How Jane Austen withstands the test of time
November 30, 2021
Jane Austen wrote 6 novels in her short lifetime. What sets her apart from other classic writers is that people still enjoy her works outside of an academic space. Countless adaptations have been made from her stories. These range from exact adaptations to Clueless, and Pride and Prejudice. How has her outdated references and commentary on a society that doesn’t exist anymore manage to engage readers for over a century?
Austen herself has described her writing as “rather too light, and bright and sparkling.” People can’t help but get swept up in her alluring heroines, charming suitors and conniving villains. And since her books are written from the heroine’s point of view, the reader knows all of their thoughts and opinions. However, be warned, sometimes the main character thinks she knows more than she really does.
The point of view in her books is actually called free indirect speech, and Jane Austen was the first to use it. Narrative theorist, Gérard Genette, describes it as “the character speak[ing] through the voice of the narrator.” This is what makes many of her plot twists work. The heroine’s mind almost becomes the reader’s. This makes it all the more shocking when the character, and in turn the reader, is somehow wrong.
Due to this style of writing, people have said her books feel like exchanging letters with a friend from the 1800s. Austen’s wit, humour, and sly commentary make readers feel like the book was written solely for them.
Another thing about Austen’s writing is that she doesn’t waste time with unnecessary descriptions. Every word is intentional. This factor, along with the free indirect speech makes for some unique theories, thought up and produced to this day. Dr. Octavia Cox on Youtube makes amazing analyses on details most people miss. Totally worth a watch for any Austen fan.
These little details and the characters biases make the interactions, drama and relationships seem realistic. The friendships, family, and suitors can’t help but remind readers of their modern-day relationships, even if they didn’t meet them at a ball in the regency era. The stories might be like a fairy tale, but there is something human at the core. Austen’s understanding of relationships and society has carried into the 21st century.
Managing to engage readers centuries after your death is no easy feat. Her books are so captivating, readers almost have no problem believing in a marriage between a 16 and 30-year-old. One thing is for sure, this won’t be the last generation to be captivated by Austen’s work. Whether it’s through the books or adaptations, her stories are timeless.