Monday, March 20, 2006

miss austen

It's a simple yellow house across the street from the Winchester Cathedral close or grounds. In addition to being the capital of the Saxon kings until William the Conqueror defeated Harold in 1066, Winchester is also the place where Miss Jane Austen came to die at a too young age. Her doctor lived in Winchester, so in 1817 she rented the house in order to be near him.

The house is now apart of Winchester College, the ancient prep school. When Austen died, they buried her in the floor of the Cathedral. Her tomb is on the north aisle along side the nave and is marked by a stone on the floor, and a later plaque added on the north wall. It took years before the world realized who she was beyond being the daughter of a priest in the Church of England.

Jane Austen wrote about women looking for some economic stability and companionship in an environment in which they had no direct control over their lives. One could be brilliant, and witty, and of a good heart, but none of these attributes by themselves merited economic stability and genteel companionship. That her good hearted, brilliant, witty characters often found true love at the end seems like a stroke of good luck, or an especially generous act of God, because Austen also was unsparing in presenting the dowdy, threadbare side of life for those who didn't have the good fortune of a good marriage. She was a practical romantic who would not have understood the tradition of the overheated romance novel.

She didn't write about the emerging empire or the social issues of the day, or politics. She wrote about families, about domestic life, about parents and children, about dreamers and hard-hearted social climbers. It was how she made sense of her world.

2 comments:

Shelley said...

I really like Jane Austin, and this is one of the better summaries of her writings.

Don said...

Thanks, Shelley. I find myself mute about the world right now, feeling much but with little to say that is of merit. So perhaps I find comfort in Austen.