Thursday, 31 October 2013

Austen's Happiest Hour

It is difficult to declare with complete certainty when Jane Austen was happiest, but I would hazard a guess that it was sometime around now, Halloween that is, on the publication of her first completed novel, 'Sense and Sensibility'.  On October 30th, 1811, Jane Austen's book about sisterly love and the right and wrong way to behave in matters of romance, was first published  by Thomas Egerton of the Military Library publishing house in London.  A connection through Austen's brother, ever the champion of his sister's talent, made publication possible in the first place.

Very few Austen fans today are aware that we owe great thanks to this small publisher of military texts for giving Austen her first taste at being a 'proper', published author.

Of course, the book itself took a long time to emerge as the novel that we know and love today.  It began years earlier, written as a collection of letters in novel form, under the rather simplistic title, 'Eleanor and Marianne' when Austen was but nineteen years old.   But after the death of her beloved father, Jane, her sister and mother, spent a nomadic existence moving from place to place, giving little opportunity, or impetus, for Austen to return to this first novel.

Luckily for us, she somehow returned once again to the characters who reveal so much about what it is to fall in love, and rewrote the novel that is both witty and brutally honest about the powerlessness of dependent, unmarried women in the Georgian period; something that Jane and Cassandra Austen knew all about.
Respectability was all important in this period, and there was no knowing the damage that could be done to a lady's good name if it became generally known that one was a writer of 'novels'.  And so Jane Austen never put her name to the books during her lifetime, only allowing the novels to be written, 'By a lady'.  What a strange, egocentric, celebrity-crazed world we live in now by comparison!

So, spare a thought this Halloween, for Jane Austen, and how she delighted she must have been to see her beloved 'Sense and Sensibility' finally in print, and how difficult it surely was to keep this secret from all the world, while taking so much pride in her accomplishment.  Oh, how things have changed...

Author - Michelle Burrowes!