Student Companion to Jane Austen

By Debra Teachman | Go to book overview

1
The Life of Jane Austen

Jane Austen is often depicted as a very quiet spinster, growing up in a small country town with her father as rector of a simple country church. Her novels are often considered to focus only on the lives of a few individuals in a few families living, for the most part, in rather confined and conservative country towns. The first published full-length biography of Jane Austen contributed greatly to the establishment of this view of her life and her novels. Her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh published A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1870 (with a second, enlarged edition appearing in 1871). "Of events," her nephew wrote, "her life was singularly barren: few changes and no great crisis ever broke the smooth current of its course. Even her fame may be said to have been posthumous: it did not attain to any vigorous life till she had ceased to exist" (1-2). This Memoir, written and published over fifty years after his famous aunt's death, described a simple, respectable woman whose family always came first and whose gentility never allowed her to "meddle with matters which she did not thoroughly understand" within the pages of her novels as well as her life (13). Austen-Leigh's relief that his aunt's novels did not deal (overtly, at least) with such serious subjects as politics, law, war, or international events is clear throughout the Memoir. His Victorian bias against respectable women being involved in writing and publishing novels that discuss important social and legal concepts is evident in his fifty-year-old memory of his aunt. As a result of that bias, Austen-Leigh appears to have softened the rather rough and caustic edges of his famous aunt's personality. By portraying her as the ultimate re-

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Student Companion to Jane Austen
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • 1 - The Life of Jane Austen 1
  • 2 - Literary Heritage 21
  • 3 - Sense and Sensibility (1811) 37
  • 4 - Pride and Prejudice (1813) 53
  • 5 - Mansfield Park (1814) 71
  • 6 - Emma (1815) 89
  • 7 - Northanger Abbey (1818) 109
  • 8 - Persuasion (1818) 129
  • Bibliography 149
  • Index 155
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