Happy belated birthday, Jane!
Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to post my best wishes to Miss Austen on the actual anniversary of her birth, which was this past Thursday, December 16. A lot has happened in the 235 years since she entered the world, but the fact remains that her life was an important one, even though we don’t know a whole lot about it. She only wrote 6 complete novels and a handful of stories and novel fragments, but she is still one of the most famous women in Western history.
Searching under “Jane Austen biography” at Amazon turns up 259 hits. A search for “Jane Austen” in all of Amazon’s departments comes up with 9,391 hits. A search for “Jane Austen” at LibraryThing comes up with 1,204 hits. We get 1,245 hits at GoodReads. WorldCat gives us 12,365 hits when we search for “All formats.” A plain-vanilla search at Google results in 4,640,000 hits in 0.26 seconds. The details of her life may, for the most part, be a mystery to us, but there is plenty of material out there that is either by her, about her or inspired by her. For the purposes of comparison, an Amazon “All Departments” search for “Charlotte Bronte” comes up with 3,548 hits, 1,794 for Elizabeth Gaskell, 1,501 for Maria Edgeworth, 554 for Ann Radcliffe and 324 for Frances Burney (862 when we use “Fanny” Burney). So, 235 years after her birth (and 193 after her death), she and her work are still read and discussed.
King George IV, Sir Walter Scott, Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, Anna Quindlen, Nora Ephron, Virginia Woolf, J.K. Rowling, Harold Bloom, Kingsley Amis, Lionel Trilling and C.S. Lewis all read and loved Austen’s work. This list is certainly not comprehensive, but it really does show some of the depth and breadth of Austen’s appeal. Some refer to her as the first “chick lit” author, but just look at the men who love her work. Her work cannot easily be labeled. Her stories are timeless, with characters and themes that appeal to people in all places and in all times. Her books have been translated into dozens of languages, and books and films based on her stories take place in such disparate locations as India, Utah, Israel, Connecticut, Boston, Australia, Texas, Boca Raton (Florida) and Scarsdale (New York).
Jane Austen may have been the 6th of 7 children born to a small-town Anglican priest and his wife, and she may only have walked the earth for 41 years, but her life and work are still celebrated today. Happy birthday Jane, and thank you for everything.