- 2016年04月30日00:42 来源：小站整理
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She still fascinates 200 years after the publication of "Pride and Prejudice"
“A LIFE of usefulness, literature, and religion, was not by any means a life of event,” wrote Henry Austen of his spinster sister Jane. This image of the sequestered author persisted for years. But contemporary scholars have reappraised “dear Aunt Jane” as an independent and worldly-wise woman who wielded a sardonic pen. She continues to fascinate, 200 years after the publication of “Pride and Prejudice”. This is the charm of a new biography from Paula Byrne, a British author, who breathes yet more life into Austen and her works by considering the objects that populated her days.
Each chapter is organised around a single thing. Some are Austen's possessions, such as a topaz cross she received from her brother. Others are simply from the period, such as a barouche (an upmarket carriage), which helps to illustrate how well-travelled she was and how transport indicates status in her novels. In “Northanger Abbey” Catherine Morland finds a trip in Henry Tilney's curricle erotic, whereas she is nonplussed by John Thorpe's gig. Broadly chronological, this thematic approach offers a revealing picture of Austen and a lively social history.
Austen's formative years are the most interesting. Three vellum notebooks contain her “Juvenilia”—the stories and poems she wrote as a teenager. Her “greatest gifts are here in embryo”, writes Ms Byrne, clearly relishing Austen's satire and lack of restraint. The young author lampooned famous figures and offered parodies of sentimental novels. But she reserved her choicest words of wit for her sister Cassandra. When they were not living together they corresponded frequently, and Austen often tried out different voices—“gossipy, jokey, affectionate”—to make her laugh.
During this time the movements of family followed the flows of inheritance; a vexatious matter that drives Austen's narratives. Old maids and mothers were often housed by rich cousins; a child might be made heir to childless relatives. An East Indian shawl introduces Aunt Phila—who at 21 sailed to Bengal in order to find a husband—and her daughter, Eliza. A romantic figure, and presumably illegitimate, Eliza first married a man who fell under the guillotine in the French Revolution, and later married Austen's brother Henry. This coquettish cousin is fictionalised as Mary Crawford in “Mansfield Park”. Austen also drew on Henry's militia experience for her depiction of flirtatious redcoats in “Pride and Prejudice”. Her midshipman brothers helped inform references to the navy.
The book's liveliest passages are about city life and romance. Austen frequently visited London and lived in Bath for years. She was probably not a beauty—only one authenticated portrait exists (although Ms Byrne makes a strong case for another with uncertain provenance). But her wit and intelligence lured many a suitor. None of them stuck, but many are recalled with mirth in her letters. Austen was no prude. Her novels feature illicit liaisons and she gives Mary Crawford a sexually loaded naval joke about “Rears and Vices”. But she had high standards and a mortal fear of childbirth. She was all too aware of the way women either died during labour or “grew old by confinements and nursing”.
Ms Byrne has an obvious affection for her subject. This book may offer few revelations, but it paints a fresh and vivid picture of an inimitable woman.