Jane Austen

Hieronder het artikel uit Chambers's cyclopædia of English Literature uit 1886 over Jane Austen.


Letter JANE AUSTEN, a truly English novelist, was born on the 16th December 1775, at Steventon, in Hamsphire, of which parish her father was rector. Mr.Austen is represented as a man of refined taste and acquirements, who guided, though he did not live to witness the fruits of his daughter’s talents. After the death of the rector, his widow and two daughters retired to Southampton, and subsequently to the village of Chawton, in the same county, where the novels of Jane Austen were written.

Of these, four were published anonymously in her lifetime, the first in 1811, and the last in 1816 – namely, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfild Park, and Emma.

In May 1817, the health of the autoress rendered it necessary that she should remove to some place where constant medical aid could be procured. She went to Winchester, and in that city she expired, on the 24th of july 1817, aged forty-two.

Her personal worth, beauty, and genius made her early death deeply lamented; while the public had to „regret the failure not only of a source of innocent amusement, but also of that supply of practical good sense and instructive example which she would probably have continued to furnish better than any of her contemporaries”.

The insidious decay or consumption which carried off Miss Austen seemed only to increase the powers of her mind. She wrote while she could hold a pen or pencil; and, the day preceding her death, composed some stanzas replete with fancy and vigour.

The great charm of Miss Austen’s fixtions lies in their truth and simplicity. She gives us plain representations of English society in the middle and higher classes – sets us down, as it were, in the country-house, the villa, and cottage, and introduces us to various classes of persons, whose characters are displayed in ordinary intercourse and most lifelike dialogues and conversation. There is no attempt to express fine things, nor any scenes of surprising daring or distress, to make us forget that we are among commonplace mortals and real existance.

Such materials would seem to promise little for the novel-reader, yet Miss Austen’s minute circumstances and common details are far from tiresome. They all aid in developing and discriminating her characters, in which her chief strength lies, and we become so intimately acquainted with each, that they appear as old friends or neighbours. She is quite at home in describing mistakes in the education of young ladies – in delicate ridicule of female foibles and vanity – in family differences, obstinacy, and pride – in the distinctions between the different classes of society, and the nicer shades of feeling and conduct, as they ripen into love or friendship, or subside into indifference or dislike.

Her love is not a blind passion, the offspring of romance; not has she any of that morbid colouring of the darker passions in which other novelists excel. The clear daylight of nature, as reflected in domestic life, in scenes of variety and sorrowful truth, as well as of vivacity and humour, is her genial and inexhaustible element. Instruction is always blended with amusement. A finer moral lesson, cannot anywhere be found than the distress of the Bertramhe family in Mansfield Park, arising from the vanity and callousness of the two daughters, who had been taught nothing but „accomplishments,” without any regard to their dispositions and temper. These instructive examples are brought before us in action, not by lecture or preachment, and they tell with double force because they are not incalculated in a didactic style.

The genuine but unobtrusive merits of Miss Austen have been but poorly rewarded by the public as respects fame and popularity, though her works are now rising in public esteem.Sir Walter Scott, after reading Pride and Prejudice for the third time, thus mentions the merits of Miss Austen in his private diary:„That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements, and feelings, and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big bow-wow strain I can do myself, like any now going; but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!”