Friday, 16 December 2016

Happy Birthday Miss Austen (can I call you Jane?)

Hello hello. 

On this day - December 16th - 241 years ago Jane Austen came into this world. Like me a second daughter born on a Saturday, (not that I'm desperately looking for a connection with her, and not that I was born to George and Cassandra Austen). 
35 years later in 1811 the first of her novels was published (Sense & Sensibility) and then within just six short years all of her completed novels had been published. Six years!! All of those icons of English Literature, all of those stories which have given millions of people pleasure ever since - made their way into the world in just six years. 

That same year, 1817, aged only 41 ... she exited this world leaving behind both a legacy she could never have dreamt of, and her stories. Thank goodness she left behind those stories.  
I can remember the first time I read any Austen; it was in the first year of my English Literature degree, it was Emma, and from the moment I'd dived into it I wondered how I'd managed to reach my twenties without reading her until then. 

I'd never had to read any in school and, during the 90s - a period of many well known adaptations - had also bred a lot of Austen parodies which coloured my perception of her. All I really knew about the stories was that comedians portrayed them as frivolous, a little bit ridiculous, with plots and characters to be made fun of. So when I had to read one I thought I knew what I was getting ...

... how wrong could I be? 

The biggest revelation was ... she's bloody funny! 

Those parodies that present her work as laughable don't seem to acknowledge that she was actually intending to be funny. 
  • She's the one making the sharp observations, 
  • she's the one skewering pompous personalities with her pen, 
  • she's the one who knows exactly how to draw out character flaws.
If, like me back then, you haven't read Austen because you think it's going to be like the parodies ... can I gently suggest give it a try? Can I persuade you ... (see what I did there?)

American book cover Persuasion by Jane Austen

Yes, of course it's like the parodies in some ways, yes of course people go to society balls a lot, and of course there are always happy endings but ... honestly ... Austen's writing is there to laugh along with not at. 

Oh and, if you've avoided her because of the criticism that she only wrote about domestic life - rather than anything on the world stage (she was writing while the Napoleonic wars were taking place) ... then, please ...

... we've heard enough stories of 'Great Men' from history, and there are plenty of other narratives that can give you a sense of the past. Ditch the men of statues and portraits for a few hours and treat yourself to some time in the intimate, brilliantly observed, company of Austen's women.

Some Austen-alia to look forward to:

I probably should have turned around, with my iced bun in my hand, and told her that Jane Austen is not just any 'woman' ...

Happy Birthday Jane!

Julie x



  1. my snipped tales arrived yesterday, thank you - I am saving it for myself for Christmas and will share on social media once I have fully unwrapped and enjoyed!! oh, and happy birthday Jane x

    1. You're not the only one I've heard who's saving it up as a gift to themselves - happy reading to you Helen!

  2. THat was brilliant.... Being a scrapbooker myslef I enjoyed looking at your page.. Lovely...

    1. Thanks Fiona - maybe one day I'll dip back into scrapbooking ... maybe!

  3. I didn't know it was her 200 year anniversary next year! Maybe I should set a goal to read all her novels in her 200th year. (I have read some of them, but it wouldn't hurt to read them again would it?) Merry Christmas Julie XXX

    1. I'm thinking of doing exactly the same Linda! I might even tie it in with the 2017 project - from the Book & Brew blog - of reading 'The Full Works'. If you scroll through Dawn's post here there's a little more about it:

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