Jane Austen is one of the best loved authors in the world. Her books have been read, and re-read for generations; and for good reason. No one does it quite like Jane, but sadly her list of works is slightly on the short side. And, let’s face it…there’s only so many times you can re-read Pride & Prejudice! So, when you’re craving some Jane Austen, but want something new, here are five authors to give a try.
Frances Burney was a hugely successful female novelist in the eighteenth century. As well as her private diaries, which give us a unique insight into daily life at the time, she was the author of numerous ‘bestselling’ novels, such as Evelina, Cecilia and Camilla. For those of you sensing a theme titles…yes, she is fond of using the names of her heroines as the novel title!
An additional incentive to give Burney a try is her unique ties to Austen. What more can you ask for than the author who inspired Pride & Prejudice?! Rumour has it that Jane Austen took her novel’s title from a line in Burney’s popular novel ‘Cecilia’: “The whole of this unfortunate business,” said Dr Lyster, “has been the result of pride and prejudice.” She was certainly a novelist Jane Austen admired, she defends her in Northanger Abbey’s famous defence of novelists scene.
If you can’t wait to give France Burney a try, Cecilia is certainly a good novel. It is however, quite long. If you want to dip your toes in at the shallower end instead, you could try Evelina, one of her most popular and enduring novels, and also amongst my frequently ‘re-read books’ list.
Eliza Haywood was one of the most prolific authors of the eighteenth century and is also considered to be one of the founders of ‘the novel’. Beginning her publishing career in 1719 with Love ‘In Excess’ she became so famous for her writing that Alexander Pope called her out in his poem ‘The Dunciad’. Whether or not he was jealous of her success or his opinions simply reflected the status of female authors of the time, Haywood didn’t let him stop her.
She published over 70 works in her lifetime, but is perhaps best known for her novel ‘The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless’ which is considered to be one of the first novels to focus on female character development in the world. Dedicated to writing from a female perspective, something which was still new in the 18th Century, Haywood was determined to show the world as it was experienced by women and Betsy Thoughtless is her tour de force.
She’s not limited to fiction either she dabbled in every genre, including fiction, drama, translations, poetry, conduct literature and she was the first woman to publish a magazine ‘The Female Spectator’ which was directly aimed at female readers. As her career progressed she gradually moved away from writing the more scandalous ‘amatory fiction’ to focus on novels which promoted women’s rights and education. Kind of a superhero if you ask me!
When Maria Edgeworth began writing, she was initially more successful that authors like Jane Austen. For that reason alone, she should be enough to tempt any Austenite to stretch their wings, although, as a standalone author she is equally deserving.
Born in 1768 in Oxfordshire, England, Edgeworth moved to Ireland as a child and fell in love with the country and its people. As a result, Ireland is the most common setting for her works, which casts an interesting glimpse into how Irish society operated at the time, in comparison to Austen’s decidedly English novels.
Edgeworth’s literary career began with ‘Letter for Literary Ladies’ in 1795. Her first novel, Castle Rackrent, was published five years later, without her father’s knowledge and was an immediate success. It is ‘Belinda’, however, that will perhaps most appeal to a lover of Jane Austen. Published in 1801, it deals with love, courtship and marriage and the contrast between society’s expectations and the promptings of a free spirit. Notably, and controversially for the time, it also shows the interracial marriage of an African servant and an English farm-girl.
Famously, Charlotte Bronte detested Jane Austen. But bear with me, because in many ways, whether she liked it or not, Bronte was the natural literary successor to Austen. Charlotte’s distaste sprang from the feeling that Austen was too stilted and restricted. Undoubtedly, passionate feeling abounds in Charlotte’s most famous work ‘Jane Eyre’ but thematically, they are similar.
Both authors, in their own way, focus on self-determination for their female heroines. Austen has Lizzy Bennet declare ‘”where nothing is in question but the desire of being well married, and if I were determined to get a rich husband, or any husband, I dare say I should adopt it [Charlotte’s plan].’ and Bronte’s Jane similarly states ‘I would always rather be happy than dignified’. Both authors focus on the role of women in their society and the importance of doing the best with the lot assigned to them. Jane Eyre delves into themes never covered by Austen, such as the roll of a working governess, madness, and adultery and as such perhaps reveals more than Austen ever did.
However, one thing that always strikes me whenever I read the bitter description of Austen given by Charlotte Bronte is the hypocrisy. Jane Austen in many ways, was the freer of the two women. For example, she was never restricted to writing under a male pseudonym like Charlotte was. I often wonder, if Charlotte Bronte had written under her own name whether it would have hindered the freedom of her style. We’ll never know of course, but it’s food for thought.
For many, Georgette Heyer is the ultimate successor to Jane Austen. She pretty much invented the Regency Romance genre and was author to 50+ books set in that time period. Although she is the only one of the authors featured in this list who wrote historical, rather than contemporary fiction, this is a positive. Her heroines often seem to act in ways which feel much more familiar to a modern reader.
Heyer really immerses you into the world of her books. They’re crammed with details that Austen, who was writing for readers familiar with her setting, leaves out. Think sumptuous clothing, mouth-watering food and grand architecture!
For readers who love Austen’s witty dialogue and romantic plots, Heyer is perfect. She was famous for the amount of research she put into each of her novels and was even known to use Regency era slang from time to time. Her novel, Regency Buck, is also filled with period characters and was her first to be set in the 1800s. You really can’t got wrong, whichever novel you choose, but a few notable mentions are: Venetia, Cotillion and, my personal favourite, Friday’s Child.
So there you have it, 5 authors who inspired, rivalled and even hated Jane Austen!
When it comes to Jane Austen, there’ll never really be another author who can truly rival her popularity. But the wonderful thing about literature is that there’s always room for more authors. And these five show that maybe, just maybe, there’s something else for the Janeite who’s finished Jane Austen to go next!
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