LITERATURE – Jane Austen

Jane Austen is loved mainly as a guide to fashionable life in the Regency period, but her own vision of her task was radically different. She was an ambitious and stern moralist. She was acutely conscience of human failings and wanted, through her novels, to make people less selfish and more reasonable. More dignified, and sensitive to the needs of others. Born in 1775, Austen grew up in a small village in Hampshire, where her father was the Anglican rector. They had high social status, but were not well off. She did much of her writing at a tiny octagonal table. She never married, though on a couple of occasions she was tempted. Mostly, she lived in the country with her sister, Cassandra. The novel was her chosen weapon in the struggle to reform humanity. She completed six: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. Some of the main things she wants to teach you are: In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet start off heartily disliking each other and then gradually realize they’re in love. They make one of the great romantic couples. But why actually are they right for one another? Austen in very clear: it’s for a reason we tend not to think of very much today. Each can educate and improve the other. Darcy starts of feeling superior, because he has more money and higher status. Then, at a key moment, Elizabeth condemns his arrogance and pride to his face. It sounds offensive, but later he admits, “Your reproof so well applied, I shall never forget. “You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. “By you, I was properly humbled.” They suit each other because by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved, and from his judgment, information and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance. In other words, they balance each other out. We tend to think of love as liking someone for who they are already – total acceptance. But Austen is saying that the right person has got to be able to help us overcome our failings. And become more mature, honest, and kind; and we need to do something similar for them. Darcy and Elizabeth improve one another, and then the novelist lets them get engaged. The story rewards them because they have developed well. That’s why the novel feels so beautifully constructed, and it illustrates a basic truth: marriage depends on maturity and education. Mansfield Park starts when quiet, shy Fanny Price goes to live with her much richer cousins, the Bertrams. In social terms, the Bertrams are stars, and Fanny is a very minor character indeed. But Austen judges by a completely different standard. She exchanges the normal lens through which people are viewed in society, a lens which magnifies wealth and power, for a moral lens, which magnifies qualities of character. Certainly, Fanny has no elegant dresses or money and can’t speak French, But by the end of Mansfield Park, she is revealed as the noble one while the Bertrams, despite their titles and accomplishments, have fallen into moral confusion. Austen is quite frank about money. In Pride and Prejudice, she explains that Mr. Bingley has an income of 4000 pounds a year – that’s rather a lot – while Darcy has more than twice that. Rather than feeling it’s impolite to discuss money, Austen thinks it’s an eminently suitable topic for highbrow literature. Because how we handle our finances has a huge effect on our lives. She takes aim at two big mistakes people make around money. The first is to get over impressed by it. In Mansfield Park, Julia Bertram gets married to Mr. Rushworth, the richest character in all of Austen’s novels, but they are miserable together, and their marriage rapidly falls apart. But equally, Austen is convinced that it’s a serious error to get married without enough money. At one point in Sense and Sensibility, it looks like Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars – who are otherwise well suited – won’t be able to get married. She writes, “They were neither of them quite enough in love to think that 350 pounds a year would supply them with the comforts of life.” Elinor takes the view that wealth has much to do with happiness. Though, by wealth, she doesn’t mean great luxury, just enough to live carefully in moderate comfort. And Austen agrees. Marriage without a reasonable economic basis is just a folly. Austen is showing us an elusive but crucial attitude. Money is in some ways extremely important, and in other ways unimportant. We can’t just be for it or against it. In Emma, the heroine – Emma herself – takes Harriett Smith – a pretty girl from the village – under her wing. She wants to make her an impressive match with a smart vicar. Swept away by Emma’s excessive praise, Harriet turns down an offer of marriage from a farmer because she thinks now that he’s not good enough. Though in fact, he is good-hearted and quietly prosperous. Then the vicar turns out to be horrified at Emma’s idea and Harriet has her heart broken. The underlying point is serious, Emma is unwittingly but cruelly snobbish. She’s devoted to the wrong kind of hierarchy. The farmer is essentially a better person than the vicar, but social conventions and manners make it easy to ignore this. Jane Austen is careful to give this fault to Emma, who is in many ways an enchanting character. In other words, Jane Austen doesn’t mock snobbery as the behavior of ghastly and contemptible people. Instead, she regards the snob with pity, as someone who’s in need of instruction, guidance, and reform. As we all are, in our own way. Austen might have written sermons; she wrote novels instead. She doesn’t tell us why her sense of priorities is important, instead, she shows us in a story which will also make us laugh, which can grip us enough that we want to finish supper early to read on. Upon finishing one of the novels, we’re invited to go back into the world and respond to others as she has taught us. To pick up on, and recoil from greed, arrogance, and pride, and to be drawn to goodness within ourselves and others. Sadly, the moral ambition of the novel has largely disappeared in the modern world, yet it’s really the best thing that any novel can do. The satisfaction we feel when reading Jane Austen is really because she wants the world to be a certain way and we find that immensely appealing. It’s the secret, largely unrecognized reason why she is such a loved writer.

100 Replies to “LITERATURE – Jane Austen

  1. These videos have opened my eyes to the beauty of philosophy and literature. It's such a comforting feeling to learn that the questions and often sad thoughts in my head have been thought of and so thoroughly worked on by these great men and women in the past. In the past two weeks since I've started to watch these videos, I have seriously reconsidered many topics and views I have on life. It's a shame American core curriculum doesn't require the teaching of philosophy and reasoning. If more people learned and discussed these issues, it could make our societies and lives so much more fulfilling..

  2. I love jane austen and have read most of her novels but this has made me appreciate her at a much higher level

  3. Love how beautifully you've put this content together. +The School of Life the What animation/ video edition program are you using?

  4. It's strange to hear that people read Austen's novels as dramas of manners; in fact, most read them for the moral lessons and serious conversations found in them. And to me they seem all essentially alike, in that unusually intelligent and verbal women and men find each other over time, overcoming misunderstandings and the social meddling of "loved ones," such as Elizabeth Bennett's horride mother. If Austen weren't the great writer she was, any of her novels would be enough, so similar are they. As for the importance of money; we must consider the time and settings – she was down to earth and above class-based judgments, downright revolutionary. Another, later writer in her mold was the American Edith Wharton, who deserves similar attention.

  5. J. Austen ,Pride and Prejudice is the first novel i read when i learned english, i still found it difficult but beautiful as i improved. i was mesmerized at her writing , how well she could work on the carachters. thank you for making a video of her life, she was amazing writer

  6. It isn't Julia who gets married to Mr Rushworth 🙂 Maria, her sister is the one who does. But this is indeed very informative!

  7. What's even more crazy is that Jane Austen wasn't formally recognized as a great writer until the 1920's! During her life, people did not largely read her work, and it wasn't until many decades later when a Harvard Scholar wrote a seminal paper on her work did she finally get attention!

  8. Do one on Thomas Pynchon 😉 although life details are sparse, his books are ripe for dissection and analysis.

  9. Ok, Mr Bingley's income is 5000 pounds a year, not 4000 and it wasn't Julia Bertram who married Rushworth, but Maria, her sister.

  10. Hello! I have translated the Jane Austen video into Czech language, because I want to show it to my students. Can I ask for confirmation for subtitles to be displayed. Thank you very much.

  11. Thank you for this educating video. Although she had a little fame during her life, her work gained enormous popularity after her death.

  12. Can you make more videos about women, please? (Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Wolf, George Eliot, Harper lee, the Bronte sisters, etc)

  13. I've watched about a dozen of these literature episodes. Fantastic and thank you. This is the first woman writer I've seen so far (yes these are from 2 years ago) and it also seems the shortest of these. I hope that's corrected as I go through the rest of these videos. Again, great work.

  14. I'm 99% sure that in Mansfield Park it was Maria, the older Bertram sister, not Julia, who married Mr Rushworth. Just a detail 🙂

  15. A very informative piece that made me reconsider reading Jane Austen again.
    Thank you for this brilliant and thoughtful production, this high standard and in general the effort the entire team puts into each and every video.
    Thank you School of Life!

  16. You are the best literary analysis writers/presenters on YouTube! I love you guys and I hope you gain more subs

  17. Watch your step, frakking spoilers ahead!
    This shouldn't be the way you "school" your viewers about these writers. It's just a polished presentation for those who already read/know them.

  18. The novels of Jane Austen were in fact written by Jane's sophisticated and educated cousin, Eliza de Feuillide. Eliza could not publish under her own name because she was the illegitimate daughter of Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India. To publish under her own name would have caused a scandal. Eliza had a fascinating life, completely different from the dull life of Jane Austen. She was born in Calcutta in India and given £10,000 by Warren Hastings to pay for her literary and musical education in London. She married a French count who was executed in the French Revolution. She spoke perfect French and played the piano, harp and harpsichord. Her second husband was Jane Austen's brother, Henry. They lived together in London and frequently visited the opera and theatre. Eliza acted in amateur theatricals similar to those in Mansfield Park and she was an accomplished amateur comedian. To find out about the fascinating life of Eliza and how the events in her life inspired each of the novels you can read my book "Jane Austen – a New Revelation".

  19. Small correction, at 3:52 you say Julia Bertram but it was Maria Bertram who actually married Rushworth. Nice video otherwise though, really helping me with my paper

  20. Ei, divulga esse vídeo por favor. Eu e minha turma estamos participando de uma feira literária e o vídeo mais curtido ganhará uma pontuação. Obrigada desde já! ♥
    O vídeo é uma paródia de despacito sobre a escritora Jane Austen.

  21. I am thoroughly convinced that only the deepest love shall induce me into matrimony
    -Elizabeth 'Lizzie'

  22. You might enjoy this article about why we (and lots of famous authors) read Jane Austen:

  23. Dang I love this!!! Totally want to read this book again 🙂 it was beautiful. And I felt so mature. That I could not grasp it at a young age.

  24. My pastor taught me this. And he suggests Jane Austen too. Amen. That's what got me and gets me back into Austen. 🙂

  25. The novels of Jane Austen were actually written by her cousin Eliza de Feuillide as I show in my book "Jane Austen- a New Revelation". She could not publish under her own name because she was the illegitimate daughter of Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India.

  26. I just read pride and prejudice and opened youtube and this video was on my homepage on the very first position after the ad.fuck!! Is youtube tracking me.

  27. I am struggling to finish "Pride and Prejudice" so I am looking around for people to help me understand. This helps a little, but I'm still bored and find her writing is poor.

  28. This sole video has tought me more about relationships than any advice from anyone i have ever talked to ;D thanks school of life , keep it up !

  29. Which is your favourite: Mine is 5
    1. Sense and Sensibility
    2. Pride and Prejudice
    3. Emma
    4. Mansfield Park
    5. Persuasion
    6. Northanger Abbey

  30. Wonderful narration, amazing animation! Thank you for this great analysis on Jane Austen and her extraordinary novels.
    Keep it up, #TheSchoolofLife

  31. Excellent video. She writes with elegance and subtlety, clear-headed and warm-hearted. Her work is timeless 🙂

  32. I love her depictions of the outsiders. One can really relate to her characters because we've all felt on the outside of some situation at some point In all of our lives. The well off yearning to be Rich. The beautiful wanting to be perfect. Wanting to be loved by all when we are already loved by some.

  33. I just listed: Jane Austen: The Complete Novels [hardcover] Austen, Jane [Jun 01, 1994], for $12.00 via @amazon

  34. This video was informative and beautifully animated. However, I am confused as to why you ignored the most important part of her writings, which is her view and vision of women and women's liberation. Her critic of the institution of marriage, and class conflicts?

  35. @The School of Life – These are so much better. They really are. Thank you for listening to me. In the long run, they'll be appreciated. I promise.

    Also, my work is pretty entertaining, I think… I mean, where else can you find an epic poem about a time travelling hero who has to fight to go back and save his wife from the Orc of Despair? I used to call it Heptameter, but who the Heck knows what its called, right? I guess just call it eight syllable poetry… nothing fancy, with a triple rhyme scheme. I think my writing is interesting. It's no less interesting than Tolstoy, that's for sure. Which is weird the perception people create. I've made, literally, only about 30 dollars off of the whole of my writing so far. So, if you've read them—hypothetically—I don't know how. But, when you said something to the effect of, "Writing has to be interesting," I hold that same qualification. But, to me, ideas are so much more interesting, anyway. And pretty words if it's poetry. I'm vain like that. 🙂

    Again, thank you.

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