Source: Daily Express.
She may have written about the landed gentry, but Jane Austen came from a very different world, as historian Lucy Worsley reveals in a documentary to mark the 200th anniversary of her death.
Some of us have got the wrong end of the stick about Jane Austen, according to historian Lucy Worsley. Contrary to popular belief, the author of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma,” and “Sense and Sensibility” was not pampered in a cosy, chocolate-box world of opulent country estates; rather, she endured many tough moments and was often on the brink of poverty.
Lucy fronts “Jane Austen: Behind Closed Doors,” a new BBC2 documentary exploring how the great author’s many different homes influenced her work.
“Some people think of Austen as constantly going to balls in country houses and taking tea on the lawn,” reflects Lucy. “They think that grand mansions were her world, but they were not. In fact, pokey, dingy and depressing houses were more her world. Austen lived in a lot of temporary lodgings.
“She was moving in a world of rich people, but she was not part of it. She was an outsider, and being an outsider really helps as an artist. You need a sliver of ice in your soul when you’re a writer.”
So Austen was not penning novels celebrating the world of wealth. On the contrary, says Lucy, what she was actually writing was biting social satire.
The 43-year-old historian, whose book “Jane Austen At Home: A Biography” is out in July, is eager to emphasise her admiration for the novelist. “The way Austen decided not to get married and do the less respectable thing of writing was very courageous. It was brave to turn down the mansion, especially as that would have been her only form of financial provision. After they died, Austen had to live off the charity of her brothers.”
Lucy, whose day job is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, explains that by Austen’s late 20s, she had received five marriage proposals. Going against convention was unheard of. “She became a struggling artist in a garret. That was not the sort of thing that respectable daughters of 18th-century clergyman were meant to do.”
As Lucy shows us, Austen felt trapped. Women had little independence, and were psychologically and emotionally dependent on men paying for them. “They felt beholden to men. Austen was part of the pseudo-gentry. She had no land; she had to make do.
Because of her lower status as a woman, Austen’s work didn’t receive the credit it deserved. Of course, her fame is now widespread, with TV and film adaptations of her six novels and, from September, her image will grace the British £10 note.
“It is a tragedy that she was not appreciated while she was alive,” reflects Lucy. “Her novels didn’t have a following and her books were published anonymously. It hurts to think of her dying not knowing how special she is. The novels were ahead of their time.
Like Shakespeare, these novels endure because there’s something for everyone in them. I can love them and extreme right-wing people can love them, too. They’re universal stories.”
Lucy has become known for her sense of mischief and her fondness for dressing up in period costumes, and has fronted history documentaries such as “A Very British Romance,” “The Real Versailles,” “Lucy Worsley: Mozart’s London Odyssey” and “Six Wives With Lucy Worsley.” Her aim is to make history accessible. “It is often underestimated that history is tremendous fun and brings great joy.
But above all, everyone needs the skills of history – analysis, judgement, understanding and the ability to know when someone is lying. We live in a world of alternative facts and fake news. More than ever, we need historians and journalists with the analytical skills to question authority and find out what’s true.”
Lucy adds: “The great thing is that historians get to have the last word – a wonderful privilege.”