This week’s discussion topic is inspired by the fact that on September 15 the world celebrates the 120th anniversary of the birth of Agatha Christie.
Have you read Christie’s books? Recently? What do you think it is about them that has given them such lasting value?Or perhaps you have another favourite author whose works have outlasted those of their contemporaries? Maybe you’re a fan of Charles Dickens whose work is still widely known and studied while those of his contemporary, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, languish in relative obscurity.What do you think it is that gives your favourite long-lasting author an edge? Is longevity all to do with quality? Quantity? Style perhaps? Or luck?
I’ve already written quite a lot about Agatha Christie’s books so for this post I thought I’d I’d write about another favourite author – Jane Austen. I first read Pride and Prejudice even before I knew anything about Agatha Christie. I can’t compare the two because they are so different – Jane only wrote six novels, Agatha over 80, Jane’s are romantic fiction, whereas Agatha wrote crime fiction, and so on.
Jane Austen’s lasting appeal is certainly down to the quality of her writing. Her characters are timeless. She portrays flirts, bores, snobs, the self-centred and foolish people as well as high-principled characters such as Jane Bennet (in Pride and Prejudice), who is determined to see good in everyone. Her characters are amusing and well drawn, with great depth so that we are convinced of their reality. But her books aren’t sentimental and they are full of wit and humour. She writes about serious subjects treating them with humour and irony. In fact she delighted in a sense of the ridiculous, with such characters as Lady Catherine de Burgh and Mr Collins (Pride and Prejudice). And then there is Mr Darcy, handsome and aloof, a man who has won the heart of many women readers and also TV viewers with Colin Firth’s portrayal in the 1995 TV production.
Jane Austen’s England was at war with both America and France and the French Revolution was being fought across the Channel, but little of this is seen in her novels, just as it didn’t directly affect much of the nation. England was then largely a rural, agricultural society and Jane’s characters live in that world – a world of social inequality, one in which the role of women was very different from that of today. And for me this too is part of her appeal. She takes me into that world as I read her books. And yet because she was more interested in relationships, courtship, love and marriage than in national or international affairs her work has a timeless quality.
Her popularity is widespread from the academic to the popular. Her books are studied in schools and universities and they have been dramatised for the stage, TV and radio, and made into films and musicals. The first stage production was the 1906 play of Pride and Prejudice. In 1940 it was made into a film starring Laurence Olivier as Mr Darcy and Greer Garson as Elizabeth. Later two musicals of Pride and Prejudice were produced called First Impressions, Jane Austen’s first title for the book. Since then numerous TV productions of all her books have been made, and sequels, prequels and adaptations galore. More recently Pride and Prejudice has entered the zombie world with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, (a book I cannot bear the thought of reading!) and also Bollywood with Bride and Prejudice.
There are numerous biographies, Jane Austen clubs and societies, in the United Kingdom, Australia and North America. The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, the Cobb at Lyme Regis and the house she lived in at Chawton are places of pilgrimage for her fans. And there are several blog sites dedicated to celebrating Jane Austen’s work, including:
- Austenesque Reviews
- Austenprose – where there are many links to other Austen blogs
- Jane Austen Today
- Jane Austen’s World
- Reading Writing, Working, Playing
Writing this has made me want to re-read her books and read for the first time The Watsons, Lady Susan and Sanditon. I also have Jane Austen’s Letters to read.