A few weeks ago, I decided to read all of Jane Austen’s novels. I didn’t remember ever reading any of them in high school or college and now that I’ve finished my quest, I’m sure I’ve never read a Jane Austen novel before.
Why? Well, her writing is so distinctive and frankly, the stories so ingratiating that I couldn’t possibly have forgotten any one of them if I had already read them.
I came away with a slightly different take than what I’ve heard from others – particularly those saying how much they loved her novels. While I really think she was a genius, especially in capturing the subtle inferences the people of her time took away from the most minute of daily interactions, I had a hard time with Emma, until I realized that she was being sarcastic and then Mansfield Park, because I had such a hard time liking Fanny. In both instances, I really didn’t care for the heroine until at least halfway through the novel.
However, I didn’t put my Kindle down, even when I was struggling, again because she was such a great chronicler of thoughts, peeling away with the greatest care and enormous effort each thin layer of what makes up an opinion or feeling. As ridiculous as the lifestyles and concerns of that time seem now, the emotions and way of extracting what we think out of all the input we experience everyday remains the same. We may be seem to be more open now but when it comes to protecting ourselves, I think, in general, people still measure the reactions of others with extreme caution before making their own moves.
Reading her novels told me that people are people. We evolve very, very slowly, it seems.
I was also struck by her fascination, which I assume was the fashion of the day, with carriages. If you read her novels, you can’t help but notice that what type of carriage you had and how many horses to pull it mattered a great deal – much like our society’s reverence for cars and their implied status.
If you haven’t already read the entire Jane Austen library, I would suggest you add it to your bucket list. My favorite is Persuasion.