Friday Bookblogging: Jane Austen Wrote Six Books Edition

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With all the excitement over the Complete Jane Austen, we would like to take this opportunity to issue our periodic reminder that Jane Austen wrote six novels, not just the one with that moody Darcy git (TEAM TILNEY REPRESENT!), and if you haven’t tried them all yet, there’s no time like the present! And even after you finish the Big Six, there’s more Jane to read–let us know if you need a list.

Laurie Viera Rigler, the author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, is writing a series on each of Jane Austen’s novels for About.com’s Classic Literature blog in conjunction with the films. Last’s week’s Bookblogging included her Persuasion post, and this week she wrote about Northanger Abbey.

Every era likes to marginalize certain forms of art. In Austen’s day, it was the novel (and not just the Gothic ones). Today, it might be graphic novels or romance or so-called “women’s fiction” or “chick lit” or science fiction or horror. Take your pick. Despite the snobbery, Jane Austen and her whole family were, in her own words, “great Novel-readers, & not ashamed of being so.” Nevertheless, Northanger Abbey is a hilarious send-up of just the kind of horror-and-romance-fest that Catherine Morland—and Jane Austen—liked to read. The difference between the heroine and her creator is that Catherine Morland kept expecting real life to play out like one of her favorite novels, while Jane Austen thought real life had its own set of fascinating stories to tell.

The Adventures in Reading blog has a few posts examining Persuasion, which, as many of our readers know, is our favorite Jane. The first part has an anecdote that made our jaw drop:

My sophomore year in college a classmate of mine told me about his experience with Persuasion in another class. While I cannot recall what he said the instructor had said, I do recall that he argued the novel was classist and he felt Anne Elliot was a “gold digger.”

WHAAAAAAAAT? Anne Elliot, of all people, a gold digger? Our Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness, let us show you it.

Part 2 has more reflections upon the novel–it’s always so interesting to hear from someone making their first engaged read.

Another character I have yet to mention but that plays an enormous part is Mrs. Smith. Anne knew Mrs. Smith from her school days and only knew that shortly after Anne left the school that this woman became Mrs. Smith and seemed to have married quite well. When Anne rediscovers her, Mrs. Smith is an invalid, dependent on the “kindness of strangers”, selling hand made crafts through a friend, and living most of her life in two small and shabby rooms. Mrs. Smith plays a key role in revealing Mr. Elliot’s (the cousin and heir) true character to Anne, but I will say I found her more of a remarkable character after reading about Austen’s own invalid brother. Perhaps there is no connection, but at the very least Mrs. Smith is a very interesting comparison to Lady de Bourgh’s daughter in Pride & Prejudice.

We doubt Mrs. Smith had anything to do with George Austen, but it is interesting to contrast her treatment, as someone who is genuinely ill–indeed, crippled to the point of being unable to walk–and yet bears with her infirmities and her deplorable financial situation with cheer; and (this always gets us) as poor as she is, she seeks to sell her little knitted items to do good for even poorer people. As a comparison with hypochondriacs such as Mary Musgrove, Mrs. Bennet, and, yes, Anne de Bourgh (though we have no way of knowing if she was really ill or not), and considering that Persuasion was written as Jane Austen was suffering the first symptoms of her fatal illness, Mrs. Smith is a truly amazing character.

That’s it for this week’s Friday Bookblogging, Gentle Readers, and always remember: Books Are Nice!