Mr Darcy, immortalized by Colin Firth in the 1995 version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is one of the best-loved romantic heroes of English literature. For his creation alone Jane Austen is credited as one of the most recognizable names in English history. However it is important to remember that not only was she skilled at capturing the imagination of people everywhere with her idealistic and slightly fantastical love stories, but also that she was a subtle and ingenious social commentator.
Born in 1775 to a country minister in Hampshire, Austen undoubtedly drew inspiration from her own life in her work. The broad themes of her six completed novels; ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Emma’, ‘Mansfield Park’, ‘Northanger Abbey’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Persuasion’ are consequently based on the lower echelons of the gentry and their lives; a subject on which she had the most experience. The Austen’s were a small, close knit family and Jane was particularly close to her sister Cassandra, a reflection of which may be seen in the relationship between Jane and Elizabeth in ‘Pride and Prejudice’. The prominence of the Navy in some of her works may have also been inspired by the careers of her brothers Francis and Charles. She had started work on a seventh novel named ‘Sanditon’ but was unable to complete it before her death in 1817.
Austen was remarkably unassuming and wished to avoid the notoriety of authorship leading her books to be published anonymously. However evading attention in the wake of her success was impossible and reluctantly she dedicated Emma to the Prince Regent George IV at his request. As is obvious during her lifetime and in the acclaim since, Jane Austen remains one of the most influential and discerning authors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, providing a detailed insight English society.