Jane Austen still attracts new readers

AS the world marks the 200th anniversary of English author Jane Austen’s death, a leading expert in her works at the Australian National University (ANU) says her books continue to attract new readers and be read with pleasure.

Austen, who was most famous for her works “Pride and Prejudice”, “Mansfield Park”, “Emma” and “Sense and Sensibility” died at the age of 41 on July 18, 1817.

Jane Austen expert and fan Prof Will Christie from the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences says Austen’s novels remained relevant and popular with both the public and academics.

“The reason Jane Austen remains relevant and popular is because she is endlessly engaging and entertaining, a controlled comic and satiric genius, balanced and blended with a genuine pathos and irrepressible romanticism,” Prof Christie says.

“Her six complete novels add up to a manageable corpus and each is a perfect length, which recognises the limits of readerly patience and is a tribute to her artistry – to the clarity and concision with which she writes.

“Like all good novelists she can be read aloud or silently and the explosion of critical attention over the last 30-odd years tells us she is saying things that mattered about women – and therefore men – in the early 19th century, and that still resonate today.”

To mark the anniversary, the ANU Humanities Research Centre has brought Austen scholar and professor of English at Arizona State University, Devoney Looser, to the National Library where she will give a special lecture on the anniversary on July 18.

Prof Looser’s talk, “The Making of Jane Austen”, will examine how Austen, who enjoyed modest literary success in her lifetime, was elevated to an international literary icon.

Around the world, Austen societies have a program of events to commemorate the bicentenary of her death. In the UK, her face will appear on a new 10 pound note and two pound coin.

Loved throughout history, Jane Austen’s fans have included George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Prof Christie says Austen’s characters, often described as heroines, were locked into conflicts where they insist that marriage for true love should buck the convention of marrying for wealth and advantage.

Prof Christie says the latest resurgence in Austen’s popularity, even in China, had been helped by the movie adaptations of her novels.

Since her death, Jane Austen has seen a steady and gradually rising popularity, reaching a climax of sorts around the turn of the 20th century (1870–1930) and then again from 1940, partly because of the 1940 film of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with Laurence Olivier.


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