Quote Jane


“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

dinsdag 15 februari 2011

Women Writers and Other Influences



One has to remind some people that Jane Austen was not a Victorian, not in any sense. Both Queen Victoria and her milieu were born and cultivated after Jane Austen's death. Remember that Jane Austen was a contemporary of Casanova, the Marquis de Sade, Mary Wollstonecraft, Lady Hamilton, the Duchess of Devonshire, etc.
The correct name for the intellectual period that Jane Austen lived in is the "Regency Period". The reference is to the royal control ("regency") assumed by the Prince of Wales, the future George the IV, when his father, George III, became incapacitated. Strictly speaking, Jane Austen's novels were published in the regency; however, Jane Austen's character was formed - and three of her novels were first drafted - in what might be called the Late Georgian period. I will not be so precise in our discussions. Incidentally, another good site for the study of this period is that maintained by Jack Lynch.

My impression is that most English novelists in Jane Austen's day (1775-1817) were women. (See Cathy Decker's excellent survey of women writers of that time.) There were Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), Fanny Burney (1752-1840), Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821), Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849), and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) to name just a few women authors. These women were slightly older and first published slightly before Jane Austen. Jane Austen admired Burney and Edgeworth and had the opposite feelings about Radcliffe


Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823)


Fanny Burney   (1752 - 1840)


Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)


Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821)


Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849)

If you insist that Jane Austen's influences must have been women, then those are the usual suspects, but the one I think everyone misses - the one that I think may have been the most important is Madame de La Fayette (1634-1693)


Madame de La Fayette (1634-1693)
There was a slightly younger woman author, Mary Wollstonecraft's more-famous daughter (1797-1851).



Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Our Lady could not have known of Shelley, whose first major work, Frankenstein (1818), appeared the year after Jane's death. (Well, Jane Austen might have heard the gossip.) You can find my comments on Mary Shelley's novels, Frankenstein, Matilda, and The Last Man on the first page of this posting. I am generally very positive about Mary Shelley; her Frankenstein and The Last Man are important visions even if two centuries premature.
I have seen one estimate that more than two hundred women published novels before Jane Austen. In fact, Jane Austen was not even the first woman in her own family to publish a novel. One of the more important literary critics of the day was a woman; that was Madame Anne Louisa Germaine de Staël (1766-1817.


Madame Anne Louisa Germaine de Staël (1766-1817 who was a novelist at times but was at her best when writing about political philosophy or in the sphere of literary criticism. (She resides in infamy at this web site because of something she should not have said about Jane Austen.)

Given the wide acceptance of women writers and novelists, the question arises as to why Jane Austen published anonymously. First of all, notice that while Jane Austen did not affix her name to her novels, she did nothing to hide her sex. I mean, her first publication, Sense and Sensibility, was signed, "By a Lady." I don't know the answer to the question, I have seen several speculations. The one I favor is that our Lady did not want the public to think that an Austen woman had to publish novels in order to earn a living. Jane Austen did not want us to imagine that her brothers were not supporting her as, indeed, they were. (However, she was as pleased as punch to rake in those proceeds.)

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Austen werd geboren in Hampshire. Haar vader was een geestelijke. Het grootste deel van haar leven bleef zij in haar geboortestreek. Austen had zes broers en een oudere zuster, Cassandra, met wie zij zeer hecht was. Het enige onbetwiste portret van Jane Austen is een gekleurde schets die door Cassandra werd gemaakt en nu in de National Portrait Gallery in Londen hangt. In 1801 verhuisde de familie naar Bath. In 1802 werd Austen ten huwelijk gevraagd door de rijke Harris Bigg-Wither en zij stemde toe; de volgende dag deelde ze echter mee dat zij haar woord niet kon houden en trok haar instemming in. De reden hiervoor is niet bekend, maar Austen is nooit getrouwd. Na de dood van haar vader in 1805 woonden Jane, haar zuster en haar moeder daar nog verscheidene jaren tot zij in 1809 naar Chawton verhuisden. Hier had haar rijke broer Edward een landgoed met een plattelandshuisje, dat hij aan zijn moeder en zusters schonk (dit huis is tegenwoordig open voor het publiek). Zelfs nadat zij naam gemaakt had als romanschrijfster bleef zij in relatieve stilte leven, maar haar gezondheid ging sterk achteruit. Er wordt nu aangenomen dat zij de ziekte van Addison had, waarvan toen de oorzaak nog onbekend was. Ze reisde naar Winchester om behandeling te zoeken, maar stierf daar en werd begraven in de kathedraal.
Tot Austens beroemdste werk behoort de roman Emma. Het boek wordt vaak aangehaald vanwege de perfectie van vorm. Moderne critici blijven ook nieuwe perspectieven ontdekken op het scherpe commentaar van Austen betreffende de klasse van jonge, ongehuwde, aristocratische Engelse vrouwen in de vroege 19e eeuw.

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