THE ENGLISH VILLAGE IN JANE AUSTEN S NOVELS WITH SPECIAL EMPHASIS ON EMMA
Two Enduring symbols of Englishness are the English village and Jane Austen s novels. Even though I believe that Jane Austen s overriding purpose was to portray human relationships, there are many contemporary factors in her novels, which influenced the behaviour of her characters. Because I believe that today s readers will appreciate the novels more fully when provided with information about the background in which they are set, I have chosen to make a study of Jane Austen s villages, those she knew herself and those she wrote about. Firstly, the history of the typical agricultural village of Southern England is traced, to show how a village changed from its settlement until the early 19th century. Then Jane Austen s villages, Steventon and Chawton are examined n the light of historical sources on the English agricultural village. The following chapter deals with the villages in the five novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. These villages are fragmentary, but authentic. Finally, the village of Highbury in Emma, is examined. In this case, there are more details of the physical setting and the village society. These are authentic and there are many instances of contemporary factors which iinfluence the behaviour of her characters. This study of the villages and their inhabitants concludes that, even though fragmentary, the villages are authentic, and can be related to Jane Austen s own experience of village life. An understanding of the historical background increases the reader s appreciation of the novels and gives more insight into the behaviour of Austen s characters.