Jane Austen

Jane Austen wrote six major novels which were published between 1811 and 1818, one year after her death. Although the most famous of these was Pride and Prejudice, they are all great books in their own right: funny, intelligent, heartwarming love stories which took a sharp aim at the hypocrisy and unfairness of the upper classes. They have barely been out of print since they were first published, and now they are staples of English literature, inspiring remakes and parodies as diverse as the movie Clueless to the mock-horror, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.


Was Jane Austen a feminist? Her novels were not particularly radical, and her main characters usually conformed to society’s expectations by the story’s end. And yet Austen was unapologetic about putting the experiences of women front and centre. She gave them a voice, and her stories have been beloved by many women – and men – ever since.


Austen’s authorial voice is famous for its dry wit and wry observations. Her third-person narration is generous and clear, yet always gently mocks society’s ridiculous standards for women and its intricate social rules. Is humour an effective way to highlight serious issues?


The main characters in all of Jane Austen’s novels are united in their belief that women should marry for love – although it helps if the man you love is also rich. The romances are usually fairly complicated, full of misunderstandings and unexpected obstacles – but they always end happily.


Austen did not use broad strokes. Her novels are usually confined to a particular community in the upper classes, whose story is told with great care and detail – she called it the “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush”. But she was expert in rendering perfect the social manners of Regency England.


Perhaps obsessing over family or potential husbands’ fortunes now comes across as selfish and mercenary. Austen herself frequently poked fun at the practice in her novels. But she was also highlighting the unfairness which forced women’s economic dependence on men. Is the system fairer now?