This introductory chapter begins by considering late twentieth-century feminist literary critics in order to account for the special status of Jane Austen and her novels in contemporary culture. From the beginning, feminist efforts to retrieve and revalue writers who had been overlooked by the patriarchal establishment in scholarship, criticism, and publishing were accompanied by new studies arguing for the importance of the Brontes, Emily Dickinson, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf. Celebrating the rich tradition of English women novelists before herself in A Room of One's Own (1929), Woolf traced it back to Jane Austen, crediting her with inventing the “women's sentence.” As a great writer and a quintessentially English one, Austen has been regularly compared to Shakespeare. The shapes of her sentences have also influenced the way English is written and spoken. Personal interest in Austen began with the publication of her biography, titled Memoir (1870) by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh.
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