Jane Austen never found her Mr. Darcy. Austen, whose books always seemed to end with weddings, famously died in 1817 a singleton, at 41.
And she’s never really been forgiven for it. Not to mention that her condition obviously left her a bit dim. As one gadfly wrote: “Growing up in a large family of six brothers and one sister, to whom she was particularly close, she watched most of her siblings find happiness, but was never able to find the right man herself. How then did this perennial spinster know so much of the workings of the human heart?”
There are many answers to that question. But here’s one: “The world has always known that Jane Austen had a serious suitor when she was 20, that she confidently expected him to propose and was disappointed when he didn’t.”
There has also been speculation about another suitor, a clergyman named Samuel Bicknall. But Jane’s sister Cassandra was quite taken with him, as well.
It’s unclear what really happened, though it was definitely nasty (it’s likely Cassandra later burned a series of letters to conceal some perfidy).
Thankfully, we have literary fiction to pick up the slack. Author Barbara Kerr Wilson has re-imagined a life in The Lost Years Of Jane Austen (2009, in Adult Fiction). It’s written in similar style to Jane’s, and with an understanding of the social position of women in the early 1800s. There’s class, blackmail, cads and criminals. Jane — a mourning Jane, unmarried and with no prospects — runs off to Australia for a few months, where, at 28, she finally accepts that she is now “a confirmed spinster.”
This entertaining look at a year (and a bit) was donated to the Lennoxville Library by Carolyn Jones as part of our Adopt-A-Book campaign. (Thank you!)
In real life, a well-to-do neighbour did eventually offer to marry an older Jane, but Austen found him a dullard, and refused the life she foresaw with him.
Jane Austen is one of those authors you just have to read — for her wit, if nothing else. The infamous Pride And Prejudice is the rewrite of a novel she first jotted down when much younger, and was eventually published in 1813 (filed in Adult Fiction).
It’s the portrait of a young woman who’s intelligent, acerbic, and judgemental. Trapped by convention, she responds with snark. Elizabeth Bennett’s initial hatred of, and then love for, the high-falutin’ Mr. Darcy, is a smart romance novel for everyone, filled with wordplay and social commentary.
Wait a few weeks to allow it to settle before following it up with Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (by Seth Graham Smith and Ms Austen, 2009, filed in Young Adult). Huge chunks of text remain, but the alterations are… striking. The Bennett sisters have been trained in kung fu by Chinese masters, father spends much of his time sharpening swords, and Mr. Darcy is renowned for his zombie killing. The nearby military regiment has been tasked with “wresting coffins from the hardened earth and setting fire to them.”
Purists will be appalled by the changes to Mrs. Bennett’s character (no hint of subtlety here), but the book is funny. If you enjoy reading about the eating of braaaiiins, that is.
For a different modernization project, there’s The Jane Austen Marriage Manual (by Kim Izzo, 2012, a New Arrival in Adult Fiction). A mix of breezy chic lit, feminism and desperation (of the sort Elizabeth Bennett never suffered), this is the tale of Kate. She’s 39, childless, jobless, in debt, and single. She’s assigned a magazine feature on the contemporary woman’s need for a rich husband, and takes it seriously.
She crashes polo matches and high-end art openings in the quest for a guy with big bucks. And to bag him, she lies, shows off cleavage, and maxes out her credit card, all the while reciting poverty statistics for her age and gender. And then falling into a mud puddle.
As Jane Austen herself once wrote, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours and laugh at them in our turn?”
– Eleanor Brown, February 7, 2014