Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Jane Austen Journey

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

There is no quote more fit to describe my own Jane Austen journey. It always seems to come back to the screen adaptation of Emma, starring Gwynneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam. Did I see it in the theater? I cannot recall. I do know I bought the DVD, along with Mansfield Park, as a part of the 10 free DVDs you could get with the Columbia Record and Tape Club (remember that vicious money trap?) I loved Gwynneth in the role of Emma. I loved the dresses and I loved the hair. My favorite dress was the pink one she wore while shooting with Mr. Knightley, when he said, "Try not to kill my dogs." I was not as impressed with Mansfield Park. It remains, to this day, my least favorite of her novels.

Once I discovered these two movies, I read the two novels and began to read up on Jane herself.

On either the first or second Christmas home, after we moved away, my mother and father presented me with the DVD Box set of A&E's Pride and Prejudice. I still have it. The original discs are old, scratched and unwatchable, but they stay on my shelf, a reminder of a favorite gift from my parents, now gone.

How many times have I watched that variation? 100? I think more. When I watched that series for the first time, I was breathless. I hadn't yet read the novel. I fell in love. Not with Colin Firth, but with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Not in a romantic way, but she became for me, the ideal heroine.

Next came the inevitable "I must have every screen adaptation known to mankind" phase. VHS tapes were purchased. The requisite self-important comparisons between on-screen versions themselves, then between the screen versions and the books, were made.

Almost 10 years later, I was yearning for more Austen. I had read all her books and seen every movie adaptation. I had an actual physical longing- much like I felt a few days after we returned home from Disney World when I was a kid. I NEEDED to be back there. I wandered around the fiction section at the bookstore, frustrated and unsatisfied. And then I suddenly remembered waaaaay back to 2002, when I had found a variation on Emma, written by Joan Aiken, at the library in Worcester, MA. "Jane Fairfax" has the honor of being the first adaptation, variation, or sequel that I ever read. I remembered this suddenly and wondered if Ms. Aiken had written any others. In the "A" section, I saw, "Mr. Darcy's Daughters," by Elizabeth Aston. Then, in the Bs, I found "Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife," by Linda Berdoll. I had a little pile going. My husband wandered over and I shoed him away. I was On A Mission. I think I walked out with 4 Austen-inspired books that day.

Jane Austen's work, and the adaptations of it, became a sort of drug for me. The perfect escape to the World of Manners, where everything was defined and one knew exactly what was expected. It was a turbulent time in my life and I needed that kind of escape. I read every variation my bookstore stocked. Then I went online and found self-published books by the likes of Kara Louise and Abigail Reynolds, just to name a couple. For two solid years, I read no other fiction, (not counting the Little House on the Prairie series that I have read almost every fall since I could read.) I admire these Austen Authors so much. The sheer number of Pride and Prejudice variations alone is a testament to their ingenuity and voracious creativity. A whole world, where the characters I loved best were living, thriving, being born and reborn, enveloped me. How had I come this far without knowing this world had existed?

There seems to be a bold line drawn between those of us who love this continued world of Darcy and Elizabeth, and those who feel that these authors are just trying to "copy Jane Austen." Pah. (Yes, my dear Miss L, I know you are reading this and that you belong to the *other* camp, but I love you anyway *grin*.) I, for one, feel bereft when a good book is finished and to be able to read different variations of what could happen excites me! For me, there is no point in getting worked up if you don't like that an entire genre has evolved based on the works of an author. If you don't like it, don't read it! I think everyone has different needs, different loves, and they are all valid and let's not judge! I see it thus: there are so many things in this world to get worked up about. Human rights violations, world hunger, war, to name a few. Not liking a book is not something I am going to get worked up about. I'll toss it aside and go read another. As a matter of fact, I think I'll go do that now.


  1. I can relate so much to your post. I was very taken by P&P 1995, but didn't have an urge to write. That came with P&P 2005. I went to the library to see if others had written re-imaginings. Oh my goodness! I had no idea. But all those titles didn't stop me. I most esp. agree with your post's conclusion. If I don't like a book, I set it aside and move on. It just wasn't for me. The look of your blog is lovely. All the best.

  2. I cannot reply directly to comments (I have notified Google of this problem.) So for now I shall just swoon and thank Mary Simonsen for such a lovely comment and, pardon the cliche but, "I'm a big fan of your work!"

  3. I can also relate! When people ask me why I write Austen variations, I usually say it's because Jane Austen was cruel enough only to write six novels and some of us need more. :) I love writing and reading about her characters, and I'm glad there are now so many options for doing so!