16 April 2014
A Reflection of Jane Austen
Jane Austen is one of the world’s most renowned authors. She was born in Steventon, a small village in England on 16 December 1775 (Craik 187.) She only lived forty two short years, passing away on 18 July 1817 under the care of her best friend and sister, Cassandra (C. Austen.) Austen composed her writings in the Georgian era of British history, which is undoubtedly evident in her compositions. If readers examine and explore her wonderful works, they will discover who Austen was and what inspired and influenced this amazing author. A great deal can be learned from Austen’s writing, about not only her family and daily life but how women lived in the 1800s. Readers can examine the customs and etiquette of the people of her time and the social and economic context in which her books were written. In her books most of all the characters she brought to life are inspired by relationships she had, which is made evident in her personal letters to or from these acquaintances. A closer look into Austen’s life is required to develop a sense of how all of these factors influenced her works.
In Jane Austen in Her Time, it is made clear that Austen is not born into wealth. Her father was a simple clergyman and made little money. Jane did move up into more comfortable settings as she was often invited to stay in luxurious Godmersham to stay with her brother, Edward, whom had been adopted to the Knight family and became the heir of their wealthy estate. Once married, Edward and his wife often saw that Jane and Cassandra would stay for extended visits with them and attend balls in their lavish home. Jane Austen attends many balls, a formal social event common in the 1800s that included dining, drinking, music and dancing. “Such [wealthy] people are to be in the happy state of being thoroughly at home, but being detached enough [from the city] to be conscious of the excellence and beauty of their surroundings” (Craik 102). It was an age of extravagance and the picturesque, but of the passion in gardening and farming also. Austen was seen as a sort of outcast at times in Edward’s home; she would laugh to herself and run across the room to write something down. She was shy and preferred to keep to herself.
Austen writes mostly of only what she knew, women’s issues and the inner workings of a household, of passion and romance. In Godmersham, Jane’s role is to nurse her mother and writes sarcastically to her sister Cassandra:
My mother desires me to tell you that I am a very good housekeeper, which I have no reluctance in doing, because I really think it my peculiar excellence and for this reason - I always take care to provide such things as please my own appetite, which I consider as the chief merit in housekeeping.
Finances were not a major concern for women of her time but Jane expresses her thrift and is very practical as she writes:
Now I will give you the history of Mary's veil, in the purchase of which I have so considerably involved you that it is my duty to economize for you in the flowers. I had no difficulty in getting a muslin veil for half a guinea, and not much more in discovering afterwards that the muslin was thick, dirty, and ragged, and therefore would by no means do for a united gift. I changed it consequently as soon as I could, and, considering what a state my imprudence had reduced me to, I thought myself lucky in getting a black lace one for sixteen shillings. I hope the half of that sum will not greatly exceed what you had intended to offer upon the altar of sister-in-law affection (Austen.)
Austen’s novels often parallel her own experiences in life and the characters parallel acquaintances and close correspondents. Her writing is at times harsh, challenging the societal norms of her time, but mostly she writes with great etiquette and reserve. Reserve is particularly important to women, whose dependence on