Happy Birthday, Jane Austen
Dear Jane Austen,
First of all, allow me to wish you a happy birthday, your 235th, to be precise. Your place in my literary world looms large. I read Pride and Prejudice before I could appreciate much of anything beyond your most sharpest wit. I was 14. Even then, though, I knew I was in the presence of greatness. Never before had I encountered such bite cloaked in subtlety and grace while exploring the most ridiculous of societal conventions. You are who I would wish to be if I could actually keep my mouth shut a millisecond after a thought has formed itself in my head.
So when I saw some of your earliest work for free offered on my Kindle, I was immediately interested. Nothing could thrill me more than if you had written 20 more novels. Well. I was surprised. I mean, obviously, you were very young, but I will admit that it was difficult for me to grasp where this was going in the beginning. However, I was able to ascertain that fairly quickly after this line: “We fainted alternately on the sofa.” Yes, this was the Austen I would expect. Permit me to quote some of my favorites passages from Love and Friendship:
Sophia shrieked and fainted on the ground – I screamed and instantly ran mad -. We remained thus mutually deprived of our senses some minutes, and on regaining them were deprived of them again. For an Hour and a Quarter did we continue in this unfortunate situation – Sophia fainting every moment and I running mad as often.
Some sage advice from the dying Sophia:
Beware of fainting fits… Though at the time they may be refreshing and agreeable yet believe me they will in the end, if too often repeated and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your Constitution…Beware of swoons Dear Laura…A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious: it is an exercise to the Body and if not too violent, is I dare say conducive to Health in its consequences – Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint
Yes. I actually laughed out loud at this, Jane Austen. I don’t know how it was in your lifetime, but your clever phrases and remarkably wry observations in this day and age make Austen lovers smile to themselves and sigh with pleasure, but we do not actually laugh out loud. I assure you, also, that although I am an inveterate guffaw-er (despite my eternal attempts for a less raucous demeanor) I have not laughed out loud during reading any of your novels until now. You continue to impress! Even more surprising is that while it is now more than two hundred years past the time this was written, I do indeed recognize these characters, who have unfortunately not been bred out of existence. In fact, society has degenerated so grievously that entire television programs are devised around the shallow, immoral, and ludicrous exploits of such attention seekers. You might be shocked to learn that in popular colloquial parlance these people have a name: Attention Whores.
To conclude, I want to thank you. At the risk of sounding overwrought and mawkish, I will say that Persuasion comforted me during one of the most difficult times of my life. Every one of your novels, even my least favorites, Emma and Northanger Abbey, have given me many hours of delight and wonder. You were truly mistress of your craft.