There are so many quizzes, articles, polls, posts and pins declaring our unending love for Jane Austen. Her popularity continues on its meteoric trajectory and shows no signs of slowing. And I’m completely on-board – even looking forward to Feb 5th and the release of Pride & Prejudice and Zombies with ghoulish glee.
But it got me to thinking – All that aside, what is it about Jane Austen for me? (This won’t be the same for you and I’d love your comments and discussion here.) Because I don’t think she’d continue to be popular across such a vast landscape if she didn’t speak to the individual as well as appeal to us en masse.
So for me…
I read Pride & Prejudice at the tender age of thirteen. And I loved it! That alone made me a life-long fan of the author – as I firmly believe childhood reading is the primary shaper of our interests and literature tastes. If she was tops then, her superiority was and remains secure.
But why did I love it? Sure it was a wonderful romance– almost a fairytale. While Austen’s wit focused on the hypocrisies, limitations and realities within her time, I viewed it all with a certain rosy idealism. For a thirteen-year-old, Darcy looks strangely like Prince Charming and Miss Bingley, an Ugly Stepsister. But there was more…
Austen’s depiction of us – two hundred years past, today and tomorrow – was understandable, even to me at thirteen, and it rang true. I understood her characters, so deftly drawn and delicately chiseled.
She showed me that human nature is static: We will always get things wrong; we will always carry prejudice, look out for our own interests, demonstrate beautiful loyalty, stand firm, and rise above with the truest sacrificial instincts. She showed me what I knew – sibling love is powerful and a gift; sibling rivalry undeniable; families are for life; true love exists and it’ll all work out as it should in the end – however far out and far away that end appears. This is a simplified version, no doubt, but to a thirteen-year-old, it was rich firm ground on which to stand.
After all, by seventh grade, we know Wickhams, Caroline Bingleys, Lydias and Marys. And if we’re blessed, we’ve met a few Lizzys, Janes, and Gerogianas. Charlottes are there too – good friends with whom we may not agree, but we get never the less. We meet these people daily – we are these people.
So as I look back on what I’ve read and forward to what I’ll write, I find myself again and again returning to Austen. I return because, for me, she communicated unfaltering truth in a transient environment. The drawing rooms have changed – the hearts have not. And, oddly, I find great comfort in that.
Thanks for reading today.
Why do you love Austen?