Posted On: November 17th, 2019 | Posted By: miketrial
What if Jane Austen had lived longer than the 41 years she did, and had written more than the six novels she did?
I recently explored this question in a presentation I did for the University of Missouri’s Lifelong Learning Institute.
Despite her relatively small output, she is one of the most loved, researched, discussed, parodied, admired, and copied writers in the English language. She pioneered realism, writing insightfully about genteel families in small English villages in the early 1800s. And then she died young of what some researchers believe to be Addison’s disease.
It’s fun to speculate about what she could have written. For example, what if she had completed a novel during the two years she lived in Southampton? I think she could have written a spectacularly good novel during this period. It would have had all the wit and humor and irony of her maturing talent, but could been backgrounded against Britain’s Navy, Britain’s growing Empire, and the Napoleonic Wars. This ‘lost novel’ I envision would have been a transitional novel, like Mansfield Park, but would have incorporated a broader sweep than her previous novels Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice.
In reality she wrote no novels while she was there, but she did incorporate the naval lore she learned from her brother Francis (with whose family she was living) into the characters Charles Price in Mansfield Park and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion.
That ‘lost Southampton novel’ does not exist, which is our loss.
Here’s another speculation: what if Jane had lived as long as the rest of her family? Her sister Cassandra lived to be 72 years old. If Jane had lived longer she would almost certainly have written at least three or four more novels. And it is highly probable she would have written her best work during this latter period of her life.