Jane Austen and Crime

Jane Austen and Crime

Jane Austen and Crime

Jane Austen and Crime

Synopsis

This book shows the crimes Jane Austen included in her novels, puts them into the context of the Georgian age, and examines, for the first time, the symbolism and morality of crime and punishment in her fiction. It shows how Jane Austen's contemporaries would have reacted to these crimes and how they would have been punished.

Excerpt

A distinguishing quality of truly great writers is that there’s always something new to find in them, always something new to say about them. A book on Jane Austen and Crime is one of those splendid inspirations I wish I’d had myself, but Susannah Fullerton has got there first and I comfort myself with the thought that now I shall have all the pleasure of reading her work with none of the labour of researching it.

I suppose I am qualified to write this Foreword because my own connection with the Jane Austen Society is in a sense criminous. A long time worshipper at her throne I expressed my adoration (somewhat curiously you may feel) by writing a story which looked at the later life of Emma Woodhouse through blood tinted spectacles. When an invitation arrived from the Jane Austen Society of North America to address their annual conference, my first reaction was that this was a ruse to get the blasphemer into their clutches and purge me with doses of Bath water. But finally, reasoning that it’s impossible to be a true Janeite without enjoying a good, and sometimes a wicked, laugh, I accepted. How right I was. Their clutches turned out to be caresses, the liquor I was purged with was fine Californian wine, and though the place was full of very serious scholars, there was no shortage of merriment.

Among the many pleasures of that trip was a meeting with Susannah Fullerton and I am delighted now to have the chance to herald her new book. There is no straining after a subject here. Jane’s Juvenilia are packed with crimes ranging from bloody murder to forging one’s own will; in the mature novels, crime is still present, though now for the most part consigned to that subsidiary role it plays in the consciousness of all of us; and in the Letters we get many hints of the way crime impinges on a real community. To suggest as some historians of the crime novel have done that Emma belongs to their party without knowing it is a piece of special pleading I cannot subscribe to. But I would acknowledge that it does contain many of the elements of the classic Golden Age detective story, and it can hardly be denied that Jane’s advice to her tyro novelist niece that ‘3 or 4 families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on’ has been a guiding principle of many generations of English detective writers, including from time to time myself.

In brief, in just about every important way, this is a subject worth exploring.

Just as all who love reading good books (and even more so any who attempt to write them) are forever in Jane Austen’s debt, so also should we feel indebted to those who add scholarship to love, and labour to . . .

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