illustrated portrait of English novelist Jane Austen

Jane Austen

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How would you describe Jane Austen as a novelist?

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As a novelist, Austen vehemently defended the new genre of the novel, which was constantly under fire as being a corrupting influence, especially to young women. Her most famous literary defense can be found in the novel Northanger Abbey, which is, itself, a parody of the gothic romance novel. Austen makes great fun of the idea that a young woman is so credulous and overwrought with imagination that she would actually believe herself to be the subject of such a novel. Further, Austen's satire of early nineteenth-century upper-class society in Pride and Prejudice can be so subtle that people often miss it entirely and just think that she's writing a charming little love story. In reality, she is intelligently and compellingly pointing out the plight of women in this stratum of society: how, often, they must choose between marrying someone they do not and cannot love, simply because it will give them financial and social security, or become a drain on their families' finances and social possibilities. Women are condemned as mercenaries for marrying for money, but then they are condemned as old maids and spinsters if they do not marry at all. As a novelist, then, Austen is sharp and pointed but also sparkling and fun. Her books are, often, a joy to read, but they have very serious messages aimed at helping society to see itself clearly and improve.

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As a novelist, Jane Austen's works are highly praised. Her plots and structure are impeccable and her characterizations have received very high praise. Anonymous reviewers publishing in the British Critic and the Critical Review applauded the novel Pride and Prejudice for its fluidity and readability. Both reviewers also praised her characterizations as being spirited, "remarkably well drawn and supported" (Pride and Prejudice: Critical Overview,

Her works have even differed from the traditional British Romantic literature in that it is not in the least bit dark. Other Romantic authors stressed dark emotions, such as horror, terror, and awe. Charlotte Bronte is one known critic of Austen arguing that her works lack passion and substance (Reader Response to Austen's Novels). But this is no surprise when we consider how dark Bronte's own works are.

Austen's novels are also full of morals and philosophy. Lord David Cecil refers to her work as "a profound vision," further stating that her morals and philosophies concerning personal relationships get "to the heart of the matter" (Reader Response to Austen's Novels).

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