Austen’s powers

Examples of Regency dress

Twenty-seventeen is the bicentenary of Jane Austen‘s death, with the climax of the celebrations arriving on the fateful day of July 18th. Austen lovers the world over will be adding their own appreciations — as I too will be doing, discoursing on Emma, the last of her books to be published in her own lifetime.

I’ve posted a number of reviews, discussions and oblique references to the author over the years. For those who may be interested in what this newbie admirer of Austen’s powers has to say I’ve appended a list with links and also included a brief description. Feel free to indulge yourselves — or pass by!

First up are reviews of the published titles I’ve read so far. “Half sick of shadows” discusses Sense and Sensibility, the first of her novels to appear in print. This is followed by “A critical yet teasing tone”, my review of Pride and Prejudice, arguably her most popular work.

“Guilt and misery” are just a couple of the emotions that Mansfield Park (the next of her fictions to be published) deals with so thoroughly. “Irony and Ingenuousness” discusses an early novel, Northanger Abbey, which was published posthumously, while “Walk into my parlour” is my take on Lady Susan, recently filmed as Love and Friendship (though strictly that title belongs to a piece she wrote as a teenager).


Jane’s own life has proven to be as interesting to readers as that of any of her characters. “Opening the door on Jane” discussed ‘My Dear Cassandra’: Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen, a selection from Jane’s correspondence to her sister. Placing Jane’s life and work in context was the subject of “an unostentatious introduction to Jane Austen” which reviewed A Brief Guide to Jane Austen. Did Jane have Asperger’s Syndrome, as many are now suggesting? In “Pretentious, moi?” I mention some traits that have been pointed out as suggesting this hypothesis may have legs.

Meanwhile, did you know there was a real-life Elizabeth Ben(n)et who lived in Bath in Jane’s lifetime? “The original Elizabeth Bennet?” shows us her memorial. Finally, and most recently, I introduced “a useful prosopography” in the form of Who’s Who in Jane Austen and the Brontës.


Austen’s life and works have also provided inspiration for fiction writers. Among them is Joan Aiken, who not only shared the same initials as Jane but was also an indefatigable scribbler. “A homage to 19th-century adventure stories” described the YA historical novel Go Saddle the Sea which owed much to Jane’s Bath-based novels. Jane’s works are also referenced in the sequel The Teeth of the Gale as I revealed in “Building castles in Spain”. Aiken wasn’t done with Austen, with several sequels of Jane’s titles also set in the Regency period, which I’ve yet to read (though I have Jane Fairfax waiting in the wings); and my post “New Cumbria (3)” outlines how her YA alternate history fantasy The Stolen Lake morphed Jane’s Bath into something nightmarish.

Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is a delightful take on Austen, as I describe in “Consciously naïve”: the first person narrator is even named after Jane’s sister. Meanwhile, “Two enthusiasms combined” described crime writer P D James’ sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley, a title which added murder, mystery and police procedural to Austen’s comedy of manners.

Another genre-busting novel I dubbed an “uncomfortable cozy”: First Impressions introduced Jane Austen herself as one of the protagonists, with the early draft of Pride and Prejudice providing the title of a mystery thriller switching between the Regency period and modern times. A more unusual mixed-genre novel was reviewed in “A fish out of water”: Maiden in Light is the second novel in an alternate history fantasy sequence, mixing Austen manners with magic, North America and H P Lovecraft.

At some stage I may get round to my copy of Claire Tomalin’s highly-regarded Jane Austen biography; but for now I’ll probably make do with seeing what other celebrations will be marking July 2017. They will undoubtedly include the official-looking Jane Austen 200 site (http://janeausten200.co.uk/). There are also several blogs out there, some vigorously maintained, others now inactive but with archives to explore.

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” — Northanger Abbey

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17 thoughts on “Austen’s powers

  1. If I may request for a review of Persuasion, my favourite Jane Austen …. I may write one myself, but I am intimidated by Austen despite loving her books so much — or maybe because I love them so much.

    I suppose this year would be a good one to re-read all the novels. It’s been quite some time since I re-read anything apart from Persuasion.

    1. I would love to review Persuasion, though I’m afraid I’d have to read it first! I’ve been reading Austen’s main novels in order, eager to reach Emma because told it was the pinnacle of her achievements. Now you might persuade me Persuasion is that pinnacle!

      But please do write that review, Daphne. I know what you mean by intimidation: I think, what new thing can I say that hasn’t already been said — and better — about her writing, or that can approach her subtleties of characterisation and plotting?

    1. It also has the virtue of being shorter than Emma! Anyway, I plan to read Persuasion before the end of the year, so you both will be able to find out whether I agree with you!

      Good as always to hear from you, Stefy, and the topic you’ve chosen for discussion on your blog is a fascinating and important one.

  2. When I was younger, Emma was my favourite Austen. I still remember it fondly now, although it’s been so long since I’ve read it that I wonder if most of what I remember are really from movies/television. These days, my favourite is Sense and Sensibility, closely followed by Pride and Prejudice.

    1. I find that, whichever Austen I’m reading, I’m soon totally engrossed, to the exclusion of any comparisons with the others. My current is therefore my favourite — until the next comes along. It’ll probably be the same with the rereads!

      As for the screen adaptations I’ve not seen most of them, bar P&P, S&S and a vague memory of Mansfield Park, so I have no vision of Emma other than in my mind’s eye. And certainly from none of the lurid mid-20C paperback cover illustrations that are viewable with an online search!

  3. Christine

    Thank you for collecting all of these in one place! I had no idea you’d reviewed P.D. James’s novel. And how nice that so many people like Persuasion! (Although I’ve always preferred it to Pride and Prejudice and Emma, which are the only other Austen books I’ve read.) Austen never fails to surprise me in her books, she’s not as predictable as the romance genre tends to be. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to put her books down? (That reminds me, I should really get on with Mansfield Park one of these days.)

    1. You’re very welcome, Christine! I agree about the surprise element: each novel pleases in very different ways despite their superficial similarity in leading to a happy ending with marriage for the leading players.

      I’m in the middle of scheduling a review of Emma for tomorrow, by the way. 🙂

    1. What I like about my slow progress through Austenland is the changing landscapes she presents (in a metaphorical sense of course). Where Mansfield Park shows us Fanny’s development over many years, for example, Emma gives us a snapshot, as it were, of Miss Woodhouse becoming more self-aware over the course of just one year.

      I’m just in awe of Austen. And now you’ve made me want to read MP again and I’ve yet to get onto Persuasion!

        1. I’m sure, and I know many swear by them, but I’ve never got on with audiobooks. Music? Yes. Factual programmes on the car radio? Yes. But drama on CDs? Radio serials? Spoken books? Doesn’t appeal, I’d rather the printed word. Theatre I can manage though. Someday I’ll work out why there’s an apparent incinsistency!

  4. Pingback: Two hundred years and counting – head shoulders knees & toes

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