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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Celebrating Jane Austen

I am a Janeite. I’ll admit it - and proudly, too. Well, mostly proudly. I don’t like to identify with the girls who swoon over Mr. Darcy. And I’m not so sure Jane Austen would put herself in that category, either. She seemed too level-headed, too entirely mistress of everything going on, in her books and otherwise, to do any swooning.
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How did I come to acquire this moniker? It was gradual, and yet sudden: I listened to an audio book of Pride and Prejudice and hardly understood a word, much less the plot. Some time later I tried Sense and Sensibility. I guess it must have clicked, because I soon after read the book, loved it, and read the other five novels in less than a year. That was November 2007 - September 2008. (It coincided with PBS’s airing of the A & E versions of all her novels that winter.) I wasn’t aware of my mania taking over until it was upon me. I read Sanditon, an uncompleted work, during that time as well, and this past year I read Lady Susan, an epistolary novella, and The Watsons, another incomplete work.

December 16th should be a national holiday, or at least a British one that Americans can celebrate if they want to. Do you know why? It’s Jane Austen’s birthday! And for many of us - or at the very least, for me - it’s the whole reason we even heard of the Regency period in England’s history, or love those empire-waist dresses, or have so much interest in British literature.

I’ve always wanted to celebrate Jane Austen’s birthday in some way, so this year (her 237th birthday)I’m going to make December’s blog posts all related to Jane Austen. This is primarily a “literary” blog, so I thought it would be appropriate. I highly encourage you to join in if you’re a fan! We’ll have fun with her books and biography, and I may share some thoughts about her writing style that inspired my friend’s and my Regency novel. I don’t have everything planned out, so I don’t know what each post will hold, but rest assured, they will all have something to do with this favorite author.

Today I’ll talk about why I like her so much, and if you have reasons why you like her that I don’t mention, feel free to comment!

Miss Austen was a brilliant writer - even the greatest scholars, like C. S. Lewis and E. M. Forster, admired her. Her novels were a turning-point in the tradition of British fiction. She was devoted to portraying reality - in plot, in dialogue, in the conscience - and she translated that reality into a work of art. The earlier British novels I’ve read are melodramatic in comparison. Jane Austen sized down her situations and characters so that they were utterly believable and relatable, even to today. Her character portraits are complete, thus producing memorable characters that feel like people you’ve met - and yet they are not so complex that you can’t easily identify their types and traits. Her books are laugh-out-loud funny, pointing out the ridiculous and potentially teaching the reader to evaluate herself for damaging peccadilloes.

Miss Austen wasn’t trained at a school - her novels come from an uncommon intelligence and talent. Countless people could enjoy and study them, recognizing themselves in the pages and being enriched by the sketchbook of a culture that was quickly passing away.

Oh, dear - I know that sound-bite doesn’t do her justice. Hopefully I will be able to expand on it in my following posts. Until then, here’s some trivia about me and her works:

Order Read:

1. Sense and Sensibility

2. Northanger Abbey

3. Persuasion

4. Pride and Prejudice

5. Emma

6. Mansfield Park

In Order of Favorites (though they really overlap):

1. Sense and Sensibility

2. Persuasion

3. Pride and Prejudice

4. Mansfield Park

5. Northanger Abbey

6. Emma

Favorite Heroines:

1. Elinor Dashwood

2. Anne Elliot

3. Elizabeth Bennet

4. Fanny Price

5. Catherine Morland

6. Marianne Dashwood

7. Emma Woodhouse    (Notice that this ordering pretty much coincides with my ordering of the novels above it.)

Number of Times Read:

1. Sensibility - 3

2. Northanger Abbey - 2

3. Persuasion - 1

4. Pride and Prejudice - 1

5. Emma - 1

6. Mansfield Park - 1

What is your favorite novel or heroine? Who are you most like?



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