By: Jo Siedlecka
Jane Austen's work has been the inspiration for films, radio and television series and is a perennial favourite on English Literature courses around the world for many years - but one aspect of her writing seems to have been overlooked - until now. A new book just published by Irish author Julia Forsythe offers an in-depth study of the Irish connections and influences in Austen's books.
Based in London, Julia Forsythe researched original texts and letters in England and Ireland.
She studies the influence of some of the great Irish literary and political figures of the Restoration and its Revival - in particular Sheridan - in his The Rivals and The School For Scandal, Goldsmith, Congreve, Owenson, Suzanne Centreleve, Maria Edgeworth and others.
Julia demonstrates her view that the structure of Pride and Prejudice is based on Sheridan's The Rivals. In Chapter Six she draws attention to the similarity between Darcy Fitzwilliam in Pride and Prejudice and the fourth Earl Fitzwilliam.
Elsewhere she explores Irish music, which Jane Austen would have heard and played herself, at house gatherings, balls and parties.
There is a chapter on the Irishman Thomas Lefroy, the young law student from Ireland who Jane was introduced to at a social gathering when Jane was just 20. They only met a few times before he went to London to train as a barrister, but Jane mentioned him in several letters and it is generally believed that this romance was one of the most pivotal experiences in Jane Austen's life.
Another chapter is dedicated to Cork City, where Jane Austen's brothers Frank, Charles and Henry - were based with the Navy and Army for several years. She surmises that when they came home on leave they would have brought with them many stories of life on shore in Cork and on board ship - where many crew members were Irish. Cork was important strategically as a key base for trans Atlantic trade. For several years there were also concerns that the French were planning to invade.
Julia Forsythe has a great eye for detail. This book is full of fascinating anecdotes and small asides. (It would make a good BBC Radio Book at Bedtime). Catholic readers would be interested to hear about Nano Nagle's schools for destitute children in Cork. There is also a mention of an incident in which African slaves were freed from a ship in Cork Harbour by abolitionists - and a description of the anti-slavery campaign in Ireland.
As this month marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, the publication of this book could not be more timely.
Jane Austen and the Irish Connection is published in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon ISBN-10: 1520576579 ISBN-13: 978-1520576572