UK, China remember literary icon Jane Austen 200 years after her death

Source:Global Times - AFP Published: 2017/7/18 17:28:39

Remembering literary icon Jane Austen 200 years after her death




Concept art for the new Jane Austen banknote Photo: AFP



A Chinese poster for Becoming Jane Photo: CFP


Two hundred years after Jane Austen's death, Britain is celebrating one of its best-loved authors, who combined romance with biting social commentary that still speaks to fans around the world.

The author of classic novels Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility had only just become known when she died on July 18, 1817, aged 41.

But her six novels, dissecting the lives of 19th century rural aristocracy, have since sold millions of copies, led to film adaptations and even spawned a zombie spin-off.

She has inspired countless other authors, from Virginia Woolf, who praised her "genius," to Helen Fielding of the bestselling Bridget Jones series.

During this year of special events including walks through her native Hampshire in southern England and exhibitions about her life, the Bank of England revealed a new 10 pound note bearing Austen's image on Tuesday.

Part of Austen's appeal rests on her depiction of a romanticized England with love affairs, tea and parties in the glorious surroundings of sprawling stately homes.

Some have even compared her to Barbara Cartland (1901-2000), the late English romantic novelist.

But Austen's novels have long been studied for their critique of a world of rigid class structure that was nevertheless in flux thanks to the Napoleonic wars.

"One of the things she is concerned with as a moral writer is social responsibility," said Professor Kathryn Sutherland of the University of Oxford, co-curator of a new exhibition in Winchester.

Austen also shone a harsh light on the status of women, for whom a good match in marriage was considered the only goal.

"She was very conscious of the plight of women, of women's dependence on men and she found that frustrating," Sutherland said, calling her a feminist.

Chinese impact

Austen's works have had a huge impact around the globe, especially in China, where her Pride and Prejudice and Emma are some of the best-known works among English language learners. Excerpts from these books are included in numerous textbooks for university students, while the books themselves adorn the recommended reading lists for primary and middle school students.

As Tuesday marked the 200th anniversary of Austen's death, some Chinese readers recalled their experiences reading the renowned British writer's works.

"I read Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility when I was in the 6th grade," Lü Yira, a 25-year-old Austen fan, told the Global Times. "Her style of writing is so fluent and pleasant and every time I read an ironic passage, I couldn't help but laugh."

One of the reasons why Austen's works are viewed as a model of English writing is that for many Chinese readers her style of writing is beautiful, natural and impressive.

"One thing that I appreciate about Jane Austen is the confidence in her writing," wrote Zhihu (a Chinese Q&A platform similar to Quora) user Bianjun under the question "What do you think of Jane Austen's works?"

"She [Austen] likes changing narrative perspectives in her writing. This makes it so I can't tell which parts are the thoughts of the characters and which parts are the author's comments," wrote Bianjun.

While Austen's works are rightfully considered classics, that doesn't mean they are perfect. Cliche plots and endless discussions about "love or bread" are some of the criticisms Chinese readers have for her work.

"I used to love reading Jane Austen when I was a teenager because the romance in her stories is perfect," Zhang Zixi, a 30-something former fan of Austen's work, told the Global Times.

"The heroine, always a smart and not-so-attractive girl who emphasizes spiritual harmony rather than material abundance in a relationship, always wins the heart of a handsome rich man while her shallow sisters who pursue material comforts end up getting none or live in solitude after marrying a rich man - this kind of story comes across as sort of naïve and cliche for a woman as old as I am," Zhang said. "I've grown out of it. I find that Austen's description of romance is too ideal for real life."

Others, however, found that Austen's works do a good job of reflecting not just the reality of the time period, but also today's society.

"The British country life in Austen's stories is, though cozy, also filled with annoying aspects such as the pressure to get married, snobs and loud mouths - just like our lives today," said Lü.

"The 'noisy and foolish' Mrs Bennet is exactly like some of the worried parents and aunties of today who pushing women to find 'a single man who is rich,'" Zhang said.

And the centuries-old reflections and all the witty puns about relationship and romance in Austen's works still serve as a useful reference for Chinese women who struggle with the pressure of being a shengnü, or leftover woman, a negative term for women approaching 30 who have yet to marry.

"I know there might not be a perfect Mr Darcy waiting for me, but I won't give in to the Mrs Bennets of the world. I will try to live like the wise Elizabeth," Zhang said.


Newspaper headline: Love affairs, tea and parties



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