Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why I read Jane Austen {Guest post by Hayden}

I like to think of myself as "the impartial Jane Austen Fan". Why? Well, I've never really been influenced by anyone in my regard for her. I started reading (and enjoying!) her novels all by myself, before I knew about her fan clubs, conventions, and movies. I didn't even know anyone else who had read her books!

At the same time, I wouldn't call myself a "Janeite" (am I the only one who finds that title a little creepy? Being a writer myself, I wonder if I wrote a book popular enough to be handed down through the centuries, would my fans call themselves "Hayden-ites"??? Wierd. How would Jane feel if she could know? I have a feeling she'd roll her eyes and say something witty about it to keep herself from becoming uncomfortable.) I like Jane Austen's books -some of them I even love- but I'm not obsessed. I just enjoy them.

But why? I certainly don't like them because they're romances. They're not. Don't EVER call a book by Jane Austen a romance. Please don't. First of all, Jane would not approve (she even said she could never write a serious romance to save her life- well, actually, the quote was she "couldn't write a romance under any motive *other* than to save her life"....I'm starting to go off on a Jane Austen quoting tangent. I'll stop before I become tiresome.)

Here, I'll prove it to you: I even looked up the word. Romance: 1) a medieval tale based on legend, adventure, or the supernatural 2) a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usu. heroic, adventurous, or mysterious. 3) a love story

Well, the first definition's out- that definition is for a tale of medieval chivalry. The second? Well, Miss Austen's characters are imaginary, certainly! And the time they take place in is different from our own- although all classics are. Jane Austen didn't write about the past; it's just that the passing of time has nowadays placed her stories in a historical time frame. However, I wouldn't call them "adventurous" "heroic" or "mysterious". They are too down-to-earth. In fact, the only novel that approaches the "mysterious" description (Northanger Abbey) is a satire that laughs at itself and critizes, not fiction, but the reader who cannot distinguish between it and real life.

Oh, dear. There's the third definition. "A love story". Jane Austen has that, doesn't she?
Yes. She does. Jane Austen's books have romance in them. But *being* a romance and having romance *in* them are two very different things. Yes, Miss Austen's books are love stories. But it would be incorrect to say that is all they are. Her books are about people, and all of the relationships they face. That includes "romantic" ones, but it does not leave out others. We see fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, sisters and sisters, sister and brothers and friendships that bother flounder and steady. We see dealings with unwanted company, annoying relatives and even bullies (John Thorpe, anyone?). When I think of a romance, I think of a book that focuses on a specific romantic relationship. Though I must say that Pride and Prejudice approaches this, as well as Persuasion, that is not always the case in Jane Austen's books. Sense and Sensibility, for example, focuses on the interactions between sisters Elinor and Marianne to the point of neglecting the romantic relationships. The one character who could be deemed "romantic" and "mysterious" at the beginning turns out to be a bad guy we end up all hating. (If you do *not* hate Willoughby [did you notice I dropped the "Mr"? He's not deserving of that title!!!] by the end of the book [again, notice I did not say "the end of the '95 movie"] please leave a comment and I will answer you back and you WILL dislike him. I will MAKE you dislike him!!! Okay. End of rant. Let us continue.)

Jane Austen's books show the folly of infatuations (Sense and Sensibility), the rewards of standing your ground (Mansfield Park), and the journey we go through learning from our mistakes (Emma). Evil always loses in Jane Austen's world. Everyone gets their just desserts. Though Jane Austen never preaches or talks much about God in her novels, Biblical principles play out in her stories. You'll never see ungodliness "pay off" and be seen as acceptable. The romantic elements are always kept clean. (I don't think there's even one kiss in the entire lot of them!) Yes, her novels often include scandals- elopement, children born out of wedlock, and even adultury. But these are always dealt with tactfully and are never, EVER seen as "okay". Her characters *are* imaginary- but the struggles they face are not. The heroes are not perfect anymore than the heroines are. They deal with pride, jealousy, impulsiveness, shyness, and even meddling. Yet, they work to overcome these faults. (though I admit I am under the impression Emma Woodhouse, er, Knightley will be matchmaking till the end of her days, despite her promise to do otherwise...)

No, her novels are not perfect. They can't be because Jane Austen herself was not. But she truly had a talent for writing about people and the situations they find themselves in.

And who doesn't enjoy that?

Hayden is a recent homeschool graduate and period drama/classic literature/history/Scarlet Pimpernel fan. Most of all, however, she is a follower of Jesus Christ. You can find her blog at: Storygirl.


Michaela said...

I adore Willoubghy. The end. ;)

Miss Melody said...

Haha, well, I've called myself a Janeite ever since I learnt of the term (and I'm not exactly sure when THAT was)--but even I will concede it's a little odd. :P My family teases me about it sounding like some sort of religion. Heh... however, it's another thing that sets JA apart from other authors--do you ever hear Dickens fans being Charlesites? Well, I haven't... it's because he's just Charles Dickens, but Jane Austen is *our* Jane Austen.

Okay, that was random.

Anyways. Delightful post even though you're not a full-fledged fan. ;-) And I SO TOTALLY AGREE about the romance thing. It's called a ROMANTIC COMEDY, peoples. People who call them romances just don't understand. ;-)

No no no, Emma is GOOD girl, she is! And besides, she has Mr. Knightley to keep her in line if she ever did go back to her matchmaking tendencies. *I* am under the personal belief that she will do it in her head--keep her eyes and ears open and think to herself "Oh-ho, she will be settled in the vicarage"--supposing Mr. Elton leaves, which we hope he will--"before the spring." but Not Meddle. ;-)

And no. There is not a single kiss. Not. One. *applauds Miss Austen once again*

I'll stop rambling now. But, oh! I DO hate Willoughby. :)

Alexandra said...

Yahhhoooooo, another non-obsessed fan. Hehehehe. I really should not take such delight in vexing Janeites. Ahem. :-P

Such a great post! I do struggle with the label "romance" as my writing for example, the "main plot" is always the hero and heroine getting together, but there's so much more than that, you know? There's big internal struggles going on and stuff like that. But anyway. I just latched onto that. :)

Anyway. Really enjoyed the post!!!!

Maria Elisabeth said...

Although this is my blog, I can't help jumping in to comment.

Loved this post! If everyone could read this, there will be fewer people parading their ignorant assuptions about Miss Austen.


And I can't help having very strong feelings toward Willoughby that don't fit the definition of hate. Sorry, but there it is. Thank you, Michaela. At least someone agrees with me. :)

Hayden said...

Michaela: ahhhhh!!!!! A Willoughby lover!!!! Don't worry; no hard feelings. My sister is one too :)

There are some points that I do feel a little sorry for him, but really- what he did was just rotten.

Although, if you ever watch the 2008 movie version, you will hate THAT Willoughby. I promise you. (although if you do watch it, skip the beginning before the credits. Trust me on this. Why they stuck such an innapropriate part in there I'll never know...?)

Miss Melody: Oh, don't get me wrong: I love love love Emma. And yes, I do think you're right...Mr Knightley proably won't let her meddle. I didn't think of that (silly me!). But yes, she will do it in her head. I just know it. :)

Alexandra: Yay! We shall band together in non-obsessed fan-ness. :) Yes, there is all the difference in the world between a "romance" and something that has a romance in it. I struggled with that, too! (That was the whole inspiration for this post, actually...)

Maria Elisabeth: Thanks so much for letting me write this! It was so fun! Yes, we must educate the masses about the *real* Jane. Oh yes.

You like Willoughby too???? Oh dear.

Miss Melody Muffin said...

Great post, Hayden!! Although I love Jane Austen's books, I, too, have never liked the term 'Janeite'. And I agree, after watching the 2008 Sense and Sensibility I thought Dominic Cooper did an excellent job of making Willoughby thoroughly despicable on screen. (I must say, I already strongly disliked/hated him from the book.) As for the part in the beginning of the 2008 S&S, well, let's just say Andrew Davies has some rather interesting ideas sometimes. :)

I have heard Dicken's fans called Dickensonians ONCE. It reminded me of a museum!! :) :)

Hannah Elise said...

I like Willoughby . . . always have liked the "nasty" people best :) (Darth Vader, Loki, yeah . . . you get the idea.) But yeah, he's not so great in the 2008 Sense and Sensibility. But it's been like a year and a half since I read that book, so I don't remember it that well (only read it that one time).