UK cel­e­brates icon Austen on bi­cen­te­nary In­spi­ra­tional nov­el­ist to fea­ture on bank note dur­ing year of spe­cial events

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

WINCH­ESTER, United King­dom — Two hun­dred years af­ter Jane Austen’s death, Bri­tain is cel­e­brat­ing one of its best­loved au­thors, who com­bined ro­mance with bit­ing so­cial com­men­tary that still speaks to fans around the world.

The au­thor of clas­sic nov­els Pride and Prej­u­dice, Emma and Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity had only just be­come known when she died on July 18, 1817, aged 41.

But her six nov­els, dis­sect­ing the lives of 19th cen­tury ru­ral aris­toc­racy, have since sold mil­lions of copies, led to film adap­ta­tions and even spawned a zom­bie spinoff.

She has in­spired count­less other au­thors, from Vir­ginia Woolf, who praised her “ge­nius”, to He­len Field­ing of the best-sell­ing Brid­get Jones se­ries.

Next week the Bank of Eng­land will is­sue a new 10 pound note bear­ing Austen’s im­age, dur­ing this year of spe­cial events in­clud­ing walks through her na­tive Hamp­shire in south­ern Eng­land and ex­hi­bi­tions about her life.

Part of Austen’s ap­peal rests on her de­pic­tion of a ro­man­ti­cized Eng­land with love af­fairs, tea and par­ties in the glo­ri­ous sur­round­ings of sprawl­ing stately homes.

Some have even com­pared her to Bar­bara Cart­land, the late English ro­man­tic nov­el­ist.

But Austen’s nov­els have long been stud­ied for their cri­tique of a world of rigid class struc­ture that was nev­er­the­less in flux thanks to the Napoleonic wars.

“One of the things she is con­cerned with as a moral writer is so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said Pro­fes­sor Kathryn Suther­land of the Univer­sity of Ox­ford, co-cu­ra­tor of a new ex­hi­bi­tion in Winch­ester.

Austen also shone a harsh light on the sta­tus of women, for whom a good match in mar­riage was con­sid­ered the only goal.

“She was very con­scious of the plight of women, of women’s de­pen­dence on men and she found that frus­trat­ing,” Suther­land said, call­ing her a fem­i­nist.

The daugh­ter of a cler­gy­man, Austen her­self re­mained un­mar­ried de­spite a pro­posal, and spent most of her life with very lit­tle money.

“She al­ways had to hide it, to give the ap­pear­ance of wealth that she didn’t have,” said Cather­ine Ri­hoit, a French au­thor writ­ing a bi­og­ra­phy of Austen.

Austen sought to earn money by get­ting her work pub­lished. The man­u­script of Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity was fi­nally ac­cepted in 1811, af­ter sev­eral at­tempts.

“Sadly, the suc­cess and the money only be­gan com­ing in when she died,” Ri­hoit said.

Austen is buried in the cathe­dral in Winch­ester, the Hamp­shire town where she died and where Suther­land and Louise West are staging their ex­hi­bi­tion, “The Mys­te­ri­ous Miss Austen”.

Sur­pris­ingly lit­tle is known about the au­thor, af­ter her sis­ter Cas­san­dra de­stroyed al­most all her let­ters.

There are even doubts about how she looked, and the exhi- bi­tion brings to­gether six por­traits for the first time.

Among re­cent vis­i­tors to the ex­hibit was Brid­get, 70, who said she has read all of Austen’s books five or six times.

“You think it’s all ro­man­tic love sto­ries, but it isn’t. She was very acer­bic, witty. The lan­guage is bril­liant,” she said.

And Austen’s ap­peal goes well be­yond Eng­land.

“She speaks to peo­ple in farflung coun­tries, to other cul­tures. It’s re­ally very clever, “said Ri­hoit.

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