This year it is the 200th anniversary of the death of one of my all time favourite authors, Jane Austen. I’ve always found it incredible how a woman from the nineteenth-century, born over two centuries before me can speak to me on so many levels as well as offer guidance for a young woman two centuries later. Obviously to an extent, as I am not an “accomplished” woman in nineteenth-century standards and Austen probably hate to know me.
I don’t play piano anymore, or draw, or write letters, or rely on my father as you know the world has moved on and women have got to work and earn a living. Unless you’re a student, then there is some sitting and reading your whole library, but again it’s YOUR library and not your *insert-male-relation-here*’s library.
Also if the equivalent to balls is clubs, then let’s be real nobody is going to meet a Mr Darcy there. Just several Wickham’s, definitely an engaged Frank Churchill who will flirt with you anyway, and probably one or two Mr Collins’, what a grim world.
For ages I struggled to put my finger on why I love Jane Austen novels so much. Sure I love her characters and would love to be as witty and playful as Elizabeth and as carefree as Emma, or as sensible and knowledgable as Anne. I don’t believe that a man would travel the country or be apart from you for several years and still be pining for you, but they’re wonderful stories.
I began thinking properly about my love for her novels after speaking to my supervisor and debating whether to write my dissertation on Jane Austen. The problem I kept coming back to was what exactly would I say? And would I actually be able to find something different to say to everyone else?
In truth I probably won’t find something completely different to explore in my dissertation, but I have absolutely loved re-reading her novels.
One of the reasons I found I loved them was the familial relations that lie at the heart of the heroines lives. Elizabeth Bennett has a large family with four sisters along with her mother and father; Emma Woodhouse has a small family, but a doting father, sister and brother in law. Fanny Price is taken from her larger family and placed with the wider members of her family. Anne Eliot has rather distant father and sister, but loving other sister and brother in law. I especially enjoyed these relations as I have always got on well with my family. I have a large extended family and I absolutely love seeing them all and how we’ve grown closer over the years.
Equally I love how Austen depicts women. Whilst the female characters have limited choice, amusement, education and diversity, they are always depicted well in the sense that they are always occupying themselves in some way. They’re proactive. They take the freedom and power they have and use it, whether that is walking to Netherfield, organising picnics and days out, match-making, reading novels, avoiding awkward dinner parties, and they do this regardless (for the most part) of what everyone else thinks. Which is always refreshing, no matter what century you were born in.
I find a considerable amount of her characters extraordinarily relatable. Her novels are also funny, witty and sharp.
Have you read Jane Austen? What do you think of her books?