Thursday, December 20, 2007

DVD Review: Biography - Jane Austen

Jane Austen is easily the most widely read and widely published author of all time. Her six novels (Emma, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility) have sold hundreds of millions of copies and have been adapted for film and television numerous times. But who was the woman behind what have been called the greatest novels of all time?

We recently picked up the A&E Biography episode on Jane Austen in the hopes that we could find out more about her and what inspired her to write such marvelous stories. While the program did offer a little more insight into her life story, it really focused more on her novels that Austen herself.

Part of the reason that biographical information is so sketchy is that it was not until after her death in 1817 that Austen was identified as the author of her books. During her lifetime, writing was not seen as a fit occupation for a woman and so she published all of her books anonymously.

What little is known about Austen's personality is best reflected in her letters. But as the program points out, most of her letters were destroyed by her sister Cassandra. Still enough of them survived (and a few are excerpted during the program) that we get a sense of her wit and keen observations of society around her.

The program also touches on her two romances. While we were familiar with her relationship with Tom Lefroy (which is dealt with at length in the wonderful movie Becoming Jane) we were less familiar her second relationship that resulted in a marriage proposal from Harris Bigwither. He proposed to her in 1802 when she was 27. Although she initially accepted the offer she broke the engagement the next day after having second thoughts. She would never become involved in another romantic relationship again.

The program goes on to show the wide impact that Austen's novels have had and continue to have on readers all around the world. Nearly 200 years after her death, readers of all ages and backgrounds continue to enjoy her works. This episode of Biography shows that Austen continues to have an impact far beyond what she could have ever imagined.

Biography: Jane Austen is available on DVD from A&E Networks.

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