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Sunday, February 11

Talking to Jane Austen

An interesting and comprehensive site for Jane Austen Fans has her answering questions, such as the one listed below. Click on Talking to Jane Austen to enter.

What relevance do your stories hold for the modern day teenager?(Pam, aged 25+ from Barstable in Essex)

Dear Pam,

Modern day teenagers are, of course, much wiser than I am and I would no doubt have much to learn from them, and possibly much to envy them – female freedoms are on the increase, I gather!

And note how ‘sarky’ I was to sister Cassandra about the “one damn pregnancy after another” situation for even privileged ladies in the married state in my time (all my major novels ended with marriage): “Poor animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty!” I wrote of a favourite niece. Happy endings, indeed!

Perhaps there is something to learn from me, after all, but pick your novel with care.

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine, my ingenuous heroine, is genteel, but a country girl and in some ways a gullible ninny come up to town (Bath, actually).

Catherine's honesty and essential sanity and goodwill do not prevent a good deal of suffering, especially when she appears to have been cast off by the Tilney family, and ‘saved’ only by the last-minute loyalty of her (slightly patronising) boyfriend Henry.

The other novels might appeal in offering dilemmas and life-choices in what seems a different social scene. In Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, pairs of sisters - Marianne and Elinor Dashwood and Jane and Elizabeth Bennet - have to negotiate their way in a patriarchal, patronising society without losing their essential human dignity, selling themselves or selling themselves short. Their exposure and vulnerability through economic pressures is quite well depicted, I think.

Marianne is dumped by her apparently dashing but quite callous young fellow Willoughby and finds chastened protection with the good old Colonel. Elinor goes through hell with skulking Edward, but gets him in the end, for what the glum fellow is worth. Elizabeth endures intolerable pressures to get her Darcy only on terms that preserve her pride, and her sense of deep concern for trusting sister Jane. Jane keeps smiling through as her true love Bingley is twitched away by his designing family while her family, by contrast, seems to do all it can to devalue itself and make itself ridiculous. Oh, the trials and tribulations of young love!

If you do happen to be privileged, look at Emma and you will unlearn arrogance, a desire to patronise the older or weaker members of society, and cease to be manipulative and self-regarding - if you were in the first place. Mind you, I loved Emma - faultless in spite of all her faults.

Yours truly,


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