14 Fascinating Facts About Jane Austen & Her Novels
If you are a lover of Jane Austen, Mr. Darcy, and Miss Elizabeth Bennet and you cannot get enough of Mr. Collins' awkwardness, Miss Lucas' friendship, or Lady Catherine's shenanigans, then you’ll be as giddy as Lydia the day the militia rolled into Hertfordshire to learn these 14 Fascinating Facts About Jane Austen and Her Novels.
• Jane Austen and her older sister, Cassandra, both attended boarding school for a short while before returning home where their clergyman father continued their education. Their father was an insatiable reader who passed his love of the written word along to his children, including his youngest daughter, Jane.
• The close bonds of sisterhood reflected in so many of Jane Austen's novels seem to mimic Austen's real-life relationship with her older sister, Cassandra.
• Unlike in her novels, neither Jane nor her beloved sister, Cassandra, married. (Jane did, however, enter into an engagement that she backed out of the next day. It seems that Miss Austen practiced what she preached when it came to marriages of convenience v. true love matches.)
• Pride and Prejudice was, at first, rejected by the publisher - without his reading it - when Jane Austen finished it at the age of 21. Over a decade later, she revised the manuscript and it was finally published when the author was 37.
• It wasn't until after her death that Jane Austen was credited with writing her novels. The author of Sense and Sensibility was simply cited as written "By a Lady" because being a professional writer was controversial at the time. Her subsequently published novel Pride and Prejudice was attributed to the author of Sense and Sensibility.
• It also was not legal for a female to sign contracts on their own. A woman needed either her father's or her husband's permission to enter into an agreement, which is why Miss Austen's first attempt at publishing what eventually became Pride and Prejudice (first titled Initial Impressions) at the age of 21 was through her father, George Austen.
Something to Talk About
Jane Austen's novels were read & received mixed reviews by some pretty heavy-hitting authors.
• In a letter to friend Joseph Twichell in 1898, Mark Twain is quoted as saying "I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."
• Charlotte Brontë on at least two occasions is credited with admitting her perplexity as to the acclaim of Jane Austen's writings, including her belief that "Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete and rather insensible (not senseless) woman."
• Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying “I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels at so high a rate, which seems to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and so narrow.”
• Over 250 years before Vegas became a quickie wedding destination, there was the village of Gretna Green in Scotland. In Jane Austen's time, Gretna Green afforded couples seeking a quick elopement easy opportunity just over the Scottish border. The rules for tying the knot were looser and far less complicated in Gretna Green simply because the law permitted virtually anyone to legally marry a couple. Gretna Green was so familiar to the time period that it garnered mention not only in Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice (via Lydia's elopement), but later in Agatha Christie's novel Nemesis as well as the period-drama Downton Abbey.
Down the Hatch
• As was common in England at the time, Jane not only drank beer (which in some cases was thought to be healthier to drink than water), but she created her own - something considered to be part of a woman's household duties. Her favorite? Spruce beer.
And Then What Happened?
• Jane Austen's nephew (James Edward Austen-Leigh) said that his Aunt Jane had shared with the family how the story of some of her beloved characters continued, including how the last two unmarried Bennet sisters fared following the last page of Pride and Prejudice.
A Mystery in Life and Death
• Since so much is not known of Jane Austen's day-to-day life, the mystery of how she lived it is part of what makes her so interesting and intriguing centuries later.
• Similar to her life, Jane Austen's early death at the age of 41 is an ongoing medical mystery, as well. Any- and everything from Hodgkin's Lymphoma to Addison's Disease to arsenic poisoning has been attributed to her quick decline in the last year of her life.
Just Want More Jane?
This is some interesting information! I must admit to being shocked at Mr. Emerson’s diatribe against Austen’s writing- wow! The three distinguished authors’ dislike of a much beloved and critically acclaimed work just shows how art is truly a subjective matter. I became very familiar with Gretna Green through reading Georgette Heyer as I read her before I read Austen. Getting married over the Scottish border was also referred to as being married “over the anvil “ or “across the anvil” as blacksmiths were frequently (more or less) pressed into service. I’m not sure the exact reason for this other than perhaps a smithy being rather close by on the road at a border crossing to be handy in repairs to equipages and re-shoeing of horses after a long, rough journey. Sounds plausible to me!