Two-hundred years ago, on July 18, 1817, Jane Austen slipped away from the world, taken by a mysterious illness when she was just 41 years old.
But could anyone be more alive?
Two centuries after her death, the beloved British novelist who gave us Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy — the timeless, feisty, perfectly mismatched lovers of Pride and Prejudice — is as vital as any author who ever lived.
Rather than fade away like some antique English rose turned to dust, Austen remains robust, revered, widely read, celebrated and reinvented by contemporary novelists, a darling of Hollywood and the BBC. You could even say she’s a global brand.
The “spinster” author who spun literary gold out of marriage, money, society, love and the foibles of human nature in a mere handful of Regency novels (including Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion), is up there with Shakespeare at the top of the pantheon, says Paula Byrne, British author of the newly updated The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theatre and Why She Works in Hollywood.
“The more I reread her and the older I get, the more I’m utterly convinced of her genius,” says Byrne, who also wrote the 2013 biography The Real Jane Austen. “There’s something about her that’s Shakespearean. Every time you read her you see a line you haven’t seen before.”
Curtis Sittenfeld, author of last year’s best-selling Eligible, an update of Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati amid the world of reality TV, texting and hookup sex, says all of Austen’s novels “are wonderful in their way,” but P&P (which has sold more than 20 million copies) is her favorite.
“It’s the one where all the things she does well come together perfectly: The sly character development, the entertaining dialogue, a plot that has real momentum, the romantic or sexual…