Jane Austen is very psychological, though I am not sure whether this explains her current popularity. She seems to be one of those about whom Maja Djikic wrote in her post of 29 May 2008 on Romanticism. Austen transmuted her suffering into art. A case for this was made in 1940 by D.W. Harding in F.R. Leavis's literary magazine, Scrutiny. His essay was entitled: “Regulated hatred: An aspect of the work of Jane Austen.” (Harding lived virtually a double life, as a professor of psychology and a respected literary critic; his essay is reprinted in David Lodge, Ed., 1972, Twentieth Century literary criticism: A reader, pp. 262-274, London: Longman). Harding argued that far from being a calmly reassuring writer, Austen offers uncomfortable insights into society, and that her novels enabled her to attain “some mode of existence for her critical attitudes.”
From the point of view of our research findings, all Austen's novels involve theory of mind. Readers need to attune to what characters may be feeling and thinking, even when clues are sparse. More especially, it seems to me that one of Austen's pieces of deep originality was her invention of the novel of social explanation. (We have made an argument for this in a recent paper: Keith Oatley & Maja Djikic, 2008, Writing as thinking, Review of General Psychology, 12, 9-27).
Think of it like this. It is generally said that the detective story entered literature with Edgar Allan Poe's short-story "The murders in the rue Morgue" (1841) and in its longer form with Wilkie Collins's novel The moonstone (1868). Both are based on the urge to discover and on explanation; and of course stories of this kind have remained immensely popular. But Austen was ahead of Poe and Collins with a story of gradual discovery and explanation: Pride and prejudice (1813). Austen's novel is a story not of forensic but of social explanation: why was the very eligble Mr Darcy rude to Elizabeth Bennet at a ball? There are, of course, innumerable puzzles in literature, for instance the question of how Oedipus could know who his mother was, or indeed how Tom Jones could know who his mother was. But I submit that these puzzles are different, and that it was Austen who conceived the novel based on social explanation. If she had predecessors in this, I would be pleased to hear of them.
Explanatory hypotheses for Darcy's rude behaviour begin immediately after the ball. Did it occur because, as Mrs Bennet says, Darcy is "a most disagreeable, horrid man?" To find out, one must read on, and as one passes, Alice-like, into the world of the novel, one also finds oneself in the kind of simulation of selves in interaction that can enable one to sharpen one's social acumen.