And... Jane Austen's weeklong birthday party begins!
Let's begin with a little confetti, some virtual cake and ice cream, and a tribute to my most favoritest author ever. (Okay, so she's not my only most favoritest author, but she's one of them.)
Jane Austen's stories have, as the cheesy saying goes, stood the test of time. Two hundred years have passed since her first publication (Sense and Sensibility was first printed in autumn of 1811), and she is now one of the most popular authors in the history of western civilization.
But why? What is it about this quiet woman's writing that has touched so many people? Why is she still so wildly popular? Why have her books been standard fare in English literature classrooms, the subject of innumerable films, the tie that binds us Janeites together? (Stupid spell-check wouldn't accept "Janeites". I remedied this by adding it to the dictionary immediately.)
I'm no scholar. I'm not an expert. I'm not Dr. Dashwood, Professor of Jane Austen's Literature and Highly Knowledgeable About Everything. I'm just a high school student who respects, admires and aspires to be like the Austen writer. So take what I say with a grain of salt, and if you disagree with me, that's what my comment box is for.
Jane Austen's books were written in a contemporary setting. Her stories take place at the end of the Georgian and beginning of the Regency eras. Etiquette, clothing, food, transportation and language have all changed drastically since Miss Austen's era, but her works are still relevant to us in the 21st century... and this is why. I believe that Jane Austen has remained relevant to us today because she wrote about people.
Politics change. Lifestyles change. Language changes. Fashions change. But people do not change. Human nature has remained exactly the same as it was in Jane Austen's time (in fact, it's remained the same since Adam and Eve!) and the way people interact with each other will never change.
The first Austen book I ever read was Pride and Prejudice, when I was fourteen. Summer 2009 was a busy and somewhat stressful season for me, yet I always felt relaxed when I curled up in a chair with P&P. I was captivated from the first page, laughing at Mr. Bennet's sparring with his wife and liking Elizabeth immediately. I'm a very fast reader, but I stretched out P&P as long as I could. When I finally finished it, I didn't want it to end. Something in me had connected with the characters in a way that doesn't happen often. There are few books that touch me the way Pride and Prejudice did (among them are Anne of Green Gables, Johnny Tremain, Little Dorrit, if you're curious). When I finished the book, my mom and I watched the 1995 A&E miniseries together, and I fell in love with the story all over again.
That was the beginning. Over my ninth grade year, I devoured Sense and Sensibility and Emma, then read Mansfield Park and Persuasion in summer 2010. On the ride home from our family vacation in May of this year, I laughed myself silly over Northanger Abbey. I was hooked. The language was different from what I was accustomed to speaking, the manners and customs a bit unfamiliar. But the people, the characters--they leapt off the page.
Elizabeth Bennet inspired and amused me. Elinor Dashwood was a kindred spirit. Marianne gave me opportunity to laugh and to cry. Catherine Morland made me giggle and Anne Elliot made me think. Fanny Price set an example for me, while Emma Woodhouse made me groan and shake my head--but I loved her anyway. I choked with laughter over Mr. Collins and Mrs. Jennings, shook my fist at Mrs. Norris, huffed in exasperation at Sir Walter Elliot, shot imaginary arrows at Willoughby and Henry Crawford, adored Colonel Brandon and fell in love with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley. (See Abby's post for more on the subject.)
Jane Austen's characters aren't just words on a page, you see. They are people--they are friends.
I'm forever grateful to the modest, unpretentious lady who didn't see fit to acknowledge herself as author in the first editions of her works. She gave me a collection of volumes that are displayed with pride on my bookshelf. She opened my eyes (albeit indirectly) to the world of period drama. She inspired me to write.
She gave me the beginnings of yet another period drama blog... and with it, a multitude of new friends. Without Jane Austen, I never would have cyber-met any of you.
Thank you, Jane Austen. Happy birthday.