Today marks 200 years since Jane Austen’s death.

by |July 18, 2017

You knew this day was coming. A whole blog post dedicated to Jane Austen. (And yes, blokes can read and love Jane Austen. I’m living proof.)

The novels of Jane Austen can be read and enjoyed for so many different reasons and appeal to such a wide variety of readers, that sharing my opinion of them seems redundant. I can only lose by the attempt. I can only reduce the works of Austen by sharing my views.

That said, I love them so much I have never tired of trying to excite others to love them as much as I do. So, even in the face of resistance, I persist.

If your schooling put you off Jane Austen, ask yourself, what other decisions in life do you still leave to your eighteen year old self to decide?


Reviews by John Purcell


Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenPride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen

My second favourite Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, is just delightful. I don’t mean to say it’s light or frivolous. Austen is only frivolous when she wants to be and then it is always perfectly timed. Pride and Prejudice is delightful in that there is so much to entertain us.

With Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen delivered the world a perfect template for all future romances, but also set an almost impossibly high standard. As if to say – I make the mould, I break the mould. No one who followed, in my view, has ever bettered Pride and Prejudice.

Reading it again, I discover more and more in both Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. These two figures, draw me back to the novel. Elizabeth, so lively and bright, our guide through the assembled company, which include her family and neighbours, and a sprinkling of the high born. Austen might have made Elizabeth more cynical, her words more biting, but instead gave her a kind and loving heart. And Mr Darcy, immediately misunderstood, languishes in misery which is only in part of his own making. Where Mr Darcy might have been a knight in shining armour, Austen gave him deep flaws, but was generous enough to give him the ability to change.

No one who reads Pride and Prejudice, in the right spirit, is ever able to forget the powerful romance at the heart of it, but equally, none can forget the Bennets, Mr Collins, Mr Wickham, and the host of secondary characters which populate its pages.

This is a book for reading on a winter’s day when you’ve got the sniffles and you’re wearing comfy pjs and bed socks under a blanket on your favourite couch. Once read, Pride and Prejudice becomes your partner in life. When in need, you’ll return to it again and again… Learn more.


Emma by Jane AustenEmma
by Jane Austen

I started the year by rereading Jane Austen’s Emma. I felt the need to recalibrate my sensibilities after the horror year that was 2016. And nothing but the clear, sensible and wise voice of Jane Austen would do.

Why Emma, when I might have chosen Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and the truly sublime Persuasion?

Let’s face it, 2017 looks irredeemable. Trump is king of the world. In this climate it will be easy to give up all hope in the possibility for positive change.

Which is why I turned to Emma, over the other novels. Emma Woodhouse, whom Jane Austen said was ‘a heroine whom no one but myself will much like’, is young, beautiful, rich, headstrong, conceited and blind to many of her own faults. If alive today, Emma would be Insta-famous. But, and this is why I turned to Emma, she learns from her mistakes, eventually, and becomes a better person. This book offers hope.

Unlike other Austen heroines, Emma isn’t perfect; she starts off with the great handicap of her own faults, and appears to be fixed in her ways. The world around her doesn’t need to be changed, she needs to change. This is opposite to the difficulties faced by her other heroines.

And it is a good lesson in these dark days. We don’t need to change the world. We need only change ourselves. Then the problems of the world will fix themselves. Learn more.


Sense and Sensibility by Jane AustenSense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen

To my mind the heroines of Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood sisters, represent two facets of Jane Austen herself. In Marianne we have Austen’s sensibility – her passion, feeling and emotion. In Elinor we have Austen’s sense – her reason, composure and prudence. This is conjecture only. I never met Ms Austen, which is my loss. But it seems reasonable to suggest it. Don’t we all share all of these qualities to a larger or lesser degree?

Marianne would hate the previous paragraph. She would declare it tepid, limp, uninspired. And she’d be right, wouldn’t she? Sense and Sensibility deserves better than my cool, evenhanded evaluation. I’ll try again. I feel very Elinor.

Thrown out of their home, the Dashwoods must learn to live in straitened circumstances. Elinor rolls up her sleeves to make the best of the new situation. Marianne, however, wants more from life. Much more. She wants to live life to the full, she wants to know true passion, she wants poetry, music, and adventure in her life.

So when Marianne twists her ankle while out on an adventure, and dashing Mr Willoughby lifts her in his arms and carries her home, sense and sensibility collide. We so want Marianne to be happy, but we also hear the alarm bells going off in Elinor’s head.

An antidote to the blues, Sense and Sensibility will give you the strength to soldier on… Learn more.


Mansfield Park by Jane AustenMansfield Park
by Jane Austen

The best thing about Mansfield Park is the Crawfords. They are the disrupters in this novel and they are wonderfully wicked. More wicked than any other characters in Austen. Normally, the people who cause trouble do so because of ignorance or bad breeding. In Mansfield Park, Mary and Henry Crawford are wicked because it pleases them to be so.

Jane Austen admired the works of Samuel Richardson. And the Crawfords closest literary cousin is Robert Lovelace, the breathtakingly heinous yet irresistible villain from Clarissa. Though neither Mary nor Henry are so contemptible, each express ideas which seem utterly shocking in a novel by Jane Austen.

And Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park, is the perfect foil for these two outrageous baddies. She is innocent of many things, but knows danger when it appears. Her struggles to convince the rest of her family and friends of the unscrupulous nature of their new friends make for great reading. Her dalliance with the handsome Henry had me yelling at the book, like it was a pantomime – ‘he’s behind you!’

Don’t let anyone tell you Mansfield Park isn’t worth reading, as I was told by some dolt! It isn’t the best of Jane Austen’s works, but it is still a work by Jane Austen, and this is something to be cherished… Learn more.


Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion
by Jane Austen

Persuasion is my favourite Austen novel. It is the first Austen I ever read, and the last novel Jane Austen finished writing before she died. If it is true that great artists get better with time, then Persuasion could be safely considered her best. But then, who ever held strictly to such a view? Especially when there are so many examples of its opposite.

And I know that were I to defer to the judgement of the masses, Pride & Prejudice would be crowned the best Austen novel, by a clear margin. But best loved and best are two very different things.

Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion are both exemplary novels. Each should sit near the top of any list of the best books. Each succeed in telling a compelling story with rich characters, humour, drama, romance, wit, and wisdom. Each are nearly impossible to put down once you’re in.

Persuasion, however, has all of these qualities and more. Persuasion takes Austen’s fiction deep into the realities of the human condition. The character of Anne Eliot matures before our eyes. She is one of the most fully realised characters in fiction, because she is one of the most profound. Her capacity for romantic love is great, but her respect and care for others is greater. However, as a woman, she is bound and gagged by the world she has been born into. She has few personal freedoms, but she achieves so much in her small world. She does good works in a manner which suits individual needs and circumstances. Her generosity is powered and tempered by great intelligence.

In short, this is the work of a mature artist. Between writing Pride and Prejudice (first begun in 1796) and Persuasion (1816) much had changed in Austen’s life and it shows in her work… Learn more.


Northanger Abbey by Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey
by Jane Austen

This is the book Jane Austen wrote to rid herself of the fog which had settled upon her imagination after reading too many bad romances. Northanger Abbey pokes fun at the tropes which had developed in fiction in the years Jane Austen was growing up. Thankfully, many of these novels are no longer read, but a few survive. The better examples are still considered classics, the works of Fanny Burney and Ann Radcliffe, for example.

In short, she let the worst of them have it. For starters the heroine of Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland, is no fainting heroine. In fact, Austen opens the novel with a list of the things which make her completely unsuited to be a heroine.

All of Jane Austen’s novel can be considered in parts romantic comedies, but none are as funny as Northanger Abbey, once you know what she’s up to… Learn more.


Discover the woman behind the novels


Jane Austen at Home by Lucy WorsleyJane Austen at Home
by Lucy Worsley

Historian Lucy Worsley visits Jane Austen at home, exploring the author’s life through the places which meant the most to her.

Lucy Worsley visits Jane Austen’s childhood home, her schools, her holiday accommodation, the houses both grand and small of the relations upon whom she was dependent, and the home she shared with her mother and sister towards the end of her life, where she wrote her many of her famous novels.

This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the rooms, spaces and possessions which mattered to her, and the way in which home is used in her novels to mean both a place of pleasure and a prison. Jane famously lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley will reveal a passionate woman who fought for her freedom… Learn more.

Jane Austen at Home, as seen in BOOKED with Anastasia, Episode 14.

Fun fact about Jane Austen: she was proposed to at least 5 times!

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About the Contributor

John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for the last twenty years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Head of Product and Chief Buyer at booktopia.com.au.

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Comments

  • Malvina

    July 18, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Thankyou for this wonderful column. Jane Austen remains a favourite of mine from school, so she wasn’t spoiled at all for me then. In fact it’s where I discovered her, and that’s led to a lifetime love of her books. Each time I reread there is something more there, something rich and sustaining. The world lost her far too soon. Her work is amazing.

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