What can I say about Jane Austen? There’s the glorious rhythm and flow of her prose--she has to be one of the best prose stylists in the history of the English language. There’s her wonderful, snarky wit, her utterly believable and memorable characters, the perfect marriage of realism and romance in her work. I don’t have enough superlatives for her. There have been many great authors, but Jane is incomparable. If I could only take one book from my shelves to the proverbial desert island, I wouldn’t even hesitate. I’d grab her complete works.
But if I had to pick my favorites?
1. Pride and Prejudice is sheer delight. If I had to pick a favorite fictional character of all time, it’d almost certainly be Elizabeth Bennet, and I could read P&P over and over without ever tiring of it.
2. Persuasion, on the other hand, has grown on me over time. I first read Austen in my early 20’s, and as such was drawn to her earlier works and younger heroines. I liked Persuasion well enough, but it’s a quieter story, with Austen’s wit played more subtly. But now that I’m well into my mid-30’s, I feel a greater appreciation for this wistful, autumnal story of a second chance.
Though I’d never presume to compare my writing with Austen’s, I can call her an inspiration, since the incident that started me writing seriously after several years away was watching the 2000 film version of Mansfield Park, not liking it very much, and ultimately determining to make my own attempt at adapting a character like Fanny Price for a modern audience.
And I do think anyone writing late Georgian or Regency era ought to know their Jane--even writers who, like me, find themselves drifting over to the adventurous, military side of the era. Austen gives you the mentality and domestic concerns of the era, the voice and vocabulary. Where else are you going to find primary source material that’s so much fun to read?