When people hear “Jane Austen,” what tends to come to mind is balls, tea tables, marriage, and Colin Firth in a wet shirt. I don’t want to discount Austen’s many talents, which certainly include skillfully composing page-turning courtship narratives (albeit ones in which her heroes stay fully clothed and dry). But I take issue with the way those unfamiliar with Austen’s actual writing seem to think that’s all she does, portraying her as the literary equivalent of Laura Ashley wallpaper: excessively feminine, flowery, and a little embarrassing. Because if there’s a stereotypically feminine quality I associate most closely with Austen, it is certainly not sentimentality or romance—it’s bitchiness. And I mean that as a compliment.
In celebration of her 240th birthday, here are Jane Austen’s 12 most delightful insults, from her fiction to her personal acquaintances, even to the King of England himself.
Cailey Hall is an English Ph.D. candidate at UCLA, where she is working on a dissertation about Romantic-era literature and the alimentary.