Sources for Further Study (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Boston Globe. November 23, 1997, p. E1.
The Christian Science Monitor. August 28, 1997, p. B1.
Commonweal. CXXIV, November 7, 1997, p. 23.
The Economist. CCCXLV, October 18, 1997, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 23, 1997, p. 3.
The New York Times Book Review. CII, September 14, 1997, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, July 7, 1997, p. 55.
The Times Literary Supplement. September 12, 1997, p. 3.
The Wall Street Journal. November 17, 1997, p. A24.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVII, October 26, 1997, p. 1.
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Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Jane Austen is best known for her six novels about middle-class life in the nineteenth century. Four were published during her lifetime: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). Northanger Abbey (1818) and Persuasion (1818) were published posthumously.
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Although she was not widely recognized in her own day, Jane Austen did enjoy the appreciation of discriminating readers whose contemporary esteem has since become the critical consensus. The scrupulous accuracy, complex irony, and serious moral speculation of Austen’s novels of middle-class life provided the groundwork for the “great tradition” of the nineteenth century novel. Austen’s short fiction, written before she turned seventeen, is experimental work in which the beginning writer mocks the absurdities and limitation of the sentimental novel popular at the end of the eighteenth century and tentatively explores the possibilities of themes and literary techniques that she will later develop in her mature work. By slightly exaggerating the sensibility of a heroine, the refinement of a hero, the effusiveness of their conversations, and the unlikelihood of their adventures, Austen makes plain the absurdity of the worldview purveyed by sentimental novels.
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Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
In addition to writing novels, Jane Austen (AWS-tuhn) was the author of various short juvenile pieces, most of them literary burlesques mocking theconventions of the eighteenth century novel. Her other works are Lady Susan, a story told in letters (written c. 1805); The Watsons, a fragment of a novel written about the same time; and Sanditon, another fragmentary novel begun in 1817. All these pieces appear in Minor Works (volume 6 of the Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen, 1954), edited by R. W. Chapman. Jane Austen’s surviving letters have also been edited and published by Chapman.
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Jane Austen, who published her novels anonymously, was not a writer famous in her time, nor did she wish to be. From the first, however, her novels, written in and largely for her own family circle, gained the notice and esteem of a wider audience. Among her early admirers were the Prince Regent and the foremost novelist of the day, Sir Walter Scott, who deprecated his own aptitude for the “big Bow-Wow” and praised Austen as possessing a “talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with.” Since the days of Scott’s somewhat prescient praise, her reputation has steadily grown. The critical consensus now places Jane Austen in what F. R. Leavis has termed the “Great Tradition” of the English novel. Her talent was the first to forge, from the eighteenth century novel of external incident and internal sensibility, an art form that fully and faithfully presented a vision of real life in a specific segment of the real world. Austen’s particular excellences—the elegant economy of her prose, the strength and delicacy of her judgment and moral discrimination, the subtlety of her wit, the imaginative vividness of her character drawing—have been emulated but not surpassed by subsequent writers.
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Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Explain how Jane Austen, working in a narrow social range and with limited experience of the world, could succeed so brilliantly as a novelist.
Distinguish the main characteristics of her novels that differentiate them from the eighteenth century novels that made up a great deal of her literary background.
How does Austen help her readers to become better readers?
In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor develops sympathy for the incorrigible Willoughby. Determine whether or not that is a flaw in Elinor’s personality.
Pride and Prejudice begins with Mr. Bennet’s problem of finding suitors for his five daughters. Explain Austen’s avoidance of making his problem the theme of the novel.
How does one explain the popularity of Austen’s novels with filmmakers?
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Austen, Jane. Jane Austen’s Letters to Her Sister Cassandra and Others. Edited by R. W. Chapman. 2 vols. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1932. The first collection of surviving Austen letters is arranged chronologically in two volumes with appendixes that give summary identifications of anyone who is ambiguously mentioned in the text of the letters. With corrected spelling and punctuation. Includes a map of eighteenth century Berkshire and Surrey, England.
Brown, Julie Prewit. Jane Austen’s Novels. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979. Provides a somewhat feminist perspective on Austen as a conscious artist who masterfully employed ironic comedy and satiric realism. Five chapters explore the purpose and subtleties of each novel. Includes an eye-opening chapter on the artist as a woman writer.
Bush, Douglas. Jane Austen. New York: Macmillan, 1975. This work, addressed to general readers, shows how Austen re-created themes from many minor eighteenth century writers. Each of Austen’s major works is summarized and briefly analyzed in an individual chapter.
Copeland, Edward, and Juliet McMaster, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Collection of thirteen essays is divided between those concerning Austen’s own world and those that...
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