Completing Jane Austen’s Six

I read part of Pride and Prejudice in high school and it did nothing for me. I watched the BBC mini-series in my British Literature class and I thought, Okay, dancing, letter Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgwriting, guy bathing… entertaining enough, but not worth examining outside of class. Years later, during my last year of college, I finally decided to stop pretending to be an intellectual and pick up Pride and Prejudice again to give it a thorough read.

I was immediately hot with Austen fever, a few years behind my girlfriends who had been romancing the classic for years. While I was getting ready to say goodbye to the safely coddled idealism of college and figure out what to do with my life, Austen was there to take me to a soft place where everyone gets a happy ending and has little footing in the real world. Everyone is nice in Jane Austen, even the bad guys won’t do much worse than break the heart of someone’s sister- and not to worry, there’s a Colonel Brandon to mend said broken heart.

After reading Austen’s most famous work, I picked my way through her books during my twenties. Mansfield Park was there post-undergrad as I floundered to figure out my life, working as a freelancer and applying to M.F.A. programs. During graduate school I read Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which cushioned a small bit of the intensity that came with the film program I had entered. After receiving my Master’s and finally starting a real job, I had Sense and Sensibility to come home to. Austen’s only remaining completed novel was Emma from there. I had seen almost all of the film adaptations of Emma and new the story pretty well, so I tucked the experience of reading the book away for a rainy day. I guess I foresaw a time when I might need that soft, cushy security blanket of an Austen novel.

About a month ago, not feeling the need to be coddled from reality, but wanting something light and happy to read, I decided it was time to read Emma. To be honest, reading Austen now, as I enter my thirties, is not really the same. Jane Austen was for my twenties. That’s when I needed her and that’s when I was sentimental enough to believe in her. The sad truth is that I’ve grown out of her books a little bit. I still enjoyed Emma, but I found myself a bit bored at times, rolling my eyes as she fretted over match-making and social niceties, while living a closed-off, elite lifestyle with the security of her father’s fortune to fall back on. The other side is that I put the book up on a pedestal for too long. Maybe I expected too much from Emma.

In truth, no Austen experience can be compared to reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time. Elizabeth Bennett was the heroine of my dreams- intelligent, witty, independent. I still feel that way about her and turn to her when I need female inspiration. Strangely, my second favorite Austen protagonist is Fanny Price. While Fanny is a bit meek, she’s not annoying- which cannot be said for all of Austen’s heroines- and she’s smart and kind. Also, I think I read Mansfield Park when I needed it most as I tumbled out of college life.

While I don’t think my Austen days are done, I’m just looking for something different in my reading selection now, more of a challenge. Who’s to say? Maybe in five years I’ll go on an all-out Austen bender and consume her witty, youthful novels again.

 

 

Who’s your favorite Jane Austen character? Leave a comment! 

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  1. Oh Elizabeth! Do try Austen again sometime. She is far more than a cushy security blanket. She offers more and more observations on people and life the older you get. The more you see, say, Mariannes, in your life, the more you see why reading Austen is so special!

    Take Fanny. She’s NOT meek. She looks meek, she seems meek, but when it comes to the crunch she’s determined and will stand up to all those who have the power to spoil her life. She says no to the play when all her cousins push and push her because she knows itongwrong. (It seems silly to us but in her place and time it was inappropriate for Maria to be playing the role she did.) How many young girls in her powerless position would go against the in crowd? And then there’s telling her uncle that she WON’T marry Henry. She is sent back to Portsmouth poverty for that but she didn’t budge. I say people get Farry wrong when they call her meek!! I consequently love that she’s one of your favourites.

    My two favourite characters are probably Elinor and Anne, becauseee see myself as the practical responsible one, but I have a touch of Jane who likes not to see bad in people and of Marianne who’s convinced of her opinions until life shows her something different.

    AS for the bad guys, we could talk forever about how bad they are or aren’t!!

    Oh, and fnally, Emma used to be my least favourite Austen novel but now I’m in awe of how Austen put that together!

    Apologies for my rant…! But, Austen you know!

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    1. I certainly think reading Austen is special. My reading interests simply have seasons and I’m sure I’ll come back around to Austen down the road. The fact that she has so many avid, passionate fans is special in itself.

      You’re right. Her ability to make observations and bring out the intricacies of her characters’ personalities with their strengths and flaws can hardly be compared to any other writer.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion!

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      1. A pleasure Elizabeth. I like engaging in discussion on blogs.

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  2. Ah, I love this! It’s on my reading bucket list (that is scattered all over my brain and doesn’t really exist) to read all of Jane Austen’s books. I can’t pick a favorite yet because the only book of hers that I’ve read so far is Emma, but from watching the Lizzy Bennet Diaries on Youtube, I already love Elizabeth.

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    1. Thank you! You should definitely pick up Pride and Prejudice sometime. I love the Lizzie Bennett Diaries as well!

      And I understand about the reading bucket list. Every time I go to start a new book, the list goes out the window and I just reach for whatever catches my attention in the moment.

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      1. Yes, I need to and I will be. :)) AH, you’ve watched them too! They were hilarious and addicting and so good.
        Haha yea, my reading bucket list is pretty fluid.

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  3. I read both Pride and Prejudice and Emma in high school, and they weren’t my favorite books. I like Jane Austen’s wit, but somehow I enjoy her books better as movies. I grew up watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and she has always been my favorite. I also like Sense and Sensibility, both the movie with Emma Thompson and the BBC version with Hattie Morahan, though I admit that I have not yet read the book. Jane Austen’s books never had enough excitement for me. I prefer Dickens’ underbelly of London with pickpockets and murderers to Austen’s high society with matchmakers and fortune hunters. Sometimes I think I’m a little bit bloodthirsty.
    I love the way that certain books are their for us during specific periods of our lives! Even though the books don’t change, we do, and they mean different things to us at different times. That never ceases to fascinate me.
    Great post!

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    1. I’ve been wanting to read more of Dickens. I’ve only read Great Expectations and Oliver. Any recommendation on which of his novels I should read next? I watched the Bleak House series a while back and loved it.

      I agree, as we change and grow we read books with a fresh perspective. Thanks!

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      1. I love both Great Expectations and Oliver Twist! Another one that is really good is Nicholas Nickleby. I haven’t read Bleak House yet, but I did see the series, and I really enjoyed that as well.

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      2. I’ve heard good things about Nicholas Nickleby. Definitely putting it on my to-read list.

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  4. Hmm, this really made me think about who my favorite Austen character is! I absolutely love Mansfield Park, but I’m not sure if Fanny is my favorite character, per se. I’m actually realizing now that maybe I don’t have favorite characters in books so much as I have favorite entire books… Thanks for giving me a lot to think about!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! That’s a good point. There are books that I love, but don’t care much for the characters and I can think of many characters I love, but the book as a whole was just so-so. You’ve given me something to think about as well!

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  5. Thanks for the follow! A propos of Jane Austen, from someone much advanced in years compared with yourself, it’s both interesting nd necessary to go back to the novels every five to ten years or so: they read very differently, I notice different characters, details, emphases… I hope she brings you pleasure for many years to come.

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    1. Thank you. I’m sure that’s true. I think that’s the case with many authors. Our life experience allows us to relate to stories in different ways.

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