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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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1. SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. Published in 1811, two years before Pride and Prejudice, it was the first of

Jane Austen's novels to appear in print. As with all her novels, the background is country society. The story moves briefly to London, but nothing is made of the town scene. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are two young sisters of contrasting personalities. Elinor represents the sense of the title; she has a strong grasp of reality, a respect for conventional social behavior, and such good control of her feelings that she appears cold. Marianne stands for sensibility, an old-fashioned word that means a tendency both to feel and to express the emotions. Today we would call a person like Marianne "oversensitive." Disappointed in love, she becomes seriously ill. Elinor, also disappointed in love, conceals her suffering so well that no one knows of it. In the end both sisters marry happily. The drive to marry for money is not central to the novel, but it is a strong undercurrent-in this novel it is a more powerful drive for the young men than for the young women. Obviously this was a preoccupation of both sexes in Jane Austen's social class.

2. MANSFIELD PARK. Published in 1814, this is the story of a gentle and self-effacing girl, Fanny Price, who is taken as a child from her parents' large, impoverished family to grow up in the home of her well-todo uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram of Mansfield Park. They have two handsome, self-centered daughters, a son who is their heir and who cares only for hunting and racehorses, and a second son, Edmund, the only one sympathetic to Fanny. The Bertrams become involved with a fashionable brother and sister, Henry and Mary Crawford. This involvement leads to the disgrace of one of the daughters and a heart-searching disappointment for Edmund. In the end Edmund realizes that Fanny is the right wife for him, and Fanny, who has loved him from the first, is happy at last. A central part of the story is devoted to a project in amateur theatricals, in which Jane Austen brilliantly reveals the characters and relationships of the young people. Some critics consider Mansfield Park her finest work.

3. EMMA. Published in 1816, this novel has more critical votes than Mansfield Park as Jane Austen's masterpiece. As a study of a single character and her interaction with the people of her country village, it has a striking unity of action and character development. Twenty-year-old Emma Woodhouse, "handsome, clever, and rich," the mistress of her widowed father's house, takes under her wing a girl without family, pretty Harriet Smith. This leads Emma into a match-making project that backfires not only on Harriet but on Emma herself, with some grief and much comedy. Mr. Knightley, a bachelor in his thirties, master of a large estate nearby, is Emma's friend and severest critic, whose love for her she does not recognize or return until near the novel's end. A subplot involves Emma with beautiful Jane Fairfax-whose lack of fortune condemns her to the life of a governess-companion-and with an attractive, somewhat spoiled young man who has been adopted by wealthy childless relatives. In its detailed comedy-drama of a small society within a narrow frame, Emma is the perfect example of Jane Austen's own description of her art as a painter of miniatures, the fashionable tiny portraits of the period, painted on small pieces of ivory with a very fine brush.

4. NORTHANGER ABBEY. Published in 1818, the year after Jane Austen's death, in combination with

Persuasion and a biographical preface on the author by her brother Henry Austen. This is a pure comedy, the story of a wholesome young girl, Catherine Morland, whose head is full of the terrifying adventures of the day's Gothic novels. Invited to stay at the abbey, she is disappointed to find no hidden chambers or secret passages in the modernized manor house, and her fantasy, fed on popular fiction, takes off in wild imaginings about the sudden death suffered by her friend Eleanor Tilney's mother. Eleanor's brother Henry, a witty, charming young clergyman attracted to Catherine, firmly sets her right. She is suddenly and inconsiderately sent home by the Tilneys' tyrannical father, who has discovered that he was deceived in believing that Catherine had prospects of a fortune. Henry at once rides after her, proposes, and is accepted.

As rector of a good "living" (see the glossary) he is independent, but Catherine's father, also a clergyman, while pleased with Henry, will not give his consent until General Tilney consents. Fortunately, Eleanor marries the man of her choice, who has come into a fortune and a title; General Tilney forgives Catherine for not being an heiress; and Catherine and Henry are married. Even though it wasn't published until after her death, Northanger Abbey was actually Jane Austen's first effort at a full-length novel-and it still bears some traces of having been a youthful work. With the family's stay in Bath after the Reverend Austen's retirement, she was able to set part of her novel in this fashionable setting and add a subplot involving an opportunistic sister and brother who deceive Catherine, her own brother, and the Tilneys' irascible father. The novel is generally considered Jane Austen's parody of the horror novels of her time.

5. PERSUASION. Published in 1818, this is Jane Austen's last and tenderest novel, the story of a love affair that, unlike most love affairs, has a second chance. Anne Elliot is the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall, a vain and foolish baronet. The oldest daughter-handsome, snobbish Elizabeth-is unmarried at twenty-nine, while the youngest, Mary-a fretful and complaining young mother-is the wife of a local squire's son. Anne at nineteen was persuaded to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a young naval officer without fortune or prospects. Eight years have passed since then as the novel opens.

Captain Wentworth has become wealthy, and he is again nearby, staying with relatives and looking for a wife. Anne still loves him, but he is still unforgiving. Through the working out of several subplots, the love of eight years past turns out to be constant in both the lovers, and the novel is brought to a happy end. Much of this story takes place in Bath, and the fashionable resort setting is treated with far more sophistication here than in Northanger Abbey. Similarly, the scheming of snobs and opportunists is more subtle than in the earlier novel. Some of the most engaging characters in Persuasion are naval officers and their wives. For these, and for her attractive hero, Jane Austen drew lovingly on what she knew of the Navy and naval people's life ashore from her two sailor brothers, both of whom became admirals in the Napoleonic Wars.

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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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