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A Journey into the Past with Jane Austen

“All young ladies accomplished!…They all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses.” Pride and Prejudice   Jennifer Forest, author of the bestselling book, Jane Austen’s Sewing Box recently spent some time telling me how she first discovered Jane Austen, and how her enthusiasm for Austen’s work developed into her newest book. As the school curriculum focused on 20th century novelists with the occasional visit to Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare, I discovered Jane Austen myself. My favorite novels at first were Persuasion and Mansfield Park. These may be strange choices to many Austen fans but to a younger reader as I was then, the historical references and the complexity of the dilemmas Anne Elliot and Fanny Price faced fascinated me. However, as time progresses, my favorite novel often changes – it partly depends on which one I’ve just re- read! Having conducted a fair amount of contextual research into the era, and gained a fuller appreciation of the background in which she was working, I now find I don’t really have a favorite Jane Austen novel anymore; I can appreciate each for its own merits. Her parody of the gothic novels of her era in Northanger Abbey is actually wildly funny once you appreciate the kind of novel she was poking fun at. An understanding of the “rules of society” also make Pride and Prejudice an audacious commentary on marriage and money, not to mention just how rude she makes Elizabeth Bennet’s family members! I often get asked where the idea

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