Jane Austen was born on December 16th, 1775 at Steventon, a tiny village. She was educated at home. She lived a quite, calm and uneventful life. Occasional private theatricals and rare visits to the fashionable town, Bath and London broke her monotony at home. She was a bright attractive little woman, whose sunny qualities are unconsciously reflected in all her books. Five of her novels stand to her credit: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
Jane Austen exploits with unusual success a narrow mode of existence. From the beginning she has limited her view to the class she belonged to and the manners and concerns of the people she saw around her. Thus, the characters of her novels are all drawn from the upper middle class and all the central theme is the social behavior and interests of these people. All her novels deal with the mother’s or the aunt’s search for husbands for their marriageable daughters or nieces, which was the chief interest of her class, and the picnics, dinners, dances, walks into the countryside, or the occasional visits to the relatives houses were their sole occupations. Outside her class she never steps. Jane Austen confines herself to human beings in their personal relations. Man in relation to God, to politics, to abstract ideas passed by her.
There are no adventures, no mysteries, and no villainies in her novels. The greatest villainy that ever takes place in the world of Jane Austen is an occasional elopement like that of Lydia and Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. She specializes storms in the tea cups. Her novels do not depict passions. She ruffles her readers by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her. She rejects even a speaking acquaintance with stormy sisterhood. Moreover, her view is confined to the matters and interests of women. That is why there is so much dancing, card playing, visits, etc. in her novels. In her novels, two men are seldom left together; there are always ladies present. If her range is limited, then she is supreme within it. Moreover, what she pictures is grounded upon so comprehensive a knowledge of human nature as to universalize it; her men and women, true of their own period, are true also of all time.
Jane Austen is a supreme realist. She gives a vivid pen picture of the provincial gentry of her time – their manners, customs, interests and occupations. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements, feelings and characters of ordinary life which is the most wonderful talent anyone could ever possess. The exquisite touch renders commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of description and the sentiment. Miss Austen’s sense of reality is nowhere no evident than in her description of Fanny Price’s visit to her parent’s home at Portsmouth after an absence of more than ten years (Mansfield Park). Fanny goes home with the intense longing to see her mother. She finds herself in an atmosphere of feckless and squalid poverty. The whole passage is a masterpiece of realist writing.
Jane Austen excels in the art of characterization. Her characters are life like and sharply differentiated. In her six novels, there are two characters which are alike. Her characters are not types, but individuals. They undergo an organic development from self deception to self knowledge. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, Emma in Emma – all progress from self deception to self knowledge. Her characters are described as what is called “three dimensional” or “round figures” as contrasted with “two dimensional” or “flat characters” in which a single quality or factor is portrayed. Emma is seen from different angles – her vanity, willfulness, generosity, etc. Austen does not idealize her characters. She presents them with their follies and foibles, virtues and vices.
Jane Austen’s favorite weapon is irony. She has a keen sense of reality and wants that her men and women should shed of their illusion and see into the reality of things, and she employs her irony to affect this intention. In Emma, she uses irony to deflate pretensions, mock vanity and lay bare the egoism that lurks in family love. Austen’s excellence lies in her plot construction. Her novels have an exactness of structure and symmetry of form which are to be found more often in French literature than in English. There are no loose episodes in her novels. All the incidents are closely knit together. All characters are essential to the point. The language is perfectly suited to the person who uses it. Nothing is allowed in a Jane Austen novel that is not there for a moral structure or the necessary psychology. Pride and Prejudice has a structure as flawless as it could ever be. The marriage between Darcy and Elizabeth is not only a possible solution of plot, but is inevitable.
Humor is an integral part of Jane Austen’s creative process. And her humor is quite, delicate and ironical. She is not a satirist. She never lashes the follies of mankind; she faintly arches her eyebrows and passes on. In her other novels there is scarcely any scene which she does not see and touch on the humorous side.