Read Jane Austen For Dummies Online

Authors: Joan Elizabeth Klingel Ray

Jane Austen For Dummies (2 page)

BOOK: Jane Austen For Dummies

ane Austen is everywhere! This early-19th-century, English, single author, who left only six completed novels, has inspired dozens of popular films, television miniseries, Broadway shows, and sequels to her books over the years and continues to do so. In fact, the use of her name alone appears in the titles of other books ranging from cookbooks to dating guides to modern romances, as well as shelves of academic literary criticism in college libraries. So even if you've never read a Jane Austen novel (and you don't need to in order to enjoy this book), her name probably rings a bell.

Austen is the greatest novelist in English. She mastered realism by presenting characters in familiar domestic situations. Her characters are recognizably human — they experience loneliness, love, frustration, humiliation, egoism, jealousy, confusion, and self-knowledge just like everyone does. So while her most-famous heroine,
Pride and Prejudice
's Elizabeth Bennet, may be dressed in a column-shaped, high-waisted Regency muslin gown, Bennet experiences what many readers experience (gender aside): hurt pride, which leads to prejudices, which lead to misunderstandings and misjudgments, which lead to humiliation and finally to surprising insights about herself and others. This portrayal of a real person is why Hollywood's Amy Heckerling can take Austen's novel
reset it in Beverly Hills in the late 1990s, call the character Cher, instead of Emma, and still be true to Austen's
This is why Austen's novels are timeless and appeal to many different readers all seeking to get different meanings from Austen's words and all bringing different experiences to their reading.

About This Book

This book covers various aspects of Jane Austen's life, from her happy childhood in a supportive and intelligent family to her precocious youthful writing to her six completed novels that made her popular and admired. And in the great spirit of Austen's novels, I write this book for all readers, too. You don't need a degree in English to enjoy, or even love, Austen's novels. And you don't ever have to read any academic literary criticism to understand Austen's work. In fact, you can use this book in a number of ways:

To get some background info on the times and population about which Austen was writing:
Head to Chapter(s) 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, and 12.

To supplement your appreciation of Jane Austen's novels:
Go to Chapters 2 and 4 for info on Austen's literary predecessors and to Chapter 16 for info on her literary descendents. Go to Chapters 5, 6, 11, and 12 to familiarize yourself with the manners, morals, and lifestyles of her times.

To determine why certain characters act the way they do:
For example, anyone who wonders why
Pride and Prejudice
's Mrs. Bennet is so hysterically determined to get her daughters married needs to read the chapters on women's limited rights and marriage (Chapters 7 and 9), as well as the details of
(Chapter 10) — the eldest son's or living male relative's getting everything — and
(Chapter 10) — documents limiting inheritance rights.

As a reference tool:
Although it's helpful to read some of the background material in Chapters 2 and 3 before you delve into some of the specifics about Austen's writing and times, you can jump around as you please, heading straight to the subject that most interests you.

The Table of Contents at the front of the book and the Index at the end are your best weapons to help you attack this book and find the info that you need or want.

Conventions Used in This Book

To make the text consistent and easier to understand, I use the following conventions:

The full name
Jane Austen
is used occasionally throughout this book, but most frequently I refer to her as Austen. But when there are so many Austens in the picture that I need to clarify that Jane Austen did or said this or that, I refer to her with both her first and last name. When you see her as simply Jane, that is when I refer to her only when she was a child. Otherwise, I speak of her as Austen, just as I would speak of Shakespeare as Shakespeare, not William.

When I feel Austen's voice is needed (and far better than mine I must say), I use her letters to allow “Jane” to be heard.
Jane Austen's Letters
(Oxford) were mostly edited by Deirdre Le Faye and published in 1995.

When I quote from her novels, I cite volume and chapter number. So Volume 3, Chapter 11 of
Sense and Sensibility
is 3:11. If you're buying Austen's novels for the first time, even in paperback editions, be sure to buy an edition that comes in three volumes with new chapter numbering for each volume.
To clarify, the novel is in one paperback book but divided into three volumes within that book. (This was known in the 18th and 19th centuries as the three-decker novel!) The only two exceptions to this rule are
Northanger Abbey
each of which contains only two volumes (but still contained within one book). If you're standing in a bookstore and you open an Austen novel to find that it has continuous chapter numbering from beginning to end, put it back and get one with the volumes.

While in Austen's day, her three-volume novels came out in three separate volumes, today all three volumes, say, for
Sense and Sensibility
, are in one volume. The exceptions are modern facsimile editions, where one novel, such as
Sense and Sensibility,
is printed in three separate volumes to imitate what the book looked like when it was published in Austen's day. But unless you're a meticulous collector of facsimile editions, buy the novel in
book. Thus, when you buy a paperback copy of
Sense and Sensibility,
flip through it and you'll find that all three volumes of the novel are in there in a handy, compact version.

When I use a quotation from Austen's novels, I abbreviate the titles as follows:
Northanger Abbey
Sense and Sensibility
Pride and Prejudice
Mansfield Park
(E), and
(P). I refer to her incomplete works,
The Watsons,
as (S) and (W).
Lady Susan
is referred to as (LS). Any references to her youthful works, written as a child and teenager, have their full titles in quotation marks.

All Web addresses and e-mail addresses appear in
. When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have needed to break across two lines of text. If that happened, rest assured that I haven't put in any extra characters (such as hyphens) to indicate the break. So, when using one of these Web addresses, just type in exactly what you see in this book, pretending as though the line break doesn't exist.

New terms appear in
and are closely followed by a straightforward definition or explanation.

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