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Jane Austen (1775-1817) - Works, Narrative technique

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Jane Austen


Jane Austen's life appears quiet and uneventful. She was born at the Hampshire and she had a home education. She was passionately fond of amateur dramatics, so she began writing prose, verse and drama at an early age. In 1801 her father retired and settled in Bath: she couldn't write any more because she lived in a town. The return to the beloved countryside marked the beginning of the most rewarding period in Jane Austen's life as a novelist. She started also the review of her first works. Jane Austen is considered the first great English woman novelist. Her novels are limited in settings and characters, which she described as «three or four families in a country village». All her novels are set in this provincial world; the characters belong to the rural middle class, the landed gentry and the country clergy. The subjects are courtship and marriage. All her novels are love story set in the country and talk about everyday life.


Northanger Abbey (1798), a parody of the Gothic novel; Emma (published in 1816); Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813), two novels of manners: the same genre continue till now with sit-coms.

Narrative technique

All of Jane Austen's novels centre on experience of a young woman, the heroine, who through a series of errors and delusions develops in her understandings of herself and of the other people, and all the books end with her happy marriage. We have a definite point of view: the heroine coincides with Jane Austen.

Jane Austen's characters are very precisely described: her/his place in society, age, incomes and its source (land or investments, trade or inheritance), ancestry, marital situation and prospects (single, married, widowed) and social position. They are round characters and show the author's fine psychological insight.

Jane Austen was deeply interested in the moral standards and rules of social conducts of her day. She condemn pitilessly anyone who is less anyone who is less than honest, responsible and kind. Her standards seem relatively easy to achieve, and yet almost all of her characters fail. Marriage is the best chance for a woman to get independence and status.

Dialogue is clear, witty, precise; it renders common place things and characters interesting. It does not  illustrate a moral, but rather brings it into existence for the author to comment on. She uses an omniscient third-person narrator (taken from Fielding); her irony is always gentle, expressed in nicely balanced and acute observations.

Jane Austen is more typically an eighteen-century novelist: her insistence on morality, her interest in society and its values, and the didactic strain in her art, are all qualities very different from the qualities of most Romantic art. Chronologically she belongs to Romanticism but she is Augustan in spirit, education, moral values and inspiration: her model is Richardson. She is out of her time: there is no history in her novels, the political and social event of the time do not appear in her novels. She avoided all contacts with Romanticism and its literary experiments.


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