Jane Austen in Context

11278509.gifJust a quick post to say that I picked up Jane Austen in Context yesterday and am enjoying it very much. It’s a collection of essays by various critics, edited by Janet Todd; the essays fall into three categories, “Life and Works,” “Critical Fortunes,” and “Historical and Cultural Contexts.” I didn’t want to put it down to go to sleep last night; it felt like reading a novel, I was so into it. I am so very fond of Jane Austen, which you know if you’ve been reading me much, but I don’t know and haven’t read a whole lot about her life, and while I do know a bit about her “context,” I’m excited to learn more.

What I learned last night is that Austen most likely revised several of her works over a long period of time; Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility were written in different versions early on and revised much later for publication, and during one period of her life, between 1811 and her death, she was often working on several novels at once. I knew about “First Impressions,” the early version of Pride and Prejudice, but I hadn’t pictured Austen laboring over her manuscripts for quite so long, or working on multiple ones at the same time. This doesn’t fit with the picture I had of her producing one elegant novel after another in a more orderly fashion.

I also learned that “Northanger Abbey” isn’t necessarily the title she would have chosen for that novel, had she lived to see it published, and she may not have chosen to call her last novel “Persuasion” either.  She called what became Northanger Abbey first “Susan” and then “Catherine,” and Persuasion had the working title “The Elliots.”  Can you imagine those novels with different names?

I’m sure I’ll read more in this book over the weekend; I’m also reading Elizabeth Hardwick’s short novel Sleepless Nights, for the Slaves of Golconda discussion on Tuesday. Join us if you like!


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12 responses to “Jane Austen in Context

  1. Jane Austen in Context looks interesting–I’m (re)reading two of her books in the coming semester, so I think I’ve just found a good excuse to check this out! I can’t remember where I read this, but I was amazed to find out that Northanger Abbey was actually one of the earliest books that Austen wrote, it was just published much later…


  2. This book sounds very interesting – and I haven’t heard of it before. Thanks for writing about it.


  3. Isn’t it wonderful when critical essays prove to be such a joy read? There’s nothing quite like it. I do prefer the titles of the books we have now rather than “Catherine” or “The Elliots” which sound rather boring.

    Thanks for the Golconda reminder. 😉 I wanted to re-read it before I typed anything about it — I zipped through it in a day.


  4. Sounds fascinating. I, like you, am especially intrigued by the notion that she didn’t write the novels in an orderly fashion. Then again, that sort of makes sense for such a creative mind, doesn’t it?


  5. Oh, I’ve not heard of this book. It sounds like fun. One can never have too much of Jane.


  6. I didn’t realise that Jane Austen revised her works in this manner. Interesting … sounds like a good book. I’m curious to know what you think of the E. Hardwick book.


  7. hepzibah

    wow — this is very intersting dorothy! I learn something new from you all the time 🙂


  8. I hadn’t heard of this book – must add it to my list! Thanks for the heads-up.


  9. Sarah — enjoy your Austen re-reading! It may be time for me to do some re-reading myself. Tara, you’re welcome! Imani — good critical essays are really a pleasure; of course, the flip side of that is that bad ones are a terrible chore 🙂 Emily, yes, it does make sense, although I’d tend to think that creative minds don’t necessarily work alike. But there was certainly no reason for me to expect her process to be orderly. Stefanie — no, indeed, one can’t have too much of Jane! Kate, I’m enjoying the Hardwick book quite a bit — more to come later! Hepzibah — oh, I’m so glad! I love the idea that people learn things from my blog! Ex Libris — I hope you enjoy it if you do end up reading it — it’s a must-have for serious Austen fans, I’m beginning to think.


  10. How nice to find a book of criticism that really grabs your attention and gives you interesting, as well as clever, things to think about! Good on the editors for putting it together.


  11. What an interesting book. I’ve only read two of Auten’s novels (plus those unfinished fragments), but I would like to read her other books as well. I’ve seen all the movies, though, so I am a bit of a cheat (except Northanger Abbey). Perhaps that will be one of my projects next year–to read all her work. It would be interesting to learn more about her and how she worked!


  12. How very interesting! I really don’t know much about Jane Austen and actually have just read two of her books recently. I feel like I have a lot to catch up on! Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this book.


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