Recently I posted on Facebook from a site called ‘Jane Austen is Totally My Religion’; I had a couple of comments from friends, one was just one word: ‘Why?’ and the other one was two words, ‘Oh Sarah.’ I responded with just one word: ‘Genius’. I have decided to respond more fully here.
I would like to suggest that the Jane Austen in my mind is the one from the original sketch by her sister, Cassandra, whereas the Jane Austen that they are referring to is the prettified, romanticised, fictional, Victorian version. The pretty and vacuous portrait above right bears as much likeness to the original on the left as the view of her as a gentle spinner of romantic tales that make lovely costume dramas bears to the poison dipped pen wielding genius that she clearly was.
Jane Austen was brilliant; laugh out loud funny; a proto feminist; an acute and acerbic social observer and above all a genius whose work continues to resonate through the centuries since her death. If you love her because you enjoy a good old-fashioned romantic costume drama then all well and good. If, like me, you love her because she had so much that was radical and pertinent to say about the position of women in her society then brilliant. But if you have either read one or two of her novels once, long ago and you’ve missed the point, or, even worse, you haven’t read her at all, please don’t comment. Stick with what you know and leave Jane Austen to those who get her.
For more information, please see Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. You could also read what other authors say about her: from Sir Walter Scott to W H Auden; from Robert Louis Stevenson to J K Rowling. Enjoy!