Jane Austen

The Literate Kitten has posted the following:

Just for fun, I decided to get a little dialogue going over the Powers of Austen … Which one is your favorite and why? Which haven’t you read? Are you not as in love with Austen as most readers — why? How has Jane influenced your reading or writing? Let’s get plain about Jane!

Okay, I’ll play. I’m curious to see if the Slaves of Golconda will choose Austen’s Lady Susan or one of my other choices (vote in the comments to the post below! Right now Lady Susan is tied with Johnson’s Rasselas) because I feel conflicted about reading it. On the one hand I’d love to because it’s Jane Austen and she’s one of my favorite writers ever in the whole entire world. But on the other hand, there’s something wonderful about there being a Jane Austen novel out there I haven’t yet read. Isn’t there something to be said for not reading a novel in order to keep the pleasure of anticipation always before me? Once I’ve read Lady Susan, there will be no more Austen novels for me to read, except for the unfinished ones and the short fictions. But since I love Austen so much, how can I refrain from reading more?

I’m surprised it took me so long to figure out Lady Susan exists. Somehow it took me forever to figure out that there are more than the big six novels.

Anyway, I’ve read the six main novels, and of those, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite, with Emma, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility coming in somewhere after that, and Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey last, although I believe I’ve read Northanger Abbey only once, so I haven’t given it enough time to really grow on me. I have no idea how many times I’ve read the other novels besides Northanger Abbey. Mansfield Park I may have read only twice, but the others I’ve probably read something like 3 – 8 times each. Some of them I’ve studied in class, some of them multiple times. So at this point I can’t keep count of my readings, and I can’t keep the reading experiences separate. It all blurs together. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite because it’s just so much fun — Elizabeth is the best heroine ever and Darcy is an irresistable hero. Mansfield Park is at the bottom of my list because it’s a bit slow, but I still find it fascinating — the pleasure of that book is probably more intellectual than emotional. I like the sharp, biting narrator of Sense and Sensibility and also the way Elinor and Marianne play against each other, I like the quieter tone of Persuasion and find Anne utterly sympathetic, and I like the richness of Austen’s characterization of Emma.

And how has she influenced my reading? I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that she pretty much defines what a novel is for me. A novel should provide a long, satisfying reading experience, it should have deep, complex characters, it should have a satisfying plot, it should have an interesting narrator (one who perhaps becomes a kind of character him/herself), and it should be about at least some of the following: family, love, sex, money, class, social interaction, and the experience of living in one’s mind.  I’ve read and enjoyed novels that don’t do these things, but still, this understanding of the genre is what comes to me most naturally, and that’s because I’ve absorbed so much Austen.

I’m sure I’ve written before about how I would find it hard to write anything critical about Austen — I don’t mean critical as in negative, but critical as in literary criticism — because everything she does seems natural to me. I would find it hard to try to look at how she does what she does; actually, I’m happy to have other people point these things out to me, but I wouldn’t want to have to figure it out myself. She’s someone I prefer to experience in a more elemental way, if that makes any sense.

11 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction

11 responses to “Jane Austen

  1. whitishrabbit

    I’ve never heard of Lady Susan… how strange. Is it a newly discovered work of Jane’s?

    I haven’t read Emma or Sense and Sensibilities, though I saw the movies, so this is probably a biased opinion, but I really love Anne Elliott and Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion. I also fancy I see a lot of Jane’s humor coming through her clever depictions of the characters in the tale. I know Pride and Prejudice are the popular favorites, but Persuasion is a wonderful little gem.

  2. Sadly I have only read P&P and Persuasion, and loved them both. Maybe I shouldn’t say sadly as I have four/five more to discover (though I have seen the movies for several other novels). I have read P&P several times and it is just so witty–that woman could turn a mean sentence! I’m not sure how she has influenced my reading other than she sort of sets the standard for really good writing. Though I have to say that there is only one Jane Austen. There are many other authors who really write well, but I think Jane is really in a class all by herself (from my limited experience I should say).

  3. I love Jane Austen too! I have not read Emma or Persuasion. Right now Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice take turns in the top spot, depending on my temperament at the time. The heroine of the first is simply so delightful, enjoyable and amiable..really irresistible; and reading The Italian gives me a better appreciation of what Austen was going for, making it even funnier. P&P for all the obvious reasons. I rank Mansfield Park above Sense and Sensibility: I found the latter’s narrative less engrossing.

  4. I know what you mean about not wanting to read a book so you can keep the pleasure of aniticipation and so you can always have one book by an author yoou haven’t read. Because once you’ve read them all, there are no more. There are a couple Margaret Atwood books I haven’t read for that reason. She’s still writing but you never know when the last book will be.

  5. I just finished Jane Austen: A Companion, which now makes me want to read all the novels again. Mansfield Park was the first Austen I read, when I was an English major. But it’s near the bottom of my list; I have a hard time liking Fanny sometimes — she lets everyone walk all over her! But it’s a wonderful collection of characters. I really need to read Northanger Abbey again — like you, Dorothy, I’ve only read it once so I feel I can’t really judge it. My all-time favorite will always be Persuasion.

  6. I know just what you mean about not feeling the worth of tackling Austen critically. She has never leapt to my mind as someone worthy of a good filleting with the scalpel of criticism – her works are too lissom and coherent. I have to admit I never managed to finish Mansfield Park – but I do feel bad about that, and think I ought to go back to it one day.

  7. Have you read Lesley Castle? It’s about as long as Lady Susan. Hesperus Press has a nice little edition of it. They also have an edition of Love and Friendship.

  8. LK

    Great comments, Dorothy. I understand wanting to keep one secret Austen treasure tucked in the back of your reading shelf.

    If you haven’t already read it, I definitely recommend Claire Tomalin’s biography, Jane Austen. It is so fascinating — Austen wrote P&P, S&S and (I believe) Northanger Abbey in her early 20s — and then didn’t touch them or write again for 10 years.

    I may do another post, and refer back to yours, to discuss more about Jane’s influence on my writing.

    Thank you!

  9. Whitishrabbit — I don’t know much about the history of Lady Susan, but I think it wasn’t published in her lifetime and it’s an early work and not as strong or developed as the other ones. I hadn’t heard of it, I think, because editions of it aren’t as widely available. I’ll have to look up the publication history sometime. Danielle — I’m envious of the pleasure you have before you — all those new Austen novels for you to enjoy! Imani — I agree that reading Radcliffe helps to understand Austen; you get a better sense of the context within which she was writing. Burney is another good author to read for that purpose. Stefanie — yes, isn’t getting to the end of someone’s books sad? Susan, you make me realize that I need to read some books about Austen, a biography and maybe some critical work. I think I’d enjoy it. Litlove — I’m glad you agree! I’ve been grateful to teachers who have taught me things about Austen, but I don’t know how I’d feel about writing about her or teaching her myself. Sassymonkey — I haven’t read that one, or Love and Friendship. So much to check out! LK, thanks for the recommendation; I love Tomalin’s writing, so her biography of Austen would be great.

  10. I love Jane Austen, too. I couldn’t pick a favorite from amongst her six novels, except that Northanger Abbey probably wouldn’t be it. But, then, whichever book I happen to be reading at the moment is my favorite, even that one. My 13yo daughter and I met someone last week who lives in Bath, and we were excited by just that tiny connection to Jane Austen.

    For the past four or five years, I have reread all six of Jane’s novels during the year–I don’t think there are many authors who could bear that kind of reading and rereading. But her writing is always sharp and always fresh, no matter how many time I read it. I agree–she has no peer.

  11. Mansfield Park pays re-reading, it is multilayered and the more you read the more you discover. I agree Fanny Price is irritating but she has a quiet strength, she sticks to her principles and beliefs throughout and is vindicated in the end.

    I adore Pride and P but my favourite out of all is Persuasion. Her last book with an autumnal feel about it, a story of quiet true love which remains constant and has the most wonderful ending with a letter containing a declaration of love that always moves me to tears. I blogged about this a few weeks ago just for the pure pleasure of writing about this book which I love love love

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