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Gorer, G. (1941). The Myth in Jane Austen. Am. Imago, 2(3):197-204.

(1941). American Imago, 2(3):197-204

The Myth in Jane Austen

Geoffrey Gorer

Everybody, or at any rate nearly everybody, who is fond of English literature is devoted to the works of Jane Austen; that is pretty generally agreed. It is so generally agreed that it never seems to have occurred to anybody to inquire why these “pictures of domestic life in country villages,” to use her own phrase, are able to excite such passionate adoration, or, if the inquiry is made, it is answered in terms of technique and observation. But I do not consider this answer adequate - after all, the almost unread Miss Emily Eden was not lacking in either of these qualities - and I wish to suggest that there are profounder reasons for the excessive love which she excites in so many of her admirers from Scott and Macaulay to Rudyard Kipling and Sir John Squire. The adoration of Miss Austen has at times nearly approached a cult - the sect of “Janeites” - and I propose to try to uncover the mystery behind the worship. The mystery is no unfamiliar one.

It is necessary to mention a few dates. Jane Austen was born in 1775, the youngest daughter of a country clergyman; her father died in 1805, and she then lived with her mother till her own death in 1817. She never married. In her correspondence she appears to have been devoted to her brothers and sisters, particularly her next eldest sister Cassandra: two of her brothers were in the navy. She started writing very young, and the first motive which turned her to writing was, as is clearly shown by the juvenile Love and Friendship, satire, or, to use the contemporary phrase, debunking. During Jane Austen's youth the Gothic novel, with its exaggerated emotions and incredible occurrences, was at the height of its fantastic popularity. At that period as at all others in later European history, the emotions depicted in the most popular poetry and fiction of the time were reflected by the majority of their ardent readers. (Until Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald wrote, the behavior of “the lost generation” was not stereotyped.)

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