Thinking of Jane Austen

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

With that ironic jab at the wives of the landed gentry, Austen frames the world of Pride and Prejudice. Everything you need to know about Austen is right there in the first sentence: a style characterized by irony and wit, not a vicious satirical attack such as a Marxist might give, but more like Alexander Pope, the witty sting of an insider far from any revolutionary agenda; the focus on courtship and on the travails of female coming-of-age among the Georgian gentry, on the “private” rather than the “public” relations of a well-defined and somewhat gossipy community of 3 or 4 families out in the countryside; the sharp eye for self-deception and for getting at the pulp of human nature, not by subjecting protagonists to extraordinary situations but by subjecting their everyday social relations to an extraordinary microscope. (Using another favorite novel, Wuthering Heights, to come at the flip side of Austen’s impeccable style, one might conclude that Emily Bronte shared her sister Charlotte’s complaint that Austen’s world was utterly lacking in passion … a complaint that may have been exacerbated when an early editor of Jane Eyre suggested to Charlotte that she write with “more restraint, like Miss Austen.”)

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