Published at the end of 1815 by Austen’s new publisher John Murray, Emma was Austen’s fourth novel and the last to be published in her lifetime. The plot concerns the success or otherwise... More > of the eponymous character’s attempts at matchmaking and ultimately at her own marriage. To complicate the matter Austen deliberately made Emma an unsympathetic person, prone to righteousness and pontificating, thus creating a sense of jeopardy. Not for her, but for those she ‘helps’ along.
Emma contrasts with Austen’s other novels by removing the financial imperative from the lead character; she is not obliged to marry out of concern for her security. Yet in removing this motivation, Austen doesn’t provide Emma with much sense of her own affections and when her fate is resolved, it comes about just as more by happenstance than design. A contrast indeed from her own meddling.< Less
Mansfield Park was published in 1813 by Thomas Egerton and was written during the previous two years. The plot concerns the role and fate of Fanny Price in the romantic fortunes of the Bertram... More > siblings who, along with Fanny, reside at the eponymous country estate. In a similar vein to Pride and Prejudice, her previous novel, Austen uses false experience and hearsay to shape her character’s views and decisions allowing the satisfactory resolutions to arise in their own time, but not before mistakes and false choices have been set up.
Fanny Price the character has not had the best reception because of her timidity and a refusal to sympathise with the fortunes of other characters. That she comes out well in the end might be put down as much to circumstance and coincidence as it might result from her own actions. There are aspects of Austen’s own experiences layered in the novel, but the reader can only speculate about the origins of Fanny’s characteristics.< Less
Published posthumously in 1818 and taking up the first two volumes of a four volume set, Northanger Abbey was revised from original drafts first put together before 1800. The plot follows the... More > fortunes of Catherine Morland as she moves in the social scenery of Bath, a step up from her childhood upbringing in the large family of a country clergyman. A series of Austenian mis-steps and mis-hearings create difficulties for Catherine which she’s able to overcome by virtue of her gradually maturing nature.
It is generally thought that Northanger Abbey is a Gothic parody which uses Catherine Morland to expose the inadequacies of the genre. It’s also notable that the novel lacks the kind of editorial flourishes that are used in Austen’s previous novels; there are, for example, no italics within the text, creating a certain flatness to the dialogue.< Less
Published within the same volume set and at the same time (1818) as Northanger Abbey, Persuasion was Austen’s sixth and final full-scale novel. Anne Eliot provides the central character as a... More > woman in her late twenties who, some nine years previously, broke off an engagement to one Frederick Wentworth after being persuaded by her father that he was unsuited because of his limited prospects. The usual Austenian plot twists are employed so that Wentworth, Anne’s true love, may return happily rich to resolve the plot.
Like its publishing partner, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion was issued without the kind of editorial flourishes favoured in Austen’s other books. However, it is different from her other novels by virtue of presenting a lead character who might be deemed past her prime, or at the least neglected on the marriage front. Some see this as a reflection on Austen’s own circumstances as a life-long spinster (who turned down a marriage proposal), but for whom the novel provides a better resolution.< Less
First published in 1813 by Thomas Egerton, Pride and Prejudice was originally drafted by Austen during a particularly creative period before 1800. The essential plot concerns the marriage plans of... More > Elizabeth Bennett and how they are shaped by her initial prejudice against the proud and reserved Mr Darcy. Through a well-accounted narrative of social scenes and prim courting practices, Elizabeth comes to see that Mr Darcy is not the uptight, austere man she first-perceived, but it takes Mr Darcy to overcome his natural reserve before the plot can be resolved satisfactorily.
Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice provide the substance of the title and create a little more subtlety than the original name for the novel – First Impressions. Austen’s draft was likely revised in stages over the years between its original drafting and its subsequent publication and the final version is rich in detail and dramatic dialogue.< Less
Released by Thomas Egerton in 1811, Sense and Sensibility was Austen’s first published novel, written in its initial draft as many as thirteen or fourteen years previously. The essential plot... More > concerns the varying love interests of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne disadvantaged by a vindictive disinheritance after the death of their father. In particular, should Marianne marry the gentlemanly Colonel Brandon or the dashing John Willoughby.
The title makes reference to the two sisters, noting the distinction between living a sensible life – Elinor – and one ruled by sensibility – Marianne. In some ways it serves to contrast the Romantic age denoted by Marianne with a more logical staid existence, though whether this was Austen’s intention is a point for discussion.< Less