Friday, October 7, 2011

Jane Austen

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Jane Austen

Jane Austen(1775¡ยช1817) was born in Hampshire, in southern England, of a country clergyman¡¯s family and, educated at home and never married throughout her life, led an uneventful life of forty-odd years at her native place and in the small towns nearby, paying only occasional visits to London. Her father had a good job as rector, three of her brothers were officers in the army or the navy, her eldest brother succeeded their father as clergyman, while her third brother, adopted by a wealthy relative, became a rather big landed gentleman. Though during her life the wars between England and France following the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon to power brought economic troubles to the English nation and the death of her father brought the family to somewhat straitened pecuniary conditions at one time, she never really had to worry about money and her life was rather quiet and comfortable all the way through, living with her parents and then with her unmarried sister. She started writing novels early in life and at first had difficulties in getting them published, but later became somewhat well-known so that the Prince Regent indirectly asked her to dedicate one of her novels to him.

Jane Austen wrote and completed six novels. They are Sense and Sensibility(1811), Pride and Prejudice(181), Mansfield Park(1814), Emma(1816), Northanger Abbey(1818),and Persuasion(1818). Fragments and early drafts include Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon, on which she was working when she died. In fact it is hard to divide her writing career, for she lived most of her life in a community much like the one we find in Pride and Prejudice and all of her six novels deal with ¡°the business of getting married,¡± are comedies involving either solitary heroines or young women educated by events to cast aside their illusions. Her presentation of ¡°personality,¡± of the individual consciousness and point of view, mark her as one of the first English novelists who project a world the ¡°modern¡± reader can recognize as familiar. In addition, in Austen¡¯s novels, she invariably depicted only the everyday life of the families of bigger or smaller landlords and clergyman, with the interest centred chiefly upon the love and marreage of the younger and the not-so-young folk, describing in detail their ordinary conversations, walks, drives, teas, dances, visits, picnics, journeys and other common activities (and sometimes also their thoughts).

Besides these features, Austen treated this material with such subtlety of observation, depth of psychological penetration and delicacy of touch that she is ranked among the best of English novelists. Behind the seemingly disinterested exterior of innocent love-makings and marriages that constitute the central threads of story, there ever lurks the ulterior motive of loving and marrying for money and social position, so that her heroines without any money or social rank are forever placed in the desperate situation of having to lure some young and rich landlords or clergymen with comfortable livings into marrying them, either with their looks or with their wiles, or with both. Though this theme of the predominant money considerations in love and marriage is sometimes barely hinted at or but indirectly suggested, it is nevertheless there, in all of her novels, and this shows the author¡¯ sharp insight into the very essence of the aristocratic bourgeois English society of her time----the primary importance of cash nexus. And then, in these novels, there is also the ever-present expose of the egoism and hypocrisy and other vices of the respectable English men and women of more or less fixed incomes, as the author proceeds in her vivid and detailed narratives of the superficial but occasionally poisonous courtesies, the ambiguous compliments, the hypocritical poses toward one¡¯s relatives, and the pretended friendly outpourings.

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On the surface, Austen¡¯s words and ideas are focused on these descriptions. And she never touched upon the class conflicts of her time, and in her works the extremes of wealth and poverty are unknown. Some critics regard her failure to make any representation of the social and political conflicts of the time as an important shortcoming of her works. But, with regard to this point, I have my own opinion. It¡¯s true that all of Austen¡¯s six novels and her works at early stage always stick to business of love and marriage. Yes, it is a rather narrow world, but it is simply because Austen spent all her life in observing and analyzing the narrow world that she could create the first British modern novels generally acknowledged.

And I think writers can create works from various angles. There is no need for all the works to touch on historical events, though there did happen a lot of incidents at that time such as French Revolution, the Luddites¡¯ Movement and the wars. Austen discussed the problems of women with a highly realistic pen. She surveyed those heroines in the setting of patriarchy. In that society, the value of human was based on the ownership of property. Because it was forever heritors to take over property from generation to generation, women were at great disadvantage from the right beginning and had to follow men without choice. In such an unfair society, Austen strongly criticized the social customs that made the heroines meet with adversity and deeply regretted to see the young look for love with double standards Men could capture women with all kinds of scheme, but women had to exchange their good-looks for fixed economic status.

Austen had a sharp insight into the problem but she did not become the rebel of the time as Shelley did. She did expose the shortcomings of the society in the works, but basically she believed the system was healthy and self-improved. So , at most she satirized the phenomenon quietly without bitter hatred.

Her works show a wealth of character studies, and abound in wit, humor and charm. She knew how to sketch figures with so pure and suggestive a pen that they stand out in a strong and unforgettable relief. It is not without reason that Jane Austen is credited with having brought the English novel to its maturity.

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