Saturday, July 18, 2009
Today commemorates the 192nd anniverary of the death of Miss Jane Austen, an author whose novels are not only loved throughout the world, but considered true classics of English literature. Beginning with Pride & Prejudice (1811), this intelligent and articulate woman wrote books that transcended entertaining works of fiction about life and a desire for enduring love.
A Jane Austen novel stands apart because of her literary voice, her remarkably descriptive narrative, the crafting of her plots, and the unique and diverse characters she created -- some of whom have become iconic in the 21st century. Yet there is something about this particular author that is even more significant to those who love her work.
Jane Austen remains the voice of an era. She encapsulated through her writing not just the beauty and elegance of the Regency period, but also provided a rapier-edged honesty and insightful commentary on society itself. She showed us the strictures and customs imposed by early 19th century society -- the dynamics of family regarding such issues as financial security, inheritance, the rights (or lack thereof) of women, scandal, and even the political and military climate of the period. Her undeniable perspective as a woman living in the Regency era became, in itself, a wondrous magnifying glass into a world her readers could see and understand. This attention to detail continues to inspire writers of historical fiction regarding the importance of time period research and accuracy, and how it affects as well as enhances both story and characters.
The novels of Jane Austen are published in 45 different languages, and can be found in book stores, public and academic libraries, as well as Kindle editions. Motion picture adaptations of her novels continue to gain in popularity and have received numerous awards, beginning with the Oscar-winning 1940 version of Pride & Prejudice starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.
For me, as a reader and writer of historical fiction, Jane Austen has always been someone whose work I not only love but admire. As a woman and writer in the early stages of my own literary career, I cannot help but acknowledge the enormous respect I feel for this 19th century woman whose contributions to literature and the publishing industry 'as a woman' will never be forgotten.
Today, let us celebrate the brilliance of Jane Austen's accomplishments as a writer, but also remember the gentle woman whose tragic passing on this day devastated those who dearly loved her. Perhaps the words of her beloved sister, Cassandra (with Jane at the moment of her death) can best help us to remember Miss Jane Austen -- the woman as well as the author.
"I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well — not better than she deserved, but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow." - Cassandra Austen, 17 July 1817