Wednesday 16 December 2015

Celebrating Jane Austen: Jane Austen, Me and You


I first read Jane Austen’s novels during my A-levels. I grew up against the background of the adaptations and I knew all of the stories because my mum was a huge fan of everything Austen, but I never got to reading them so between 16 and 18 I devoured them all except Mansfield Park which I actually only finished this January!

On my first reading and based on the adaptations I was all about Sense and Sensibility. The Dashwood sisters are some of my very favourite characters in literature and I particularly fell in love with Elinor. For one, my middle name is in honour of her, and I also felt akin to the way she bottles everything up and suffers her feelings in silence, and still gets her happy ending. But as I've got older Persuasion has got it's claws into my heart.

Persuasion was Austen’s final novel, published posthumously in 1818, and I love seeing Austen’s growth in writing, humour, and in Anne Elliot. There’s a maturity and contentment there that I love, and it's something that I missed when I was younger.


My all-time favourite is Sense and Sensibility. I adore the underlying values that run throughout the story, like the importance of family and true friendships, staying true to your heart, and broken hearts can be mended.
          - Fliss @felicityjv

Oddly, what others seem to view as its faults, make Northanger Abbey my favourite of Jane Austen's work. Though published after her death in 1817, Northanger Abbey—a coming-of-age novel about a young girl who is thrown into the realm of society and falling in love—was the very first novel to be penned by Jane and, as the critics seem to constantly yabber on about, you can tell.

The author's motives are more direct in this book, the irony and sarcasm not so subtle and developed, but that, my friends, is where the genius lies: Jane is being blunt.

One such example is her opinion on books in an early paragraph—'work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed'—and you can practically see Jane there at her writing desk—a talented young woman in a society where women weren't meant to be talented, they were just meant to be married—scribbling away ferociously, her passion for her craft spilling onto the page without constraint. Marvellous.

And then there's her protagonist, the young Catherine Morland. Catherine isn't all that pretty and she isn't all that sophisticated. Straight away we are told that no one 'would have supposed her born to be a heroine.' Anyone else ever felt that way about themselves in life? I certainly have. And I bet Jane did too. But, she says, who cares whether Catherine isn't what is to be expected of a heroine?

She is one.

I love all of Jane's works but Northanger Abbey is the novel in which I most see the opinionated, fiery nature of our beloved author, and that, quite frankly, is invaluable.
          - Katy Birchall, author of The It Girl @KatyBirchall

Sense and Sensibility so well illustrates that love is often a choice we make, for better or worse, in family and partners.
          - @shhhimwriting

It would be so easy to say Pride and Prejudice here, but actually, I really like Mansfield Park. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I think Fanny Price is an incredibly strong character - she loses her home and family, she's abused by her miserable Aunt Norris and is overlooked by her other relations. Fanny not only comes through this, she sticks to her guns and comes out on top; getting the man she wants, the home she wants and the respect of everybody. Yes it's a morality tale, which doesn't sit well with modern tastes, but it's a piece of British social history and shows the moral concerns of an age not that far from our own. It's also very funny and there's a radio play adaptation of it with Benedict Cumberbatch and David Tennant - what more could you want?
          - Ally at Boo the Bookworm

I personally love Northanger Abbey – I think she’s so clever with her satire. We’re supposed to laugh at Catherine naivety and overactive imagination, but we’re also supposed to recognise that women’s experience in that society could be as bad as being in Gothic novel (in that your life could literally be ruined by a man giving you a bad reputation).
          - Hebe at The English Student

The first and only book I've read all the way through of Jane Austen’s is Northanger Abbey. I've read it a few times over the years but I first read it in sixth form, to prepare myself for A-level English Literature. I was instantly in love. The sweeping gothic landscape, the Georgian romance, not to mention the dark castles and, of course, Mr Tilney! It might have been a parody of the new Gothic craze that was gripping Regency England but I loved it.
          - Anya at An Awful Lot of Reading @awfullotofbooks

Let me know in the comments, by tweet or by email which of Austen’s novels is your favourite!


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