Jane Austen, queen of romance

Jane Austen is a VERY famous author in Europe and around the world. Everybody (or rather almost everybody) knows Pride and Prejudice. Dozens of adaptations were made from her books, even parodies or looser adaptations. Jane Austen is famous to say the least. But I think most people associate her novels with love stories. However, Jane Austen’s books are not just that. Let’s take a look back on her work.

Jane Austen was born in England in 1775 in a family of 8. She was raised like every other young woman of her time: to become the perfect wife. She learnt how to sing, dance, draw, sew, how to play the piano and also French and Italian. Yet she favored being outdoor and reading like her character Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. She had access to her father’s library in which she found books to inspire her when she started writing as a teenager. She wrote 6 novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), 4 were published during her lifetime and her last one remained unfinished when she died in 1817. She was little known during her life because she wanted to remain anonymous.

When her nephew published A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869, her novels started to become popular. Since this book came out, Jane Austen’s work has constantly been read and commented. During the second half of the 20th century, essays on her novels multiplied and during this period she began to be referred as a “great writer”. Her stories became even more popular with the numerous adaptations such as the BBC adaptations released in the 80’s and 90’s. There was even a “Darcy mania” after the mini-series Pride and Prejudice, with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, aired in 1995.

These adaptations helped categorizing Jane Austen’s novels as romance, “girl” stories. It is true that Jane Austen put female of her time at the forefront: how they think, how they see the world. In the late 18th century, marriage was essential to young girls. To marry well was an obsession, as a woman without husband was looked down at, put aside, deprived of property. Thus, relations between men and women are at the core of Jane Austen’s books. However, Jane Austen’s female characters are often independent thinkers and smart, wanting to marry for love and not only to “marry well”. This view on marriage might be a result of the fact that she never married and of her sharp and sometimes ironical mind on her time, which brought her to describe with precision the life and customs of the British countryside in the late 18th century.

written and translated by Emeline