Quite Lost in Austen
For the past couple of months most of my reading time has been invested in Jane Austen, particularly Pride and Prejudice. I found a Barnes and Noble edition for my current reread, and all the nifty little notations throughout illuminated the reading experience. You know, that epiphany light bulb sensation. I relate my recent reading of P&P with complementary notes to when I clicked on subtitles during yet another viewing of Pirates of the Caribbean. “Oh, that’s what Jack Sparrow said.” That pseudo rum drawl tends to blur a bit at times for me. Just as some of the Regency references zipped by me the first time around with P&P. Finding a well-done annotated classic read makes for a riveting read.
One aspect of the Barnes and Noble edition is the solid introduction by Carol Howard, essayist and English Department Chair at Warren Wilson College. Howard provides both context and historical background on Austen and her times. Details make the difference, and knowing the flavor of times and disposition of the author’s family does indeed create a more enriching read. There were also delicious endnotes at the back of the book. It was much like having a personal guide strolling with me through an art gallery who diligently and enthusiastically explained all the finer nuances of the featured selections.
The problem after supping my way through P&P (one does not dine and dash through Austen) I wanted more. Yes, I could have turned to Emma or even Sense and Sensibility. I wanted Lizzie and Darcy and the other Austen do-ups simply wouldn’t do. I went in search of more P&P.
Austenite Fan Fiction land is formidable. My local library contains at least three pages of on-line card catalog Austen-related material . GoodReads garnered about nine pages. Diving into the choices, I quickly bypassed the Zombie offerings (shiver), thumbed through a couple of suppositions, and briefly contemplated the notion of Lizzie and Darcy as detectives (nah). I ended up with a fine trilogy by Pamela Aidan, the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series. This is Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point of view. I’m usually a bit irritated when an author tries to overlay his or her own ideas upon an established character, but truly, as much as we want to think we know Darcy, Austen didn’t flesh him out as thoroughly as she did Elizabeth. To her credit, Aidan develops Darcy admirably. Some of the Austen FF I browsed couldn’t maintain its platform without leaning heavily upon Austen; however, Aidan provides a satisfying historical fiction offering that stands well on its own. The Darcy aspect adds to it most certainly, but replace Darcy with another English surname and the books still stand strong.
Of course what really made it work was seeing Elizabeth from another point of view, namely Darcy’s. Aidan’s series has proven successful enough to venture out with Wytherngate Press, which focuses on Austen continuances and likened historical fiction.
Other Austenite offerings of note on my literary Jane jaunt varied. One I picked up was not fan fiction, but a sort of self-help book a la Austen. A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiwicz is entertaining and educational. Deresiwicz, a noted book critic and former associate professor of English at Yale University provides “an eloquent memoir of a young man’s life transformed by literature.” In other words, he became William by understanding how Jane became Jane. His life became entwined with each of Jane’s six books at different points in his life and he transformed into a better man for it. At least that’s the impression I got by the time I finished reading his book. Here are some takeaways:
page 12 on Emma)
Austen, I realized, had not been writing about everyday things because she couldn’t think of anything else to talk about. She had been writing about them because she wanted to show how important they really are.
page 50 (Pride and Prejudice)
…by putting me through Elizabeth’s experience–by having her make mistakes and learn from them, and having me stumble and learn right there along with her–what the novel was really showing me was how to grow up.
page 92 (Mansfield Park)
Being a valuable person–a “something” rather than a “nothing”–means having consideration for the people around you.
I did delve into other Austen-related writing; however, I shall not mention them lest you seek them out of curiosity–it’s not that they were bad reading, they just weren’t that good and I only have so much reading time and I don’t quit a book easily. I will say this: after two months of Pride and Prejudice I’m still as smitten with it as ever.