Books by Jane Austen
The output of Jane Austen is small. She wrote leisurely, almost stealthily. There is hardly any development in her work. She wrote the novels, and then put them aside. Then she would take them again, and revise. The revision of earlier works continued after writing other novels, so that her earlier novels read like the later ones. One can with great difficulty trace the development. Some of Jane Austen’s novels were published anonymously. We do not know exactly when she began to write stories. By the time she was about seventeen she had written a fair number of stories and burlesques.
Her sense of comedy was born very early by the absurdities of sentimental novels. She wrote burlesques in which she described the ardours of passionate lovers with impish gravity and humorous restraint. Her juvenilia Love and Friendship was written in the early 1790 but was published in 1822. It displays a much more observant sense of humour than most girls of fifteen possess. It is a clever parody of the sentimental and romantic cliche of popular fiction. Whereas in later years she used the finer shades of irony, in her apprentice work an enjoyable absurdity was uppermost. She took a satirical view of the extravagances of romance.
#1 Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
At the age of seventeen she began to write the book which was eventually to become her first published novel. She started writing Elinor and Marianne, which was completed in 1798 and published in 1811 under the title of Sense and Sensibility. It is a novel of contrasted natures. Elinor Dashwood, the sensible and Marinne, the sensitive are supposed to be conceived as types. But they are complex and individuals. As Marianne grows sensible after the disappointment, Elinor grows sensitive. The successive disillusionments of Marianne make good material for comedy. But the story dwells on the borderland of tragedy.
Sense and Sensibility Summary
The novels of Jane Austen deal with the trivialities of life, but they are not trivial. They are serious in intention. Sense and Sensibility is not only serious but solemn. It almost borders on tragedy. The family of Dashwood consists of a mother and three daughters who are introduced to us on the death of their father, whose residence is at Norland Park, Sussex. Mr. Dashwood, on his death-bed requests his son John by his first wife, to look after his mother and sisters. He is, however, persuaded by his wife that it is his duty to break a promise made to his dying father that he will provide for the widow and the half sisters. He realises that he has but one duty, to keep his money for his own children. Mrs. Dashwood retires with her daughters to Devonshire, and lives in a house belonging to Sir John Middle ton. Mr. Middleton has a thorough knowledge of the dogs. His wife is a stupid woman of fashion. By this time Elinor Dashwood the eldest daugher of Mrs. Dashwood falls in love with Edward Ferrars, brother of Mrs. John Dashwood. In Devonshire Willoughby makes a dramatic appearance. He rescues Marianne after she has sprained her ankle. They fall in love with each other. Willoughby’s sudden departure leaves her shattered and sleepless.
The scene soon shifts to London where Dashwood sisters are invited by Mrs. Jennings the mother in law of Mr. John Middleton. There Marianna hopes to renew her attachment to Willoughby. She is, however, disappointed and humiliated. Willoughby ignores her notes to him and behaves coldly towards her when they finally meet. He murmurs a feeble formality and turns away. Her feverish grief reaches its climax the next day when she receives the letter from Willoughby in which he calmly denies his intentions to have ever been serious. Elinor tries to console her sister, but she remains inconsolable. She tells that she is very happy in her love with Edward. Soon after Marianne knows that Edward and Lucy Steele are engaged, and that Elinor has known this for four months. She begins to learn something of her sister’s fortitude in facing life. She is able to recover from the pangs of jilted love. The mother of Edward Ferrars wants that he should give up Lucy. He refuses and she settles the property, in anger, on his younger brother, Robert. Lucy now prefers the wealthy younger brother. She marries Robert. Edward is free from the unpleasant engagement. He now proposes to Elinor and is accepted. Willoughby comes again in dramatic manner, explains his position and wants to be forgiven. Elinor tells Marianne about Willoughby’s confession. Marianne has composed herself by this time and marries Colonel Brandon, and old admirer of her beauty.
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#2 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
First Impressions was also written in 1798. This was later entitled Pride and Prejudice and was published in 1813. It has no apparent bases in topical or literary satire. It possesses an ironic, unillusioned and yet sympathetic view of human nature and its flair for comic incongruity Jane Austen is really herself in this novel. This is supposed to be her best novel. Certainly she has no livelier scenes than come in this book, such as Mr. Collin’s marriage-proposal and the discomfiture of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Elizabeth Bennet is a delightful heroine, and her sisters’ characters are discriminated with the nicest observation. One can never forget the common-mindedness of Mrs. Bennet and her poor nerves.
Pride and Prejudice Summary
The Bennet family is joyed with excitement when the Netherfield Park is let to a rich young bachelor. Charles Bingley. It is known that Mr. Bingley and his party shall attend the forthcoming ball at the Assembly Rooms. The Bennets have five unmarried daughters. The only job for Mrs. Bennet is to hunt husbands for her daughters. At the ball Darcy and Elizabeth meet. Darcy’s pride leads Elizabeth to form prejudice against him. Mr. Bingley takes fancy for Jane Bennet and dances with her several times. The Bingleys do not like the foolish Mrs. Bennet and the giggling girls, Lydia and Kitty. Darcy develops interest in Elizabeth. The two sisters spend a few days at the Bingleys’, where Jane has developed a feverish cold. Elizabeth’s prejudice against Darcy is confirmed by her conversation with Mr. Wickham. Wickham tells Elizabeth that he is the son of a trusted steward of Darcy’s father, and that Darcy has cruelly disregarded his father’s wish that Wickham be provided for. About this time William Collins, heir to Longbourn, visits the Bennets. A pompous, tactless and humourless young man, he proposes to Elizabeth. When refused he shifts the toyshop of his heart to Charlotte Lucas, a friend of Elizabeth, a prosaic girl. Elizabeth visits Mr. and Mrs. Collins at Hunsford. Darcy has also come there to Catherine de Bourgh. Elizabeth’s prejudice against him is strengthened by the suspicion that he had persuaded Bingley to give up Jane. Darcy makes an insulting proposal. Elizabeth rejects him. Darcy departs. He then writes a letter to her explaining that he did not know of Jane’s strong feelings for Bingley and that Wickham had been treated well.
Two months later Elizabeth unwillingly inspects Pemberley, Darcy’s home. There the house keeper of Darcy speaks of him in high esteem. Unexpectedly Darcy appears. Elizabeth’s heart has already changed a little by reading the letter. Now her heart softens towards him because of his sweet behaviour. She is informed that Lydia has eloped with Wickham. Darcy is staggered. Mr. Bennet hurries to London in search of the run-away. The Gardiners, the relations of the Bennets, interfere and compel Wick ham to marry Lydia. Elizabeth learns that it was Darcy that had persuaded Wickham to marry Lydia by paying him handsome amount of money. Bingley and Jane are engaged. Darcy proposes again (after Elizabeth has refused Catherine de Bourgh’s wish of never being engaged to Darcy) and is accepted.
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#3 Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
During the years 1798 to 1803 she was engaged in writing Northanger Abbey. This novel was finished and sold to a publisher in 1803. It was brought back by the author, still unpublished, some years later. It was published after her death in 1818. In this novel Jane Austen makes fun of a current literary fad by telling of the imaginary thrills and dangers experienced by Catherine Morland, an indiscriminate reader of Gothic novels. The story of Morlands’s silly fancies and her discovery of a supposed crime in a totally innocent house where she is visiting is quite funny as a satire on the romance of mystery.
There is a pause in the literary career of Jane Austen after she completed Northanger Abbey. In 1801 the family had moved to Bath, England’s most elegant city at that time. She wrote almost nothing till she remained there. In 1805 her father died and the family first moved to Southampton and thereafter to Chawton. It was here that her literary activity was resumed.
Northanger Abbey Summary
It is a satire on the Gothic horror tale. Catherine Morland is the daughter of a country clergyman. She has read novels like Mrs. Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho and is bewitched by false romanticism. She does not distinguish between romance and real life. She thinks that life is like the romance she has read of in the novels. She goes to Bath with Mr. and Mrs. Allen. There she meets Mr. Henry Tilney, the son of a General Tilney. a proud rich man. She is so innocent that she can neither conceal from Henry Tilney that she has fallen in love with him nor that she has fears that his father might have murdered his mother. Their love is approved by General Tilney, who has been given an exaggerated account of the wealth of Catherine’s parents. Catherine is invited to Northanger Abbey the medieval seat of the Tilneys. She imagines that Abbey was full of the stuff of Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels. She steals to the room where Mrs. Tilney died, expecting to see ‘evidence that the lady is still alive and cruely imprisoned. She finds instead a neat, well-lighted empty bed room. Henry Tilney finally convinces her that his mother died quite normally, of a ‘bilious fever’. Catherine is purged of her Gothic illusions. Thus by falling into love she is freed into real life.
The Thorpe family consists of a foolish mother, a foolish son, foolish daughters, the eldest of whom thinks of nothing but finery and flirting. Isabella Thorpe is that flirt. Catherine meets her, Isabella induces the heroine to read The Mysteries of Udolpho. Catherine also meets the brother of Isabella, John Thorpe, flashy, dishonest, a weak villain who endeavours to take her to Blaize Castle. He lies and is exposed. Catherine is furious. He then fades out. Catherine is gradually able to see Isabella with greater objectivity. She, however, softens her judgement of Isabella when she is engaged to her brother James. She is shocked when Captain Tilney and Isabella start flirting. She is however to naive to be suspicious and is therefore surprised when she hears that Captain Tilney and Isabella are engaged. But the end is not yet to come. Isabella cooly writes to her that she loves James and urges her to intervene with her brother, on their behalf.
Catherine is treated kindly by General Tilney. Then she is suddenly dismissed without explanation, on the General’s return from London where he finds out that the parents of Catherine are poor. She is stunned. Overcome with grief she returns home in deep humiliation. Henry disobeys his father, follows Catherine, proposes, and is accepted. General Tilney favours them with his consent when he knows the true situations of the Morlands.
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#4 Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
In 1812 she began Mansfield Park which was published in 1814. It is less brilliant than Pride and Prejudice, but in scope it is the widest of all the six novels. The development of Fanny Price, from the shy little girl to the woman who marries Edmund Betram, is one of Jane Austen’s finest achievement in the exposition of character. The affectionate but shrinking Fanny Price has her admirers, but there are some who find her too low-spirited and submissive. The villainy of Henry Crawford, who trifles with Maria and Julia, is not convincing. The book clearly shows the influence of Richardson.
Mansfield Park Summary
The novel opens with a view of the Mansfield society in which Fanny is the youngest member. The opening chapter states the theme of the whole novel. Three handsome sisters have married differently. Lady Betram is the wife of a rich baronet, Mrs. Norries marries a clergyman and Mrs. Prince marries a lieutenant. Mrs. Norris proposes that Sir Thomas Betram should educate Fanny. Fanny Price is adopted by Sir Thomas and Lady Betram. She is reared with their sons and daughters. Fanny is shy and nervous and attaches herself to Edmund who treats him affectionately. Edmund provides consolation for her distress. Tom Maria and Julia, her other half brother and sisters do not treat he decently. The drama begins when Sir Thomas is obliged to leave England for a visit to the West Indies. Fanny stands alone in her unqualified disapproval of putting on a play, Lover’s Vow.
At Mansfield Park Henry Crawford is given chance to trifle with Maria and Julia and all their baser passions are let loose. After a while, having turned the Betram sisters into angry rivals, Henry drops Julia and deepens his affections on Maria who is engaged to Mr. Rushworth of Sotherton. Sir Thomas returns. Henry skips off to Bath. When Henry returns Maria has married Rushworth and gone with Julia to London. Henry Crawford falls in love with Fanny, and Mary Crawford falls in love with Edmund. Fanny is brought into conflict. All at Mansfield Park think that she should marry Henry. She cannot explain why she dislikes him When she refuses the situation is more painful. She holds out, resists them all, and is sent to Portsmouth in disgrace. While she is away Mansfield collapses. Tom neatly dies of a fever. Maria meets Henry Crawford in London and elopes with him. Edmund’s eyes are at last opened to the real character of Mary. His heart is broken. Fanny is recalled to Mansfield to console and support her uncle, Aunt. Tom and Edmund, Fanny has always loved Edmund. Edmund now realises this, falls in love with her and marries her.
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#5 Emma by Jane Austen
Jane Austen began her next novel Emma in January 1814 and finished it in March 1815. It was published in 1816. It represents a culmination of the manner which Jane was developing in her early novels. It is the ultimate achievement of the artist viewing her heroine with detachment. Jane’s detachment takes the special form of an awareness of the heroine’s capacity for self deception. Emma Woodhouse is the very embodiment of self-deception She feels a pride in understanding the characters. She misreads the characters, misleads others and discovers her own folly. Emma is like Elizabeth in being deluded, but instead of one overwhelming delusion which Elizabeth has, she has several allied ones. She is oversure only to be humiliated in the end.
Like Pride and Prejudice, Emma is serious in intention but lively and Inmorous in tone. It’s heroine, Emma is lively. Though not as witty as Elizabeth, she has a good deal of humorous appreciation and natural vivacity. The theme of the novel is that it is folly to arrange other persons’ marriages.
Miss Emma Woodhouse is the daughter of a gentleman of wealth living at Hartfield, a village near London. She is young rich, intelligent, charming and gay. She is the victim of her own illusions. She creates an unreal world. Her governess Miss Taylor has been recently married to Mr. Weston. Emma is proud of this match-making. Her chief victim is Harriet Smith, an illegitimate girl of eighteen. Emma persuades her to forget Robert Martin, a suitable match but a mere farmer. Emma wants her to marry Mr. Elton, the parish parson. She is driven to praise his manners. Elton thinks that Emma is in love with him. He proposes to her. Emma is stunned and horrified. She tells him she believed him to be in love with Harriet. Elton is mortified. Indignant at this rebuff he takes himself off, marries elsewhere and brings to the parsonage a rushing heiress. While Emma is vainly engaged in forging wedlock-fetters for Harriet, there appears Mr. Frank Churchill, Mr. Weston’s son by a previous marriage. He has been adopted by his mother’s sister and has taken parent’s name. Mr. Frank Churchill has already settled his affections on Miss Jane Fairfax, a young lady of reduced fortune. But this is a concealed affair.
When Churchill appears on the stage, Emma has thoughts of being in love with him herself. She flirts with him. But Emma recovers soon and realizes that her emotion is nothing more than friendship. Frank rescues Harriet from the unwelcome attentions of a band of gypsies and this makes Emma think that they can marry. The unexpected death of Mrs. Churchill brings to light the fact that Frank and Jane have been secretly engaged. Emma is concerned about its effect on Harriet, whose hopes are to be blighted for the second time. But Harriet remains unmoved. There is drama going within the hearts. Harriet has fallen in love with Mr. Knightley. The real disaster, and the climax of the novel is when Emma realizes that Harriet is in love with Mr. Knightley. The death of Mrs. Churchill, however, brings Mr. Knightley and Emma closer. They discover that they had loved each other for long, Mr. Woodhouse’s objections are easily removed. Mr. Knightley proposes to Emma and is accepted. The affections of Harriet Smith are transferred to her former suitor, Robert Martin. All ends happily.
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#6 Persuasion by Jane Austen
Persuasion, last of her regularly published stories, was begun in 1815 and finished in 1816. The manuscript was still in her hands at her death. It was published posthumously with Northanger Abbey in 1818. Written when the author’s physical powers were declining, Persuasion is a quiet story, rich in character and sparing of incident. There is no sign of mental failure. In Anne Eliott, Austen paints more gentle and self-effacing heroines in the tradition of Jane Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. There is a little more awareness of theme and a little less comic gaiety. In Anne’s ruined happiness there is suggestion of personal regret and the conviction that in matter of love one should listen to the call of one’s own heart rather than be guided by the advice of others.
The Elliot family lives in Kellynch Hall. Anne Elliot is attractive, sweet and good. She is disappointed in love. Presuaded by Lady Russel (her dead mother’s friend) and her father she broke off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth eight years before. Sir Walter, her father, has lived beyond his means and is obliged to let Kellynch Hall to a naval man, Admiral Croft and retire to Camden Place, in Bath. They take with them Mrs. Clay, daughter of Sir Walter’s agent, who flatters them. Anne does not accompany them. She goes to the village of Uppercross with her sister, Mary. Mary has married Charles Musgrove, son of the local squire. At the house of the Musgrove’s there are Charles’s two gay sisters, Louise and Henrietta. Anne is liked by them.
In the summer the Crofts move to Kellynch Hall. Captain Wentworth is the brother of Mrs. Croft. He is expected on a visit. As soon as he arrives the Musgrove parents seek him out. Anne meets Wentworth who is aloof and formally polite. They meet again at the evening of music and dancing. The Musgrove girls are enamoured of Wentworth Henrietta is no longer interested in her cousin, Charles Hayter. It is hoped that Wentworth will marry Louise. The estrangement between Henrietta and Hayter is softness. Two small incidents make Anne realize that Wentworth can still be friendly with her. These young persons go to Lyme Regis. There Anne attracts the admiration of her father’s heir, Mr. Willian Elliot. The visit to Lyme ends abruptly, with the fall of Louise on the steps of the Cobb. Louisa is left behind at the Harville’s home. Wentworth returns to Lyme with Henrietta and Anne. In November Anne is taken by Lady Russel to Kellynch Lodge and then to Bath. Mr. William Elliot is a constant and welcome visitor. In reality, Mr. William is trying to prevent a match between Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay, and the consequent loss of his title.
Lady Russel tries a match between Mr. William and Anne, but Anne has an intuitive mistrust of him. News is received that Louisa and Captain Benwick are engaged. Anne is extremely happy to know that Wentworth is not disappointed. Wentworth arrives in Bath. He and Anne meet. He is deeply in love with Anne, and jealous of William. Mrs. Smith discloses to Anne the villainy of William Elliot. Soon after Charles and Mary Musgrove arrive unexpectedly at Camden Place, they had come to buy clothes for Henrieta’s marriage with Hayter. The party is joined with Captain Wentworth. Next morning Anne visits the Musgroves and finds Wentworth writing a letter. Wentworth writes to Anne a declaration of passionate love. Anne is overcome. Explanations and reconciliation follow. Wentworth proposes. Anne accepts him.
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#7 Sandition by Jane Austen
In 1809 she had begun a story which was never finished. Sandition is also an unfinished piece. These unfinished pieces have their interest in showing how Jane Austen went to work. They do not possess the moral impulse. Nor do they show the principle of selection and organization.
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