Why Jane Austen Still Speaks Today

I got home from work last week absolutely exhausted. I was ready to crash, and in my exhaustion had forgotten a comment that my husband made during our lunch-time phone date that had me asking if he had something up his sleeve. He wanted to know if I had an hour and a half nap, would I be ready to do something? I said sleeping until morning would be nicer, but I finally agreed to get up when he woke me up.

He got the dishes done and the laundry folded while I slept, and then woke up a very grumpy wife and piled her into the truck. By then I had remembered the surprise, and from other random comments of his was starting to put together where we were going and for what. Becoming Jane was at a local theatre and he knew I’d want to see it.

The movie was good, though perhaps not quite historical – I couldn’t see Jane Austen doing some of the things that she did in the movie, but I’ll give the movie makers a bit of artistic leeway. It was as good as the recent version of Pride and Prejudice, and captured Jane Austen’s time – and attitude – well.

It got me thinking about how her books – written a couple hundred years ago – are still entertaining audiences today. It’s something more than the fact that we are still dealing with the common theme of finding true love (and all the pitfalls and problems in doing so). Jane Austen not only captured her time and society, but did so in a timeless manner.

A few days later we were browsing through Chapters – something I don’t often do, as I’m usually there to get the book I want and then get out. But we had a bit of spare time, and I wandered down the fiction section, reading titles. Most of them I didn’t recognize, and the volumes of books was almost overwhelming. Yet tucked in between the other paperbacks were a few titles and authors I recognized. In fact, so many that it surprised me.

Charlotte and Emily Bronte. Joseph Conrad. Charles Dickens. Alexandre Dumas. George Eliot. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Thomas Hardy. Stephen Leacock. Edgar Allen Poe. Mark Twain.

Perhaps they just keep those books on the shelves for the thousands of English students studying them in high school and university. Yet I suspect not. Many of them are coming out in nicely-bound paperback editions, not just scholarly, annotated editions. Those books are still popular a few hundred years after they were written. It’s an almost scary thought for an author. My books (if and when I get them published) will have to compete with a bunch of dead authors’ books. And while I hope that I may write something as classic and timeless as the authors I admire, it’s a high bar to compete with.

Perhaps I’ll just sit down with Elizabeth Gaskell tonight and consider that…

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  1. The Koala Bear Writer August 23, 2007
  2. Janet Rubin August 23, 2007

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