Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pride and Prejudice

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Although first published almost 00 years ago, the novels of Jane Austen have retained their popularity around the world. It is not difficult to find the reasons for their enduring appeal. Miss Austen wrote about universal themes, such as the joy and pain of love, the pursuit of happiness, and the need to be accepted by society. Her first novel published was Sense and Sensibility in 1811, but her best-known work, Pride and Prejudice, was written around fifteen years earlier. Although originally rejected for publication, the novel, and its intelligent heroine, have come to hold a place among the great classics of English literature.

I. Life Experience of Jane Austen

Jane Austen was born on the 16th of December 1775 at the parsonage of Steventon in Hampshire, a village where much of the inspiration for her novels was found and most of her life-long friendships were cemented. She was the second daughter and seventh child in a family of eight. Her father, Reverend George, was a rector and her mother, Cassandra Leigh, was a dry humorist, and for fifty years master of Balliol, Oxford. Her childhood was happy. Austen¡¯s closest relationship, one that would endure throughout her life, was with her beloved only sister, Cassandra. In 178, Jane and Cassandra went briefly to be taught by a Mrs Cawley (the sister of one of their uncles). They were brought home after an infectious disease broke out in Southampton. In 1785-1786 Jane and Cassandra went to the Abbey boarding school in Reading, England, which apparently bore some resemblance to Mrs. Goddard¡¯s casual school in Emma. This was Jane Austen¡¯s only education outside her family. Within their family, the two girls learned drawing, to play the piano etc. Her home was full of books and she and her family were all avid readers. Many friends and her parents encouraged both their children¡¯s intellectual interests and their passion for producing and performing in amateur theatricals.

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From about the time she was twelve years old, Austen began writing spirited parodies of the popular Gothic and sentimental fiction of the day for the amusement of her family. Chock-full of stock characters, vapid and virtuous heroines, and improbable coincidences, these early works reveal in nascent form many of her literary gifts particularly her ironic sensibility, wit, and gift for comedy. Very shy about her writing, she wrote on small pieces of paper that she slipped under the desk plotter if anyone came into the room. Jane wrote her Juvenilia from 1787 to 17; they include many humorous parodies of the literature of the day, such as Love and Friendship and are collected in three manuscript volumes. Attempts at more sustained, serious works began around 174 with a novel in letters¡ªa popular form at the time¡ªcalled Lady Susan, which was later revised and entitled Northanger Abbey, and in the years immediately following with two more epistolary novels¡ªone called Elinor and Marianne, the other First Impressions¡ªthat would evolve into Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.

In late 1800 her father, who was nearly 70, suddenly decided to retire to Bath. In 180 Jane Austen actually sold Northanger Abbey to a publisher, for the far-from-magnificent sum of ¡ê10; however, the publisher chose not to publish it. It was probably toward the end of the Bath years that Jane Austen began The Watsons, but this novel was abandoned in fragmentary form.

After her father¡¯s death in 1805, they moved from Bath, first to Southampton, and then in 180 to Chawton. She resumed her literary activities soon after returning into Hampshire, and revised Sense and Sensibility, which was accepted in late 1810 or early 1811 by a publisher. It appeared anonymously on October. There were at least two fairly favorable reviews, and the first edition eventually turned a profit of ¡ê140 for her. Encouraged by this success, Jane Austen turned to revising First Impressions, a.k.a. Pride and Prejudice. Between the time Pride and Prejudice was accepted for publication and the time it actually appeard, she wrote Mansfield Park and Emma.

Though all her novels were concerned with courtship, love, and marriage, Austen never married. There is some evidence that she had several flirtations with eligible men in her early twenties, and speculation that in 180 she agreed to marry the heir of a Hampshire famil but then changed her mind. Austen rigorously guarded her privacy, and after her deathm her family censored and destroyed many of her letters. In 1816, as she worked to complete her novel Persuasion, Austen¡¯s health began to fail. She continued to work, preparing Northanger Abbey for publication, and began a light-hearted, satirical work called Sanditon which she never finished. She died at the age of forty-two on July 18, 1817, in the arms of her beloved sister, Cassandra.

In her own way Austen¡¯s work signified break with the Gothic and sentimental novels that had long been fashionable, in which heroines were always virtuous, romance was always sentimentalized, and unlikely but convenient coincidences and acts of God always occurred to bring about the dramatic climax. Instead Austen represented the ordinary world of men and women as it ¨Csometimes mundanely¡ªwas a place where love and romance were constrained by economics and human imperfecton; where women had distinct and often sparkling personalities; where characters were never simply food or evil but more complicated amalgams, reflecting both their own moral nature and the virtues and failings of the families and society that shaped them.

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