Jane Austen

By: Amanda French
December 16, 2014

1804 watercolor of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra

Who is your JANE AUSTEN (1775–1817)? Is she the stuffy-genteel Jane of bonnets and drawing rooms, whose neurotically modest and proper Fanny Price is laid low upon the sofa with a headache after cutting roses in the hot sun? Is she the almost vicious Jane of her letters, the Jane who joked about a neighbor “brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, oweing to a fright. — I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband”? Is she Virginia Woolf’s Jane, the stylist who looked at the typical male sentence (whatever that is) and “laughed at it and devised a perfectly natural, shapely sentence proper for her own use, and never departed from it”? Is she the acknowledged ace of free indirect discourse in English, that style of omniscient narration that allows a reader to overhear a character’s thoughts? Is she the very emblem of all that is most white and most colonialist about nineteenth-century English literature, or is she a secret subversive, a critic of slavery and of paternalism in all its forms? Is she a gold mine, an inexhaustible natural resource, the wellspring of the entire genre of Regency romance as well as so many spin-offs and homages and remakes that the Wall Street Journal has spoken of “the Jane Austen industrial complex”? Should she be on the ten-pound note? Is she the female Shakespeare? Would you invite her to tea, or out for a drink? Do you forgive her? Do you adore her? Would you marry her? Do you think she died (at only 41) of Addison’s disease, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or bovine tuberculosis? Do you think she rests peacefully in her grave? Do you think she ever will?


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Margaret Mead, Remedios Varo, Philip K. Dick, Bill Hicks, Arthur C. Clarke.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Original Romantic (1765–74) and Ironic Idealist (1775–84) Generations.