Thursday, April 9, 2015

Why my Dad loves Jane Austen's books

I asked a question in my previous post about why my dad loves Jane Austen's books. So I sent my dad an email and asked him. This is his reply.

Emma is not my top favourite. I find Emma Woodhouse to be such a bossy, opinionated young woman, that she irritates me somewhat.

There are several reasons I like the Austen novels.

1. They are “old friends” – I have been re-reading them since I was introduced to “Persuasion” in English 1 at University. Must have been about 1959. (and yes this was before I was born)

2. I find her characters so vivid and  real. I know one or two “Miss Bates” in real life, who waffle on too much, and are really boring. Austen even manages to make Emma very vivid, so that she is like a real person, even if she is a slow learner.

3. My all-time favourite is “Pride and Prejudice”. It has a good caste of interesting characters. Rev. Collins is one of the most marvellous comic creations in all of English literature. The plot is very carefully mapped out, so that the families of the hero and the heroine, even though from differing social classes, are perfectly symmetrical.

4. The novels collectively are like a window on life in the middle classes in the era 1790 – 1810. The limitations placed on woman are amazing, and clearly delineated. About the only important decision a young woman of that time could make for herself was to accept or decline a marriage proposal. Of course, marriage was the only “career option” for middle class women. They could not take a job, and young women had nothing to spend their time on except in gossip, and approved crafts such as art, sewing etc. The social snobbery that was taken for granted is interesting. Work was somehow demeaning, and “to be in trade” was to mark one’s low level in the pecking order.

You need to remember that this is all very middle class. Most of our ancestors would have been “working class” who only appear fleetingly in Austen’s novels as “Cook” or “Gardener”.

I hope you enjoy “Emma”


BTW, Pride and Prejudice is the only other decent Austen novel that I have read as well. I really admire Elizabeth Bennet for being as strong willed and as intelligent as she is. She wants to be able to have intelligent discussions with her husband, instead of being a trophy wife. Good for her, I say.!!!

I commented back to Dad about his comments.

I totally agree with your point number 4, about the social snobbery.  It is just disgusting.I wonder of this snobbery influenced those who left England on the Mayflower to find religious freedom?

And he commented back to me.

The social snobbery is just how it was, and continued to a greater or lesser degree until the 1st world war. Everyone, except a few radicals, accepted it as normal. The Mayflower was much earlier than this. By Austen’s time, USA was independent and a serious challenge to England’s domination of the seas. Many of the middle and upper classes owned investments in West Indian sugar plantations, a subject that, together with its darker side – slavery -  pops up in at least one novel, Mansfield Park. Austen is a very accurate social commentator.

And one last comment from me - Mansfield Park is also on my classics club list to read.

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