Today marks exactly 200 years since Jane Austen died – and we’re still learning new things about the celebrated English novelist. In honour of the anniversary, we look back at some of the most interesting stories about her from our archive. Sit back and enter a world of Regency heroines, glamorous balls… and fiction’s finest heartthrob.
1. Jane Austen was a lot raunchier than you think
Never mind stiff upper lips and long dresses – Jane Austen was one racy lady. At least, that’s how Fiona Macdonald describes her here in an investigation of Austen’s teenage writings. In fact, compared to the novels Austen wrote as an adult that have garnered her worldwide fame, three notebooks surviving from her adolescence detail stories of “sexual misdemeanor, female drunkenness and violence.”
2. Pride and Prejudice may have one of the world’s most malleable plots…
Bridget Jones, Bride and Prejudice, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies… why is it that we never get sick of one of the most popularised plotlines on Earth? Lucy Scholes examines some of the most memorable – including memorably bad – takes on Pride and Prejudice. As she puts it: “Austen appears to exert nostalgic charm over the popular imagination.”
3. …but it was a BBC drama that changed Pride and Prejudice forever
Colin Firth. Wet shirt. Need we say more? It’s the scene that defined the 20th Century’s incarnation of Mr Darcy – one in which he did such a good job that he was cast to play the same distant, incorrigible character in Bridget Jones’ Diary. The surprising part? The scene isn’t in the novel at all. Nicholas Barber explains how Andrew Davies’ BBC screenplay injected sex appeal into stifled Georgian England, creating a series “about young people and their hormones” that re-defined the period drama.
4. The author has her own US cult
Yes, you read that correctly – Jane Austen has a cult following in the US. Called ‘Janeites’, they dress up in bonnets and early 19th Century-style costumes to party like it’s 1817. As one Jane Austen expert concludes, “they know it’s absurd to throw tea parties, but the fundamental drive here – to try to be somehow connected with the world and life of a beloved author – isn’t absurd”.
5. You can still rock to the music that made Jane Austen
It wouldn’t be a Jane Austen film if it didn’t include an accomplished young woman playing the piano. With the help of the University of Southampton, we can now access 600 pieces of music online that belonged to the famous author herself. Jane Austen could sing as well as play the piano, and much of her music was copied by hand into personal albums. A spokesperson at the university points out that her collection reflects her personal tastes “just as a digital music collection on a mobile phone or MP3 device would today”.
6. No matter how die-hard a fan you are, you have probably never read this Austen novel
Halting halfway through Chapter 12, Sanditon was Jane Austen’s swansong. As was typical of Austen’s biting social commentary, the novel was going to be a comedy that made fun of the health fad du jour: ‘taking the waters’ at England’s early seaside resorts. Sadly, Jane Austen put her pen down when she fell ill and died exactly four months later. Hephzibah Anderson takes a look at what we can learn from her final work – as well as at the authors that have dared try to complete Sanditon for themselves.
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