What Austen Did Best

Kevin’s blog post below about J. R. R. Tolkien referred to what he did better than anyone else: world building. He created a land that felt large and ancient and alive. This artistic skill, along with many others, has made Tolkien’s work endure and flourish. And it caused me to ponder the same question about my literary idol: Jane Austen.

What did Jane Austen do better than anyone else? What has made her work as relevant today as it was 200 years ago?

I think Jane Austen was a master at character creation. She didn’t take herself so seriously that she devolved into unnecessary pathos or drama with her creations. Her characters were real then, and as such, they remain believable today. I’ve met Mrs. and Mr. Bennet. I’ve seen Darcys and Willoughbys. Charlotte and Caroline could be my neighbors. They are ordinary people without ridiculous traits or exaggerated flaws,  and Austen still perceived their value as literary characters.

Through them, Jane Austen showed us the largeness of a woman’s heart even though she was confined within the small world of her family, close friends, and home. She saw the drama of the smaller details and the value of a happy ending. What may at first appear to be a nice little love story is more of a fight for survival of both the woman herself and of her spirit.

What do you think Austen did best?

4 thoughts on “What Austen Did Best

  1. I agree with your assessment, Jennifer. Jane knew people, and their foible and follies. She understood how they relate to one another, how their individual neuroses form group pathos. My favorite part of reading or writing Austen is spending time with her people.

  2. I think one of the things that Austen does so well is describe emotions, particularly sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness. Ans in doing that, she is still able to give the characters dignity.

    Anne Elliot is a good example of a woman with no future but is not pathetic. Persuasion’s Mrs. Smith is another. She doesn’t have much of a future or even her health, but she is still pretty lively.

    Making “good” characters interesting is a real gift, and Austen had it.

  3. Here’s my vote (and I’m not a huge Austen fan): dialogue. As much as I don’t love Austen, I was in awe of the sharpness of her dialogue. While her characters are definitely strong, she developed them through extremely distinct, pointed dialogue, so much so that I’ll stop on PBS to hear the BBC versions of one of her works while I would not necessarily reread any of her written works. The woman’s dialogue could perform surgery it was so damn sharp.

  4. Ooh, that’s a good point, Kevin. These people didn’t do anything BUT talk. You always have a way of getting to the heart of the matter.

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