By Sandy Bregman
How did Jane Austen enter our lives, and how has she affected us? Each of us has a unique story about how we came to be Jane Austen fans, and why. Her contribution to literature has been far reaching and varied. She touches each of us differently. Read on to have a glimpse into a JASNA member’s journey to becoming a Janeite.
Since becoming interested in Jane Austen and joining JASNA, I have met some fascinating and impressive people. Some have several entire collections of diverse editions, and others can recite her words by memory, which really blows me away. Many have read all of her novels and novellas. Others have written sequels and continuing stories based upon Austen’s literature.
I came late to Jane Austen. Of course, I knew about her and had seen the BBC Masterpiece Classic films and older classic films, but I don’t remember studying her novels in school, or ever having read her work until about five years ago when a friend, who was a fan of all things Jane Austen, suggested that we take a summer course at Oxford together to celebrate our forty-year friendship. This was a dream come true for me, but one I couldn’t imagine becoming a reality. This would be impulsive and our budget didn’t really allow for impulsive expenditures. My family enthusiastically supported my participation in this venture and helped plan my trip.
I am a student of histories and mysteries, so when looking at the class schedule I was excited about many courses, such as Churchill, Castles, British history, and British mysteries. The list went on to the point that I thought I would never settle on the right course. “No,” my friend said, “we are going to study The Romantic Jane Austen.” OK, I was game if it meant so much to her. We signed up for the course and began our preparations, which included prerequisite reading of five books: Austen’s biography by Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen’s Letters, Jane Austen’s World (a book about her life and times), and two of her novels: Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.
A year after the idea was launched, we were in Oxford, settled into our room at Christ Church College, and taking our meals in the famed dining hall more recently known as the Hogwart’s dining hall used by Harry Potter and friends. This inner sanctum of the College was not open to the general public.
We had arrived and, to my surprise, discovered we had hit the mother lode. Our classroom was a small cozy room up several flights of steep old stairs and behind an ominous door. We shared the class with about ten classmates from around the world and of varying ages. Our instructor was excellent, casual, and yet very British. For the most part, we took part in interesting, intellectual discussions about Jane, the mysteries of her life, and the mysteries of her writings. I learned to appreciate the beauty of Jane’s writing as well as her wit and wisdom. I learned about Jane’s family and friends, her homes and education, her contemporaries, and who and what she read. We talked about her writing styles, her characters, stories, loves and her popularity growth as well as her staying power compared to her contemporaries who were more popular in the 18th century, yet generally unknown to the reading public now.
Through this class I had gained a great respect for Jane Austen and her work. I was hooked and inspired by the mysteries of her life and her work.
While Jane’s writing is often subtle. It is complex and contains a lot of brave social comment for someone of her social, financial, and educational class. That she was a woman in a time when it was not proper or respectable to follow her passion for writing is inspirational. Aware of the limitations of a woman’s life, Jane was a creative literary genius.
Underpinning her novels is a moral introspective, “All our actions are moral and have an effect.” Jane believed in living in such a way that other people would benefit from her behavior.
We are interested in how and when Jane Austen came into your life and what effect she has had on you! Please share your story with us!