Jane Austen’s History of England, Virtually

“Jane Austen’s ‘The History of England’ ranks as one of the most precocious and engaging works of juvenilia ever produced by a leading literary figure,” according to the British Library, which provides a virtual copy of Austen’s manuscript on its website. (Scroll down the list of Most Viewed books, or put “Austen” in the search box.) You can view Austen’s original manuscript, turning the pages online, read the pages converted into regular text, or listen to an audio version. (You may need to install Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin.)

Written when she was 16 and charmingly illustrated by her older sister Cassandra, Jane’s history is a parody of Oliver Goldsmith’s “History of England,” published in 1771. You can already hear Jane’s voice come through loud and clear as she skewers pomposity, the monarchy and historians. For example, she writes of Henry VIII that “nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses & leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general…”

Thanks to the Jane Austen Addict Blog for alerting us to this marvelous online gift. So far, the library has put up only a handful of virtual books, but hopefully will be adding many more.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to page through Leonardo’s sketchbook…

The Bitch in a Bonnet

Sometimes it takes a guy to remind many of us women what Jane Austen was really about. In his new blog, Bitch in a Bonnet, Robert Rodi, author of satirical novels, explains why Jane Austen is one of his influences and why it pisses him off that he can’t tell people that because she’s widely viewed as the dewy-eyed, romantic mother of “chick lit.” He’s out to reclaim her reputation as a superb social satirist.

I don’t agree 100% with his views of Austen or chick lit. While much of Austen’s literary reputation lies in her ability to roast upper class hypocrites to a crisp, her comedies of manners did take the form of love stories, after all. Pride and Prejudice is about the strictures and hypocrisy of uppercrust Georgian society, but it is also about how love often arrives in disguise and is a worthy reason for marrying. Emma is a good meditation on the dangers of an aristocracy with way too much time on its hands, but it’s also about how the love of your life can turn out to be your oldest friend, the guy you’ve been taking for granted all these years.

As for “chick lit,” the best of it does follow in Jane Austen’s steps, using love stories as the vehicle to make points about society and gender roles.

But Rodi makes a good point. When people ask me why I like Jane Austen, my first response is usually, “Because she’s got a wicked sense of humor. She’s merciless.” Those who haven’t read her books look puzzled when I say that. If I’m reading an Austen novel and I don’t laugh or say “Ouch!” at least every other page, I figure I need to reread it because I’ve just missed something.

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Challenge Yourself with Everything Austen

Been meaning to read Sense and Sensibility or Mr. Darcy’s Diary? Never did get around to seeing the movie “Mansfield Park”?

Deadline for entering the Everything Austen Challenge is July 15.

Deadline for entering the Everything Austen Challenge is July 15.

Well, here’s your chance to catch up on all things Austen, and maybe win a prize in the process. The blog Stephanie’s Written Word has announced the Everything Austen Challenge. Between July 1, 2009 and January 1, 2010, simply finish six Austen-themed things, such as reading one of Austen’s books, watching Austen-related movies, or attending an Austen event.

Since I’ve seen just about every Austen-related movie out there, my list is heavy on books. The first item on my list is reading The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy, which is proving to be quite diverting (look for a review shortly). I’m also going to read Sense and Sensibility…I never have read it all the way through. Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife should be arriving soon. I’m also keen to read Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. And I look forward to “Clueless,” one of the rare Austen-inspired movies I have not seen. In a more proactive mode, I’m also working on a couple of Austen-related YouTube videos.

Of course, the list may evolve as the months pass.

How about you? What’s on your Austen Challenge list?