Jane Austen was a well known English novelist that lived from 1775 to 1817. Her novel; Pride and Prejudice is well known in the United States, but it was Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey that had the most influence on Ian McEwan’s book Atonement. If you are familiar with Austen’s work, when you read McEwan’s book Atonement, you can see the influence that not only Austen’s life but also her work on McEwan’s book. Briony Tallis, the main character in Atonement, represents Jane Austen, and they have some similarities between them.
They are both writers, and always wanted to be starting from a young age. Secondly, they both had trouble getting their works published in the beginning of their careers. In Atonement, Briony’s first novel was rejected by a publisher. Austen also faced this in her life when she was trying to publish her book, Sense and Sensibility. Thirdly, Briony didn’t get her novel Atonement published until after she had passed away because her editor wanted to wait until after Lola and Paul had died to publish the book. With Jane Austen, her Persuasion and Northanger Abbey novels weren’t published until after she had passed away. (Carrubba; 2018). Jane Austen’s life wasn’t the only thing that had a huge influence on the book, Atonement, but her books particularly Northanger Abbey have an influence on the book.
Ian McEwan states in a New York article, A Cool Writer Warms Up; Ian McEwan’s Latest Novel Charts an Emotional Journey; “…’Northanger Abbey’ was on my mind. I loved the idea of Catherine Morland, being so turned by gothic novels. She gets everything wonderfully wrong, and is shamed by the end. There is some relationship between her and Briony.” (Gussow; 2002). In Northanger Abbey, it follows the story of Catherine Morland who is a seventeen year old girl. Catherine and Briony are similar in some ways like McEwan stated.
For example, Catherine is skeptic about General Tilney while Briony is skeptic about Robbie. Catherine thinks that Mr. Tilney got rid of his wife while Briony thinks that Robbie raped Lola. Both girls are wrong in these situations. Robbie didn’t rape Lola, and Mr. Tilney did not get rid of his wife. Thankfully, Catherine realizes this sooner in life than Briony does. Briony’s actions also has a bigger effect than Catherine’s since it was her fault that Robbie was sent to prison that led to him joining the war to get out of prison and later to his death while the real rapist ran free and later earn a fortune with a chocolate factory.
Even though they are both similar in certain ways, they are also different. Firstly, there is an age difference between Briony and Catherine. Briony is barely a teenager at the age of thirteen while Catherine is almost an adult at the age of seventeen. They also live in different time periods in their respectful book. Briony lives in the 20th century while Catherine lives in the 19th century. (Schmoop and GradeSaver; 2018) Secondly, Catherine ends up getting married in the end to Henry while Briony never gets married even though she could have which she later regrets. Thirdly, even though they both have brothers, Catherine is closer to her brother than Briony is to her brother mainly due to the fact of their age gap. Fourthly, Catherine is seen as the hero in Northanger Abbey while Briony is not the hero in Atonement. Lastly, Catherine gets a happy ending when General Tiley accepts her and his son’s relationship, and approves of them getting married. Briony, on the other hand, has to see Lola and Paul get married on top of Cecilia and Robbie never forgiving her.
The second book that has an influence on Atonement, is Jane Austen’s book Mansfield Park. The book follows Frances Price who is sent to live with her uncle and aunt in the country in Northamptonshire. Like Jane Austen, she comes from a big family. Like Briony, she has an older brother, but his name is William. In Mansfield Park and Atonement, both father’s are barely home who don’t really know their children. Both Lady Bertram and Emily Tallis are also very similar. They aren’t very good mothers. Due to this, the children are affected by their awful parents, aunts, and uncles. They pretty much have to take care of themselves starting at a young age, and as we read, we see how that affects them.
The third book that is in Atonement is Jane Austen’s book Pride and Prejudice. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are from different social classes like Robbie and Cecilia are in Atonement. Elizabeth Bennet was a part of the middle class while Mr. Darcy was a part of the upper class. Cecilia was a part of the upper class, and Robbie was a part of the lower class. In both books, class effects some of the relationships as we see with Robbie and Cecilia along with Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s relationship. The difference other than the plot lines of these relationships is that Robbie and Cecilia never get the happy ending like Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy do. Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy get married in the end, but Robbie and Cecilia never get to be together. (Jasna, 2008 and Carrubba, 2018).
Ian McEwan stated in a New York Times article; “For 10 years in my notebooks I referred to a novel I would write one day, and I called it my Jane Austen novel.” (Gussow; 2002). We see that it’s not only Jane Austen’s life that influence Atonement, but also several books that she had written. Ian McEwan took a lot of key points from Austen’s life and books, changed them a little bit, and wrote this story. Even though Jane Austen had a huge influence on Atonement, Jane Austen and Ian McEwan had their similarities and differences as authors. McEwan’s writing style is detailed and descriptive. Jane Austen has more of a burlesque style in her works. (litcharts; 2018).
While reading McEwan’s Atonement, there are countless parallels between Jane Austen life with Briony’s life and her works and the story in Atonement. The character Briony mirrors Jane Austen in the sense that she is has always been a writer who face the struggles of becoming an author. Austen’s books Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Pride and Prejudice all are seen in Atonement with the connection between Briony and Catherine (Northanger Abbey), the connection of the parents, the aunt, and uncle being awful parents that it affects the children’s behavior in a bad way (Mansfield Park), and the connection between the relationship of Robbie and Cecilia and Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet (Pride and Prejudice). We see the effect that Jane Austen has on Atonement through these examples, but we also see Ian McEwan on his book that makes it different. In Atonement, we get to see Ian McEwan take different key points from Austen’s life and works, and make it his own modern allusions, if you will. Even though they lived in different time periods, and they have different writing styles, we can still appreciate them both along with their works on top of learning a lot.