Austen Sideroads Yield Interesting Journeys, a Guest Post from Collins Hemingway

Combing the internet for information on the life and times of Jane Austen sometimes leads to links in which the English author is mentioned in passing or as part of a broader story. More times than not, these side trips become worthwhile journeys of their own. Today we look at some of these online detours and where they take us.

Most Janeites assume that the revered Austen is already a saint. They will be pleased to know that one article suggests her canonization, one of five women authors so nominated. Familiar faces here—Jane Austen; Mary Wollstonecraft, the feminist firebrand of Austen’s day; and Mary Shelley, who as the author of Frankenstein became the first science-fiction writer (at the age of 21!). In addition to being Wollstonecraft’s daughter, Mary Shelley was also married to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Other fascinating women of later periods are also put forth for beatification. Terrific reasons

A search for Jane Austen often yields connections with other authors or greater insight to women’s fiction overall or to women’s issues.

for them all.

Though women authors have proliferated in the modern era, a recent study involving more than 104,000 books turns up the unexpected finding that women were better represented in the Burney-Austen-Bronte period than they have been in most of the modern era. Researchers expected to see the number of female authors and prominent female characters increase in literature from 1780 to 2007, the period studied. Instead, “from the 19th century through the early 1960s we see a story of steady decline” in prominent female characters, the study found. This is likely the direct result of the percentage of titles by women authors dropping from about 50 percent in 1850 to about 25 percent in 1950.

The study speculates that one reason for the drop, which reversed around 1970, could be the “gentrification” of the novel. When novel-writing became a “high-status career,” it drew more male writers, displacing women, while women began to find other opportunities that took them away from fiction. Also, Kate Mosse, the historical novelist and founder of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, said that Victorian values, “the idea of the angel in the home,” tended to suppress women’s writing. Ironically, this meant that Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley had more opportunities than their successors. Mosse adds, “And then criticism becomes a … male discipline, and it’s therefore not surprising to me that women as writers lose their positions.” These words echo Anne Elliot’s complaint in Persuasion that women are characterized poorly in books because men have had “every advantage of us in telling their own story … ; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

The article has much more to say about gender differences in the way women and men are described in novels, physically and emotionally—what they say, how they act and react. It’s a great read.

Country houses have been a part of English literature for hundreds of years, including the fictional Mansfield Park as well as the very real Great House at Chawton, where Austen likely worked from time to time in the library.

Country houses play a prominent role in English literature. Everything from The Go-BetweenBrideshead RevisitedThe Remains of the Day, to of course our own Mansfield Park. The article authors appreciate Austen’s take because it is “so wonderfully not intoxicated with the grandeur and romance of its big house—makes you feel its convenience and its privilege, yes absolutely, but also its boredom, the dullness of the people living in it.” The blog is a lovely stroll about the grounds of books with these settings and the way in which these works are the same and how they differ.


Castle Howard

Last but not least is the story of how a young man became a Jane Austen superfan. Hint: His mother was involved. The blog is actually a plug for the guy’s new book, but the essay itself (a book excerpt) is worth the time. Reading her juvenilia was his introduction to Jane. He describes her early writings as “hit jobs” against authors she liked and didn’t. He explores being “utterly drunk on letters”—and on a charming girl named Nathalie—as a prepubescent American boy abroad in England. This experience eventually transitions into a four-day summer conference billed as a “Jane Austen Summer Camp,” followed by trips to JASNA annual general meetings, where his mother’s prominence caused him problems. “Did I skip the dance rehearsals? Doze off during the lectures? There were phone calls on the subject.” I’ve not read the book, so I can’t say whether it continues to develop in this wonderful vein or is just the same story stretched out over 200 pages. The essay itself is a hoot.

The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, which traces love from a charming courtship through the richness and complexity of marriage and concludes with a test of the heroine’s courage and moral convictions, is now complete and available from Amazon and Jane Austen Books.


The Trilogy is also available in a single “boxed set” e-book:


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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