How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Literary Birthday

Jane Austen was born to write. She was writing stories by the time she was 12; they’re called the Juvenilia, and I’m reading them now. They are silly little tales that she wrote for family members, about ridiculous people doing ridiculous things, and you can almost hear the youthful author laughing behind her characters’ backs.

Miss Austen was born on December 16th, 1775, exactly five years after one of the greatest composers – Ludwig van Beethoven – was born. Last year, I celebrated her birthday with posts about her and her books during the whole month of December. Here is my ode to her that I wrote at that time:

“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.”

To bring this birthday post to a close, I’ll relate how Austen has influenced my own writing. In my novel, Adventure in England (due, Lord willing, next year), Jane Austen is a prominent feature of the tour my characters take. They visit her home in Chawton, Hampshire, where she lived the last seven years of her life; her tomb in Winchester Cathedral; and her townhouse in Bath, where she also dwelt for several years. They even stop in Southampton, another place she lived for a time. Steventon, where she was born, however, did not make the tour – the rectory she called home for more than twenty-five years, alas, no longer stands.

I am co-writing a Regency novel with a friend, and if there had been no Jane Austen, The Wise- and Light-Hearted would not exist … but it’s been endlessly fun and enriching! I wonder how many other books would not have been written if not for her?

If you’ve read any Jane Austen books or watched any related movies, how have they affected you?

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