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The Life and Love of Jane Austen

April 4, 2013

In order to give everyone more information about the places we have and will be visiting, TAP is opening up some space on this site for anyone involved in the program (students, parents, former travelers, future travelers, and the teachers) to write some articles about the things that interest them.  This article is from Miss Tadey – the MIS Band teacher – who has been with TAP for just over a year now.  Miss Tady’s first trip with us was in 2012, when we had an incredible adventure in Japan.  She’s now gearing up for her second TAP trip – this year’s adventure in England and Wales.  

Jane Austen

Ahhhh, spring.  New life.  New beginnings.  That’s what spring is about for most people, but for me, sometimes spring is about returning to the past instead.  Each year around this time I indulge one of my favorite pastimes and reread a book by one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen. This year in the rotation, I will be devouring what could be considered her most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice. It’s an age old story: Girl meets boy, boy falls in love with girl, girl hates boy, drama ensues, girl changes her mind about boy, boy still loves girl, and they live happily ever after. In fact, all six of Austen’s novels have variations on love and have happy endings but that’s not why I love reading them over and over again.

Jane Austen – who lived from 1775-1817 in Central England –  does a wonderful job of describing the folly and foolishness of the gentry class in the late 1700s. When you read her novels, you gain an understanding of the idleness of gentlemen and gentlewomen as they go about their daily lives entertaining themselves with gossip, music, philanthropy, hunting, dancing, walking, and ‘taking a turn about the room’. She always includes characters that are utterly ridiculous such as Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Jennings from Sense and Sensibility, or Mrs. Bates from Emma.  A novel by Ms. Jane Austen is sure to entertain the reader by laughing at foolishness, engage the reader by providing some sort of scandal, and provide a satisfying, happy ending.

It makes sense that Austen would have an understanding of the gentle class since she was, herself, the daughter of a clergyman. She was the seventh of eight children, and the second of two daughters. With such a large family living on the salary of a clergyman, money was not in abundance but they entertained themselves with the library, running the family farm, and the in-home production of plays. Education was also highly prized for all of the children, so Jane and her sister, Cassandra, were sent off to boarding school.  When the girls returned home from school, Jane began writing several plays and short stories. Her family enjoyed her writing and was very supportive, particularly her father, who even tried, unsuccessfully, to have one of her novels published. 

In the late 1700s to early 1800s, a woman’s duty to her family was to get married and have children before the age of about 20. Love was rarely a consideration but it was very important that either the groom or bride-to-be was well off financially.  By the time her family moved to the city of  Bath, England (which TAP will visit this June)  in 1800, Jane was 26 years old and considered an old maid. Since she still lived with her parents, she was a financial burden to them and many would have thought she did not honor her responsibilities of marriage. While  many women of her age would have been considered lost causes and ‘unmarriageable’, Jane received a stroke of luck in the form of a marriage proposal from a Mr. Bigg-Wither in Bath. Feeling it was her duty, Jane initially accepted the proposal but changed her mind and declined it the next day. This was incredibly shocking given Jane’s situation in life and the fact that Mr. Bigg-Wither was due to inherit a large amount of money. The union would have protected Jane and her family from the threat of poverty for the remainder of their lives but she could not bring herself to marry him. Some might think that Jane did not like the sound of Jane Bigg-Wither as her new moniker, but in reality, she felt she could not marry a man she did not love.

Back then many marriages were about money or status, not love, and love in marriage became an important theme in Jane Austen’s writing.  Many Austen fans love to travel to central England and visit the city of Bath.  Because Bath is an incredibly beautiful city, Jane Austen’s home town was the setting where several of her heroines lost and/or found love.  Like many authors before and after her, it’s clear that Austen found inspiration for her writing in her real life.   Perhaps our day in Bath this June will inspire one of this year’s TAP students to write their own Austin-ish love story after the trip.

A few years after her proposal, Jane’s father died, leaving the Austen women in dire straits.   The Austen brothers banded together to help Jane, her sister, and their mother find some place to live, finally settling in Chawton Cottage, a small home near her brother Edward’s house.  From this cottage, Jane wrote all six of her novels. The first four were successfully published and helped save the family from financial ruin. Happy to be useful to her family, Ms. Austen worked herself ill on her last two novels and died in July of 1817. She did not finish the last two books, but her sister and brother put on the final touches and published them posthumously.

Jane Austen lived her life surrounded by the love and support of her family, standing firm to her ideals, and achieving one of her greatest ambitions, to become a published author.

To say that her novels are still popular is quite the understatement. The world of cinema repeatedly puts her stories to film. Sense
and Sensibility, her first novel, was adapted in 1995 starring Emma Thompson, the same actress who played Nanny McPhee and Professor Trelawney.  Speaking of Emma, Gwyneth Paltrow played the title character in the 1996 film and received two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert.  In 1996, Alicia Silverstone starred in the movie Clueless – a modern day re-imagining of Emma.  Pride and Prejudice might claim the title for book with the most film adaptations – Hollywood, the BBC, and Bollywood each have made highly successful versions of the film. In fact, there is even a Mormon version of the film complete with bigamy.

However, we all know that movies are not the best place to get accurate information or versions of literature.  After all, the 2007 film, Becoming Jane, greatly exaggerates her brief (we’re talking 4 weeks) crush on her distant cousin.  The movie is entertaining, but
not very accurate.  It is possible, though, to find movies that are fairly true to her novels. The BBC version of Pride and Prejudice is accurate down to a few misinterpreted lines of dialogue and the 1995 version of Persuasion starring Amanda Root is also an honest retelling of Austen’s novel.

So, as your spring break moves along and you find yourself with some extra time, maybe try a little bit of Austen. You can sit down to fun read with Emma or Mansfield Park or you could sit with a bowl of popcorn and have movie marathon. You could compare the different versions of Pride and Prejudice. The Bollywood version, Bride and Prejudice, has a ton of dancing while the Mormon version doesn’t have any. You can be assured no matter what you read or see that you will find a happy ending for everyone.

Check out some of Jane Austen’s work before we head to England to visit her home in Chawton and the inspiration for her settings in Bath.  Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma are all available to read free online – just click on those links.   

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Caitlyn Dixon permalink
    April 4, 2013 4:58 pm

    Jane Austen’s 6 complete and published books were all turned into movies and her books were translated into multiple languages around the world. Her books: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey are romance books. My favorite of her books transformed into a movie on the big screen is Pride and Prejudice.

    • Ms. Tadey permalink
      April 6, 2013 1:19 pm

      Which version, Caitlyn? You should check out the old school version with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. Pretty ridiculous stuff.

  2. Brooklyn Bachmann permalink
    April 5, 2013 8:43 pm

    Jane Austen’s classics are widely read even today. My favorite like Caitlyn is Pride and Prejudice. Of her six published books, four of them were published before her death on July 18,1817.

  3. Madelyn Rogge permalink
    April 11, 2013 6:22 pm

    I sadly have not yet read one of the book written by Jane but my aunt got me her complete set. After reading a little about Janes life and about what the books are about, well i might just have to rub the dust off them and try it. She seems like a very interesting person and i cant wait to go to her home town to learn even more.

    • April 11, 2013 8:19 pm

      You should definitely give her books a try. They aren’t easy, but if you take your time and use the internet to help with the tough bits, you’ll really enjoy it.

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