November 24, 2014

Falling For Jane

Jane Austen, English novelist whose works include Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one delights in something, to be able to share that happiness with someone who understands is a wondrous occasion. And a particular story you enjoy quite a lot is probably not to be shared in lengthy detail with someone of your acquaintance who does not read at all, as they will most likely become bored with the subject long before you. Hence, you can imagine my astonished joy when a dearest friend commenced to reading Jane Austen and has, quite simply, fallen in love! :)

This delightful happenstance has led to many an attempt at "Austen-ese" via text message. Which leads to much grinning on my part. It has also led my brain to begin thinking. (As if I'm ever not thinking. My brain never shuts off!)

For instance, I contemplate when I first fell for Jane. I have to remember back several years. I confess it didn't happen until my twenties. I do remember watching Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson at a friend's house when I was still in school, but my true appreciation for Jane didn't begin then. It began in my early twenties when I watched Pride and Prejudice for the first time. I found the '96 version as well as the '80 version at a small library and proceeded to watch both and fall in love. I can't even tell you exactly what it was that struck me. The whole experience of the time period, the dresses, the characters, the accents, the words they used (felicity! thither! "...a pair of fine eyes..."!), it all combined to draw me in and made me search out every detail on Austen herself, her books, and all the adaptations of her stories. I began to collect just about every adaptation that I could get my hands on! And obsessively watch them many, many times.

Sadly for me, no one of my immediate circle of friends understood my obsession, so I was left to squeal and fangirl all by myself. Then I discovered the online community of awesome people who love Jane too! And that made me very happy indeed. :D

And all that thinking about Jane has lead me to wonder what exactly it is that makes her still so popular. (Note: Many, many others have contemplated this exact thing and have written lots of wonderful articles and posts about it much more eloquently than I. All I'm going to venture into is a small portion of my thoughts and opinions on this subject.)

Emma & Mr. Knightley
In speaking with said friend, who is currently making her way through Emma, one thing did come out. She didn't precisely say this, but I think she had had this idea of Jane's writing to be much more romantic than it actually is. Not to say that Jane's stories don't have romance in them because they do! And quite swoonworthy it is too. ;) But I think the adaptations tend to focus quite a lot more on that aspect than the actual books do. Which, when I think about it, how can we expect real people to be able to accurately act out all the minute details and observations that Jane employs in her books? We can't. That's the difference between books and movies. It's the quandary that will always be there, in my opinion. Writing can convey ever so much more than a person can act out. Because we simply can't read minds like we can via a book. (Which is okay. I can appreciate both things. I like Jane's books a great deal, but I'm also more than a bit fond of all the adaptations out there. :)

In fact, in going back and reading a few portions of her stories that I have on my shelves, I was reminded that Jane excelled in giving detail but not really giving detail. That doesn't seem to make much sense, except I don't know how else to explain it. In Persuasion (which happens to be my favorite btw), she doesn't give every single detail about what exactly was said word for word between Anne and Captain Wentworth in the final few chapters, yet she gives enough detail that we understand completely what they said and how they said it and what they were feeling. So there's plenty of detail, but it's not the he-said-then-she-said-then-he-responded-and-then-she-responded kind. She alludes to it more or less. Does that make sense? It's something that's pretty unique to her writing. And it's a part of her writing that I really like actually.

If you're an Austen fan, I think it's safe to say that whatever our reasons for liking her stories, she most certainly was an excellent writer! And when you're privileged to find another fan of hers (especially in real life!), it makes for wonderful and fun conversations. :) What about you? When did you first fall for Jane? What was it that made you a fan? I'm curious to know how it happened for everyone else!


  1. Ah, dear, dear Jane Austen!

    I first fell for Jane when I watched the 1995 (best ever) version of P&P. Then I started reading her books, watching other movie adaptions and, lo and behold, another fan! :-)

    1. The '95 version is my favorite as well, Naomi! I think mostly because it was the first one I'd seen and it was the catalyst of my true intro to Jane. If I hadn't found it at the library, I wouldn't be the Austen-addict that I am now! Which would be very sad indeed. It just doesn't take much to fall for her, does it? I'm always happy to meet another fan! :)

  2. Well, I kind of came to Jane through TV, 1995 and P&P. I think I read the book a couple of years later when I was 14 and I really liked the language and how quotable it was - I was big into quotes back then - but yeah, there are large portions of her books that are basically about parties and manners, it's not a Romance Novel, but it is a romantic novel.

    Yet, I would never ever call her a romance writer, though I recognize she's a direct predecessor and historical reference for the Romance Genre in that she tells us the stories mostly from the female point of view, and her heroines are always entirely lady-like and proper, yet they are proactive and fight for what they want in their own way.

    Lizzie doesn't play coy with Darcy and I love that line where she basically says "I got to know him more and I liked him more." about Darcy. Emma does as she pleases, Marianne pursues her love without fear or shame, and (eventually) recovers when that doesn't pan out, Elinor is honorable and protective, Fanny says no to a marriage that she knew would be disastrous and even though she's the poor relation she doesn't allow them to bully her into it just because it would be sensible; and so on.

    1. That's the perfect way to describe it, Alex. Jane's books aren't Romance novels, but ARE romantic novels. I wouldn't call her a romance writer at all. Yet she did know how to set up a romantic moment and give us some pretty swoonworthy heroes. That being said, you're exactly right. Her heroines have spunk and spirit. They have their values and their beliefs and refuse to diverge from them. While they are open to change and learning new things and becoming better people, their inherent selves never change. She writes them as role-models really. Maybe not perfect, but even in their flaws still willing to love and be loved, to take care of their (imperfect) families, to strive for what is right and so on. Her characters are human, which makes them relatable. And they're always willing to fight for what they want. By whatever lady-like means possible. Even when things seemingly aren't going the way they'd wish, they still refuse to completely give up on everything. They feel alive. And real.

  3. The Emma Thompson S&S was my first foray into Austen. I liked it okay, but then I saw the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma and loved that, so my mom got me a set of 4 of Austen's novels for my birthday, and I liked them okay. Until I got to Persuasion, I really liked that one a lot. But I didn't consider myself an Austen fan. More of, "I've read some famous books by this famous author, got those crossed off my to-do list." I saw the '95 P&P in college when my lit prof loaned it to me, and thought it was nice. I saw the 2005 P&P on DVD when it came to the local rental store and thought it was lots of fun. I read Mansfield Park a few years later and disliked it greatly.

    But I didn't really start to become an Austen fan until I bought a Jane Austen journal on a whim at the book store back in 2011. I started going through the quotes that decorated various pages and going, "These are really funny! This are really sharp and sarcastic. I don't remember Austen being like that at all." I remembered romance and lots of daily life, but I'd pretty well missed the wit. Except in the GP Emma, that has always made me laugh a lot, and I remember being very disappointed that the book didn't make me laugh at all when I read it at the age of 17.

    So I took my birthday money to the bookstore and bought a boxed set of trade paperbacks of all six of the major novels. In 2012, I set myself the task of reading all of them in a year. I had a new baby and lots of reading time (breastfeeding provides glorious swathes of reading time, folks). Off I went. And I laughed and I laughed over her books. This time, I got them, that they're not about the romance, though certainly the romance is important. But that they're about showing us the lives of real people, letting us laugh at them and with them, and thus laugh at ourselves as well. Showing us that the tedium of daily life is important and noteworthy.

    So now I'm an Austen fan :-)

    Persuasion is still my favorite, though. And I'm eagerly anticipating re-reading it next month for Heidi's read-along on her new blog. I hope you can join us if you find the time!

    Oh, and have you seen this? I'm saving up my pennies for one.

    1. I just had the thought recently that I should check Litographs site for some Persuasion stuff. I hadn't seen that and I love it! I think I'm going to save up my pennies for one too.

      That is such a great story, Hamlette! :) I didn't really get all the wit on my first read through of Persuasion, which was the first book of hers I read. But subsequent readings has brought it out. Maybe I just needed to grow up a little or something? And yes! You said it perfectly. ..they're about showing us the lives of real people, letting us laugh at them and with them, and thus laugh at ourselves as well. Showing us that the tedium of daily life is important and noteworthy. She allows us to see ourselves and to laugh at ourselves. And the romantic parts are just a wonderful addition to that. Jane Austen was quite an amazing writer. To be able to do that for her readers, even 200 years later is quite an accomplishment!

      I'd love to reread Persuasion again. It's been a little while since my last one. We shall see if I can fit it in! Thanks for mentioning the read-along.


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