ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Recipe for Literary Success: Themes and Archetypes in the Jane Austen Repertoire

Updated on December 9, 2012
the queen of Regency literature
the queen of Regency literature | Source

A formula writer, yes. But boring? Certainly not!

Before you say to yourself “aw, crap, I hate Jane Austen!” take a deep breath. If you take a closer reading, you’ll find a wealth of personality between the 200-year-old pages of Jane Austen’s novels. 200 years, you say? Well, come on, something must be good for these stories to withstand two world wars and a slew of books like Twilight. After all, we’re still reading and performing Shakespeare! Read on, dear bibliophile.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that a student will come across one of Jane Austen's six famous novels (Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey) or even her Juvenilia (a collection comprised of short stories, a novel she was writing before her death, and letters to her sister Cassandra) at some point in their formal education. Most students (and many professors for that matter) are immediately repulsed by the idea of reading about the mundane daily lives of the Regency landed English, but there is a genius and rather specific method to Austen's madness. Austen was, first and foremost, a formula writer.

Each story begins with a set-up; a theme or subject that will be present and important to the plot.Pride and Prejudice begins much like this hub did, except Jane Austen had more dignity than I and didn’t beg for her audience to keep reading. Ahem:"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Pride and Prejudice (and the rest of her collection, quite frankly) centers on the matching of single, wealthy men to a woman they might marry, a prominent concern during the Regency period. Austen was likely surrounded by the idea that marriage was largely for increasing one's personal wealth and not a love match. At the heart of the story are four unique relationships that work within this theme, but one illustrates it best: Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett.

At the beginning of the book, Darcy is thought by Mrs. Bennett to be the biggest catch in the rather limited pool of local single men (before she has even laid eyes on the moody, broody Keanu Reeves-like landlord and gentleman) because he owns Pemberley, a large estate in Derbyshire, and makes ten thousand pounds a year (a modern equivalent of about one million dollars). This is probably a concern that Austen felt heavy on her own shoulders once she came of marrying age. The man most attractive to a mother of a girl newly introduced to society is a wealthy man with a large estate, but how can a poor girl with no dowry to speak of really attract such a man?

Austen realized that she could legitimize the idea of a poor girl marrying a wealthy man by playing Cupid; if Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth, it wouldn’t matter whether or not she had any inheritance to speak of. Austen herself was not wealthy, in spite of being a hugely accomplished writer, and defends her own situation through her poor heroines.

The figures prominent in Austen’s own life made it seamlessly into her writing through the further development of archetypes, a method used by many successful writers. An archetype refers to the generic version of a personality, which may be modified by the situation or environment of the character. In my amateur inspection of her five most famous novels, I have identified fourteen separate archetypes that Austen employs; the Heroine, the Hero, the Naïve Woman, the Fool, the Rake, the Benefactor, the Scandal, the Good Samaritan, the Confidant, the Un-Relative, the Instigator, the Loving Parent, the Snob, and the Poor Man. Each of these archetypes are made unique by a modifier; whether they are a good or bad person, their physical description, their wealth, their age, and gender. Not every archetype occurs in every book either, but there are all devices through which Austen can articulate a theme.

One archetype present in all five novels is the Rake. Typically, a ‘rake’ is a man known for womanizing and deceiving a well-loved female figure, and the Austen men are no exception. Sense and Sensibility’s John Willoughby is the quintessential Rake. His story begins when he happens upon Marianne Dashwood and her sister Margaret after Marianne has slipped in the rain and twisted her ankle. Like a seemingly gallant hero, he sweeps her up into his arms and carries her all the way home. Willoughby spends the next hundred or so pages of the book (I’m not sure how many pages in actuality) bringing Marianne flowers, reading her poetry, playing duets, and treating her as if he has every intention of marrying her. As the Naïve archetype, Marianne falls victim to his advances, and consequently head over heels in love with him. All of a sudden, his aunt seemingly calls him away on business to London. His rakish nature is revealed to Marianne when she discovers Willoughby at a ball with his new fiancée, after months of thinking he was devoted to her.

Though Willoughby is the most despicable, each of Austen’s Rakes drag innocent women through the proverbial mud, leaving them to pick up the pieces with the Good Samaritan figure. In Marianne’s case, this man is Colonel Brandon, who is incredibly kind and caring, though significantly older.

Austen was able to make manifest things that she herself could not achieve if she simply wrote them into her stories. Famously, Austen never married, though having several potential beaus throughout her life. Alternatively, almost all of her heroines happily marry for love. The Heroine archetype runs rampant in Austen’s work. Each of her heroic woman are unconventionally independent, in spite of the social constraints put on them.

Persuasion’s Anne Elliot is 27 and unmarried when the novel opens, having rejected the love of her life at age 19 at the insistence of her confidant and mother figure, Lady Russell.Though she is accomplished (the Regency buzz word for talent in music, languages, practical arts, and needlework) and pretty, Anne remains the devoted and sensible decision maker for the Elliot family. When the Elliot family files for bankruptcy, it is Anne’s decision that the family must retrench and move to Bath so their estate Kellynch Hall may be rented out. Though society would consider Anne a spinster, she seems to be rather content to be, in essence, the head of her family. This modern, feministic illustration of Persuasion’s heroine is quite out of the ordinary for the way women were really treated by society in Austen’s time.

In order to make Anne’s character believable to her audience however, she must introduce (or reintroduce as it were) a love interest. The love of Anne’s life isn’t just any old Lord in need of a wife, but the very man she rejected at 19, Colonel Frederick Wentworth. This addition of a strong gentleman makes Anne’s position more believable to her male readers, but may have alienated her female readers were it not for a particularly brave scene in which Austen gives Anne a chance to defend her love. When speaking to Captain Harville about the true nature of love, Anne states that women “certainly do not forget you [men] as soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit. We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us.” Through this simple conversation, Austen is able to legitimize the nature of a woman’s feelings, as well as make a statement about the female place in society. Speaking through Anne, Austen makes it clear that she feels the confines of society herself.

You could write a book (and I probably will) on the themes and archetypes present in Austen’s writing; not only is she prolific for a writer of her time, but her stories are a tender admission of her own misgivings, pride, and worries. Even if you don’t wear out your mother’s copy of Mansfield Park, give Jane Austen another shot. There’s so much more between the lines than you’ve ever given her credit for. There’s Jane, winking back.

Amanda Root and Robert Glenister as Anne and Captain Harville in Persuasion (1995)



    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Vladimir Molotkof profile image

      Vladimir Molotkof 

      7 years ago from Mid West

      I LOVE Jane Austen. As a girl with all sisters, it is hard not to love Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.

    • sushantkshr profile image


      7 years ago

      And Jane Asuten also enjoys the status of the Shakespeare Among women writers......

    • ytsenoh profile image


      7 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Mygirlthursday, for your first hub coming out, I'm speechless aside from saying bravo, well done, well-written and really excellent job to persuade people to read more of Austen's works for the experience of her style. Welcome to HubPages. Please do keep writing! Thumbs up.

    • Alexander Brenner profile image

      Alexander Brenner 

      7 years ago from Laguna Hills, California

      Without checking the statistic online, I would bet that Jane Austen's novels are among the most produced into films ever. A lot of people will say, as you point out, Jane Austen novels are too difficult or boring to read. I would suggest any one who enjoys one of the many film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, to read it and compare. However good the film, the novel is far better.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)