I recently entered the world of literature created from the feisty imagination of Jane Austen herself. The first copy I grabbed to start reading five years ago was in fact Pride and Prejudice (no guesses there, everyone has heard of this book). I’ll be sincere; it took me six months to finish reading this classic. Maybe it was because I didn’t appreciate literature back then or maybe it was because the writing style was quite different and beyond my grasp. But it did actually at one point in time, to put it lightly – bore me to death.
Ergo enter the year 2010, this year I was gifted two books – Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park. I also managed to finish most of her other books including Emma and my personal favorite Northanger Abbey. I am yet to read the Persuasion, however, I am quite certain I will start and finish the book before we hit New Years Eve making this a 2010 accomplishment.
Ironically enough, I entered the Jane Austen book club in the same year it was discovered by Oxford academics that Jane’s work was vastly edited by William Gifford, a poet and a critic of her era. Analysis of her manuscripts came heavily down to the conclusion that Jane couldn’t spell and had bad punctuation manners; also the Hampshire accents described in her book are anything but real. But none of this really mattered to me or to hard core Janeite’s (a term coined by Rudyard Kipling) I am sure. Because nobody reads her books for her flawless grammar usage or her perfect punctuation marks. Even the spellings of words used in her time won’t do us any good in this era. People read her books for her well developed and intricate characters which are so complex and far from perfection but yet make us yearn to be like them or with them in their social setting.
Austen manages to draw a line between good and evil, whether it’s from Mr Darcy’s (Pride and Prejudice) arrogant behavior that makes you hate him at first to his sudden declaration of Love for Elizabeth which then makes you fall in love with him. Or if its Edward Ferrers (Sense and Sensibility) betrayal towards Elinor Dashwood when the readers find out he has been engaged to another woman to how you eventually learn to appreciate his integrity and honor to stick with his decision thus exemplifying the gentleman code of loyalty. A person can be good and bad at the same time and that is exactly what Jane Austen brings to your attention with characters of people that are real, because that’s how the world really is, even now. So even though Mr Darcy is conceited and arrogant; his refined personality, his undying persistent love for Elizabeth that brings humility within him, his intelligence and his forthright nature makes him a good person and a suitable match for the protagonist of the book at the end of the day. Similarly, Mr Ferrers may not be handsome or dashing, he may instead be timid, awkward and dependent on his mother’s income to support himself but he is also benevolent, sympathetic and has a good sense governed by fair judgment and understanding which is what Elinor Dashwood remains attracted to the most.
But it’s not just the male characters that are misunderstood in her books, the female ones are an equal mystery as well. For example, Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) who secretly harbors feelings for Edmund Bertram (who is in love with another woman), and continuously rejects the charming and rich Mr Henry Thorpe. Despite his persistence in continuous courtship and flirtatious behavior towards her, she gets confused and accepts his proposal only to go back on her word the next day. Or our favorite heroine, the quick witted Elizabeth Bennet who is prejudiced against the handsome Darcy and constantly battling her emotions towards him while alluring and leading Mr Wickham on at the same time only to eventually fall in love with Mr Darcy herself. Or if it’s the slightly spoiled and meddlesome young woman named Emma who is determined to remain a spinster all her life but wants to play cupid and specialize in match making services with everyone else around her all the while refusing to face her own deep feelings for a certain Mr Knightley who is not only her best friend but her biggest critic as well. Or if it’s the obsessed by Gothicism, Catherine Morland (Northanger Abbey) who makes crazy ludicrous assumptions by suspecting the General of murdering his wife only to manage to look like a fool in front of the man she loves the most, the ever so fine Mr Henry Tilney.
These women seem deeply confused and that is the one parallelism we draw from these characters and the modern day women. It’s fascinating to know that it’s not just this generation’ women that are messed up, Jane Austen created these characters way back in the 1800’s. What a relief for us isn’t it? We were under the impression that it’s because of today’s advancement of women and the development of technology that has given us so many more choices which has made women of our generation hasty and quick in making assumptions and passing judgments only to be stranded in a portal of confusion, but it’s not just that; it’s an innate quality that comes imbedded in our chromosomes from generations earlier that makes us that way. Or perhaps Jane Austen never did write and inspire from real individuals in her time and instead coughed up these main characters all from her imagination, but even if she did, her imagination for back in the day would have been considered wild and absurd but it wasn’t, hence justifying the truth beneath these qualities.
I admire Jane, for choosing a path that wasn’t considered suitable back in the day; she didn’t choose to marry although I am pretty certain she wanted to, considering all her book themes revolve around the same, she didn’t choose to specialize in knitting or learning to play piano. Instead she chose to drive down the road of a writer, a profession which hadn’t received its due credit and high regard back in the day. After recent developments I admire her more because it was discovered that her writing wasn’t perfect which makes her an almost normal person like most of us. But most of all I admire her for influencing us with the characters in 1800’s brought to life through her books and reminding us that we are not alone in this mess of a world of emotions.