“I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.” –Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen lived from 1775-1817, and her novels came out between 1813 and 1818. She grew up the daughter of a rector in Steventon, England. She was similar to many of her literary heroines in that her family was a member of the gentry, although at the lower end in terms of income. She was close to her large family, especially to her brothers. She never married, but enjoyed her nieces and nephews.
I know what you are thinking: BORING! The pathetic spinster lived a boring life. She probably spent her days sipping tea, doing needlework, and trying not to let her breasts fall out of those ridiculous dresses they wore.
Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the 1995 BBC Mini-Series version of Pride and Prejudice
Seriously, Elizabeth Bennett needs to be careful not to bend over too far or Colin Firth will get quite an eyeful.
But, back to my point. Jane may well have sipped a lot of tea, but she nonetheless rocked. Maybe not like Joan Jett:
Image found on http://feminema.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/joan_jett.jpg
But perhaps something like this:
Tina Fey at the SAG Awards
Yes, Tina Fey.
Some of Austen’s fans (and many of her detractors—most of whom have not even read her) focus on the romantic, costume-drama side of Austen. Austen is all about silly women hunting for husbands rather than doing something more important, like getting a job or hunting for lions or drinking a lot of absinthe in European cafes.
While it’s true that there is a fair amount of husband-hunting going on in Austen’s novels, it is also true that women of the gentry had no other way of making a living. Getting married WAS their job. Many women could not even inherit their father’s property because English inheritance law favored sons. Is it any wonder that Mrs. Bennett is obsessed with finding husbands for her five (yes FIVE) unmarried daughters?
But I digress. The real reason Jane Austen Rocks is because of her snark. She is hilarious in her skewering of the pretentious, the ridiculous, the idiotic, the pathetic, and the self-deluded, which is just about everyone. In other words, she is Tina Fey.
What makes Austen even more remarkable, in my humble opinion, is that her characters, especially Elizabeth Bennett, manage to remain reasonably happy even though they live such restricted lives among such an assembly of knuckle-heads. Sister Jane manages to be happy by being blissfully ignorant of the baser side of human nature. The same cannot be said of Elizabeth Bennett. She recognizes everybody’s flaws, laughs at them, and yet still retains her good humor, rather than sinking into a black hole of bile or shutting herself off from the world and her responsibilities the way Mr. Bennett does.
While Pride and Prejudice ends on a happily-ever-after note, with the worthy heroines marrying rich men—for love—Austen’s own life did not have such an ending. She never did marry, and she was forced to live off of her brothers, without even a stable home of her own. However, I can’t say for sure, but it certainly seems from what we know about her is that she was just fine nonetheless.
In other words, Jane Austen rocks because she is an example of how a person can use her mind, spirit, and wit to keep her “head above water” and enjoy the spectacle that our fellow human beings offer us.
Jennifer Ehle and David Bamber in 1995 BBC Version of Pride and Prejudice
As long as we are not forced to marry said spectacle, that is.