Jane Austen (1775-1817)
It was a period of great changes:
Foreign policy: In 1775 George Washington started a fight against the British troops in the American colonies. In 1776, July 4 the Declaration of Independence was issued in Philadelphia. In 1783 the British had to sign the treaty of Versailles that recognised the independence of the thirteen ex British colonies.
The XVIII century was dominated by the figure of Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). He wrote dramas, novels, issues, but, in particular, he became well known for his critical works and his Dictionary of the English Language (1775).
Novel: After The mouthpieces of the rise of the novel, D. Defoe, S. Richardson and H. Fielding, other writers approached the genre:
T. Smollet (1721-1771) wrote about life on ships and social scenes in England and Scotland (Roderick Random; Humphrey Clinker)
F. Burney (1752-1840) wrote humoristic and realistic novels such as Eveline; Cecilia and Camilla.
L. Sterne (1715-1768) evoked the rules of language with a flux of thoughts in his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.
H. Walpole (1717-1791); A. Radcliff (1764-1833) and M. G. Lewis (1775-1818) started writing stories full of mystery and imagination, the so called Gothic novels based on supernatural events and emotional characters.
Sir W. Scott (1771-1832) wrote novels based on Scottish folklore and tradition (Waverly; Rob Roy) and on England’s past (Ivanhoe)
Poetry: Poets shifted their focus from reason to emotions and imaginations; they dealt with individual and nature, basing their form on more popular patterns and their language on common words for a larger public.
The Graveyard School: E. Young, W. Collins and T. Gray‘s poems are about melancholy thoughts and desolate landscapes, ruins and tombs.
The Antiquary School: J. Macpherson‘s The Works of Ossian (1765), T. Percy and T. Chatterton shared the same enthusiasm for Celtic studies and Norse literature and popularised poems and legends of barbaric ages.
The Pre-Romantics: R. Burns‘s lyrics speak of genuine feeling and the beauty of nature. W. Blake‘s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience stress the contrast between the innate goodness of man and the corruption of society, with a simple and imaginative language with new symbols and energetic creative power. The Romantic Poets: W. Wordsworth (1770-1850) and S. T. Coleridge (1772-1834) published the Lyrical Ballads (1798), the manifesto of Romanticism that stressed the importance of imagination and of nature and described the poet as a prophet.
Second generation of Romantic poets: P. B. Shelley, Lord Byron, and J. Keats start writing their poems in which they declare their love for remote stories, events and forms of art, their individualism and stress the role of the poet as a prophet.
1775: Jane Austen was born in Steventon, Hampshire, the seventh child of a rector.
She remaines here for the first 26 years of her life. She studies at the Abbey School at Reading and then completes her education at home.. Soon she reveals her ability in writing.
1795: Jane starts writing her first novel, Elinor and Marianne, then revised and published in 1811 with the title Sense and Sensibility.
1796-7: The author writes First Impressions that will later develop into Pride and Prejudice published in 1813.
1798-9: To this period belongs the first draft of Susan, the future Northanger Abbey, that appeared in 1818, after her death.
1801-5: Her father retires and the family moves first to Bath, then, on his death, to Southampton. These years, spent far from Steventon, are probably unhappy because there is a pause in the writer’s activity.
1805: Jane moves with her mother and her beloved sister Cassandra to Chawton where she starts writing again surrounded by the love of her family and the devotions of readers like W. Scott and the Prince Regent.
1811-15: The author begins Mansfield Park; Pride and Prejudice appears; Emma is begun in 1814 and Persuasion is published the following year.
1816: Jane’s health starts declining and her last work Sanditon is left unfinished.
1817: the author goes to Winchester in search of medical attention, but she dies after three months. Her body is buried in Winchester Cathedral.
Sir Walter Elliot decides to leave Kellynch Hall in Somersetshire because of some financial difficulties and to go to Bath. He is a widower with three daughters: Elizabeth, Mar and Anne. Elizabeth has a friendship with Mrs. Clay, a woman that, after an important marriage, shows interest in Sir Walter. The new tenants of Kellynch Hall are Admiral Croft and his wife. Seven years before, Anne was engaged to Admiral Croft’s brother, but their union had been interrupetd because Sir Walter and Mrs. Russell, a friend of the family particularly fond of Anne, were hostile.
When Sir Walter and Elizabeth move to Bath, Anne goes to live at Uppercross with the other sister Mary and his husband Charles Musgrove who has two sisters, Henrietta and Louisa.
Captain Wentworth has come back in England with a good financial sistuation and lives with the Crofts, but often go and visit the Musgroves. Henrietta and Louisa are infatuated by him and Anne suffers a lot noticing the Captain’s coldness to her. After a while Henrietta takes up again her relationship with Charles Hayter, a cousin of hers, so the eligible woman for Captain Wentworth seems to be Louisa.
The group of young people organize s an excursion to Lyme Regis to visit an old Captain Wentworth’s friend, Captain Harville and his wife. There they also meet Captain Benwick, widower of Captain Harville’s sister and he becomes friend to Anne.
While in Lyme, Anne meets Sir Walter’s heir, Mr. William Walter Elliot, another widower, but she does not recognize him.
During a walk, Louisa hurts her head jumping from a step: she remains unconscious and has to stay at the Harville’s with Mary and Charles. Anne, Captain Wentworth and Henrietta return to Uppercross.
Now Anne has to join her family at Bath where she meets again Mr. William Walter Elliot who strts paying particular attention to anne. Anne receives a letter from Mary: Louisa is better and is engaged to captain Benwick. Meanwhile Captain Wentworth arrives at Bath and Anne understands, during a concert, that he is jealous and that his feelings have not changed.
The Musgroves arrive at Bath for henrietta’s wedding: Captain Wentworth gives Anne a letter and the couple reveals their mutual feelings.
During an evening party everybody is happy except Mr. William Walter Elliot: he leaves Bath to go to Lndon with Mrs. Clay, his mistress. Their double work did not work.
The sources of this book are mainly autobiographical: Persuasion appeeared postomously and is tinged with melancholy tones and ache for missed opportunities, notwistanding the irony that pevades the characterizaton of the minor figures.
Two of the main accidents that happen in the story –the fall of Mary’s child and of Louisa at the Cobb- are taken from real life: two of the dearest author’s friends died falling from horses and her nephew died from a frght.
Jane Austen shows to be quite aware of the mariners’ life and habits and of the anxiety women felt for the dear ones who were on the sea as two of her brothers were in the Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.
Besides, Jane Austen shows her attention to the literary period of her times with quotations and references to the main Romantic poets and to the writers of the Augustan Age she loved such as Dr. Johnson and Pope.
Setting The setting varies stressing the different social and personal changes.
Lyme Regis is a Romantic place and the sea suggests the idea of travel and discovery, of instabiliy overshadowing other worlds besides the English one. This seaside resort contrasts evidently with Bath whse close, airless places convey the idea of decaying sociaety that is going to dissappear.
The various walks provide the reason for reflections helped by the prevailing season, the Autumn, that is a metaphor or Anne’s inner life
She is not melodramatic in her feelings: her story is unconventional because she left Captain Wentworth bacause he could not afford a family life. In so doing she has permitted him to improve his social position and become wealthy. Passive at the beginning, Anne gains her self-consciousness and recovers her bloom when she meets again Cap. Wentworth.
Captain Wentworth: He is described through Anne’s eyes and emotions. Only his reactions reveal his feelings towards Anne: Wentworth is too formal and cold considering the intimacy of their former relationship. Nevertheless he is one of the most depicted among Jane Austen’s male characters. A good-looking energetic and resolute sailor (like Jane Austen’s own brothers), but less mature than Anne, he had to grow in order to appreciate her love.
Sir Elliot and Elizabeth are snobbish , self-interested and satirically portraited.
Mary is comic: hypocondriac, fanny and not as dangerous as her sister Elizabeth.
Sir William Walter Elliot and Mrs Clay are more insidious because they are manipulative, subtle and cunning.
The Musgroves, the Crofts and Cap. Benwick are again targets of Jane Austen’s irony, but they are superficially described in their comic aspects (types), without consistency.
Mrs. Smith represents what Anne would have been if she had married Cap. Wentworth seven years before.
Lady Russell is more problematic: she represents the old values now overcome by new men like Wentworth that have made their own future. She deplores these new way of living, bur is able to understand and acknowledge past errors.
In its own period Persuasion was considered an immoral novel that pushed young people to act following only their ideas.
Sir Walter Scott underlined her ability at describing every-day life and at giving life to her characters, an innovation in fiction.
During the Victorian period Persuasion was appreciated for the way of looking at women’s feelings and inner experiences.
Charlotte Brontë despised this work because she did not find passion for life, whereas the writers of the end of the 19th century started to recognize the subltle, but deep iropny that pervades Jane Austen’s work.
In the 20th century the critics, even Virginia Woolf, appreciated the author’s ability at describibg characters, her great taste at using satire to describe her own society and her innovative style.
The feminist movement have seen in Anne the woman that rejects the old restricton of the society and reveals her deep sentiments.
The novel is nowadays seen as an evidence of the changes that took place at the end of the 18th century and at the beginnig of the 19th and it is studied under a socio-historical point of view.
- Bath is a town in the South-West of England. It dates back to the 9th century B. C. and was then colonized by the Romans. It became a famous town where wealthy English people spent their holidays. Now it is an important tourist resort famous for its temple devoted to Minerva and for the Termae of the Augustan Age.
- Lyme Regis is a town in Hampshire, in front of the Isle of Wight, famous as a seaside resort. Its name now is Lymington.
- Prize Money was an important incentive to recruiting people in the navy. For every enemy ship captured it was given a reward in money to the Commander and the crew. This permitted Navy-officers to make a fortune in a short time as it happens to Captain Croff and Captain Wentworth.