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Thread: Austen: An Article (BBC)

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    Austen: An Article (BBC)


    The commercial success of the new film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was assured from the start. Such is the enduring appeal of Jane Austen. She died 188 years ago, but her novels still have the capacity to stir the emotions.

    Pwhoar! was the reaction experienced by millions of women when Colin Firth's Mr Darcy emerged dripping from a lake in his skin tight breeches, his shirt clinging to his manly chest, in the BBC's 1995 television version.

    Meanwhile, men were just plain baffled.

    Even though the wet shirt scene isn't in the book, most of the magic - the tension and misunderstandings before love completes its triumphant passage - is developed by Jane Austen's pen.

    More than one poll has acclaimed Pride and Prejudice as the most romantic novel of all time, while Jane Eyre has to settle for second place, much to the chagrin of its author, Charlotte Bronte, one suspects, were she alive today.

    In her critique of Austen's novels, Bronte wrote: "Anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works. The passions are perfectly unknown to her."

    But for Virginia Woolf, Austen was "a mistress of much deeper emotion than appears on the surface. She stimulates us to supply what is not there."

    "If ever we wished to identify with a character, it must be Lizzie," asserts Brick Lane author Monica Ali in her admiration of Austen's Elizabeth Bennet, who, she says, is "self-assured and yet so infallibly human".

    The author of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion, was born in 1775 in the village of Steventon in Hampshire. She had five older brothers, two of them becoming admirals, and an elder sister, Cassandra, to whom Jane was very close.

    Jane Austen received an education superior to that experienced by most girls of her time and was only 19 when she wrote Elinor and Marianne, which she later revised to become Sense and Sensibility.

    By a Lady

    Her family spent several years in Bath, the location of many episodes in her novels, but they returned to Hampshire in 1809 and the cottage where they lived in Chawton is now a must-see for Austen devotee visitors.

    So too is Austen's grave in Winchester Cathedral, where she was buried after her death from Addison's disease in 1817.

    Despite the resonance through the ages of her work, she was never intent on social revolution. By allowing her books to be inscribed "By a Lady", she bowed to the convention that for an unmarried woman of her class to write novels might be considered a little racy, although in reality the author's identity became widely known.

    Austen is often criticised for her alleged complicity in the class structure and social mores of Regency England, for providing no more than a fleeting glimpse of the millions on the verge of starvation and the brutal repression of protests by the masses.

    Mansfield Park seems to sum up her view: "Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can."

    One theory was that she was torn between her perception of the cruelties and corruptions of her class and her strong emotional attachments to family and friends.

    In his Memoir of 1870, Jane Austen's nephew remarked that her life was "singularly barren: few changes and no great crisis ever broke the smooth current of its course".

    Yet there were emotional dramas of the kind that still captivate her readers, like the time she accepted and then changed her mind overnight about the marriage proposal of a family friend, a man of some wealth and position, but intellectually her inferior.

    With a deft use of irony to explore the predicament of young, unmarried, upper-class English women in the early 1800s, Austen draws women who challenge convention by demonstrating independent thought.

    "It is a truth universally acknowledged that every man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife," begins Pride and Prejudice. Austen knew only too well about the economic necessity and convention of her class that women must also secure a husband. But Austen's heroines hold out for a union of equals; they will marry only for love.

    Casting Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet has confirmed some critics' fears that Austen has now become a chick flick, but it shouldn't surprise us that Jane Austen has become a phenomenon with a myriad of marketing opportunities.

    Skilfully exciting the reader's imagination about the unseen, smouldering passions beneath the surface, her "iceberg" novels have a timeless appeal to generations of romantics.
    Last edited by Scheherazade; 09-24-2005 at 05:57 PM.
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

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