You KNEW Jane was going to be in the first 10, right? Come on now.
The way my love affair with Jane began is probably the way many women’s love affair with Jane began–the Wet Shirt. (If you want to see it, I have posted video! Check it. :))
I was over at my best friend, Tiffany’s, house one night, as I often was in high school, and I noticed her parents had a big VHS set of Pride and Prejudice on one of the bookshelves. At this point, I had read no Jane. I had heard of her, of course. But I hadn’t read her, yet. So I asked Mr and Mrs. D if I could borrow their copy. I brought it home.
I was in love.
OK, yes, some of that was Colin. I mean, hello. And some of it was Jennifer Ehle, and some of it was “I want to go to BRIGHTON!” But all of it sprung from Jane’s pen.
I had a copy of the book, at that point–I’m not sure why, now that I think of it–and I picked it up. I devoured it. I was in love. Smitten. Words flowed over me. I re-enacted the Jane/Lady Catherine “Wilderness” sequence in my bedroom. It was delight beyond delight.
This was before I had discovered amazon.com, so I had to get her books slowly, as I wanted to read all the Oxford World Classic’s editions. I began to build my Jane library.
And thus, Jane went everywhere with me. When I travel, there is one Jane book always with me. I wrote my college English thesis on Mansfield Park. I have Jane Austen quotes around my house, I have the movies (except the 2005 P&P, which is anathema to me!). I have an entire shelf of books about her writing and her life. Friends bring me back Jane-ish things when they travel.
Why Jane? Part of it is writing. It is glorious, funny, true, spare (no crazy diversions, thank you very much!), and TRUE. Did I mention true? She so understands human nature. Part of it is her life: full of drama. And part of it is, she lived the writer’s maxim: Write what you know. She didn’t do what Charlotte Bronte did, and write about things gothic and strange (for which Charlotte would berate her, later). She wrote about life in the English countryside, because that is what she lived.
P&P here is standing in for all of Jane: Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, the letters, the juvenalia, the unfinished works. I have multiple editions of all her novels–there are even comic book versions of S&S and P&P–and Christmas usually includes one Jane Austen book, either under the tree or bought by me with Christmas money. I can never know enough about her and her life, and her delightful creations.
To read Jane is to read about your friends, neighbors, and yourself, because Jane writes about regular people and regular events. Everyone knows a homebody like Mr. Woodhouse, or a busybody like Emma, or a hopeless romantic like Catherine Morefield and Marianne Dashwood. There’s always backbiting girls, like the Bingley sisters, and dashing, simple-headed men, like Frank Churchill. And, of course, there’s the heroes: open and friendly Charles Bingley; honorable Edward Ferris and Colonel Brandon; proud Fitzwilliam, and the steadfast Frederick. And the rouge, Willoughby! And Wickham!
We know these people. And in reading Jane, we learn about ourselves, as well.