Jane Austen as a Novelist of the Romantic age
A Pure Artist
Jane Austen was one of the supreme artists in fiction. She was a highly sophisticated artist. In the opinion of W.L. Cross, “She is one of the sincerest examples in our literature of art for art’s sake.” Her experience was meagre and insignificant, but from it sprang an art finished in every detail, filled with life, and meaning. She possessed the magic touch and a talent for miniature painting. No doubt her range is limited, but her touch is firm and true. She uses a “little bit two inches wide of ivory” and she works on it “with so fine a brush as produces little effect after much labour.”
Her Limited Range
The range of Jane Austen’s novels was limited. She drew all her material from her own experience. She never went outside her experience, with the result that all her scenes belonged to South England where she had spent a considerable period of her life. Observes Moody-Lovett, “Miss Austen exploited with unrivalled expertness the potentialities of a seemingly narrow mode of existence. From the outset she limited her view to the world that she knew and the influences that she saw at work.”
Jane Austen was the supreme realist. Her stories are all drawn from the life that she knew. Emma tells us of a delightful girl who is as she was in the years when Napoleon was emperor. The ordinary commonplace incidents and the day-to-day experience formed the warp and woof of her novels. Sir Walter Scott wrote in his diary that the talent of Jane Austen as a realist was the ‘most wonderful he had ever met with. “That young lady had a talent for describing involvements, feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I have ever met with.”
Jane Austen’s attitude towards life, presented in her novels, is that of a humorists. “I dearly love a laugh,” says Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, and this statement equally applies to the novelist. She laughs at follies and non-sense, whims and inconsistencies. Folly is the chief source of laughter in the novels of Jane Austen and she creates comic characters who provoke nothing but laughter. Her comic characters are Mrs. Bennet, Sir Walter Eliot, Mrs. Norris, Mr. Collins and Mr. Woodhouse. She laughs at each one of them because of their foolishness and foolish actions. Irony is a conspicuous aspect of Jane Austen’s humour. There is enough of verbal irony in her novels.
Jane Austen rendered a great service to the English novel by developing a flexible, smooth-flowing prose style. She is sometimes a shade artificial. But at her best her prose moves nimbly and easily and enables her narrative to proceed onward without any obstruction. “It does not rise to any very great heights, being almost monotonous in its pedestrian sameness except when relieved by an occasional epigram or well-turned aphorism. It achieves its greatest triumphs in dialogue. It is not a prose of enthusiasm or exaltation. But it is wonderfully suited to dry satiric unfolding of the hopes and disappointments of the human heart.”
W.L. Cross aptly remarks : “The style of Jane Austen cannot be separated from herself or her method. It is the natural easy flowing garment of her mind, delighting inconsistencies and infinite detail. It is so peculiarly her own that one cannot trace in it with any degree of certainty of the course of her reading.”
Indeed a Creator of Realistic Characters
Jane Austen is undoubtedly the greatest woman novelist as Shakespeare is the greatest dramatist. Faithful observation, personal detachment, and fine sense of ironic comedy are among Jane Austen’s chief characteristics as a writer. Jane Austen’s novels mark a big step forward in the development of English novel. Her range is limited but her touch is firm and true. Her stories may not be exciting and thrilling, but the picture of life that she presents has all the charm of vivid narration. Dialogues form a prominent feature of the narrative of Jane Austen. Her stories are dramatic in nature. Her characters are taken mostly from the aristocracy and upper middle class of the English village and its vicinity. She created numerous realistic characters. She presents remarkable psychological studies of men and women, avoiding passion and prejudice. Her novels have a distinct moral purpose. She is the greatest English novelist because of her craftmanship, purity and simplicity of her style and themes.