Jane Austen Bicentenary: 1817 – 2017

 

Tomorrow marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen. Austenites world-wide have been in a tizzy of activity all year, organizing programs and events scheduled out past the bicentenary date.

Every site associated with her life will be buzzing this summer, converged upon by fans the world over. Joining them in their pilgrimage will be the Scot and I, who’ll be making the journey to Austen country later this month. Think of us as we’re elbowing past tourists at Chawton Cottage, shoving people off her tombstone in Winchester Cathedral so we can get photos, and squinting at maps of Bath to locate the places she lived and wrote about.

 

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

Northanger Abbey

 

Imagine what she’d make of all this brouhaha, how she’d feel knowing the passionate devotion her fans still feel 200 years later. No shrinking violet, she may still blush crimson. If she’d experienced this degree of mania in her lifetime, just think how comfortable she and her sister Cassandra would have been. Not just comfortable but wealthy, in a position to tell off her brother Henry for his stingy treatment of her. It would have changed everything.

In an earlier post, I mentioned my amazement at how many new books are still popping out about her life and work, and that a few review titles have been sent my way by publishers. Since then I’ve heard about one other, a novel this time, whose premise has left me scratching my head:

 

Harper Perennial
May 2017

 

London, 1815: Two travelers–Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane–arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem, but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters–a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back,” their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.

 

Do I request it, do I not? It may be perfectly dreadful. I’m not a big fan of modern retellings of Austen. A literary purist of sorts, I’d rather stick with the primary texts, as well as nonfiction about her and her work. Still, every time a new book comes out related to Jane Austen I notice. I’ll think about it.

My own first experience with Austen was in college. I took a course on Victorian women’s fiction, and despite the fact she’s actually Regency, the professor stuck  Northanger Abbey on the syllabus. I liked it well enough, but it didn’t turn me into a fan. Situated alongside Bronte and Eliot, it came off a little thin, especially since I wasn’t at all acquainted with the gothic fiction Austen mocked in the novel.

 

The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!

Sense and Sensibility

 

It was Pride & Prejudice, read much later when my kids were little and I joined an online book group to keep my brain from atrophying, that eventually hooked me. From there I went on to Emma, then Sense & Sensibility. It took me a couple of years, but I got through her other books, as well. Now I adore her.

The Scot and I are so looking forward to chasing Austen, and I’ll have plenty to tell and show you when we get back. Also, reviews of those books I’ve been teasing about. Possibly others I snag in the meantime, too.

Here’s to Jane Austen and her enduring fame. Her astute observations on contemporary Regency society, deep empathy for the plight of women, champion of true love and occasionally wicked, rapier-like wit are forever fresh, no matter how many times I re-read her books.

We’re so fortunate to have had her in the world, however short a time it was.

 

Jane Austen: 1775 – 1817

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