It’s Jane Austen’s birthday!
Few writers (I’m searching for any writers…) can claim such contemporary relevance and such a strong following 242 years after their birth! We have so appropriated Miss Austen’s world that her books still rank among our bestsellers and her movies still pull in strong profits. I just read that a new production of Sanditon is coming our way as is Jo Baker’s Longbourn, which retells Pride and Prejudice from the servants’ viewpoints. So, I’m happy to report, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was not our last visit to Regency, England.
Yet, while I’m delighted we’re still digging into Austen’s world, I’m also fascinated as to why? What is it about Austen’s writing and world that keep us so entranced? I may have taken this question a little farther than most, by centering an entire book around it, but I was curious. In The Austen Escape, one character dubbed her the “ultimate escapist experience for the modern literate woman.” On Jane Austen’s birthday, here are few reasons she might be right…
#1. We love Jane Austen because she knows us best… And dresses us well!
Austen communicated the unfaltering truth of human nature in a transient environment. She focused her wit on the hypocrisies, limitations and social realities within her time and within the people who occupied her drawing room. Over two hundred years later, the drawing rooms have changed – the hearts have not. Through her novels, we meet ourselves, dressed in silk dresses and hair ribbons, and we make the same mistakes, carry prejudices, act poorly, demonstrate beautiful loyalty, and stand courageously. We know Wickhams, Caroline Bingleys, Lydias and Marys at work and in school. And, if we’re blessed, we count a few Lizzys, Janes, Georgianas and Charlottes among our friends.
#2. We love Jane Austen because she told us our story isn’t written – and we believe her.
Human nature writ-large may be static, but we as individuals are not. Austen told us this through every novel and she earned our trust because she never lied. Sure she offered up some fairytale endings, but they came to her heroines only through copious mistakes, bad behavior and long nights of painful self-reflection. No midnight ghosts to set things right for them, or for us. We are continually redefining ourselves and discovering new things within us, as preconceptions and prejudices get swiped away in the bright, sometimes harsh, light of reality.
Emma is a delightful example of this. Austen, in an ironic play, exposes Emma’s self-absorption and arrogance by naming the novel after her – solely Emma. Yet, at the start, she also gives Emma a remarkable capacity for understanding, empathy, sacrifice and selfless love. But that’s not enough… this is a slow journey of self-revelation, and a beautiful story of transformation. As is often true in our own lives, it takes mistakes, pain, and even a little outside correction to get Emma there. No one will ever forget Mr. Knightley’s “It was badly done, indeed!” I still cringe, knowing the same has been said to me – again and again.
#3. We love Jane Austen because her world still feels like home.
I don’t mean Regency, England – that would be an escape. I mean the close-quarters, emotional if not physical, of families and friends.
Austen’s characters stayed in their villages – or complained about a fifty-mile carriage ride outside them. In those close quarters, her men and women moved through kitchens, ballrooms and life. She didn’t need more canvas. Nor do we. Although the concerns of the world do and should draw us to the larger stage, our actions close to home are paramount. How we love those nearest us determines how we help and love those far away.
And last but not least…
#4. We love Jane Austen because she knew a good workout was a daily must!
Austen women walk. She had those women walking miles when they needed to chat, clear their heads, go on a mercy mission to aid a sick sister, or to visit an aunt, an inn, the poor…
Today we know exercise clears our minds, helps us sleep, improves our moods, strengthens our bones and muscles, and helps prevent disease… All good things. And if those aren’t reasons enough, Austen gave us more: Good things happened on her walks: Mr. Knightley proposed to Emma; Darcy proposed to Elizabeth; and after one long walk Captain Wentworth handed Anne into a carriage and, I say, fell in love with her all over again. Does it get better than that?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little traipse into Austen with me to celebrate her birthday. Thank you for inviting me to share! Please share your Birthday Wishes for Miss Jane in the comments.
Katherine Reay is a writer, wife, mom, continually rehabbing runner, compulsive vacuumist and a horrific navigator… The Reay family (with a great sense of permanency) now resides outside Chicago, and Katherine pursues writing with more focus. She writes character-driven stories and non-fiction that focuses upon examining the past and how it influences our present experiences. Check out her newest book, The Austen Escape, in stores now.
HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., operates Page Chaser, the publisher of The Austen Escape.