The charge has frequently been levelled against Jane Austen that she lived a sheltered life, content to write novels about a middle- class, provincial, unchanging society, in a world of change and turbulence to which she was largely indifferent. Such a view must come from a casual or unimaginative reading of the novels; it has been propagated by eminent writers. G. K. Chesterton concluded his preface to Love and Freinds/up (London, 1922)1 with these words: ‘there is not a shadow of indication anywhere that this independent intellect and laughing spirit was other than contented with a narrow domestic routine, in which she wrote a story as domestic as a diary in the intervals of pies and puddings, without so much as looking out of the window to notice the French Revolution’. This event and the Napoleonic wars are the King Charles’s head of such critics. ‘What calm lives they had, those people! No worries about the French Revolution, or the crashing struggle of the Napoleonic wars’, wrote Winston Churchill2 with Pride and Prejudice in mind. Ilad he been more observant, or read Mansfield Park or Persuasion, he would not have written as he did.
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- 1.Possibly this idea was triggered off by Jane’s sense of the ridiculous in Miss Byron’s praise of Richardson’s virtuous hero, Sir Charles Grandison: ‘there is no living within the blazing glory of this man’. See E. E. Duncan-Jones, Notes and Queries, 1951, pp. 14–16.Google Scholar
- 1.For further evidence, see her marginal comments in Goldsmith’ s History of England (M. A. Austen-Leigh, Personal Aspects of Jane Austen, London, 1920, pp. 26 – 8).Google Scholar