Friday, December 16, 2005

Happy Birthday Jane

FromGarrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac: It's the birthday of Jane Austen, born in Steventon, Hampshire, England (1775). She is the only novelist who published before Charles Dickens whose books still sell thousands of copies every year. All of her novels have been made into movies at least once in the last ten years. She is best known for her novels about women yearning to get married, including Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813). But she never got married herself. She didn't seem to mind the single life. In her letters, she often wrote about the many women she knew suffering from and often dying from childbirth. Of her niece, who had just gotten pregnant for the second time, she wrote, "Poor animal, she will be worn out before she's thirty." In another letter, she wrote, "Mrs. Hall of Sherbourn was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright—I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband." She spent most of her life relatively poor and dependent on her older brothers. She decided to try publishing fiction in order to get herself some money. She wrote on a table in the family drawing room. Austen's first published novel was Sense and Sensibility (1811), the story of the Dashwood sisters, the sensible and proper Elinor Dashwood and her more romantic younger sister Marianne, who are kicked out of their house with their mother when their father dies, and have to struggle to find marriageable husbands. Austen's first two books, Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813) were great successes in her lifetime, but after that her readers grew less enthusiastic. Neither Mansfield Park (1814) nor Emma (1816), were as popular. It was only after her death that she became one of the most popular novelists from the 19th century. After the First World War, Jane Austin novels were prescribed to shell-shocked English soldiers for therapy, because the psychologists found that Austen helped them recover their sense of the world they'd known before the war.

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