’s place” to the home. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, when Rossetti published “Goblin Market” in 1862 and Alcott published Little Women in 1868, there was already an early push for women’s suffrage in both the United States and England. These three authors realized that women should have more options than marriage—although even they could not quite visualize what these options could be.
What they longed for was a way for women to retain sisterhood after marriage instead of leaving it behind completely and to be allowed a place in the public sphere. They could see this better option, a supportive sisterhood—safe, loving, and uninterrupted. How and why did women thrive together in these three fictional nineteenth-century communities? How did they communicate? In what spaces did these communities exist? In what ways did men disrupt these communities, and was it possible for women to regain a similar level of closeness with each other after the disruption of men (i.e. marriage)? Some answers to these questions will become clear as this thesis looks at the various viewpoints and treatments each author brought to women’s communities, their importance, formation, and men’s intrusions upon them.
In each of the works discussed, one female character is affected most particularly by the male disruption. For Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, one of the most obvious instances of male intrusion occurs when Mr. Collins takes her dear friend Charlotte away from her. The loss of their friendship and intimacy deeply affects Elizabeth. Jo March in Little Women quite nearly despises the man who marries her older sister Meg and removes her from the cherished community of sisters, and after Laura eats the fruit offered to her in the poem “Goblin Market,” she drifts away from her sister Lizzie and moves swiftly toward death. Consequently, Lizzie is also deeply affected when she must discover a way to save her sister’s life. All of these characters navigate a world that shifts drastically with the entrance of men—and in the case of both novels, the changes brought by marriage.
The two novels use realism to illustrate aspects of female utopian spaces, relationships, and struggles, while by the end of the poem, Lizzie and Laura exist in a true female utopia—a world devoid of men and devoted to sisterhood. Coming hand-in- hand with the nearly inevitable event of marriage in women’s lives was the fact that they would be forced to leave these female utopias for the worlds mostly inhabited and controlled by men. In these writings by nineteenth-century women, women consistently pursue a space free from the overwhelming presence and power of men. Because of the transplants caused by marriage, these women constantly seek communities of women, new utopias and places of refuge with their own ways of communicating with each other that are often vastly different from dominant male forms of communication.
These women’s communities have been viewed as utopian alternatives to the patriarchal societies around them. The word “utopia” was created in 1516 when Sir Thomas More wrote the novel of the same name. He took it from the Greek word ou- topos for “nowhere” or “no place,” but the extremely similar eu-topos also means a good place. It is within this in-between area where women exist in these works of literature— the space between nowhere and a good place. The word “utopia” commonly connotes perfection and unity, but these women’s utopias do not quite fit this definition. The utopias they create are not recognized by the patriarchal society, and because of this, the women’s utopias are much closer to More’s original definition of “nowhere.” Where men often gather in large, boisterous groups, women gather in small, private spaces. From the parlor to written letters, the places and ways in which women communicate differ drastically from those of men.
In a search for a space away from men’s authority, women create their own. Many of these spaces are unique from their male-dominated counterparts. For example, the women in these works claim letter-writing as a space distinctively theirs. While not usually viewed as a literal “space,” letters create a location wherein women share their true, hidden thoughts and feelings with each other, free from the prying eyes of their husbands. Letters act as a private space for sharing intimate details about life, love, frustration, and loneliness—but also a space for sharing joyful news and encouragement. Writing and story-telling feature heavily in relationships among women—not only through their letters but through journals and stories repeated around the fireplace, in the drawing room, the kitchen, and other places women make their own.
In Space, Place, and Gender, Doreen Massey discusses the important roles that literal and metaphorical spaces and places play in women’s lives—specifically in the nineteenth century. Massey argues that critics should think “of social space in terms of the articulation of social relations which necessarily have a spatial form in their interactions with one another” (Massey). A few lines later, she elaborates:
Thinking of places in this way implies that they are not so much bounded areas as open and porous networks of social relations . . . It reinforces the idea, moreover, that those identities will be multiple (since the various social groups in a place will be differently located in relation to the overall complexity of social relations and since their reading of those relations and what they make of them will also be distinct). And this in turn implies that which is to be the dominant image of any place will be a matter of contestation and will change over time.
Women construct their identities within literal and metaphorical spaces in these three works—most commonly the home or “private sphere.” However, as Massey explains, the women themselves also have varying definitions of identity as it compares to specific places. Women do not define their identities based solely on the spaces they inhabit; rather, the ways in which they choose to use certain spaces confer identity on the spaces themselves. In this mutual transferal of identity, almost any space available to women can be transformed into a female utopia, giving women a type of power all their own.
Massey also writes that “it is necessary to understand … gender relations as significant in the structuring of space and place, spaces and places” (Massey). By focusing on how women affect the spaces they inhabit, it becomes clear that they construct them differently from male spaces and specifically for themselves. For Massey, “It means that spatiality cannot be analysed through the medium of a male body and heterosexual male experience, but without recognizing these as important and highly specific characteristics, and then generalized to people at large” (Massey). Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, and “Goblin Market” were all born out of strict patriarchal societies, but the characters within them seek and discover ways of defining spaces and meaning without men. Further discussion of specific characters’ definitions of space and identity will be found in each chapter.
When reading and writing about relationships among women, it can be easy to come to the incomplete assumption that all women seek to be united together on common ground; and while that is true in one sense, there are multiple dimensions to women’s connections. Women in the nineteenth century were most often drawn together in their struggle for a place to call their own where their voices could be heard, but their methods of creating spaces were as diverse as their personalities.
One critic, Helena Michie, coined her own term for describing one aspect of communication among women. In her book, Sororophobia Differences Among Women in Literature and Culture, she makes continual use of the title word “sororophobia,” which “attempts to describe the negotiation of sameness and difference, identity and separation, between women of the same generation, and is meant to encompass both the desire for and the recoil from identification with other women” (Michie). It is this simultaneous longing and withdrawal from sameness that gives rise to many elements of women’s communication. In the three works discussed here, it becomes clear that women are different even within the same families, and it is often these dialogues among sisters and friends that drive the plots nearly as much as the impending marriages and disruptions by men.
Patricia Meyer Spacks writes in The Female Imagination that “Pride and Prejudice centers on marriage. In the society it depicts, marriage measures a woman’s success; mothers value themselves for marrying off their daughters; girls value themselves and are valued for their ability to attract and hold eligible men” (Spacks). In “Goblin Market,” there is a definite underlying theme of the girls preparing themselves for marriage. With so much emphasis placed on becoming “marriageable,” it is no wonder that it factors into the women’s communities. However, as we will see, marriage was not the sole focus of women’s lives. Even in the phase of “waiting” for men to arrive, the women—and especially sisters—in these works of literature create alternate, often utopian spaces for themselves. Each work discussed here displays varying differences in women’s communication, their level of closeness before and after marriage, the places they could call their own, and the ways in which they viewed impending marriages and probable separation from each other.
It has been argued that the communities of women in both novels are brought more closely together through difficulties that arise from the “lack” of men in their lives. Nina Auerbach writes in Communities of Women that “throughout Austen’s completed novels, women lead a purgatorial existence together … their lives are presented through an avoidance of detailed presentation as unshaped, unreal, a limbo” until men enter the scene (Auerbach). This statement simplifies the complexities that women’s communities can achieve. While it is true to some extent that the women in these stories exist in a culture of waiting and training until marriage becomes a possibility—until marriage ends the communities they have built together, their communities are not “purgatorial” as Auerbach claims. Rather, these communities are fragile and always at risk of disruption or dissolution caused by marriage. The clearest example of this can be found in the Bennet sisters, who exist in a close family unit until the marriageable men arrive in town.
Pride and Prejudice specifically has been labeled a marriage novel. At first glance, the entire plot is moved forward by impending marriages. The first sentence itself seems to focus readers on the fact that all rich single men are searching for wives, but there is much more going on under the surface. Austen’s language here can also be read with sarcasm; rich men do not actually need wives because they are rich men, but their culture demands marriage. However, even though the plot does lead to marriages, the bulk of the novel is centered on women’s communities. Readers see the social aspects of balls and dinners and whispered conversations among women, but we also see Elizabeth Bennett strategically avoiding a marriage with Mr. Collins. For her, marriage is more than simply security, and she refuses to settle for a life with a man who would make her miserable.
Austen, Alcott, and Rossetti each had significant relationships with their sisters in one way or another. Most famously, Alcott’s novel is based on her childhood with her sisters, and Austen’s close relationship with her sister Cassandra has also been widely speculated upon and discussed. Rossetti’s tumultuous relationship with her sister is not as well known but influential all the same. For better or for worse, these sisterly relationships had a lasting impact on what and how these three authors wrote. Another significant similarity shared among the three authors is that they all chose to remain single. In a time when nearly all women married out of necessity, the fact that these three were unmarried is meaningful. It has become increasingly common to avoid authorial biography when writing about literature, but the strong parallels in this case create a space for inclusion and justification of biographical details. While biographical analysis will not feature heavily in this paper, each author had strong bonds with at least one sister and remained unmarried—common life experiences that are too important to omit.
All three authors knew one thing in particular that appears often in their writing: women create communities when they are together. They can transform unlikely spaces into female communities to strengthen and support each other. In these works of literature, the heroines struggle with the disruption and subsequent loss of these support systems most often through men and marriage. The characters we will discuss and befriend in these pages do not hate men, but they love their sisters more. The communities they create are not in opposition to male communities, but they are essential for women to function and thrive. for It is their resilient spirits that draw readers back to Elizabeth Bennet and Jo March centuries later. Lizzie’s devotion to Laura in her defeat of the goblin men is magnetic—it pulls us into the poem and challenges us to see beyond the words on the page. Nineteenth-century women’s communities are ephemeral, but even their weaknesses produce strength among women, binding them tightly together until the disruption of marriage and oftentimes continuing after marriage. These communities are spaces where women define and claim identities, challenge, and support each other. When women are forbidden to enter the public sphere, they create better spaces for themselves which are not defined by men—spaces that allow perseverance and rebuild community. For a first look at this type of strength found in women’s communities, we turn to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
(Part Two, Pride and Prejudice: The Men Enter The Scene, will be published next week)
About the author
Meagan Hanley lives in Illinois, U.S.A., just east of St. Louis, Missouri, with her new husband and an ever-growing book collection. She has loved all things Jane Austen since she first came across Pride and Prejudice at 14 years old, and her friends and family have learned to live with her obsession. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from Greenville University and an M.A. in Literature from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Meagan works as an office manager, and when she’s not reading, she can be found enjoying the outdoors with friends and cycling with her husband. She also blogs about life and literature at https://meagangunn.wordpress.com.
A brief exploration of Jane Austen’s level of popularity with different members of the Royal family.
Jane came to Winchester from her Hampshire cottage at Chawton, accompanied by her beloved sister Cassandra, to seek medical help because of her failing health. Jane had already begun to become ill in 1816, yet still she continued to write, beginning her new novel The Brothers later published as Sanditon, in January 1817 which – poignantly – was to remain unfinished.
On her death, Jane was buried at Winchester Cathedral, although her original tombstone makes no express reference to the fact that she wrote.
Whilst this might initially surprise, it is important to remember that the works published by Jane in her lifetime appeared anonymously, something which the tombstone inscription continues to support. However, it is notable that a third memorial in Winchester Cathedral – a stained glass window erected in her memory in 1900 – was paid for by public subscription, something which alone speaks for how her literary recognition had grown since her death.
That Jane’s works were enjoyed in her lifetime however, meant that her readers admired the unidentified writing of “the author of Sense and Sensibility” – as she appeared listed in the three volumes of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility” listing the work as simply being written “By a Lady.”
Jane had not been without her royal readers, either. With the publication of Emma, the Prince Regent, later King George IV – who admired Jane Austen’s work – received his own copy, sent to him by the publisher John Murray. The Prince Regent’s only (legitimate) daughter, Princess Charlotte, died as the result of childbirth at Claremont in 1817, the same year of Jane’s death.
The Prince Regent’s librarian James Stanier Clarke, invited Jane to view the Library at the Prince’s lavish mansion residence of Carlton House, which she did on 13 November 1815. It seems to have been hinted as part of this visit that the Prince Regent wished her new book, Emma to be personally dedicated to him, something which – despite being personally unsympathetic to the Prince Regent – Jane could hardly ignore and which was more or less, after all, a royal command by way of a request, she being “at liberty to dedicate any future work to the Prince.”
The Prince Regent duly received his three-volume copy, and the one that was sent to him is today surviving in the Royal Library at Windsor. Jane tactfully dedicated the work to the Prince Regent by his permission and respectfully signed it as “THE AUTHOR.” Clarke’s suggestions on Jane’s authorial prerogative found later expression in her manuscript, Plan of a Novel, according to Hints from Various Quarters, which remained unpublished during her lifetime. Clearly, Jane’s unquestionable gifts were recognised and highly valued by the Prince Regent, who had engaged Clarke not only as his librarian but also his domestic chaplain.
The first royal purchase of a Jane Austen novel in the Royal Collection was discovered by chance during the programme of research for the Georgian Papers project in 2018. As part of this project, the researcher Nicholas Foretek of the University of Pennsylvania found recorded in the Royal Archives, the first documented purchase of a novel by Jane Austen, something unknown to academic Austen studies until 2018 and therefore, a remarkably significant discovery. I have drawn on Foretek’s report of his findings.
The documentary evidence suggests that Sense and Sensibility was bought by the Prince Regent, some two days before Jane’s maiden novel was first publicly announced in The Star. The Prince bought this copy for 15 shillings on 28 October 1811, the year of the Regency Bill. The purchase of Sense and Sensibility occurs first in this page of the ledger for the Prince’s booksellers Becket & Porter of Pall Mall, headed and underlined: ‘Books’.
The Georgian Papers show that the Prince Regent bought two copies of Pride and Prejudice in 1813, after which time his bookseller had changed to Budd & Calkins on the demise of Becket of Pall Mall. He additionally purchased a further copy of Sense and Sensibility, buying Mansfield Park in 1814 and Northanger Abbey in 1819, which he ordered to be bound. Pride and Predjudice was also bound for him in calfskin for the price of 13s. 6d “with gilt edges”, whilst the pages of Sense and Sensibility were gilded for 3s. 6d. Perhaps, there is something touching in this detail for the Prince Regent and King whose taste craved the gorgeous, as well as a sure proof of how he prized what he owned. In this case, it is fitting that Jane was invited to Carlton House, the opulent mansion of the Prince Regent who would have her own works gilded.
According to suggestions made in the Memoirs of Jane Austen (1869) by James Edward Austen-Leigh, the Prince Regent’s high regard for Jane’s work resulted in him keeping copies of her published works in each of his own residences.
The Prince Regent – later George IV – died in 1830. His niece, Princess and later Queen Victoria, was born two years after Jane Austen’s death in 1819. As Queen, Victoria particularly enjoyed Pride and Prejudice. Prince Albert read aloud to her from Pride and Prejudice. We know this because she recorded it in her journal in 1853, when the Royal Family was at Osborne. Again at Osborne, he read Northanger Abbey aloud to her in the summer of 1857. Curiously, Queen Victoria refers to ‘Miss Austin’ [sic] in her journal, although these admittedly are entries in the Queen’s edited journals, copied by her daughter, Princess Beatrice.
Various editions of Jane’s works are today kept in The Royal Collection, including a set of her novels and an edited collection of her letters to her sister Cassandra. There is also among these books, a four-volume set of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
George V and Queen Mary visited Winchester Cathedral on St Swithun’s Day in 1912, for a thanksgiving service; Jane Austen wrote her a poem from her sickbed for St Swithun’s Day in 1817, just three days before she died. George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Winchester in 1939 and were presented with the keys to the city at the Guildhall. They returned in 1945.
Queen Elizabeth II visited Winchester in 1955 for the 800th anniversary of the city’s charter. The Queen was welcomed in Winchester College’s quadrangle by the boys of the college and escorted by the School Master. There followed a traditional greeting in Latin, after which The Queen presented medals to outstanding pupils of the school. The Queen said during her visit: “We must be careful that the new does not obscure the old. That in times of change, traditions which have been tested by long experience, should not be discarded.”
Winchester College stands adjacent to the house on College Street where Jane Austen died in 1817. A celebration was held in Winchester’s Guildhall to mark the 90th birthday of The Queen – entitled “This Royal Throne; A Celebration to mark H.M The Queen’s 90th Birthday” – it was centred around words to describe the history of the Crown, through the words of English (and British) monarchs themselves but also, through the words of English writers to the present age – from William Shakespeare to William Makepeace Thackeray and from Horace Walpole to – Jane Austen.
Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian and writer, as well as a historical consultant and independent scholar. She writes for academic journals, magazines and newsletters as well as the web. She contributed to Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine (2013-2017).
What was Jane Austen’s income? A fair price for her genius?
According to documents published by the Bank of England, Jane Austen’s third published novel, Mansfield Park made Jane just £310, or £22,000 in today’s money.
That doesn’t sound like a lot, and it wasn’t. For comparison, Maria Edgeworth, a writer who was very popular in Jane’s time, received £2,100 for her novel Patronage. Mansfield Park may not be the most popular of Jane’s novels now (it was very well received in its time and sold out it’s first print run in under six months), but at least we’ve heard of it. Not many have heard of Patronage, yet it was that much better in terms of author profits.
The investigative research conducted using the Bank of England’s archive showed that Jane would have made £575 after tax, which would be equivalent to just over £45,000 at today’s rates. In their piece about the research, the Financial Times noted that, even compared to those making their living as full-time adult fiction writers in the U.K. today, Austen’s earnings were pretty small: the average income for full-time fiction writers is £37,000 a year.
The research was conducted by John Avery Jones, who is the first of an occasional series external researchers who will be using the Bank of England’s archives for their work on subjects outside traditional central banking topics. The full article is well worth a read and can be found here.
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