‘Gentle humour’ to ‘savage satire’: Austen obituaries on her death, its centenary and bicentenary
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A ‘modest and retiring lady novelist’, ‘the adored aunt of boisterous nephews and nieces rather than a blue stocking’ to some, to others an author with a ‘strong feminist streak’, ‘biting irony’, and ‘imperishable wisdom’: this essay investigates cultural perceptions of Austen at three points in time as evidenced through obituary articles published on her death in 1817, at the 1917 centenary, and at the bicentenary in 2017. Rather than focusing on how her texts are interpreted by readers or critics of her novels, by viewers and consumers of tv, film, and multimedia adaptations, websites and other media, the chapter explores cultural assumptions about Austen in the national and local press, views that are often not based on the novels or their spin-offs. Newspaper articles are written by and for non-specialists and therefore give an indication about Austen’s cultural status. For 1917 and 2017, articles included here are those published in July 1917 and July 2017 on the occasion of her centenary and bi-centenary. For 1817, obituaries in the national press were consulted, as well as contemporary reviews of her novels: obituaries at the time of her death were short and did not contain views of the novels; including contemporary reviews therefore enables comparison and consideration of developments in popular culture’s view of Austen and her texts over two hundred years. The essay explores each period’s version of Austen, and discusses what she is seen as being about and associated with, as well as ask to what degree her public reputation is based on the novels, spin-offs, her life, or on cultural construction.
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