Always nice to visit with Jane

From Austenprose, excellent Austen site!

I came to Jane Austen very late. It wasn’t until high school that I sat myself down to read Pride & Prejudice once a friend gave me a lovely collected works of hers. And while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t quite caught yet. It wasn’t until my semester in Bath, taking a class on Jane Austen, that I become a Janeite for good. Something about her snarkiness, her brilliant observation of the small world she lived in, finally captivated me and I’ve been hooked ever since. I don’t often wonder why if I’m being honest. I simply found a kindred spirit in her books, a familiarity that just makes her a favorite author. I have my favorite book, my favorite character, and my favorite hero (All from Persuasion if you’re interested in knowing). But mostly, I adore her tone, her style, her complete knowledge of herself that let her explore in such a narrow field of topics some of the most interesting characters we have the luck to read about still today.

Reading Austen in the spring just seems to fit. Pride & Prejudice is nothing if not spring-like, full of possibility and hope, the belief that everything will work out in the end, even for Lydia and Wickham. In fact, her books all fit into seasons for me. Early spring is Northhanger Abbey with its creepy early spring gothic tone, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility fit the spring renewal theme, the sense that the stories are only just beginning as we say goodbye. Mansfield Park and Emma have the sophistication of summer, the heat and oppression of the sun seem to lurk in the heroine’s journeys of those books. Persuasion, my favorite, is universally acknowledged as an “autumnal” book, a book of second chances and of people later in life, who have the knowledge of spring and summer to guide them to their conclusion. Fascinating isn’t it? No matter how often I read her works or read essays on her work or even watch a film adapted from a book I am struck by another facet to her writing that seems to change the game yet again.

Austen’s gravestone at Winchester Cathedral. Photo by me!

This spring I got around to reading the collection of essays aptly named A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen and the English geek in me thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only is it fun to read Austen, it is fun to read people talking about Austen, people who are far smarter and more observant readers than I am. As writers, they marvel at what a spinster from the country could do with limited experiences and knowledge. They puzzle over what makes her books last and finally conclude she was a genius, of the sort that come around once in a lifetime. On paper, she shouldn’t have succeeded and the fact that she did and still does hundreds of years after her death truly seems to astonish the essay writers in this collection which I enjoyed. You like to think that some people, however unlikely, can thwart the experts. In fact, I am sure Jane is still having a laugh about that somewhere. Some of the essays are definitely more of a scholarly bent, others more on a personal level, but all are trying to get at that mysterious ingredient of Austen’s that keeps us reading and none really succeed but I commend them for trying. And I commend Jane for avoiding detection once more.

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