A few months ago, I attended a seminar at Drew University in Madison, Jersey: Austen and Byron: Together Again.
While the lecture was interesting and resulting in my immediate purchasing of several Byron books (of which I have only glanced through since then…such is the life of a book-a-holic), the most fascinating aspect of the evening was the post-lecture display of original works in the library.
Being able to see (and actually touch) a first edition of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Emma sent a thrill through me. To touch a masterpiece! Ok, confession…maybe I just reached out and lightly brushed my finger on the corner.
Another confession…I haven’t been able to read many novels since then. Ever since completing my adaptation of Mansfield Park (Mount Hope, releases August 2nd in eBook and September 2nd in paperback via Charisma House), I have struggled to read a complete novel. The usual books that previously thrilled me now seem inadequate. The writing is not as poetic as Jane Austen’s novels. The character development falls flat in comparison. The storylines are weak and I find myself bored by chapter three.
I imagine that other readers fall into the same quandary. How can we set down one of Jane Austen’s masterpieces and not be impacted by her masterful craft? Her ability to draw us into the lives of her characters and get lost in their world?
As an author, I can attest that it is hard to create such a world, a world that readers find so welcoming that they lose awareness of their surroundings. When we set down Jane Austen’s books, we are inevitably a changed reader and, therefore, a changed person. And, of course, that makes us a changed writer, too.
It is a true testament to Jane Austen and the other authors from the same period that so many writers adapt her stories, a moment to expand the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy or follow up on Emma and George. I believe I speak for many of these authors when I state that, while we all know we can never rise to the level of mastery that Jane Austen achieved, we hope that our readers can lose themselves for the few hours that they share with our works.
Just as I lost myself for the hour that I was able to wander through the collection at Drew University after the Austen and Byron lecture last April. To see her handwritten pages and to see her original novels…for an author, there is no finer moment than to be in the presence of one of the major influencers of classic literature.