Who is the greatest fiction author of all time? That question would no doubt be greeted by a host of answers and responses, and would largely depend on the type of fiction each person enjoys reading. For many of us who enjoy historical romance novels, our resounding answer is: Jane Austen.
Jane Austen had a way of writing literature stood the test of time. Did she know this when she wrote her novels? Did she have any idea of how influential her works would be on the historical romance genre? Not likely. In fact, some of her works were not even published until after she died. Let’s examine how Jane Austen has influenced the historical romance novel. Then, I’ll attempt to guess what she would think of most romance novels today.
Jane Austen’s plots are often repeated in romance novels through the decades. For example, in Pride & Prejudice, the plot revolves around a case of mistaken first impressions. The principal characters start out with an aversion to one another only to discover that they are actually attracted to one another. In Sense and Sensibility, we see a hero who falls in love with one woman while being bound to another and also a heroine whose romantic sensibilities nearly bring about her ruin. In Mansfield Park, the main characters are related, and therefore, an unsuspected but not unheard of love plot unfolds. Northanger Abby is Jane Austen’s parody of the Gothic novel so popular in her day. Emma employs a pedagogic relationship between a much older man who corrects and scolds the younger Emma. Persuasion highlights a love deserving a second chance.
Many of these romantic situations have been retold in other historical romance novels. In Sanditon by Jane Austen and “A Lady” (the mysterious author who finished the unfinished manuscript), there is a clear relationship between Jane Austen’s works and modern-day historical romance novels. The unknown author “A Lady” who finished this incomplete work of Jane Austen’s,wrote the ending much like a modern-day Regency romance novel. It is unlike Jane Austen’s style in that it is fast paced, flirty, and has a twist at the end. But, it is difficult to discern at what point Jane Austen stops and A Lady picks up. This is not the only version of the book. I started to read another author’s finishing of the novel only to stop when I got to a sex scene, something Jane Austen never put in her novels.
These examples showcase how much Jane Austen has influenced the romance novels of today. However, the question remains: What would Austen think of most of the romance novels published today? Northanger Abby says it well; “Perhaps after all it is possible to read too many novels.” We can be sure Austen would only approve of clean romance novels that prized wit and a bit of sarcasm, like her own timeless tales.