A few days ago my friend Linda and I decided that it might be fun to attend a ball or dinner with Jane Austen - but we definitely would want to stay on her good side. We love her witty comments from the safety of the audience, and wonder why she was ever considered a safe, sweet romantic. Jane's Fame debunks the earlier image of Jane Austen, that of the untutored and genteel lady, secretly snatching time with her manuscript and being almost embarrassed by her fame. The Austens were a literary family - her older brother started a literary magazine while at Oxford - and Jane wrote from childhood. As an adult, Jane depended on her brothers for support so the money she earned from her novels gave her a bit of security.
So how did this witty woman with a somewhat cynical view of human nature become the embodiment of safe, literary chick-lit? It's mostly the work of her Victorian-era nephews and nieces. Austen's work had been out of print for several years when her nephew wrote a short biography of his aunt, portraying her in the demure, retiring way the Victorians imagined a parsons daughter to behave. Add in our habit of wrapping the classics in a stodgy veil of respectability Austen's sharp-tongued humor was under appreciated until a few talented screenwriters pulled back the gauze and let everyone see her prickly wit.