Interest in all things Jane continues to expand, in ways both sensible and not. Scroll through our current list of Austen offerings in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, and you'll see what I mean.
Jane's Fame by Claire Harman, surveys what writers and critics have made of her work over the centuries. In a Daily Telegraph review, Frances Wilson wrote:
The material Harman has deftly put together makes two things strikingly apparent: no reading of Jane, however seemingly wayward, is a misreading; and Austen’s major effect is to inspire good writing. Harman proves the point of Lionel Trilling’s insight that “the opinions which are held of Jane Austen’s work are almost as interesting, and almost as important to think about, as the work itself”. Jane’s Fame is threaded through with 150 years of these opinions – a potential death-knell in a book for a general readership – but there is not a dull sentence among them. Annabella Milbanke, later Lady Byron, saw instantly that the skill of Pride and Prejudice lay in its absence of the usual novelistic gimmickry. Jane Austen, Milbanke reported, “depends not on any of the common resources of novel writers, no drownings, no conflagrations, nor runaway horses, nor lapdogs and parrots, nor chambermaids and milliners, nor rencontres and disguises”.Mary Russell Mitford called Austen “a poker of whom everyone was afraid.” In the small drawing at right by her beloved sister Cassandra from about 1810 (National Portrait Gallery, London ), Austen looks like a person who did not suffer fools gladly … and who would skewer them at the earliest opportunity. By 1869, this image was refashioned into the more anodyne one below.
Another spot-on observation was made by the Archbishop of Dublin, Richard Whately (Austen is one of the few woman writers who appeals equally to men), who dared to suggest that her “heroines are what one knows women must be, though one can never get them to acknowledge it”. For evidence, witness that brilliant joke in Pride and Prejudice, where Elizabeth Bennet tells her sister that her love for Darcy dated from “my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley”.