Saturday, November 04, 2006

Breeches: Jane Austen and Costume Drama

Darcy and Lizzie (c)BBCJane Austen is the most popular of our literary heroines for television and cinema and, given the lip-licking fashions of the Regency period and romantic convulsions of plot; it is not hard to see why.


Pride and Prejudice (1813)
Sense and Sensibility (1811)
Persuasion (1816/17)
Mansfield Park (1814)
Emma (1816)
Northanger Abbey (posthumously published)


Darcy (c)BBCThe most famous hero of Jane Austen’s novels is Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie Bennett and Mr Darcy are instantly repulsed by and attracted to each other and the book recounts how their relationship changes from critical disdain to love and mutual respect.

Other heroes worth noting for their melty moments are Captain Wentworth in Persuasion and Colonel Braddon in Sense and Sensibility. The most rakish and dashing villains are John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and Henry (and Mary) Crawford in Mansfield Park.

Historical Background:

Austen is writing during a period of great change and crisis in Regency England. The Napoleonic Wars meant that Britain was at war with France throughout much of the period in which her novels are set and the industrial revolution was transforming British society. However, Austen’s novels focus on the seemingly unchanging social lives of the upper-middle classes and aristocratic society and the interior worlds of her main heroines.

Literary Background:

Jane Austen’s writing and thought was influenced by the eighteenth poetry of ‘sensibility’. She liked the work of George Crabbe and William Cowper, who wrote on rural scenes and nature. However, she also read contemporary poets and in Persuasion Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick discuss recent work by Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding and Walter Scott all influenced her writing style but Austen owes much to the comic-tragic prose of Fanny Burney – try Evelina (1778).

Jane Austen Biography:

Jane Austen was born in 1775 and died in 1817. One of eight children, she never married and lived in Steventon, Bath, Southampton and Chawton Hampshire with her mother and sister.

Useful websites:

Jane Austen Centre in Bath

Jane Austen’s House

Jane Austen Society UK

Jane Austen Society US


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