Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jane Austen And Her "15 Minutes" of Fame

If you've been reading my blog for a while, I posted on April 30th about the books I had bought and the book I've been reading. I haven't finished it yet, I'm at the point where she is writing Emma.

Link: The Aroma of Books

I'm still finishing up with the biography of Jane Austen, but as I read through the chapters of the publication of Sense & Sensibility and later Pride & Prejudice, I was struck by something. As you've noticed, Barry Manilow has come out with a timely CD that talks about what happens when you become famous. The CD is called "15 Minutes". It's a CD (and a story) worth looking into.

Jane Austen's biographer, through letters and journals of Jane Austen, her family and friends, gives the reader a glimpse into what transpired during the publication of these now-famous novels. I do need to dispel a few myths, though, before I do.

Myth #1: Females were not allowed to be published authors during Jane Austen's time.

Fact: This is not true. There were a lot of female authors during that time period, with Jane reading books from both male and female authors.

Myth #2: Jane Austen was not credited with authoring Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice until after her death.

Fact: This was also not true. Her book, Sense & Sensibility was published "By A Lady" in order to protect her from the harsh criticism Jane and her family feared she would get from the novel. Instead it met with much praise (although not all critics liked it) and word got out with a few select people that Jane had authored the novel.

When Pride & Prejudice came out, it became a huge hit. Although it was also said to be authored "By A Lady" and the author of Sense & Sensibility, at this point, even the family members were bragging about who had authored the book, so it was pretty much no longer a secret, not only in the village of Chawton where they lived, but in London also.

Due to this, Jane was confronted with fame, as well as more money than she had ever had in her possession. How did she handle it?

Based on the biographer, Jane was very concerned about both. She was in her late 30's when Pride & Prejudice came out and her identity exposed to the world. Her brother, Henry, lived in London and had been the one handling her publishing affairs. When she went to see him, she found herself with money, and with people calling on her. Some she admired, some she didn't.

She found herself having to be very cautious as to how she handled things. She was no longer someone who could sit anonymously in a room, she was a part of the crowd, who was expecting her to give her opinion on all manner of topics.

She found that she could keep her feelings on things in the world reserved herself, but allow her characters in her stories to speak for her. After all, it was simply a fictional story.

As for the fame, she enjoyed it at first, but quickly tired of it and actually longed to be back home in the peace of Chawton. She did, however, enjoy the card parties, the balls and the conversations with some of the authors she had been admiring in print. She even had an episode of frivolity, bought a new gown, hat, had her hair curled and rode through the London streets in an open barouche.

She was close to her family, her father was deceased, but her Mother, brothers and older sister Cassandra (whom she considered to be upright and perfect in all she thought and did) were her confidantes. Namely Cassandra. This was her greatest asset. They kept her grounded, and were her first priority, as shown when Henry became ill and she cancelled engagements to nurse him.

She was also weary of being too extravagant with the money, she would not want to be seen as a rich snob, not only within the family, but also with the people in Chawton. She didn't seek to make a new home in London, given her age and experience, she had witnessed enough of the pride of others to keep her humble and desire a quieter atmosphere.

Who knows, if she were alive today, she would probably identify with some of the songs on the "15 Minutes" CD.

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