The following is my response to a Dartmouth Press article which attempts to guess why people like Jane Austen.
Did the author ever READ a Jane Austen Novel? There were many other novelists at the same time whose writings exhibited the similar cultural aspects. Austen stands out now for the same reason she did then, for those clever enough to read her properly. She is funny, hilarious even, but in ways that sneak up on you. Her insight into human nature is shrewd, sometimes painfully shrewd. Her writings show me that despite a vastly different code of conduct in society, human nature does not change at all. As you get to know the characters in an Austen book you recognize them as people you know and understand.
Jane herself said she did not write for 'dull elves'. In humor she is a forerunner to Oscar Wilde more than anyone. Her imagery is delightful, her symbolism is clever, and her sense of irony rewards the reader at every turn. For example, I find it fascinating that Mrs. Norris, arguably the most evil person in Austen's literary world, has many of the juiciest, most ironic lines aimed at her. It's as if Fanny is defenseless but Jane is not, and jabs that mean Aunt with a pen now and then.
So when some see bonnets and costumes and romance, I see that and more. I see a wonderful balance between an incisive humor and a morality deeper than the social customs that define it outwardly.