A Defense of Jane Austen, Master Clockmaker

Article by brooke

A Jane Austen novel is like a Swiss clock: the product of exquisite workmanship set into motion by intricate, hidden parts. Like a fine timepiece, her plots--and heroines--must also be extraordinarily accurate. Her characters are rewarded not only for their depth of feeling but for their ability to balance a ledger, and indeed most of her plots end with a marriage that puts the heroine solidly in the black. As the author once wrote to her niece, “Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony."

For those who are not already devoted to Austen, it might seem that nothing much of note happens in her novels. When non-believers trot out this argument, I’m always reminded of William Least Heat-Moon’s road classic BLUE HIGHWAYS. In a tiny Texas town called Dime Box, a woman tells Least Heat-Moon that “people don't think anything important happens in a place like Dime Box. And usually it doesn't, unless you call conflict important. Or love or babies or dying.” Though Austen’s novels may feel myopic to a contemporary reader, their concerns were of the utmost importance to women of Austen’s time and station. Elaborate social cues dictating when and how to sit, stand, and curtsy can throw a veil up between Austen’s novels and the modern reader. Almost every scene in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE or EMMA takes place inside a drawing room. However, although they may do it perched on the edge of a sofa, Austen’s heroines navigate a perilous landscape that is as complex, mysterious and variable as the human heart.

Article Type Terms: