Jane the Smart
With the release of Love and Friendship, based on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, promotions include the startling news that Jane Austen was funny. Given the obvious wit in her fiction, a humorous Jane isn’t news, except perhaps to those who read her works only under duress.
We admire clever people, and certainly Austen used that distinction in her characters, but I find I’m increasingly curious about her as a person ahead of her peers, by at least a hundred years. (Jane would have been a flapper, don’t you think?) Her heroines work within the boundaries, and only Fanny, Marianne and in particular, Lizzy, in my opinion, balk at the system. And “the system” was the basis of Austen’s fiction: the inequitable and unfair rules serving as both story conflict and social commentary. It had been decades since readers saw the likes of robust fiction for the sake of entertainment: Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, Tom Jones, and The Beggar’s Opera. Late century authors like Ann Radcliffe promoted fantasy as escape; Austen instead pulled all attention to the constrictions in the every-day.
But what a truly intelligent woman she must have been. And bold. Surely she knew she was writing out of time. Entertaining as her rule-mocking is, we can’t help but feel sad for such limited opportunities. The social class system worked because there weren’t other options.
Do you agree that Austen’s fiction could well have been written now as a look back?
I’d like to think her father pushed her to think for herself. His library was massive for a man of his income—it is said he had over 500 books. Of course reading was admirable but there were those who felt too much reading, and reading of fiction (called romance at the time) was likely damaging to women. They’d get strange ideas, no doubt! Did Jane’s independent nature expand with all that reading? I’ve had the impression Jane demanded different expectations. A wild imagination and hours spent at her writing desk could scarcely be encouraged with so much to be learned, and done by hand, in the process to one day become the lady of her own house.
For further example, Mr. Austen actually tried to get Jane’s (a woman) work published—and idea that would have become fodder for much speculation by all the county.
Jane’s spinsterhood by fate or by choice will always be a mystery. Choosing to write for income would have limited her suitability as a wife. My theory is, she just didn’t meet enough men who matched her intelligence. Being a published author failed to provide enough income, and she and her books became obsolete until her nephew wrote a biography during the late Victorian era. Suddenly, Austen was the new darling of the literati. Do you wonder, as I, if this new audience of women were any better off in choices?
Authors of historical romance are cautioned to avoid giving their heroines modern day sensibilities and independence, yet we can’t do with those who are dependent and meek. Austen faced the very same challenge, and so we are in good company. I believe her timelessness works because of her out-of-time writing. Clever, clever girl!
1887: As travel companion to her condescending cousin, Philadelphian Kathryn Morton dreamily anticipates a week in the Wild West as the best cure for meekness. After a long rail journey and a steady diet of gothic dime novels, she shivers, despite the Texas heat, at the ghastly tales of the Austin Axe Murderer. Kathryn has little time to fret, given the competing attentions of quiet rancher Harmon Gray and elegant gentleman Jonathan Wellington. With her new-found confidence and her boundless imagination, she sets out to solve the mystery of Hyde Park Cemetery before another student flees Austen Abbey. Only then can she return home to her English-born parents as an independent American woman. A woman in love. But on the stormiest of nights, Kathryn learns that solving the mystery may destroy a future with the man she’s fallen for in a big Texas way.
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Discover four heroines in historical Austin, TX, as they find love--Jane Austen style. Volume 1 includes:
If I Loved You Less by Gina Welborn, based on Emma; A prideful matchmaker examines her own heart when her protégé falls for the wrong suitor.
Refinements by Anita Mae Draper, based on Sense and Sensibility; A misguided academy graduate spends the summer falling in love . . . twice.
One Word from You by Susanne Dietze, based on Pride and Prejudice; A down-on-her-luck journalist finds the story of her dreams, but her prejudice may cost her true love . . . and her career.
Alarmingly Charming by Debra E. Marvin, based on Northanger Abbey; A timid gothic dime-novel enthusiast tries to solve the mystery of a haunted cemetery and, even more shocking, why two equally charming suitors compete for her attentions.
Debra has kindly offered a giveaway of the 'Austen in Austin' anthology to two commenters here, a paperback copy which US entrants can win, and an e-book copy, which is open to international entrants. To enter, just leave a comment on this post by the end of the day on Monday 30 May. Please can you include whether you are US or INT in your comments, and please leave a way for me to contact you in case you are a lucky winner.
Thank you so much to Debra for the guest post and giveaway!