Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen

Jane Austen from 1919 edition
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775.

In the memoir written by J. E. Austen Leigh fifty-two years after his aunt's death, and from the perspective of the Victorian age, Jane's novels were said to "represent the opinions and manners of the class of society in which the author lived", making "no attempt to raise the standard of human life, but merely represent it as it was. They certainly were not written to support any theory or inculcate any particular moral, except indeed the great moral which is to be equally gathered from the observation of the course of actual life,-- namely, the superiority of high over low principles, and of greatness of littleness of mind."

"...but I think that in her last three works are to be found a greater refinement of taste, a more nice sense of propriety, and a deeper insight into the delicate anatomy of the human heart."

"She did not copy individuals but invested her own creations with individuality of character...She herself, when questioned on the subject by a friend, expressed a dread of what she called such an "invasion of social proprieties." She said that she thought it quite fair to note peculiarities and weaknesses, but that it was her desire to create, not to reproduce; "besides," she added, "I am too proud of my gentlemen to admit that they were only Mr. A or Colonel B."

"...when speaking of her two great favorites, Edmund Bertram and Mr. Knightly: "They are very far from being what I know English gentlemen often are."

So much for Darcy, girls, Jane preferred Edmund and Mr. Knightly! But as James Austen Leigh comments in his memoir, her later works show a more mature mind. The memoir makes Jane out to be a sweet and loving aunt. We don't see her sharp wit in his delineation of Jane.

The illustrations are from a 12 volume set of Jane Austen printed in the early 1900s by Little Brown.