Who Is Jane Austen? Part I, by Gianna Thomas

Who Is Jane Austen? Part I, by Gianna Thomas

Most everybody has heard of Jane Austen, an authoress from the late 18th century to the early 19th. Known for writing some of the most popular books found in literature, she is honored and respected over 200 years later.  So, what do I mean when I ask who is she? Well, I’m referring to her quirks and her personality that show up in her books and especially in letters to her sister Cassandra.

Evidently, when Austen wrote, she used names and descriptions of people that she knew using her own name as well (i.e. Jane Bennet). I found it interesting that her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, gave a description of her that was very close to a young woman we would see in one of her books. Who do you think of when you read the following?

“She was very attractive; her figure was rather tall and slender, her step light and firm, and her whole appearance expressive of health and animation. In complexion she was a clear brunette with a rich colour; she had full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and well formed, bright hazel eyes, and brown hair forming natural curls close around her face.

Jane Austen was a rather irreverent person though not in an ungodly way as she was a daughter of a clergyman. Her insulting comments involved a number of people: acquaintances and even renown personages such as the Prince Regent. Nobody would be exempt especially those whose sacred cows concerned society and a person’s actions. Her barbed comments could also be aimed at herself.

Jane wrote to her sister and commented on something she had done. “I bought a concert ticket and a sprig of flowers for my old age.” Jane was only thirty-seven years old.

In taking closer looks at Austen’s books, we see her sly and sometimes barbed comments that occasionally take us by surprise. From Northanger Abbey:

“Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing any thing, should conceal it as well as she can.”

Jane did have a favorite heroine. Guess who?

“I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know.”

Ah, yes. Miss impertinent Elizabeth Bennet. As we continue to read in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth’s actions and reactions constantly remind us of Miss Jane Austen. The only possible difference might be that Elizabeth is shorter, and Jane Austen is taller, but in personalities, both are greatly alike.

A trivial item I ran across mentioned that in all of Austen’s long novels, an oddity was that all climaxes, major turning points, or events happened on a Tuesday. The only exception was Northanger Abbey. Did she do that deliberately or was there a method to her madness. We may never know.

The History of England (part of Juvenilia) was Jane’s efforts at rewriting the history books by including more women and her own take on historic leaders. The beginning is classic Austen ‘tongue in cheek.”

“Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, after having prevailed on his cousin & predecessor Richard the 2nd to resign it to him, & to retire for the rest of his life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered.”

Do you think that she took exception to some of the historian’s depictions of history? My question is: What did she say in private conversations that she did NOT, or dare not, put in print?

And to think that she was only sixteen when she wrote Juvenilia. 🙂

In Jane’s letters to Cassandra, the brakes were off. Anything went. There is no telling what Jane wrote in the letters Cassandra destroyed. She probably had good reason to eliminate them, mayhap to avoid problems with acquaintances. The following is a comment in one of the surviving letters.

“She appeared exactly as she did in September, with the same broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband and fat neck.”

I wonder if she had Cassandra rolling in the floor with laughter. I would have been. 🙂

At some point Austen was encouraged to tackle a certain project. The following was her response.

“I could no more write a (historical) romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.”

I can just picture the quizzical looks on the faces of most of her listeners as they wonder “Is she serious or is she teasing?” The rest of them are just falling in the floor with laughter.

I hope that you have enjoyed this quick look at Jane Austen’s humor. Putting this together made my day, and I hope it made yours as well.

This was Part I, and, perhaps, I’ll do Part II next month. Then again, maybe not for a month or two. I’ve got to recuperate from this one. My sides hurt from laughing. 🙂

“Handsome is as handsome does; he is therefore a very ill-looking man.”  In a letter to Cassandra

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Shana Jefferis
Shana Jefferis
August 2, 2021 6:27 PM

I highly recommend reading Jane Austen’s surviving letters. The term ‘rapier wit’ comes to mind!

August 2, 2021 5:54 PM

I would have loved to have a conversation with those two sisters!

Caryl Kane
Caryl Kane
August 2, 2021 5:18 PM

Gianna, Thank you for this wonderful post!

August 2, 2021 11:22 AM

Enjoyed this and look forward to another installment.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
August 2, 2021 7:47 AM

I love it! Can’t wait til part two! Jane and Cassandra sound like typical catty sisters!lol

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