"Jane Austen: An Unexpected Life"
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▶Date: September 21, 2019
▶Title: “Jane Austen: An Unexpected Life”
▶Speaker: Rachel Brown St.John
▶Review: Cathy Tripp (GIC Volunteer)
“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody.'' —Jane Austen
Jane Austen is known to be one of the leading female authors of her time—a reality that still rings true to this day. Not only did she start writing novels at a time when first and foremost, few women published at all—let alone under their own name—but Austen successfully put pen to paper, etching her name into her books during a time of great transition in the history of English literature. Today, Jane Austen is widely known for her cultural presence and unwavering spot in American literature.
From her roots as the youngest of seven children—having grown up with her six brothers and the frequently circulating boarders at her family’s home in a small rural village in England—this self-proclaimed tomboy grew into a curious, eloquent and incredibly successful author. Although many stipulate that Austen grew up in a bubble, unaware of the happenings in the world beyond her knowledge, we know that this is far from the truth. Thanks to the fervent encouragement of her family and her close friends to explore beyond the boundaries of the life she knew and the world of literature, Austen grew into herself and her place in the world— becoming the author we know her to be today thanks to the vastly diverse collection of people and ideas that she had access to.
It was the people in Austen’s life that fueled her fervor for writing and continued to inspire new stories. People like Austen’s close friend and confidant Anne Lefroy, her cousin Eliza de Feuillde, and even her brothers Henry and James. Furthermore, her mother—a writer and poet in her own right—and her father, her greatest support, provided Austen with enormous and unconventional support to her and her endeavors at a time when women were told to stay in their place and learn how to cook, clean and sew.
Despite the hurdles and obstacles she faced from her own upbringing and the field that she worked in, Austen won over the hearts of her readers by putting women at the center of her stories. Although some would disagree, our GIC Talk presenter for this week, Rachel Brown-St. John, believes that Austen was a feminist, but perhaps not in the modern sense of the word. For the first time ever, the literary world saw the portrayal of women not solely in the classic depiction of the “damsel in distress”, but as fully developed human beings with the agency to make and see out their decisions, for better or for worse. They were not simply flat characters that were impacted and implicated by the stories they were in. Rather, Austen put the pen in the hands of her main female leads, clearing the way for other female authors to join the literary scene.
This is what a feminist looks like.
For those that are new to Austen and her writing, check out Emma or Pride and Prejudice.