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Flames flicker,
letters burn. A life all about the written word disappears into soot and ash.
We are left trying to understand a person and her understanding of her time through the books that survived her.
In 1817, Jane Austen's novels were printed in her own name for the first time.
She had died only weeks before. Her previous novels had all been published under the pseudonym by a lady.
Jane's brother and sister had worked to give her the place in literary history
they knew she deserved. And it's thanks to their efforts that her work - previously
anonymous - proudly bears the Austen name. It's because of them that we know who Jane Austen is.
But it's also due to them that we don't know enough, but here are some of the things we do know.
First she was born into a large and colorful family.
Her father was an orphan who worked his way out of poverty and her mother descended from aristocracy though
they struggled to make ends meet.
She had an aunt who traveled to India to marry,
a cousin who lost her French husband to the guillotine, and her many siblings were among other things, ship captains, militiamen, and clergy.
She spent a little time at school, but was sent home after she and her sister caught typhus. The rest of her education
came from books first her brothers schoolbooks and when they ran out
Whatever she could find in her father's library. At an early age,
she started writing plays that the family performed together often body comedies and encouraged by her parents,
she developed the uniquely realistic witty style, that would be the hallmark of her future novels.
Austin also honed her skills as a prolific letter writer
She's known to have written thousands in her lifetime
But sadly her family burned or redacted almost all of them after her death, and we don't really know why.
Scholars theorize it was in an effort to maintain Austen's positive image after all we know from her novels
Austen was extremely harsh in her sarcasm and criticism and they probably contained unflattering material about friends and acquaintances.
But ironically it appears her sister burned the letters to cover the same blemishes and human traits
Austin exposed in her writing.
But whatever the reason
This destruction ensured that we have to look to Austen's novels for a glimpse of her internal life and while from the outside
Austin's life may seem fairly straightforward in quiet her novels reveal that she had a uniquely rich
Insightful mind that made her a gifted writer and social commentator and there was a lot worth commenting on.
Austin was born just months before the United States declared independence jump-starting an age of revolution. As
Austin's family were putting on plays and attending dances, Parris experienced the fall of the Bastille and the terror of the guillotine.
Her family was not entirely insulated from politics,
one of her brothers joined the Navy while another took the grand tour of Europe
but as a woman, Austin's life consisted of writing dancing and gossip and
There she saw the hypocrisy of it.
She saw the hypocrisy of an entire class of the most powerful empire on earth;
Taking tea and planning balls while the world burned. And from a young age
She took up arms against that hypocrisy with the only weapon she had - her pen.
Slavery, poverty,
feminism,
marriage, the church, the aristocracy - all were fair game to her. In an age where certain topics were papered over or simply not discussed,
she saw the need to talk about them as they were - as they really were. And
women at the time couldn't really write about that. Not only in a literal sense (women couldn't legally sign contracts for themselves), but also
culturally.
Publishing a serious book under Austin's name would have been social suicide; women weren't supposed to have strong opinions.
And so, Austin mastered the arts of satire,
sarcasm, and subtext.
She used humor to grapple with serious subjects in a realistic way in a contemporary world that looked like her own.
In doing so she helped invent literary realism.
this was extraordinary. At that time the government could seriously punish critics and most
Contemporary writers like Sir Horace Walpole, for instance, responded by writing sentimental novels about the past.
Austin, on the other hand, wrote books set in the present critiquing issues of the day.
So, what did she write about?
1813 Pride and Prejudice.
For years, Austin had been working on a book,
it won't be her first published novel,
but it will be her first fully mature work and her first success. In the wake of
Political upheaval, the French Revolution, and the insanity of English King George the 3rd, Austen took aim at a genteel class
that wasn't changing with the times. Pride and Prejudice opens with Austen's traditional sarcastic wit,
"It is a truth universally
Acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune
Must be in want of a wife." In that awesome line. She lets loose on everything
She sees wrong with society; money, marriage, and social mobility.
Marriage was still an economic proposition amongst England's middle and upper-class. You married for title or for money.
And it was a negotiation, not a romance. A way to amass wealth and titles, but in Pride and Prejudice
Austen champions marrying for love regardless of social barrier.
But it wasn't just that. In the novel, Austen examines the one real choice
Most women got to make in their lives;
Who they would marry. In a world where women couldn't inherit property and were forced to become dependent on a husband,
Austen showed the life-and-death stakes of parlor
conversations and evening soirees. A world where comfort or poverty could turn on a riding lesson or afternoon tea.
But Austen saw that amassing wealth couldn't be the only goal in life.
In fact,
She herself practiced what she preached.
Austen never married and even broke off a promising engagement because the match was only for family advantage.
"Anything," she wrote in a surviving letter, "is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection."
1814 Mansfield Park
In 1807, England abolished selling enslaved people within its empire, but it did not abolish slavery itself. An
Untold number of people were still in bondage in British colonies
if not actually on the soil of England itseif.
But in 1814, slavery was still a controversial issue in England. Many colonies
Especially in the Caribbean profited greatly off slave labour and a great deal of the wealth and luxury items those colonies created, like sugar,
flowed right back to the United Kingdom. Indeed, even
abolitionists among Austin social class drank their tea with Barbados sugar, but it wasn't something novels ever talked about.
Austin considered slavery repulsive and in 1814
She published a book that subtly criticized England's complicity.
But she had to do so indirectly through metaphor and small hints. The estate in her novel Mansfield Park takes its name from
Judge Mansfield who in 1772
decided the first case
ruling slavery illegal in England. In the novel a young girl goes to live with her aunt and uncle whose lavish lifestyle comes from a
Caribbean sugar plantation but when the protagonist asks the head of the house about the slave trade he responds with
Uncomfortable silence. However, Austen's opinion of him is metaphorically clear,
He treats people as objects to be moved and traded. Now
It's not as strong an indictment as it could be
Especially to a modern eye but at a time when women had to couch opinions in satire, it was perhaps the furthest she could go.
1815 Emma
Something's wrong. It's wrong in England's attitude toward women
But also in Austin; she'll soon start to feel seriously ill. But before her health declines, she has one more book to publish.
Austin saw society wrestling with how women should be educated and where women of independent means fit into society. In
Emma she created an independent,
educated woman, who with nothing better to do, tries to match a friend of hers with a gentleman. But in
Overestimating her own abilities, she nearly destroys many of the lives
She set out to improve.
It reads both like encouragement and caution. Be independent, but be careful how you use it.
But even as her novel of independent women hit the stands she began to lose her own independence.
Illness took her ability to write.
One of the last pieces we have from her is a note saying she was putting down her pen, for, It had become too laborious.
Yet, she still would continue scribbling a few lines with her pencil when she was able even, when bedridden.
Jane died in her sister's arms in July,
1817. Her sister and brother ensured her two unpublished novels, "Persuasion" and "Northanger Abbey" reached the world
under her name and her work has never been out of print since.
So, who was she?
She was a person who bucked the societal trends of the time and saw a new world dawning.
She was a woman who looked on her world of dances and morning visits with fondness,
But also knew it was fundamentally flawed. We know from her last completed work,
"Persuasion," that she was concerned about the future. And about our responsibilities as writers and as people to use our powers of persuasion
Responsibly to shape that future.
We also know she changed the nature of the novel forever winning, the medium respect, and upping the ante for complex dialogue and
most of all,
We know that she was a person who burned to write. Who had to write even though her name couldn't be on her work,
Even though her books brought her little success,
Even though her illness made it nearly impossible to hold a pen. Now,
we may not know Jane Austen as well as we'd like to - but we do know she changed and
Challenged our world. And we're all better off for it.
[outro music]
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Jane Austen - Sarcasm and Subversion - Extra History

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S.H. 2019 年 6 月 7 日 に公開
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