Confession #1: I love Jane Austen.

Not quite to the heights of Austenland’s heroine, but still.

In graduate school, I took a course on romantic satire that included a unit on Jane Austen, which began about a month into the semester. That first day, while the dignified middle-aged professor and our male peers looked on in shock (I assume we’d seemed reasonably intelligent and dispassionate to that point), I and a few of my female colleagues went full-on fan-girl about Jane Austen: high pitched voices, fluttering hands, the whole bit. I’m not sure I ever quite regained that lost credibility.

I own at least two copies of her major works. (My husband, in the throes of newlywedded bliss, bought me the entire Oxford Illustrated classics set and set my giddy heart reeling). I’ve even read her unfinished novel, Sanditon, and her short epistolary novel Lady Susan, and own books like The Friendly Jane Austen, Becoming Jane Austen, and What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. (And yet, I’ve never been to a Regency ball or joined JASNA).

Confession #2: Sometimes I’m ashamed of my addiction.

Austen is a) not a remotely cool addiction and b) something I probably share with a majority of women. If I’m going to hand-pick an addiction, I’d at least like to be unique.

Confession #3: I get swoony about well-dressed men in period costume. (Did any of you see this? This is me, only with nineteenth-century breeches and top hats).

My husband knows this about me. He still loves me, though he’s yet to dress in period costume himself.

To be fair, this is more than just an Austen thing: at seventeen I had a month-long crush on the young man who played Rochester in BYU’s musical (yes, musical) production of Jane Eyre. And any of you have seen the BBC’s North and South will understand why I admire John Thornton.

Confession #4: I’m prone to reading Austen at inappropriate times.

Like the year I read three of her novels during finals week. Or when I should be feeding my children lunch.

Confession #5: I’m a sucker for Austen adaptations. And spin-offs. And remotely Austen-inspired products.

Most of the time this means I slodge through books or movies I wish I hadn’t wasted the time on. (Like the one that takes Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship places I had no wish to go to and quit after three chapters).

But sometimes I find a gem. Like the irreverent Lost in Austen T.V. series. Or Jo Baker’s lovely Longborne, which I finished last week—Pride and Prejudice as told from the servant’s perspective. Or Shannon Hale’s delightful Austenland (the book, and the Jerusha Hess directed movie).

And Georgette Heyer’s Regency era novels remain a staple of my go-to comfort reading.

Confession #6: Like many addictions, mine has evolved.

What began as a teenage fascination with her romances (Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy!) has emerged as a more sustained fascination with Austen’s character perception and her sharp insights into social and economic issues facing women.

Most of Austen’s books focus at least to some extent on the financial uncertainty of well-bred, impoverished young women. The Bennets must marry well because Longborne is bound in entail to Mr. Collins; Elinor and Marianne Dashwood struggle because a similar entail left their ancestral home to their half-brother and his scheming wife; Anne Elliot’s father and sister are near to ruining their family because they have no sense of economy; Fanny Price knows all the snubs and indignities of being a poor cousin; and even Catherine Morland finds her romance frustrated when her humble economic prospects are not grand enough for her suitor’s father. Only Emma seems free from the taint of economic uncertainty—indeed, she is the only one of the women who need not marry from a sense of economic imperative. It’s a happy coincidence in Austen’s books that the women find wealthy men they can love—but love is only part of the equation in these books.

In the last two weeks I’ve twice seen the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s  Sense and Sensibility (If you have a chance to go, it’s marvelous), and the sharp contrast between the sisters stands out to me: Elinor’s sense against her sister’s over-sensitivity. It’s not simply that Austen favors Elinor’s control over Marianne’s lack thereof, it’s that Marianne’s indulgence becomes selfish and hurtful, and I find myself wondering how many times my own indulgence (in a bout of temper or tears) has hurt those around me when a little more restraint might have spared them.

Ultimately, I return to Austen not simply because I love the romance of her world (I do), or her characters (ditto), but because I learn things about myself and my own world in her pages.

I may be an Austen addict, but I’m unlikely to reform any time soon.

What about you? Do you have any favorite addictions–literary or otherwise? What draws you to them? What pulls you away?

July 30, 2014

Rosalyn

(Prose Board) currently lives in Southern Utah with her husband and three small children, where she teaches writing part-time at the local university. She has a BA in English from BYU, and an MA and PhD (also in English) from Penn State. In her spare time (what's that?) she likes to read, write, try new recipes (as long as she doesn't have to clean up), watch movies with her husband (British period drama is her favorite), go for walks, and generally avoid anything that resembles housework. Her first novel comes out Spring 2017 from Knopf.

14 Comments

  1. Melanie

    July 28, 2014

    Have you seen The Lizzie Bennet diaries webisodes (on YouTube)? I’m usually not a fan of Austen spin-offs and fan-fic, but I think this adaptation is brilliant.

    Emma Approved is another series of webisodes by the same people. In this series Emma is pretty aggravating, but I’m still fascinated by the adaptation.

  2. Emily Flinders

    July 28, 2014

    I just tried to hash out my conflicted feelings about empiricism in 19th century chick-lit last week: http://www.readyformycloseupmrdemille.com/2014/07/the-oddest-collapse-in-which-i-obsess.html

  3. Adam G.

    July 28, 2014

    Kipling and me loved Jane Austen too, so you’re not alone.

    I wished you hadn’t linked that garbagey essay on men in suits somehow disproving Mormon ideas about modesty. it was the proverbial feces in the icecream of what was otherwise a lovely little essay about a lovely author.

  4. Rosalyn

    July 28, 2014

    @Melanie–I haven’t! I will have to check it out. I’m always on the lookout for new (and improved) Austen artifacts. 🙂

    @Emily–yes! I know enough about nineteenth century empiricism (and colonialism, and all kinds of other isms–the product of a high-class graduate education!) to know that things aren’t as uncomplicated and lovely as the movies and books seem to imply. That’s one of the things I loved about the book Longborne. But the very fact that you’re aware of the contradiction puts you ahead of most of us.

    @ Adam I’d love to know more about why you find the link so objectionable. I read it as lighthearted satire focusing on the often double-standard of modesty (though perhaps I read it too quickly. I do that sometimes). I don’t object to the idea of modesty–far from it–but I don’t like having modesty reduced to the idea of how our appearance affects others. I think modesty is much more about respect for ourselves and our bodies–and I’m sorry if a quick (almost after-thought) link gives a different impression. (Just ask my Mia Maids about the time I went off on the whole “Modest is Hottest” idea . . .)

  5. Sara Jayne

    July 28, 2014

    It’s always nice to read about a fellow Janeite! We are everywhere, but keep in secret hiding lest we face the rolling eyeballs of the uninitiated. lol I too have move away from Lizzie and Darcy as my favorite characters and more towards Team Knightley. The BBC version of Emma is by far the best, and makes Emma lovable even when being snotty and condescending.

  6. Strollerblader

    July 28, 2014

    Not even remotely an Austen addict, but I did just watch Austenland last night for the 5th time or so… Such a funny movie! And I have seen many different version of Pride and Prejudice and liked most of them.

  7. Kate H

    July 28, 2014

    Austen-ites unite! Have you read Pamela Aiden’s trilogy from Mr. Darcy’s POV? They are my favorite spin off books yet and make me love Mr. Darcy all that much more.

    And I agree – I think Jane Austen’s insights and satire are just brilliant. I have always wanted to write a spin off novel that puts all her main characters in school together and see how her commentaries apply to our modern age. I know I’d like to read something like that!

  8. Ferrin

    July 28, 2014

    Rosalyn, you are not alone; there is nothing wrong with a Jane Austen addiction. I’m proud that I got one of male friends to read Pride & Prejudice (let’s face it, a man with five daughters should be able to relate) and even influenced my mother to look at the humor of Austen’s writings instead of just the romances. And I love, just love, the modesty article you linked.

  9. Rosalyn

    July 28, 2014

    @Sara–yes! It’s been fun to see people come out of the woodwork in response to this. (A friend from high school whom I would never have suspected is also a true fan).

    @Strollerblader. I love that movie. So much.

    @KateH–do it! I’ve read several fun contemporary adaptations.

    @Ferrin–so fun to see you here! And I’m glad you’re spreading the Austen love . . .

  10. Kevin Barney

    July 29, 2014

    I’m not an addict, but I am a lover and appreciator of Jane. You might have enjoyed this Gospel Doctrine lesson I taught once:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2011/05/15/the-prodigal-son-and-jane-austen/

  11. ShelleyH

    July 29, 2014

    That production of Jane Eyre? I saw it. Twice. His Rochester still makes my heart flutter to think about it. When he dropped to his knees and cried her name as she was leaving?……. (What is the acceptable Mormon equivalent of omg?) *fans face and clutches pearls*

  12. Rosalyn

    July 29, 2014

    @Kevin–this looks interesting. Thank you for sharing!

    @ShelleyH–I know, right? *swoon*

  13. Alyse

    July 29, 2014

    Rosalyn, I just read a Jane Austen rewrite of Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope. It’s a modernized version of the story, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Stuck to all of the main premises of the plot and the characters, but just tweaked it enough to work for today’s age. Loved it! Apparently it’s part of the “Jane Austen Project” where six different authors are rewriting each of her novels, so in the end all six of them should be out and I’m really looking forward to reading the rest.

  14. Kellie aka Selwyn

    July 30, 2014

    I only watched Austenland for the first time yesterday, and while I enjoyed it, it’s not my favourite Austen-style/related piece. I love and own both North & South and Lost In Austen, and the BBC P&P with Colin Firth… amazing. It’s the restraint and courtesy I find so appealing in it all (though the books bore me.. though I did read them all in high school).

    My literary addiction is to sci-fi. Unashamedly, I love it. I love the challenging moral dilemmas, the societies turned slightly skew to the familiar (or vastly different), of taking a societal “norm” and pulling it apart – exactly like that brilliant satire piece on men in suits and the insane modesty arguments. And wow, the allure of a man dressed well in a good suit.. nothing Austen about that, just plain wonderful!

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