Criticise her all you will, it’s nothing to me; Jane Austen is my dearest friend. Warning: I write this post sipping tea from my ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ mug, staring proudly at my new merch (can’t do it justice; see picture.)
The woman is perfection. She is a witty, dry, perceptive, insanely intelligent goddess.
As a 17 year old myself, I can only marvel at her epistolary novel ‘Lady Susan‘, which she wrote at my age.
Austen and I first met in 2005, when I was 8 and she 230. This was the year of the infamous portrayal of Elizabeth by Keira Knightley. Forgive me Reader, for I have sinned; that film holds a special place in my heart. It’s extravagant, Hollywood and inaccurate, but it was the first time I met the characters; I remember my young grin as the footman announced ‘a Mrs Bennett, Miss Bennett, Miss Bennett and a- Miss Bennett.’ (Innaccurate, of course but amusing nevertheless.) I’m not stubborn enough that my view of each character remains loyal to the film’s portrayal, but I do believe that the film captures their essence pretty well.
Later, in 2008 when ‘Sense and Sensibilty‘ arrived on the BBC, I fell in love with her plots all over again. I moved straight on to read ‘Pride and Prejudice‘. Admittedly, as an 11 year old still in primary school, much of the novel’s genius was lost on me. Nevertheless, I rooted for Darcy and Elizabeth, bickered with Lydia as if she were my own sister and detested Wickham (not to be confused with Willoughby!) with a burning passion. The confusion between names is something which continues to trouble me to this day: the more Austen you read, the more confusing it gets. Musgrove, for example, a name which features in both ‘The Watsons‘ and ‘Persuasion‘, for very different characters, had my opinions somewhat confused.
I am now studying AS Level English, where my beloved ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ is my set text. This year alone I have rewatched the Knightley version and seen it dramatised in ‘Death Comes To Pemberley‘. I have listened to the serialisation on Radio 4, I am currently reading ‘Longbourn‘ (review to come) and I had my friends over for a ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ tea-party. I also attempted to listen to ‘What Would Elizabeth Bennet Do?’ but it was too excruciating. Really, the AS syllabus has just given me an excuse to obsess.
I thought that studying the novel would make me hate it; it can’t be THAT interesting, right? Wrong. This book is not by any means the chick flick that my young self enjoyed. It is far, far more. Austen commands her language with subtle genius; her flawless use of irony has you in love with her mind and desperate to be her friend. Her perception and understanding of her world is jaw-dropping; she effortlessly and eloquently articulates the thoughts you’ve never been able to word and speaks with such secure insight that you realise things you’d never quite understood. Alright, argue that she doesn’t address the ‘bigger issues’ and ignores the wars and awful conditions for the working class, but she was young. We have to remember that Austen died before she was ready. With the literature she was producing, the powerful, subtle critiques of the society she knew, I have no doubt that she would have gone on to write some amazing, ‘deeper’ novels. And, honestly, do you know what? That’s not what her novels were about. She was writing about her immediate world, the life she knew and could, therefore, write most and best about. And she did it bloody well, she worked miracles in her novels, regardless of their subject. Anyway, she creates fantastic stories; you don’t complain that Shakespeare’s Othello didn’t make you laugh, so don’t criticise Austen for not working the tragedy of a Napoleonic war into her feminist, romantic, critical, witty novels. Can you tell that I’m defensive?
Austen as a woman also makes my heart swell. She was individual, gutsy, bitchy, perceptive, independent and simply wonderful. I shan’t go into the details, but for me, the last chapter of Persuasion was indescribably powerful. As the last book she wrote, that last chapter is to me like Austen’s last words, voicing her intelligence and understanding to those she left behind. I wish she were still alive today.
What an inspiration; Austen, I love you.
Eva O’Flynn, 17, is an aspiring English student. She writes for the blog, Reviews and Rants, where this article originally appeared. It is used here with permission.