Jane Austen's Writings
There's a tendency for people to view the sudden popularity of Jane
Austen as a reaction against some feature of current society. I think the
phenomenon runs deeper than that. You don't have to be running or recoiling
from something else to feel delight upon discovering Jane Austen."
"Jane Austen can in fact get more drama out of morality than
most other writers can get from shipwreck, battle, murder, or mayhem."
-- Ronald Blythe
Jane Austen's Novels
Three of Jane Austen's six novels were written, at least in their first
versions, before 1800, while the other three were not started until after
and Sensibility was accepted for publication in 1811. Jane Austen
published four of the novels in her lifetime, and the two others were published
together soon after her death in 1817; none of the books had her name on
the title page (though the two posthumous works were published together
a short biographical preface
by her brother Henry identifying her
as the author for the first time). Her various minor works
were not fully published until the 20th century.
This playful short novel is the one which most resembles Jane Austen's
It is the story of the unsophisticated and sincere Catherine Morland on
her first trip away from home, for a stay in
There she meets the entertaining Henry Tilney; later, on a visit to his
family's house (the "Northanger Abbey" of the title) she learns to distinguish
between the highly charged calamities of Gothic fiction and the realities
of ordinary life (which can also be distressing in their way). Like Jane
Austen's Love and Freindship, this book
makes fun of the conventions of many late 18th century literary works,
with their highly wrought and unnatural emotions; some of this humor derives
from the contrast between Catherine Morland and the conventional heroines
of novels of the day (for an idea of the latter, see the Plan
of a Novel).
An early version of the book was written under the title Susan
(in 1798-99 according to Cassandra).
It was actually the first of Jane Austen's novels sold to a publisher (a
publisher named Crosby bought it in 1803 for £10). He advertised
it as forthcoming, but never issued it. Jane Austen had the manuscript
bought back more than ten years later, after several of her other novels
had been published, and apparently made some revisions, but finally "put
it on the shel[f]" (letter of March 13,
1816). It was only after
in 1817 that her brother
had it published (together with Persuasion).
The title "Northanger Abbey" was not chosen by Jane Austen (she
referred to the book in her letter
as "Miss Catherine").
The most famous quote from Northanger Abbey is probably
Tilney's pseudo-gothic satire (see also
Tilney and Catherine Morland on marriage vs. dancing, the "Defense
of the Novel",
the walk to Beechen Cliff (Henry
and Eleanor Tilney with Catherine Morland), and
on the opposition between the "heroic" and the "natural"). (By the
way, in this novel Jane Austen usesthe word "baseball" -- the first person,
as far as is known, to use this word in writing by over fifty years.)
Sense and Sensibility
This novel contrasts two sisters: Marianne, who, with her doctrines of
love at first sight, fervent emotions overtly expressed, and admiration
of the grotesque "picturesque", represents the cult of
and Elinor, who has much more "sense", but is still not immune from disappointments.
Despite some amusing characters and true Jane Austen touches, it is not
generally considered to be her best novel. According to
it was probably the first of the novels to be started (sometime before
1797, under the early name
Elinor and Marianne); it was worked on
in 1797, and probably again heavily revised before publication in 1811.
It was the first of Jane Austen's novels to be published, and appeared
without her name on the title page (only "By a Lady"). It was advertised
as an `Interesting Novel', which meant (in the jargon of the day) that
it was a love story. Jane Austen pledged herself to cover her publisher's
losses, if necessary, but actually realized £140 in profit. It was
one of only two novels that Jane Austen revised after publication, when
a second edition came out in 1813. The first and second editions were probably
not more than a thousand copies each, but the readership would have been
very much larger, due to the institution of"circulating
libraries" (book rental shops), and also the fact that the novel was
published in three separately-bound volumes (as was the usual practice).
First published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice
has consistently been Jane Austen's most popular novel. It portrays the
initial misunderstandings and later mutual enlightenment between Elizabeth
Bennet (whose liveliness and quick wit have often attracted readers)
and the haughty
Austen wrote in
a letter about
"I must confess that
I think her as delightful a character as ever
appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not
like her at least, I do not know". The title Pride
Prejudice refers (among other
things) to the ways in which
Darcy first view each
other. The original version of the novel was written in 1796-1797 under
First Impressions, and was probably in the
of an exchange of letters;
First Impressions was actually the
first of Jane Austen's works to be offered to a publisher, in 1797 by Jane
Austen's father, but the publisher turned it down without even looking
at the manuscript.
This novel, originally published in 1814, is the first of Jane Austen's
novels not to be a revised version of one of her pre-1800 writings.
Park has sometimes been considered atypical of Jane Austen, as being
solemn and moralistic, especially when contrasted with the immediately
preceding Pride and Prejudice and the immediately
Emma. Poor Fanny Price is brought
up at Mansfield Park with her rich uncle and aunt, where only her cousin
Edmund helps her with the difficulties she suffers from the rest of the
family, and from her own fearfulness and timidity. When the sophisticated
Crawfords (Henry and Mary), visit the Mansfield neighbourhood, the moral
sense of each marriageable member of the Mansfield family is tested in
various ways, but Fanny emerges more or less unscathed. The well-ordered
(if somewhat vacuous) house at Mansfield Park, and its country setting,
play an important role in the novel, and are contrasted with the squalour
of Fanny's own birth family's home at Portsmouth,
and with the decadence of London.
Readers have a wide variety of reactions to Mansfield Park --
most of which already appear in the Opinions
of Mansfield Park collected by Jane Austen herself soon after the
novel's publication. Some dislike the character of Fanny as "priggish"
(however, it is Edmund who sets the moral tone
here), or have no sympathy for her forced inaction (doubtless, those are
people who have never lacked confidence, or been without a date on Friday
night!). Mansfield Park has also been used to draw connections between
the "genteel" rural English society that Jane Austen describes and the
outside world, since Fanny's uncle is a slave-owner
(with an estate in Antigua in the Caribbean; slavery was not abolished
in the British empire until 1833). Like
a number of other topics, Jane Austen only chose to allude glancingly
to the slave trade and slavery in her novels, though she was aware of contemporary
debates on the subject. Mansfield Park was one of only two of Jane
Austen's novels to be revised by her after its first publication, when
a second edition came out in 1816 (this second edition was a failure in
terms of sales).
Notes on some customs of the society of Jane Austen's day, which are
part of the background to Mansfield Park, but which may not be intuitively
obvious to modern readers:
Henry Crawford, as a young unrelated unmarried member of the opposite sex,
is not entitled to give any personal gifts to Fanny Price. In allowing
herself to be used as the conduit through which the necklace is given,
Mary Crawford is committing a violation of etiquette or protocol -- and
in doing this without Fanny Price's knowledge or consent, Mary Crawford
is not acting with much discretion or kindness toward Fanny. (Chapter 26:
"Miss Crawford, complaisant as a sister, was careless as a woman and a
friend"; Chapter 36: "Do you mean, then, that your brother knew of the
necklace beforehand? Oh! Miss Crawford, that was not fair.")
Similarly, Henry Crawford and Fanny Price are not entitled to correspond
with each other, nor are Edmund Bertram and Mary Crawford. When Mary Crawford
insists upon corresponding with Fanny Price, in order to use this correspondence
to get around such restrictions, she isn't showing excessive delicacy or
consideration for Fanny here either.
Emma, published in 1815, has been described as a "mystery
story without a murder". The eponymous heroine is the charming (but
perhaps too clever for her own good) Emma Woodhouse, who manages to deceive
herself in a number of ways (including as to who is really the object of
her own affections), even though she (and the reader) are often in possession
of evidence pointing toward the truth. Like Catherine Morland in
Abbey, Marianne Dashwood in
Sense and Sensibility,
Elizabeth Bennet in
and Prejudice, she overcomes self-delusion during the course of
her novel. The book describes a year in the life of the village of Highbury
and its vicinity, portraying many of the various inhabitants.
Emma was dedicated to thedissolute
Prince Regent (George Augustus Frederick), at his request; he was the
uncle of Victoria, and was Prince Regent from 1811-1820 and later king
George IV (1820-1830). Jane Austen was apparently not especially pleased
by this honour (seeher
letter on the infidelities of the Prince and his wife). This episode
was productive of her amusing correspondence with
ASCII e-text of Emma at U. of Maryland (divided into chapters).
Plain ASCII e-texts of
(WARNING: long!) --
(compressed in binary ".zip" format).
sensual scene from Emma
charades and riddle in Emma (with answers)
charts for the characters in Emma
new TV version of Emma
This relatively short novel, her last, was written in the last few years
of Jane Austen's life, and published only after her death in 1817 (though
she described it, in a letter of March
13 1816, as "a something ready for publication", she probably would
have revised it further, if she had not already been ill with her eventually
fatal disease by the time she stopped working on it). It involves an older
heroine than any of her other novels do (Anne Elliot is 27), and is also
the only novel whose events are explicitly dated to a specific year (1814-1815).
Eight years before the novel begins, Anne Elliot (whom Jane Austen described
in one of her letters as a "heroine
[who] is almost too good for me") had been persuaded by an older friend
of the family, whom she respects, to give up her engagement to the then-poor Captain
Mansfield Park, this novel
has a number of characters who are in the navy (two of Jane Austen's
were sailors), and several warm-hearted naval families are attractively
depicted; these contrast favorably with Anne's own family, in which she
is overlooked by her vain and rank-proud Baronet
father and her cold and selfish elder sister. In its autumnal mood, this
novel is more serious in tone than most of Jane Austen's other works, and
perhaps is the most conventionally "romantic" of them (and thus the one
which has given rise to the most speculation
about her own affairs of the heart -- for example, by
however, there is still plenty of Jane Austen irony. Persuasion
also contains more description of background
and natural beauty than the previous novels. In her admiration for the
seaside town of Lyme and dislike of
Anne Elliot reflects her creator's preferences.
After she had finished the first version of
Austen was dissatisfied with the chapter in which Anne Elliot and the "unconsciously
constant" Captain Wentworth are reconciled; she then wrote two replacement
chapters which are universally considered much better than the first attempt.
The manuscript of the cancelled chapter is
the only original manuscript of any part of Jane Austen's published novels
which has survived.
Plain ASCII e-texts of
(WARNING: long!) --
(compressed in binary ".zip" format).
"cancelled chapters" of Persuasion
list of all the occurences of the words "persuade"/"persuasion" in the
for Gowlands' Lotion, from Ackermann's Repository 1809 (for ladies
who want to carry away their freckles)
charts for the characters in Persuasion
Reader's Guide to Perusasion
E. Brock illustrations for Persuasion.
map of Bath ca. 1800
Jane Austen's minor writings (besides her
Juvenilia (early short pieces written
for the amusement of her family, before she had started on any of her novels),
several incomplete beginnings of novels, Lady Susan,
the Plan of a Novel, some
verse, some prayers, and a few other miscellaneous
The Juvenilia mainly consist of short satiric and farcical pieces
(such as Love
and Freindship or Frederic
& Elfrida), with some serious or darker ones (such asThe
Three Sisters). They were written when Jane Austen was approximately
from thirteen to seventeen years old, and then copied into three volumes.
Some of the humor resembles that of Ambrose Bierce ("I
murdered my father at a very early period in my Life, I have since murdered
my mother, and I am now going to murder my sister"), or Lewis Caroll
("The noble youth informed us that his
name was Lindsay -- for particular reasons I will conceal it under that
of Talbot"; or "My dear Sophia,
be not uneasy at having exposed yourself -- I will turn the conversation
without appearing to notice it"), and some of it has a Monty Python-esque
flavor (Bless me! There ought to be eight
chairs and there are but six. However, if your Ladyship will but take Sir
Arthur in your lap, and Sophy my brother in hers, I believe we shall do
pretty well"). As in her novel Northanger
Abbey she burlesques the literary conventions of the day ("Her
father was of noble birth, being the near relation of the Duchess of ----'s
butler"). For example, this dialogue introduces two characters in a play-let:
(The same mini-play also includes this "immortal couplet":
Pray papa, how far is it to London?
My girl, my darling, my favourite of all my children, who art the picture
of thy poor mother who died two months ago, with whom I am going to town
to marry to Strephon, and to whom
I mean to bequeath my whole estate, it wants seven miles.
"I am going to have my dinner,
After which I shan't be thinner".)
It is interesting that Jane Austen allows herself
broader range of topics in the Juvenilia than in her novels; for example,
and Alice she deals tragicomically with alcoholism, a fairly common
vice of the day, but one which she only tangentially
alludes to in her novels. The Juvenilia are not merely humorous; a
Catharine, or the Bower
look forward to her novels. The Three Sisters
is a downright brutal character sketch, as raw a portrayal of the sordid
side of the "marriage market" as a
could wish. And what feminist couldn't find material in the
story of Miss Jane in the
of Letters, whose husband dies while her marriage is still a secret,
and who then, unable to bear the thought of assuming her husband's name
only after his death, and "conscious of having no right to" her father's
name, "dropped all thoughts of either", and made a point of bearing only
her first name?
I can't resist giving one more quote from the
a character's description of her niece fromLesley
Castle: "The dear creature is just turned of two years old -- as
handsome as though two and twenty, as sensible as though two and thirty,
and as prudent as though two and forty. To convince you of this, I must
inform you that she has a very fine complexion and very pretty features,
that she already knows the first two letters of the alphabet, and that
she never tears her frocks. -- If I have not now convinced you of her Beauty,
Sense, and Prudence, I have nothing more to urge in support of my assertion."
of Henry and Eliza
of Sir William Mountague
fragments of splendid nonsense from the Juvenilia
See also another
site with e-texts of some of the Juvenilia.
Love and Freindship
Along with a satirical "History of England",
and Freindship (usually cited in Jane Austen's original spelling)
is the most famous of her
Juvenilia. This is an exuberant
epistolary form) of the
sensibility, which she
later criticized in a more serious way in her novel Sense
and Sensibility. For the main characters in
and Freindship, including the narrator Laura,
violent and overt emotion substitutes for morality and common sense. Characters
who have this
into each other's arms weeping the first time they ever meet, and on suffering
any misfortune are too preoccupied with indulging their emotions to take
any effective action ("Ah! what could
we do but what we did! ... It was too pathetic for the feelings of
and myself --
We fainted alternately
on a sofa"). They use their fine feelings as the excuse for any misdeeds,
and despise characters without such feelings:
"They said he was sensible, well informed, and agreeable; we
did not pretend to judge of such trifles, but ... we were convinced he
had no soul [because] he had never read The
Sorrows of Werter [by Goethe]."
There are also parodies of such novelistic
conventions as unlikely meetings between long-lost relatives, true
love thwarted by parental opposition, the low-ranking character who is
actually of noble birth, etc. Probably the most famous quote from
and Freindship is the following last
words of the dying Sophia, who relates the disadvantages of her method
of reacting to a previous catastrophe:
"My beloved Laura, take warning
from my unhappy End, and avoid the imprudent conduct which had occasioned
it... Beware of fainting-fits... Though at the time they may be refreshing
and agreeable, yet believe me they will in the end, if too often repeated
and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your constitution... One
fatal swoon has cost me my Life... Beware of swoons, dear
A frenzy-fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the
Body and if not too violent, is I dare say conducive to Health in its consequences
-- Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint --"
Hypertext of Love and Freindship
This novella, written in the form of
an exchange of letters, portrays an amoral personality who would be
termed a "psychopath" in modern jargon -- that is, someone who doesn't
believe that any laws or rules of conduct apply to themselves. The recently-widowed
Lady Susan Vernon is determined to make
financially attractive marriages for both herself and her shy and intimidated
teenaged daughter Frederica; Lady Susan wavers as to her course of action,
but is always ready to lie and pretend to be inoffensive and humble, in
order to get her way. Aside from its interest as a character study,
Susan is the only time that Jane Austen deals with the decadent London
high society of the day (now loosely called "Regency").
to e-text of Lady Susan.
ASCII e-text of Lady Susan, compressed in binary .zip format
<49888 bytes> [See explanation of ".zip"
This fragment of a novel was written by Jane Austen about 1803-1805, but
was not published until 1871, as part of James Edward Austen-Leigh's
(Jane Austen had left it untitled; the title "The Watsons" was provided
by Austen-Leigh). It describes Emma Watson's return, after a long absence,
to her family, who are on the lower financial fringes of the "genteel".
She attracts the interest of a nobleman (and according
to tradition in Jane Austen's family, she was later to receive and
refuse an offer of marriage from him, and marry a clergyman). It is not
clear why Jane Austen did not continue this fragment -- perhaps because
her father's death; or because
she was discouraged by the fact that after she succeded in selling her
first novel (Susan, an earlier version of
Abbey, for a nominal sum in 1803), the publisher
decided not to publish after all, and sat on the manuscript; or because
she did not want to sustain the tone of almost "painful realism" (according
to Jenkins) with which she had begun.
to e-text of The Watsons.
ASCII e-text of The Watsons, compressed in binary .zip
format <39035 bytes> [See explanation
of ".zip" here.]
Jane Austen wrote this fragment in the last year of her life (1817), while
she was still well enough to write. Much lighter in tone than her last
Persuasion, which she had recently
finished, it describes the visit of Charlotte Heywood to the seaside village
of Sanditon, recently developed and promoted as a resort, and the various
amusing and/or unpleasant characters she meets there. This fragment is
particularly frustrating in that it breaks off just as it has finished
setting the scene and introducing the characters (in a very promising way),
and the "plot" proper is to begin. This is why it is a favorite with continuators
(see David Hopkinson's article in Grey et.
al. and the bibliography of Jane Austen sequels;
a recent fairly well-received completion to
Sanditon, by Anne Telscombe
(?), was published in 1975).
Edward Denham's sense and literary taste (or lack thereof)
Her Light Verse
Jane Austen also wrote some amusing light verse, a few specimens of which
are given below; see also the poetry included in
Brabourne's edition of her letters, a letter
to her brother Frank in the form of a poem (congratulating him on the
birth of a son, and looking forward to the Austen women's move to Chawton),
and her "charades" (rhymed word puzzles):
on Jane Austen are also available, and there is an
external site which has collected the poetry attributed to Jane Austen.
E-text of Light Verse
On Reading in the Newspapers the Marriage of Mr. Gell
to Miss Gill, of Eastbourne
At Eastbourne Mr. Gell, From
being perfectly well,
Became dreadfully ill, For love of Miss Gill.
So he said with some sighs, I'm the slave of your iis;
Oh, restore, if you please, By accepting my ees.
Mock Panegyric on a Young Friend
In measured verse I'll now rehearse
The charms of lovely Anna:
And, first, her mind is unconfined
Like any vast savannah.
Ontario's lake may fitly speak
Her fancy's ample bound:
Its circuit may, on strict survey
Five hundred miles be found.
Her wit descends on foes and friends
Like famed Niagara's fall;
And travellers gaze in wild amaze,
And listen, one and all.
Her judgment sound, thick, black, profound,
Like transatlantic groves,
Dispenses aid, and friendly shade
To all that in it roves.
If thus her mind to be defined
And all that's grand in that great land
In similes it costs --
Oh how can I her person try
To image and portray?
How paint the face, the form how trace,
In which those virtues lay?
The `young friend' was apparently her niece
daughter of her eldest brother
Another world must be unfurled,
Another language known,
Ere tongue or sound can publish round
Her charms of flesh and bone.