I often wonder what Jane Austen would have thought if she’d known quite how much her books would still be enjoyed two hundred years after she’d written them, and also whether she would have approved of the many tributes in the form of continuations, sequels, mash-ups, and the many film and television adaptations that her work has inspired.
From reading those favourite books of Pride and Prejudice,Sense and Sensibility andPersuasion, I was eager to learn more about the author herself whose personality leaps from the pages with sparkle, energy and humour. It always seems to me that becoming acquainted with Jane and her work throws up more questions than can be answered, but that’s what makes the study so intriguing. Who is the girl behind these witty tales with heroines that I long to emulate? Where did she live and what did she look like? And what about the books themselves? Was it Lydia Bennet’s fault that she turned out to be so wild, and was Marianne Dashwood really in love with Colonel Brandon at the end of Sense and Sensibility? Questions like these evolved into asking what happened at the end of her books, and in their turn, Jane Austen’s novels have inspired me to write my own, and also to try my hand at capturing my idea of Jane’s image in a portrait and other paintings.
The fact that she only wrote six books matters not if you are a true Janeite. The stories captivate and possess the reader, so that they can be enjoyed again and again. I’m always finding something new that I haven’t found before, and this is why I love returning to the books. The characters in her novels are written with such colour and truth that we suspect they must be based on people that she knew. How many times have we wondered if Jane shared aspects of both Elinor and Marianne’s personalities? Did she fall in love with a Mr. Darcy of her own? Because we really know so little about her, Jane is an enigmatic character with secrets and mystery in her life. We would love to know who really inspired Captain Frederick Wentworth, and we do not want to believe he was only the product of her wonderful imagination. Jane speaks to us through her books, and we all wish that she truly found happiness whilst she was here on earth for a time, however short, just as her heroines did.
We all recognize her characters, and for me, part of the fun with my own writing is the joy of thinking up new conversations and situations to invent for them. Daily life can provide much help here. Everyone has come across a Caroline Bingley, haughty and jealous; and I’m sure some of us have experienced the put-downs of a Lady Catherine de Bourgh, as well as the delightfully pert opinions of an Elizabeth Bennet. Lord Brabourne summed it up beautifully: Human nature is the same in all ages of the world, and ‘the inimitable Jane’ (as an old friend of mine used always to call her) is true to Nature from first to last. She does not attract our imagination by sensational descriptions or marvellous plots; but, with so little ‘plot’ at all as to offend those who read only for excitement, she describes men and women exactly as men and women really are, and tells her tale of ordinary, everyday life with such truthful delineation, such bewitching simplicity, and, moreover, with such purity of style and language, as have rarely been equalled, and perhaps never surpassed. …”
Jane Austen’s novels transport me completely where I can lose myself entirely in another world, and I am so grateful to her for enriching my life forever. Jane’s books have given me a new career, and introduced me to lovely people I would otherwise not have met. My experiences get more and more exciting – and it’s all thanks to ‘the inimitable Jane’!
Jane Odiwe is an author and an artist. She is completely obsessed with all things Austen and is the author of Lydia Bennet’s Story, Willoughby’s Return and the newly published Mr. Darcy’s Secret, and author and illustrator of Effusions of Fancy, consisting of several annotated sketches from the life of Jane Austen. She lives with her husband and three children in North London and Bath, England.
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