Exquisitely crafted miniatures
JANE Austen has been one of the great “sleepers” of English literature, that is one of the great unexpected successes. Her latest recognition is her appearance on the new £10 bank note, now issued in plastic, complete with an apposite quotation: “I declare, after all, there is no enjoyment like reading.”
A reclusive spinster who never travelled far outside her home territory, let alone England, she wrote about matrimonial politics and the complicated decisions, dilemmas, self-deceptions and intrigues of romance.
Perhaps her most familiar and timeless quotation is the ironic opening of Pride and Prejudice (1813): “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a handsome man endowed with a good fortune must be in need of a wife.”
She regarded her novels as pieces of embroidery, for they are exquisitely crafted miniatures undisturbed by the great political events of the time.
She rather observed the passions, sadness and hypocrisies of the provincial marriage market with shrewdness and humour. Although this market has proved extremely lucrative for less subtle writers, trading on sex and violence, her popularity has steadily increased.
Her style has not dated in 200 years, nor have the sharpness of her insights, nor the wit of her dialogue.