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About this book

This Guide discusses the range of critical reactions to three of Jane Austen's most widely-studied and popular novels. Annika Bautz takes the reader chronologically through the profusion of criticism by selecting key approaches from the immense variety of responses these three Austen novels have provoked over the last two centuries.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
For almost 200 years, readers at various times and in diverse places and circumstances have interpreted Jane Austen’s novels — readers reading with different attitudes and differing widely in what they find appealing. Austen’s works have continuously risen in popularity: from holding a position of relative obscurity in the Romantic period, they have come to achieve extraordinary critical and popular acclaim in the early twenty-first century. This Guide illustrates key examples of the many different responses to three of Austen’s novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma.
Annika Bautz, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter One. Contemporary Reviews

Abstract
Reviewing periodicals were at their zenith in the early nineteenth century. Not only were they numerous but they also enjoyed an interest, and therefore a significance, that was new. Most reviewing periodicals appeared monthly, and consisted of a main part, which contained a small number of longer articles, and an end-section called the catalogue, which contained a larger number of short reviews, sometimes only consisting of one sentence. New publications that were regarded as less important but still worthy of inclusion were placed in the catalogue. The fact that a work was reviewed at all was an indication that it was considered to have some merit, and this was qualified by the length and location of the review. The Critical Review discussed Sense and Sensibility, the first publication by an anonymous female author, in the main part, whereas The British Critic noticed it in the catalogue, a difference reflected in the tenor of the overall verdicts on the novel in these two reviews.
Annika Bautz, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Two. Victorian Reviews, ca. 1865–80

Abstract
This chapter outlines the critical trends of a specific period: roughly the years from 1865 to 1880. Few articles had appeared on Austen in the preceding decades, but during this period their number increased, largely as a reaction to the appearance of the first biography of Austen in 1870. The publication of A Memoir of Jane Austen, written by Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh, gave rise to a number of articles, usually overviews of her life and of her oeuvre as a whole rather than discussions of an individual novel. Articles bear titles such as ‘Miss Austen’1 or ‘A Memoir of Jane Austen’,2 rather than those of specific Austen novels. This general kind of article means critics include overall estimates of the author, and focus on those elements they believe to be important: biographical events, individual works, and the connection between biography and work.
Annika Bautz, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Three. Early to Mid-Twentieth Century Critical Responses

Abstract
As we have seen, Victorian critics of Austen largely accepted the image James Edward Austen-Leigh drew of his aunt in the Memoir. Her life became central to the interpretation of her works, and in subsequent decades her novels continued to be read through judgments of the woman. Leslie Stephen in his 1876 article already uses the term ‘Austenolatry’, calling it ‘the most intolerant and dogmatic of literary creeds’, thereby testifying to the existence of Austen-devotees even before the term ‘Janeite’ was coined.
Annika Bautz, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Four. Later Twentieth-Century Critical Responses: Feminism

Abstract
In the last fifty years, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma have provoked more criticism than ever before. Generally, Austen criticism has gone along with the respective larger critical movements in each decade, from New Criticism, Formalism and Structuralism to New Historicism, Feminism and postcolonial readings. While critics writing in the 1960s to 1980s tend to focus on style and form, looking at a text as an aesthetic object, more recent discussions see the text within its original political and social contexts, and connect the text to the author’s biography. While there are obviously exceptions, most studies follow the trends of their period, and can therefore be broadly placed into the categories ‘earlier’, i.e. 1960s to 1980s, and ‘later’, i.e. 1980s to 2000s.
Annika Bautz, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Five. Later Twentieth-Century Critical Responses: Literary, Cultural, and Historical Context

Abstract
Devoney Looser states in her 1995 Jane Austen and Discourses of Feminism that ‘in the thriving industry of Austen criticism, the driving force is arguably feminist’,1 and while this appears to hold, there are of course studies in the second half of the twentieth century that do not explicitly focus on feminism. New Historicism and its concern with a text’s historical, cultural, social and political context dominate criticism in this period, but there are two distinct approaches within this larger movement: the feminist focus outlined above, and a political-historical perspective. Of course these two approaches are often combined, not least because of the political-historical dimension of feminism.
Annika Bautz, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Six. The First Decade of the Twenty-First Century

Abstract
Generally, as we have seen in the preceding chapters, critical trends during the second half of the twentieth century have moved from close reading and an exclusive focus on the text to a historicist reading that concentrated on context. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Austen’s novels have continued to elicit many critical studies as well as new editions for an ever increasing market of readers. Over the last decade, criticism has possibly been yet more diverse than before, combining some of the twentieth-century approaches. While many historicist readings continue to appear, for example coming from a postcolonial or feminist viewpoint, an increasing number of critics are now countering these contextual and politicised readings by going back to the texts themselves, deliberately concentrating on their aesthetic qualities, without taking into account the literary, biographical, historical, or political context of their genesis.
Annika Bautz, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Seven. Film and Television Adaptations

Abstract
The earliest film adaptation of an Austen novel was MGM’s black and white feature film of Pride and Prejudice, with a screenplay by the novelist Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) and the screenwriter and dramatist Jane Murfin (1884–1955), and Greer Garson (1904–96) and Laurence Olivier (1907–89) as Elizabeth and Darcy. A number of adaptations of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma appeared throughout the twentieth century, but never as many as from the mid-1990s onwards. In 1995 and 1996 alone five adaptations of these three novels came out: Sense and Sensibility (1995), directed by Ang Lee (born 1954), with a screenplay by Emma Thompson (born 1959); a BBC TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (1995), directed by Simon Langton (born 1941) and written by Andrew Davies (born 1936); Clueless (1995), loosely based on Emma, directed by Amy Heckerling (born 1954); Emma (1996), directed by Douglas McGrath (born 1958); and a BBC adaptation of Emma (1996), directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (born 1947) and written by Andrew Davies. Not only did existing Austen readers watch them; the films also created an audience that came to Austen through the films. Tie-in editions were produced, and the Austen industry boomed.
Annika Bautz, Nicolas Tredell

Conclusion

Abstract
As this Guide has shown, Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma continue to inspire ever new critical approaches. In Fiona Stafford’s words, the development of readings of Austen criticism demonstrates ‘the inexhaustibility of her texts’.1 However, it is not just with critics that these three novels are outstandingly popular. There is an incessant flow of cheap paperback editions; there are Jane Austen Societies on national and local levels. New biographies keep coming out, which testify to a continuing strong interest in the author’s life, and, as discussed in the last chapter, each of these three novels has motivated not one but several film and television versions. Pride and Prejudice alone has served as the basis for a screenplay no less than eleven times. This success is partly due to Elizabeth and, out of all the Austen heroines, her coming closest to modern ideas of femininity. Frequently referred to as ‘the nation’s favourite book’,2 Pride and Prejudice’s plot is considered general knowledge. A film such as ITV’s Lost in Austen (2008), a time-travelling version of Pride and Prejudice, emphasises this: large parts of the film only make sense if the viewer understands the jokes and plot twists as the heroine, Amanda Price, does, which presupposes knowledge of the story and the characters of Pride and Prejudice — not just Elizabeth and Darcy, but also Jane and Bingley, Charlotte and Mr Collins, and even the 1995 BBC adaptation of the novel, through references to Colin Firth. The making of a film that relies on this plot as known proves how deeply ingrained knowledge of the plot and characters of Pride and Prejudice is in general culture. From having been read by some of the few who could afford novel-reading in the early nineteenth century, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma have achieved a popular as well as critical status that not many novels can boast.
Annika Bautz, Nicolas Tredell
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