No woman later has captured the complete common sense of Jane Austen. She could keep her head, while all the after women went about looking for their brains.
G. K. Chesterton
This is the place to enjoy Jane Austen – to savor her works, find new works written in homage to her style and characters as well as those inspired by her. Is she worthy of this adoration and the mass market that, 200 years later, still grows around her works? Is she really “all that and a bag of chips?”
I contend she is – and you might too if you’re here with us. (And thank you for that…) I don’t know if we’ll ever plumb the depths of her brilliance, but we’ll certainly relish the journey. And while G. K. Chesterton may have judged the rest of us a bit harshly, he’s got a point – No one wrote like Miss Austen. And she wrote small. She didn’t dazzle us with tombs (big books or lots of deaths and graves) or adventures crossing continents, great mysteries, or international intrigue. Her characters stayed in their villages – or complained about a fifty-mile carriage ride to another – and in those places, men and women moved through kitchens, ballrooms and life. And yet, we were and still are captivated. We’re captivated because in that “small,” Austen pinned down human nature and motivation as succinctly and clearly as Gaskell’s Roger Hamley skewered bugs to a board (Wives and Daughters). We adore her characters because they are real – after all, human nature and motivation hasn’t changed in 200 years – just the way we dress it.
I got to examine a bit of the Austen phenomenon while I was writing my proposal for Dear Mr. Knightley and I stumbled across this study you might find interesting…
Researchers observe the brain patterns of literary PhD candidates while they’re reading a Jane Austen novel. The fMRI images suggest that literary reading provides “a truly valuable exercise of people’s brains.”
We already knew this, didn’t we? But now it’s becoming proven. These Stanford researchers expected to see pleasure centers activated for the relaxed reading and hypothesized that close reading, as a form of heightened attention, would create more neural activity than pleasure reading. So they chose Jane Austen’s works. And they found that reading Austen “could serve – quite literally – as a kind of cognitive training, teaching us to modulate our concentration and use new brain regions as we move flexibly between modes of focus.”
Although the field of literary neuroscience is still young, the researchers said this project can “give us a bigger, richer picture of how our minds engage with art – or, in our case, of the complex experience we know as literary reading.”
Thank you, Jane!
So read enjoy Austen! She’s good for you. And again – welcome to Austen Authors! We’re delighted to share the fun!