‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ This keen observation from Jane Austen is universally acknowledged as the brilliantly articulate opening line to the classic romantic novel Pride and Prejudice. It was first published in 1813, and over two hundred years later it remains one of the most popular novels ever written. I am no Jane Austen aficionado, but I do admire her greatly.
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
For all her wit and wisdom, her fertile imagination and her publishing success, especially during a time when women were considered soft furnishings in men’s establishments – Jane Austen had to endure her own personal heartbreak. If only she could have known how she would come to be so adored in every corner of the 21st century world, by those still blessed with a romantic heart and a thirst for understanding human foibles.
I ponder what it is about her writing that has made her such an icon of British literature. Certainly her prose is beautiful and her insights into affairs of the heart erudite. Her heroines are willful, passionate and intelligent (women after her own heart), and her settings are magnificent, and to a large extent from her own world. Love is in the air, but only after an interminable amount of suffering, heart ache and introspection on the part of her vividly drawn characters; before being fully realised and experienced as a happy ever after.
Her true story is both inspiring and tragic. However, we will return to reality a little later on.
The reason for my sudden Austen mania is that I’ve just watched ‘Austenland’ on Sky Movies. It was released in 2013, and filmed entirely on location at the Dashwood Estate, West Wycombe Park – only five minutes from my house. I ask myself, how could I not know this was happening? I would have been down there like a shot, gate crashing the crew.
I did however, take my girls there in February this year to explore Lady Dashwood’s snowdrop trail. We had a ball, and the grounds are every bit as beautiful as portrayed in the film. I took rather a lot of pictures, which I have scattered throughout this post. The Music Temple on the island in the lake is the image for my current header.
Austen has inspired no less than 21 movies and television miniseries, here are just a few of my favourites in order of preference:
- Pride and Prejudice – the stunning 2005 film adaptation by Joe Wright starring Keira Knightly as the spirited Elizabeth & Matthew Macfadyen as the brooding Mr Darcy (and a gorgeous piano soundtrack by Dario Marianelli). I have watched this version no fewer than five times.
- The 1995 P&P miniseries with Colin Firth as the dashing but aloof Mr Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as the charming Elizabeth.
- The ITV drama Lost in Austen with Jemima Rooper, Elliot Cowan and Hugh Bonneville combined old with new in a wonderful twist on P&P.
- Death Comes to Pemberley – the continuation of the P&P story was penned by P.D. James and, quite frankly I doubt whether any other author would have been up to the task of continuing Austen’s legacy. The BBC adaptation was also superb.
- Sense & Sensibility – the 1995 Ang Lee film features Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet as the hard done by Dashwood sisters with Hugh Grant, Greg Wise and Alan Rickman cast as the main men of the story. In fact, it’s an all-star cast, totally sumptuous, heart breaking and visceral.
- Emma – Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller are fabulous in this tale of mischief and matchmaking.
- Becoming Jane – with Ann Hathaway as the feisty author and James McAvoy as her one-time love Thomas Langlois Lefroy.
Unfortunately Austenland isn’t in the same league as the above adaptations, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it does have a marvellous setting for the lonely Jane Austen obsessed protagonist to lose herself in: namely a palladian and neo classical style house and gardens as the backdrop for her copper package regency experience, complete with stereotype actors paid to romance her in the manner of a bygone era.
The estate is now run by the National Trust.
And now, if you’ve got this far, thank you for having the patience to bear with me! Let’s delve into the fate of the lady who started it all – Jane Austen.
I visited her home/museum in the village of Chawton in Hampshire a couple of years ago; it is wonderfully preserved much as it would have been in Jane’s day. She began living there in 1809. The museum contains lots of information about her day to day life, her devotion to her sister, her letters to her brothers, wider family and friends, excerpts of her hand written manuscripts and personal items.
Sadly, Jane’s own love for trainee barrister Thomas Lefroy was not to result in marriage, as his family did not approve of the match. They never saw each other again and Jane died a spinster aged a paltry 41 years of age. Had she married Lefroy it is almost certain we would not have benefitted from the rich literary legacy she created from a life dedicated to writing. She is buried in the north aisle of the nave at Winchester Cathedral. There are many suppositions as to the cause of her death, which range from Addisons Disease, to bovine Tuberculosis to Brill-Zinsser disease, a recurrent form of Typhus (which Jane had as a child).
Wonderful interview with author P.D. James about her Jane Austen sequel, Death Comes to Pemberley:
‘But for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.’ ~ Jane Austen