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Jane Austen

Thursday December 16 2004 09:01 IST

By Karmayogi

At the age of 19, Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, a novel where the Pride of a wealthy aristocrat clashes with the Prejudice of young Elizabeth, whose fine eyes he was unable to resist. The original was written before the dawn of the 19th century, though it was published in the early years of that century.

Some ten years ago, BBC presented that story as a TV serial and the public still received it very well. The producer of that film said that she had read the book several times, but each time the turn of events held her attention with eager suspense. It is the stamp of a writing that arises out of true inspiration. Her story is true to life at all times, especially at the time of writing.

Those were days when women were not supposed to be authors. Women writing under disguise was a known phenomenon then. It is a simple story of five sisters without dowry longing for marital status, ardently supported by a mother whose one ambition was that.

Jane Austen was born on December 16th in a pastor’s family. The heroine of that story, Elizabeth, was cast in the very mould of the author in every human detail. She remained unmarried. She had an elder sister just like Miss Jane Bennet of the story to whom she was devoted. Elizabeth’s courage in facing the formidable Lady Catherine has been an inspiration to many timid girls of the present day.

Timidity cannot conceive of bold, courageous, ready answers to the irrational tirade of a powerful titled lady. Mr. Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth has stayed in the annals of literary criticism as a model of exuberant stupidity in its enthusiastic outpourings. There is none to equal its genius of construction.

Austen’s other novels do not carry the power of atmosphere. Pride and Prejudice itself was conceived and written in the wake of the French Revolution. As England had undergone her Revolution in 1688, the nation had no impulse to follow the 1789 upheaval on the continent.

Darcy’s falling in love with Elizabeth was the aristocracy’s compromise to condescend, perhaps to mitigate the revolutionary urge that was below the surface. The Prince Regent could read the book sixteen times because the fervour of the revolutionary impulse was just below the surface. Even Disraeli read it as many times.

Jane Austen reconciled the Pride of Darcy and the Prejudice of Elizabeth at the altar of true unselfish love and thus sublimated the bloodthirsty French serfs who guillotined the members of the noble families. Life becomes literature in the genius whose perception of the world is wider than humanity.

Such a universal perception of a writer becomes an immortal work of Art. Pride and Prejudice is one such eminently.
 
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