Why Jane Austen And I Go Way Back.
Jane Austen and I go way back. My love for Jane's books is rooted and connected to my fondness for reading. If ever I need the comfort of a book to escape, I turn to Jane or to Harry. My literary pieces of chocolate on a gloomy day.
Now if you have loved something this long, you tend to forget why exactly you love it that much. You cannot explain it anymore and I found myself defending my devotion to Jane without any weaponry. Do the stories really only appeal to me because they are historical love stories with happy endings? Is there no more to it?
I reached back in time, deep into my memory and what I found was this:
I fell in love with her leading ladies. Though Jane and I are 200 years apart I could see myself as one of her characters. I could understand the issues they were facing. What kind of person would I be tied up in societal chains that restrict my every move? Would I be a Lizzy? Fighting for my opinion and rebelling against those chains? Would I be a Marianne? Awaiting my destiny as if I had nothing to change to it and lost in dreams of love. Would I be Eleanor? Ever practical and focused on the small parts I could alter to my life and bearing the rest as well as I could.
I tried to imagine myself having nothing in life but balls, patchwork, endless gossip and waiting for a man of good fortune to fall in love with me. And what happens after the marriage? More of the same. Though in her novels Jane always ends up uniting the lovers and ending the story on a high note, she questioned the very foundation of society at the time. To put it in her words: "Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings"
I also love Jane's dark side. She is extremely critical of some of her characters, depicting only the foolishness of their nature. When she believes someone to be utterly irredeemable she will depict them as such. Lovely examples of this are Mrs Bennet, Lydia, Mr Willoughby, Mr. Elliot, etc. And to balance out this darkness, she intertwines humor in ways we would miss it. The non-plussed Mr. Collins and his clumsy manners cannot be missed. The idiotic and vain father of Anne Elliot in Persuasion. Or as Mr. Bennet would say it: "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?"
Now, finally, Pride and Prejudice holds a special place in my heart. The first time I met Lizzie and the Mr. Darcy was on Sunday morning, watching the BBC with my mom. My mom was watching the 6 hour BBC series of Pride and Prejudice and I – for lack of better things to do – sat beside her that Sunday and watched the series with her. I was only around 11 at the time and could not really understand the English quite as well as I wanted, so I kept interrupting the series asking my mom what was happening. Patience as a saint she had in explaining me everything and I fell in love with the story right there and then. With the rebellious Lizzie and the vivid characters and conversations.The series spread over 6 weeks of 1 hour,episodes on Sunday and my mom and we watched it religiously. Then we continued with Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Northanger Abbey and other English classics. A tradition was born; I think we must have watched the BBC series every year, as I gave it to her that year at Christmas.
So maybe my love of Jane's stories is connected to nostalgia and the longing for such a Sunday afternoon, but I stand by her even without that. Jane stories give you a glance at a different world. She makes you take a look at the characters surrounding you, she makes you look at human nature and how we behave unknowingly, unconsciously. And she is sharp as a knife in her writing.
Some great quotes to remember:
"Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast."
"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?"
“There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”
“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”