Reception History of Jane Austen

The reception history of Jane Austen follows a path from modest fame to wild popularity. Jane Austen (1775–1817), the author of such works as Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Emma (1815), has become one of the best-known and most widely-read novelists in the English language. Her novels are the subject of intense scholarly study and the centre of a diverse fan culture.

During her lifetime, Austen's novels brought her little personal fame. Like many women writers, she chose to publish anonymously and it was only among members of the aristocracy that her authorship was an open secret. At the time they were published, Austen's works were considered fashionable by members of high society but received few positive reviews. By the mid-19th century, her novels were admired by members of the literary elite who viewed their appreciation of her works as a mark of cultivation. The publication in 1870 of her nephew's Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public as an appealing personality—dear, quiet aunt Jane—and her works were republished in popular editions. By the start of the 20th century, competing groups had sprung up—some to worship her and some to defend her from the "teeming masses"—but all claiming to be the true Janeites, or those who properly appreciated Austen.

Early in the 20th century, scholars produced a carefully edited collection of her works—the first for any British novelist—but it was not until the 1940s that Austen was widely accepted in academia as a "great English novelist". The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship, which explored numerous aspects of her works: artistic, ideological, and historical. With the growing professionalisation of university English departments in the first half of the 20th century, criticism of Austen became progressively more esoteric and, as a result, appreciation of Austen splintered into distinctive high culture and popular culture trends. In the late 20th century, fans founded Jane Austen societies and clubs to celebrate the author, her time, and her works. As of the early 21st century, Austen fandom supports an industry of printed sequels and prequels as well as television and film adaptations, which started with the 1940 Pride and Prejudice and evolved to include the 2004 Bollywood-style production Bride and Prejudice.

Read more about Reception History Of Jane Austen:  Background, 1812–1821: Individual Reactions and Contemporary Reviews, 1821–1870: Cultured Few, 19th-century European Translations, 1930–2000: Modern Scholarship

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    Jane Austen (1775–1817)

    Aesthetic emotion puts man in a state favorable to the reception of erotic emotion.... Art is the accomplice of love. Take love away and there is no longer art.
    Rémy De Gourmont (1858–1915)

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    Henry James (1843–1916)

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    —Lydia Jane Pierson, U.S. women’s rights activist and corresponding editor of The Woman’s Advocate. The Woman’s Advocate, represented in The Lily, pp. 117-8 (1855-1858 or 1860)

    Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.
    —Jane Austen (1775–1817)