The Litkicks Mystery Spot #3 is: Steventon, Hampshire, England, the town that gave Jane Austen to the world.
This brilliant comic novelist was very much a product of her village, and of her large, loving family. Her father was a pastor and a popular figure in town, and he along with several of her older siblings, cousins and neighbors had literary connections in nearby Oxford and London that helped to make her unlikely career possible. When Jane was 21 years old, her father sent an early version of Pride and Prejudice to a London publisher on her behalf (it was rejected, but his belief in her must have given her confidence).
Jane Austen lived with her family in Steventon until she was 25; it’s not true that she rarely left the town, but it must be true that the world of Steventon was the world of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Persuasion (and even Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey).
Jane Austen has always been one of my favorite novelists, and I’m thinking about her work in new ways since reading an excellent new literary history book, Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman. This is a study of Austen’s life and of the reputation that grew after her death. The author’s dies (at 41, in 1817) at the end of the second chapter, and the five chapters that follow describe how a cult audience of influential readers (including, at various times, King George IV, the sister of Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Henry James) kept her miniscule literary reputation alive until 1870, when the first published biography of the author caused Austen-mania to begin in full force (it hasn’t ended yet).
I like books that chronicle an author’s life and posthumous reputation in one swoop; I once read a book like this on Shakespeare, and would enjoy reading more (Herman Melville and James Joyce might be especially good subjects for this treatment). It also helps Jane’s Fame that Claire Harman writes vivid, clear prose, avoiding the dull academic tone a “history of a literary reputation” might be expected to maintain. It’s fun to read not only about the many great writers who appreciated Jane Austen during the 19th Century, but also about a few (Mark Twain, William Wordsworth, Charlotte Bronte) who couldn’t stand her and were happy to say why.
This third “Litkicks Mystery Spot” question got fewer answers than the first two, possibly because I gave fewer clues. But, as always, the best clues are hidden: didn’t anybody spot that I had placed the words “acknowledged” and “universal” in my question? That was supposed to be the giveaway.
A few of you guessed correctly that the writer was Jane Austen, but guessed that the town was Chawton, where she lived during her later years (and where a “Jane Austen house” still stands). But it must have been her childhood village, not her adult residence, that echoed through her novels, so I thought Steventon would be the better choice. The Austen family house in Steventon no longer stands, but a church and several other buildings from her era remain.
Thanks to all of you who responded. I’ll be putting up another Mystery Spot question soon.
Please note that I had to replace the image on yesterday’s question page. It turns out that “Steventon” is a popular name for idyllic, green villages in south/central England, and Jane Austen is from the one in Hampshire, not Oxfordshire.