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Author Spotlight – Jane Austen

Author Spotlight Shines on Jane Austen

By Mirah W. (mwelday)

 

 

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.”  I swear, I think those are some of the best words in literature.  I mean, dang, Jane!  How long did it take you to come up with that?  Did it just roll off your quill or did you craft for hours how Captain Wentworth would declare his love to Anne?  However it happened, it’s spectacular and it’s purely Jane.

This author spotlight post is pure indulgence on my part.  I love Jane Austen. I’ve read her books multiple times and I could talk about her books all day.  Mayhaps you think I’m crazy because classics are boring.  Oh, my dear reader, don’t pierce my soul!  Jane Austen is timeless.  I said in a previous post if I had to pick someone, living or dead, to eat dinner with I’d want to have Jane sitting at my table.  No doubt Jane and I would talk into the wee hours about life, love, family, society.  She would ‘get me’, I know it.  And perhaps she’d read my mind and read aloud some of her favorite passages from her novels.  I often have wondered what parts she liked best…when Darcy dismisses Elizabeth at the first dance when they meet, when Lady Catherine spews her ‘shades of Pemberley’ nastiness or perhaps when Mr. Tilney and Miss Moreland walk together and talk of books at Beechen Cliff. It’s all amazing and bears the question: where did this creative genius come from?

Jane Austen was born in 1775 to Reverend George and Cassandra Austen at Steventon Rectory.  Jane’s father encouraged education for his daughters and Jane and her sister Cassandra were sent to boarding school when Jane was just eight years old.  Jane kept journals with poems, short stories and plays.  Before 1796 Jane penned Elinor and Marianne, which would later become Sense and Sensibility, her first published work in 1811. And by 1799 Jane completed her first draft of First Impressions, which would later be published as Pride and Prejudice (1813).  In 1800 Jane’s father retired from the clergy and the family left Steventon to live in Bath.  After her father’s death in 1805 Jane became more dedicated to her writing.  Her mother and sister took on more chores and duties so Jane could write freely and her brother began to get her works published. Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice received positive reviews and were followed by the publishing of Mansfield Park and Emma.  In 1816 Jane’s health began to deteriorate but she continued to write in an effort to complete works she’d already begun.  The next year her brother Henry and sister Cassandra took her to get medical treatment but Jane was very ill and sadly passed away on July 18, 1817 when she was only 42 years old.  After her death Henry and Cassandra saw that her final completed works, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published.  It wasn’t until after her death Henry made it known Jane Austen had written the six novels, whose author had previously been anonymous.

Jane Austen was a woman ahead of her time.  She forged ahead with her writing at a time when women were meant to be demure and bend to wills of their fathers or husbands.  Jane’s love life didn’t have the happy ending most of her female characters experience. It is widely believed she loved Tom Lefroy but was kept from marrying him because of his family’s disapproval.  Her other romantic tie was to Harris Bigg-Wither.  Jane actually received and accepted an offer of marriage from childhood friend Harris but later declined because she was not truly in love with him.  Both relationships are mentioned briefly to family members in letters written by Jane herself.

Jane’s novels are like manna for me.  Having a bad day, read some Jane.  Feeling like life is kind of crappy, read some Jane. Need just a little pick-me-up, read some Jane and call me in the morning. And I don’t even have to read the entire novel, sometimes I can just read my favorite parts, like the letter from Wentworth to Anne I quoted at the beginning of this post.  Maybe I’m biased by being married to a sailor, but Persuasion is my favorite.   I mean, really, how could even the most cold-hearted sod read that and not feel a little flutter of love?  Impossible, I say.

Jane expresses love, hate, friendship and pride in a way that is incomparable.  She puts the truths of society and humanity into words that can’t be ignored.  Take this little gem from Emma:  ‘Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.’  Preach it, Jane!  I think themes about vanity and pride are in all of Jane’s novels.  How often do we discount others, even ourselves, because of pride or vanity?  How many opportunities do we miss because we think we’re too good or not good enough to deserve the chances?  Pride and vanity were interfering with people’s happiness in the days of Jane Austen and it’s still happening today.

Another common theme in Jane’s novels is being true to self.  I think of Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility who wants a quiet life in spite of his mother’s plan for public greatness.  In a conversation with the Dashwoods he provides these words of wisdom: “I wish, as well as every body else, to be perfectly happy; but like every body else, it must be in my own way.”  Bravo, Jane! Jane, a woman who didn’t live the way society dictated she should, eloquently reminds us all we need to be true to ourselves in order to find our happiness.

I daresay Jane’s novels are just as relevant today as they were when they were first published.  Think your family troubles are dragging you down?  Read Mansfield Park…now that family has issues.  Think your love life is complicated?  Try walking in Colonel Brandon’s boots…he has had it rough.  The point is we’re not alone.  Jane Austen observed life, her life and the lives of those around her, and documented life and all its complications in the pages of her novels.  Her novels serve as proof we are not the only ones who stumble, make mistakes, succeed and find love in the most unexpected places.  In my opinion, dear reader, being timeless is the mark of a classic.  And no one is as classic as Jane.

 

 

 

       

 

 

        

 

 

 

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