Weekly Geeks – What Makes an Author Last?

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?
Agatha Christie is a great favourite of mine. I read a great many of her books as a teenager when I first came across her books and I’ve been taking part in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge – my contribution to the current blog tour will be 22 September.

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:

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.

7 thoughts on “Weekly Geeks – What Makes an Author Last?”

  1. Margaret – Thanks for this lovely post on Jane Austen! You are right that, although her work is very different from Christie’s, the two have lasting appeal.

    I think you’ve also put your finger on one of the things that’s made Austen’s work so durable – her characters. They may live in a world different from the one we live in now, but they are well-drawn, interesting and timeless. Thanks for the reminder of how terrific her work is.

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  2. I agree. It’s the characters that draw me to specific authors, both current and of another time. I’m a Dickens fan, for instance, and I delight in his characters AND their names. A character that is well depicted will always resonate with readers, no matter how old the book.

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    1. I Like Dickens too and you’re right about the characters and such fantastic names. I recently read The Mystery of Edwin Drood, with such wonderful names as Mr Grewgious and Miss Twinkleton for example.

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  3. What a wonderful tribute to my favorite author. I also discovered Austen at an early age and have never tired of reading her words.

    I recently listened to Lady Susan again, and if you can get the version with Harriet Walters, I heartily recommend it. Sanditon is amazing–it’s cliche to say, but it’s heartbreaking that she didn’t live long enough to really show us where she was going with the story. I also wish she had returned to The Watsons, as I enjoyed this fragment the one time I read it.

    Thanks again for a beautiful tribute.

    >She writes about serious subjects treating them with humour and irony.

    For me this is paramount!

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  4. I like some of Agatha Christie´s novels, especially the Marple books, but in my opinion Jane Austen´s books are of quite another quality. My favourites are “Pride and Prejudice” and Emma, but “Northanger Abbey” is so funny.

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