My first encounter with Jane Austen was the BBC 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” miniseries which, when I was sick at home, mum and I watched straight through one day. It took until I was 13, and in high school, to be encouraged by my English teacher to read the original. At first, the floral and foreign style was off putting but, within a few chapters, I had to know what was going to happen with dear Jane and witty Eliza! It is amazing to see stories written over 200 years ago be as beloved as these are today.
Owing to this first interaction, and general appeal of Colin Firth, “Pride and Prejudice” has been a favourite for many years. How I wish I could be surprised by the twists and turns as I was in the first reading but, even after reading it countless times, I thoroughly enjoy this one! I own it in four different versions and still want more *blush*.
One of our leading men’s first line is so memorable and cringe-worthy, Mr Darcy remarks of Eliza “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt ME; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”…within her hearing! Another line, oft quoted in our home, Lady Catherine de Burgh says “Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?…”I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet. I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.” Eliza is my favourite though, she has a wonderful sense of humour, she is intelligent and perceptive! One of her lines is “”It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”
My other favourite, and the book I read next, was “Emma”. I relate so well to these characters and this country village. Underlying the interesting happenings, is the overarching theme of love and what that looks like for our neighbours, friends and family. Jane was deeply religious and threads Christianity through all her stories without out and out speaking of it! I find this the most entertaining of the books, but then I am partial to Mr Knightley!
“Northanger Abbey” is a young Jane’s take on a gothic novel. With mischief, she gently teases the genre with this one and I can’t help but chuckle my way through it as our leading lady is so naive and easily led! It’s the easiest and quickest read but still has beautiful descriptions and is an interesting commentary on influence and perception.
”Persuasion” is considered to be the novel for the more mature reader who can relate to past failed romances and explores the meaning of forgiveness and the longevity of true love. With a brooding sea captain and broken hearted Anne, this is a romance in style and content. It has some of the most exquisite lines and has wooed its way into my heart.
“Sense and Sensibility“ is the longest of Jane’s novel and is fascinating. It debates, through the story, the fine line between practicality and passion. Upon first reading, I missed how much Elinor is the heart of this novel , she recedes so because of the louder characters around her. When I reread it, I realised that was Jane’s point, she quietly holds the family together and exhibits the title’s characteristics in balance. It’s one to reflect on but still includes Jane’s hallmark good humour and country adventures!
My least favourite, and therefore seldom read, is“Mansfield Park”. I battle to like any of these characters and it is definitely the book Jane is most severe on the gentry in. She takes a swipe at classism, racism and sexism as well as those entering the church for a job as a priest rather than answering a calling. Owing to this, it has a serious and brutal tone which I don’t find enjoyable reading but if you like a more political challenging read, this one is for you.
When in doubt as to what to read, I pick up an Austen. When I run out of new audiobooks, I put on an Austen. When I run out of good tv, I turn on an Austen. There really is an Austen for every occasion! If you have not as yet indulged in her, try one, you may find you have found a collection of books you can return to frequently, like old friends!
The beautiful hardcover editions in the gallery are available from the Jane Austen Centre