In this series of guest posts, a meta-diary of sorts, Austen readers recount what brought them to Austen in the first place and reflect on why they keep returning. Nancy Mayer, list owner, Regency scholar, endless fount of patience and Janeite extraordinaire, wrote the post below.
How I came to Jane
I came to the reading and enjoyment of Jane Austen late in life and long after I was out of graduate school. If she was mentioned in the course on "The History of the Novel,” I don't remember it and certainly I was never required to read any works of hers in school.
My way to Jane Austen was very indirect and not at all like that of the others.
I might have read Pride and Prejudice in the Classics edition promoted as suitable for children but don’t remember it if I did.
My first introduction to Pride and Prejudice was the movie with Greer Garson.
|The 1940 Greer Carson Pride and Prejudice, famous for putting the Regency in c. 1860 Victorian costumes to cash in on The Gone with the Wind craze. Who needs Empire waists when you can have a hoop skirt.|
I didn’t connect the movie to a book nor did I know the name Austen.
I read many books, took several courses in literature and poetry but somehow missed reading anything by Jane Austen. I liked the Victorian poets and the novelists Thackeray and Trollope. I only liked Jane Eyre of the Bronte works.
Then I came across books by Barbara Cartland. Perfect light reading. I particularly liked her Regency romances. I was intrigued by the historical note she included In each book and started looking up more information on the events she put into a fictional context.
I read all the Regency romances I could find
I discovered contradictions and errors of historical facts in the books so did more research on the English regency period, which lasted from 1811-1820.
Somewhere in my research I came across Jane Austen and Lord Byron, who lived and wrote in that time period. I found other authors and poets and read many of them but kept returning to Jane Austen.
Jane Austen’s letters gave an insight into the lives of women of the period, and her books were much more interesting and easier to read than most of the other who wrote then.
I wanted to discuss her novels with others and found a chapter of JASNA in Atlanta. Then I found the Austen-L online discussion group.
When the Atlanta chapter of JASNA lost both its meeting place and many members, some friends and I started it up again. I led it for fourteen year. We met once a month. Though we did read one or two novels by Austen’s contemporaries and sometimes discussed the spate of movies which came out, we mainly discussed the Austen novels.
When Austen-L became very acrimonious with flaming Fanny wars, Anne Woodley started Janeites, where people could discuss Austen with some semblance of courtesy.
I have read Austen’s works several times and can still find something new in the books.
I like Persuasion most. I can sympathize more with Fanny Price and even have sympathy for Emma, but Anne’s story is a favorite.
I return to Austen and her novels because there is always something new to learn and the books are enjoyable no matter how often one reads them.
I tend to prefer a traditional interpretation and one that takes in to consideration life in Austen’s day.
I am still greatly interested in the regency period. That is still my prime area of interest and study.
I have discovered that there is much one can learn by reading non-fiction books connected to Jane Austen, such as Jane Austen and Crime by S. Fullerton.
A short list of some books that combine discussion of Austen’s life, works, and her times:
Fashion In the Time of Jane Austen
In the Garden with Jane Austen
In the steps of Jane Austen
Jane Austen and Marriage
Jane Austen and Crime
Jane Austen and The Clergy
Jane Austen and Fashion Byrde
Jane Austen and the Almighty Pound
Jane Austen and the Fiction of Her Time
Jane Austen and the English Landscape
Jane Austen and the Navy
Jane Austen and the Theatre P. Byrne
Jane Austen Cookbook Black and Le Faye food recipes
Jane Austen’s ENGLAND LIFE COPY
Jane Austen’s TOWN AND COUNTRY STYLE
Jane Austen’s Letters
MY DEAR CASSANDRA Jane Austen and leisure
Jane Austen and Bath
Jane Austen and Hampshire
Jane Austen and Lyme Regis
Jane Austen and Religion
This is interesting, Nancy: I wonder how many readers and fans of Austen we see online, those who buy the "sequels" and imitations, came to Austen through Regency romance reading first or say the films. A lot of people will admit to coming to the books after the films, but most are of an age where they begin with the real popularity of the films beginning in 1995 or so. The 1940 P&P was in itself a hit, but that was partly for the stars; Greer Garson had played Mrs Miniver right around the same time and the typology of her Mrs Miniver is not so different from her Elizabeth Bennet so the film was liked in the context of escape from a horrible war. But it is not so common for people to tell of coming to the books through romance. Maybe young women reader assume this (almost) as I remember for a time Austen's books were being called chick-lit. I'd want to reread the first women talking in the modern identification way about Austen, Stern and Kaye-Smith's important book: how did they come to her? I'd be interested to hear how the books you read were packaged? do you remember? Recently Vic Sanborn on her Austen blog described the covers of her first Austen books; she said they seem embarrassing to her now, but then they were common romance images put on paperbacks.ReplyDelete
Both my daughters were assigned Emma as a classic in high school, but they were familiar with her through me -- as the first person I talked about Austen books with was a parent (my father who saw them as ironic satire and classics like say Thackeray, but softer).
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