English novelist Joanna Trollope has written a wonderful article on the power of Jane Austen. Here’s an excerpt:
Which leads, very comfortably, to her second extraordinary strength. Which is her voice. It isn’t just the sentiment in that celebrated opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice that is so arresting, it is the tone in which it is uttered – cool, amused, restrained and slightly ironic. Austen is right in these novels – Elinor Dashwood’s and Anne Elliot’s real suffering is vividly portrayed – but she is outside them too. These are her people, but they are also her puppets. Of course, she says, teenage Marianne Dashwood would never have forgiven herself if she’d managed to sleep the night after Willoughby inexplicably dashes to London. Of course Mr Elton and Mr Collins make absolute fools of themselves, proposing to the wrong girls for the wrong reasons. This is how they are: they can’t help themselves. But they need to be teased about their behaviour, don’t they? Of course they do!
There is such a maturity in this attitude, and this way of expressing herself. There is, in her style, a profound recognition of the need to live as truly to yourself as you can, but always within the constraints of society. You can tell, from the way she writes, that she loves cleverness, and modesty, and self-control. But she also loves wit. And because she is half in and half out of her novels, she not only leaves us free to possess them, but also to see what she sees, as freshly as if she were looking over our shoulders, pointing things out.
Read the rest here.