Although the birth of the English novel is to be seen in the first half of the 18th century, Jane Austen takes the fiction novel to its distinctively modern character in the realistic treatment of unremarkable people in unremarkable situations of everyday life. In her six major novels— Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion—Austen creates the comedy of manners of middle-class life in the England of her time. Her repeated fable of a young woman’s voyage to self-discovery on the passage through love to marriage focuses on easily recognizable aspects of life. It is this concentration upon character, personality, and the tensions between her heroines and their society that relates her novels more closely to the modern world than to the traditions of the 18th century.
Sense and Sensibility
Austen’s first major novel was Sense and Sensibility, whose main characters are two sisters. The first draft was written in 1795 and was titled Elinor and Marianne. In 1797, Austen rewrote the novel and titled it Sense and Sensibility. After years of polishing, it was finally published in 1811.
Pride and Prejudice
In 1796, Austen wrote the novel First Impressions. The work was rewritten and published under the title Pride and Prejudice in 1813. It is her most popular and perhaps her greatest novel. It achieves this distinction by virtue of its perfection of form, which exactly balances and expresses its human content. As in Sense and Sensibility, the descriptive terms in the title are closely associated with the two main characters.
Although being published in 1814, Austen began writing Mansfield Park in 1811. It is her most severe exercise in moral analysis and presents a conservative view of ethics, politics, and religion.
This was Austen’s first novel to be completed for publication, in 1803. However, it was not published until after her death in 1817. Fundamentally Northanger Abbey is a parody of Gothic fiction. Austen turns the conventions of 18th century novels on their head by making her heroine a plain and undistinguished girl from a middle-class family, allowing the heroine to fall in love with the hero before he has a serious thought of her, and exposing the heroine’s romantic fears and curiosities as groundless.
Austen began writing Persuasion in 1815 and was her second novel published posthumously in 1817. It was her last complete novel and is perhaps most directly expressive of her feelings about her own life. Austen’s satirical treatment of social pretensions and worldly motives is perhaps at its keenest in this novel. The predominant tone of Persuasion, however, is not satirical but romantic. It is probably the most uncomplicated love story that Austen ever wrote.
- Sense and Sensibility October 1811
- Pride and Prejudice January 1813
- Mansfield Park May 1814
- Emma December 1816
- Northanger Abbey December 1817 (posthumously)
- Persuasion December 1817 (posthumously)
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The Regency in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was a period at the end of the Georgian era, when King George III was deemed unfit to rule due to illness, and his son ruled as his proxy, as prince regent. The term Regency can refer to various stretches of time; some are longer than the decade of the formal Regency, which lasted from 1811 to 1820. The period from 1795 to 1837, which includes the latter part of George III’s reign and the reigns of his sons, George IV and William IV, is sometimes regarded as the Regency era.
England was still largely rural in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the rhythm of its country life was tied to the seasonal needs of agriculture. Like farmers in all times and places, the rural folk of Jane Austen’s English countryside were at the mercy of the weather. The winters were often very cold, and the springs very wet and late in arriving. Summers could be either very dry or cold and wet.
Women’s clothing styles were characterized by the Empire waist dress and classical Greek lines.
The Empire style dress has a high waist, a style that appeared in the late 1790s and has reappeared frequently in women’s clothing design for the past 200 years. The period is significant in that women did not need to wear the stiff, restrictive corsets. The Empire styles at the beginning of the 19th century were made of a soft, light weight fabric gathered just under the breasts. It featured a low square neckline, and small, short, puffed sleeves with a low shoulder line.
Men’s clothing styles saw the final abandonment of lace, embroidery, and other embellishments.
Dress was simplified and greater emphasis was put on tailoring to enhance the natural form of the body. This was also the period of the rise of hair wax for styling men’s hair, as well as mutton chops as a style of facial hair.
The British have always had a diverse set of nicknames for money, or blunt, since it was considered very crass to discuss money. Terms for Regency era currency ranged from Monkeys, Ponies, Bits, Grands, Nickers, Oxfords, and Quids. The British resisted decimalized currency for a long time because they thought it was too complicated.