She may be one of the greats, but 200 years after her death, it is worth remembering that Jane Austen was the continuation of a great writing tradition: the history of the novel, from its early days until the great realist revolution of the 19th century, is one dominated by women.
Any of us who have had to bear the subject’s weight in school should have an idea of how the development of the English novel goes: you start with Daniel Defoe, work your way to Jonathan Swift, go through Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne, and finally arrive at an explosion of style and substance at some point in the 1800s (a more continental approach would add in the names of Rabelais, Cervantes, and Goethe). Jane Austen, whose novels always form an important part of the teenager’s literary knapsack, magically appears from early in the 19th century—her works a crucial entry into realism, and often the first reads preoccupied with such a thing as womanhood.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Problem is, as you’d expect, Austen is very far from the first woman fiction writer. An oversight made all the graver by the fact that the artform was, until the 19th century, overwhelmingly dominated by the works of women. And so, both in terms of quantity (a minority of the books published in 18th-century England were written by men), and artistic innovation.
It shouldn’t be left unnoticed, for example, that one of the strongest contenders for the title of first English novel ever written is Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. This short book is groundbreaking for a number of reasons: besides its publication date (1688), it happens to represent a strong argument against slavery, with a narrative that centers on the capture and enslavement of an African prince.
The author, Aphra Behn, led an eventful life, and was something of a celebrity in her own time. After a brief stint as a British spy in the Netherlands, she became one of the late 17th century’s most successful playwrights, and in fact is the first known Englishwoman to have made a living from writing. Virginia Woolf, more than two centuries later, didn’t downplay her achievements when mentioning her in A Room of One’s Own: “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”
Moving on, the 18th century saw the rise of the Blue Stockings Society, whose social gatherings, modeled on continental salons, formed the heart of British intellectual life. Of the three greatest (and, occasionally, rival) hostesses—the Elizabeths Montagu and Vesey, and Hester Thrale—the last is notable for her innovative nonfiction writing, particularly in the spheres of biography (on Samuel Johnson) and history. Classicist and poet Elizabeth Carter, the first to translate Epictetus into English—amongst other things—was also part of that group.
But more so than intellectual life, women writers of fiction, whether bluestockings or not, dominated the century’s literature. Great names include Elizabeth Singer Rowe, whose Friendship in Death, in Twenty Letters From the Dead to the Living (1728) sold, for more than a century, in greater numbers than Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1748) or Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719). Another is Eliza Haywood, one of the most prolific novelists of the first half of the 18th century, innovative both for her work’s style and subject-matter, a pioneer in the likes of amatory fiction, the female bildungsroman, and the domestic novel.
Of the century’s many other notable writers—Maria Edgeworth, Clara Reeve, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Sarah Scott, Charlotte Turner Smith, Anne Lister, etc.,—special mention should go to Frances Burney, whose work was an important influence on Jane Austen, and indeed British literature in general. Her writing, and particularly her first three novels, neatly titled Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla, pioneered the kind of social satire novelists like Austen and Thackeray would later build upon. Her particular and uniquely (for the time) realist treatment of female protagonists is today especially singled out by critics.
To have an idea of Burney’s influence on Jane Austen, one need only note that Pride and Prejudice lifts its title from a line in the final pages of Cecilia: “The whole of this unfortunate business,” said Dr. Lyster, “has been the result of pride and prejudice.”
Women had therefore been crucial in the development of English fiction, and so very long before the supremely talented Jane Austen came along. Two hundred years after her death, we shouldn’t forget that she wasn’t so much the brilliant first as much as the remarkable continuation—or culmination—of a movement which spans the entire history of the novel.
For those looking to learn more on the topic, we recommend reading Dale Spender’s Mothers of the Novel: One Hundred Good Women Writers before Jane Austen, or Jane Spencer’s The Rise of the Woman Novelist: From Aphra Behn to Jane Austen. For those who prefer to listen to their literary history, we also highly recommend the Hidden Histories podcast, a series of six brilliant episodes on this very subject.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.