200 Years of Austen: The (After) Life of a Literary Icon

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“Why do you like Miss Austen so very much?” Charlotte Brontë asked the critic George Henry Lewes in 1847. While Lewis found Jane Austen to be one of the great English novelists, Brontë found her work to be lacking in imagination, noting that she “should hardly like to live with [Austen’s] ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.” How surprised Brontë would be, then, to learn that Austen remains a consistent--and pervasive--presence in all aspects of popular culture, nearly 200 years after her death. From mashups such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies , to Internet series such as The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, not to mention numerous academic studies of her life and work, it’s almost as if Austen never left us. In this talk, Jacqueline George, Professor of English at SUNY New Palz, will trace some of the major developments of Austen’s reputation, beginning with the immediate aftermath of her death in July 1817, and probe the following questions: Why does Miss Austen remain with us? And what can her legacy tell us about literature, fame, and the relationships between books and people?


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