Jane Austen died two hundred years ago, on 18 July 1817, at the age of just 41. She had anonymously published four novels – Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published after her death, in 1818. They were all relatively well received – the Prince Regent was a fan – but earned her only around £650 in her lifetime.
Following her death, and the republication of the novels, now under her own name, Austen began to acquire some ardent admirers, but they were still relatively few and far between. Her popularity increased greatly in the second half of the century, with several biographies appearing by members of her family. Serious critics began taking an interest in her work, though there was still a tendency to view the novels as simple works, dealing in the narrow sphere of domestic comedy. By the early years of the twentieth century, her work was finally taken seriously by academic critics, who focused on her irony, her social satire, and the moral messages of her novels. This started a trend which has continued unabated up to the present day.
As for the novels themselves, they have never been out of print, and their popularity with the general public has probably never been higher. Indeed, admirers of Austen, sometimes known as Janeites, have been described as forming something resembling a cult. There are Jane Austen Centres, Jane Austen Societies, websites, and re-enactments and dramatisations are frequently held. The novels have been filmed and televised many times, and their plots have been transformed into several contemporary films, notably Clueless (1995), which sets Emma in Beverley Hills, Bridget Jones’s Diary, partly based on Pride and Prejudice, and the ‘Bollywoodesque’ Bride and Prejudice (2004), which takes place in present day India. Then there are the Austen sequels, varying tremendously in quality and interest.
So this week here on Shiny we celebrate Jane’s bicentenary by taking a peek at some Austen related material, with something new appearing every day. Today, Karen Langley reviews OUP’s recent re-publication of the Teenage Writings. Tomorrow, 18 July, Hayley Anderton reviews a new British Library Crime Classic, The Incredible Crime, written by Austen’s great-great neice, Lois Austen-Leigh, and Elaine Simpson-Long analyses two different continuations of Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons. Elaine pops up again on 19 July, together with Shiny ed. Annabel, in a lively survey of some Austen spin-offs. On 20 July Harriet reviews a new biography of Austen by Lucy Worsley, and the celebratory week ends on 21 July with Diana Cheng’s overview of Austen on the Big Screen.
So, whether you’re an ardent fan, an occasional reader, or even an Austen newbie, we hope you’ll find something to amuse, inform and entertain in our not terribly serious celebration of all things Austen-related.
Harriet is one of the Shiny Editors.