If Jane Austen Came Back As A Ghost

If Jane Austen Came Back As A Ghost

If Jane Austen Came Back as a Ghost

What would Jane Austen think of her fame if she were to return to our world for a brief visit? I fancy we have all entertained that thought at one time or another. Imagine Jane returning to find she has devoted fans—around the world—who read and reread her novels, can recite the lines she penned by heart, and now proclaim her to be one of the foremost English novelists of all times.

Visualize Jane attending a JASNA conference, without being forewarned as to what to expect—surrounded by adoring readers in both contemporary and Regency clothing. I like to think she would appreciate the irony of her novels becoming classics after her passing. And what would she think of the many films made of her books? Picture Jane sitting with you in a darkened movie theater, the screen suddenly illuminates and a panorama of the lovely English country engulfs you. The Bennet family appears; soon you and Jane are caught up in a Bennet family bicker. Would she gasp or giggle?

Recently an old poem haunted my mind. As it silently repeated itself, it took on new words, new meanings. Here’s the poem, written by Rosemary Benet in 1933 (and no, it has nothing to do with Jane Austen, and yet…)

Nancy Hanks (Abraham Lincoln’s mother)

If Nancy Hanks

Came back as a ghost,

Seeking news

Of what she loved most,

She’d ask first “Where’s my son?

What’s happened to Abe?

What’s he done?”

“Poor little Abe,

Left all alone

Except for Tom,

Who’s a rolling stone.

He was only nine

The year I died.

I remember still

How hard he cried.”

“Scraping along

In a little shack,

With hardly a shirt

To cover his back,

And a prairie wind

To blow him down,

Or pinching times

If he went to town.”

“You wouldn’t know

About my son?

Did he grow tall?

Did he have fun?

Did he learn to read?

Did he get to town?

Do you know his name?

Did he get on?”


I could not resist applying this heartrending poem to our dear Jane.

If Jane Austen

Came back as a ghost,

Seeking news

Of what she loved most,

She’d ask first,

“Where are my novels?

Did they get on?

Sense and Sensibility?

What has happened to Mr. Darcy?

Poor little Fanny Price left all alone,

Emma could have helped her find a home,

I was only one and forty, the year I died.

I remember how hard Cassandra cried.

Scraping along in the little cottage,

With hardly a royalty to cover her porridge.

A bitter wind

To blow her down,

Or pinching times,

If she went to town.

You wouldn’t know about Northanger Abbey?

Or Persuasion as titled by brother Henry?

And then there is Sanditon; I don’t like that name,

Surely it did nothing to add to my fame.

You wouldn’t know about my books?

Did they become popular?

Did they get laughing looks?

Did many read them or none at all?

Were they lost in time or did they thrive?

It is so difficult to know, not being alive.

Jane Austen used comedy to explore women’s lives and gender relationships. She was passionate for both reverence and ridicule; her comedy reveals the contradictions of human nature when confronted with the desperate need to appear to follow the civilizing effects of society. In many ways she was like dear Mr. Lincoln, self-taught for the most part, she dreamed of a better world where we are all equal.

With love & laughter,

Barbara Silkstone


18 Responses to If Jane Austen Came Back As A Ghost

  1. I think the movies would have interested and angered her. The visual interpretation would have been mesmerizing as movies generally are the first time one sees one. Then I think she would have been horrified at what was done to her characters and plots especially in renditions of Mansfield park. I am not sure she would have liked the JAFF. Most authors are very possessive about their characters and do not like seeing others use them. Modern authors have sued to have others cease doing so. To find her novels so well known and loved would have been humbling and gratifying but conflicts in emotions would make her long for the peace and quiet of the grave.

  2. Great post, Barbara! I’ve wondered this myself…I have to think it would be mind-blowing, at first, for her to understand that she is probably the most beloved of any author in literary history. Then once the initial shock passed, I think she’d get on to the humor and wit. 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing the Nancy Hanks poem, Barbara. Like some of the others, I’d not come across it before, mainly because I’m a Brit, I guess! Love your adaptation to fit Jane Austen. Having read quite a few of her letters, I’m pretty sure she’d have something acerbic and witty to say about her posthumous fame, the dramatisations and JAFF. I wonder if she’d have a favourite dramatisation of each of her books? What would she think of something like Bride and Prejudice or Lost in Austen?

  4. I haven’t read much poetry so the original was unfamiliar but your second poem was a good adaption to fit it to Jane Austen.
    I think it would be interesting if Jane Austen were to visit and see how loved her work has become and how many sequels have been made as well as all the movies. Who knows maybe she did become a ghost and has been watching over her books this whole time.

    • Caryl, Thank you. I do so love the Nancy Hanks poem. Did you know that Tom Hanks (the actor) is a descendent?

  5. What a great post. I’d never heard that poem. It seems very sad to me. I think, since Jane Austen doesn’t give the impression of having an over the top ego, she’d be very surprised. Then, she’d be proud. After that, she’d probably alternate between amusement and annoyance over all of the things we aren’t getting right about what she meant or envisioned. Overall, though, I think she’d be pleased. That’s my guess 🙂

    • Summer, Thank you. It would so lovely to see her reactions. I agree with you—she would be pleased. I

    • darcybennet, Thank you. I had fun playing with it. The Nancy Hanks poem has always haunted me, from the time I first heard it.

  6. Loved the poems! Thank you for sharing them. I also agree that our dear Jane would be most pleased.

    • Gianna, Thank you. I can just imagine her face. Perhaps a bit of amazement at some of the plots. She might say…Why I never thought of that!

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