Even after two centuries of her death on July 18, 1817; Austen’s work is still relevant till this day. Associate professor Nicole Aljoe at Northeastern University talks about her study of Bath, England where Austen lived and its influence on her works.
Aljoe, an expert in 18th-century literature, and a scholar of Austen’s works said that the novelist’s time in the city likely laid the foundation for part of her later novel, Northanger Abbey. The Bath was a very lively place. There were a diversity of activities, like plays and different kinds of theatrical performances. They also had different kinds of balls, and some specialized in different kinds of dances. There was also a variety of musical performances, circuses, and other fantastic performances like mesmerism.
Austen probably also avidly read the Bath Herald, the major weekly newspaper in Bath at that time. It included excerpts from U.S. and international newspapers and presented timely updates about global issues. News from the navy, travel narratives and parliament debates too were published. Other facets that could have influenced Austen could also be stories of slavery and the slave trade.
Austen was a fine observer of human nature and her nuanced representations of it stand the test of time. Although Aljoe’s research doesn’t so much change the image we have of Austen, it does illuminate that she wasn’t exactly a shy and retiring writer. It indeed says more about our persistence in misunderstanding and misrepresenting female artists. Aljoe adds “For me, she is a fine and daring artist: the characterization of Lady Susan in one unfinished novel and her description of the ‘chilly’ mixed-race West Indian heiress Miss Lambe in another are two of the most intriguing female characters in the era’s literature and makes me wish she hadn’t died so young so we could see what she would have done.”