I love Jane Austen.
When I was 14, I found an old, dusty, leather-bound copy of Pride and Prejudice on my parents’ bookshelf. It had belonged to my father’s grandmother – my great-grandmother. I had wanted to read Pride and Prejudice for a while – I’d already read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and knew that Jane Austen should be next on my list.
This was 2004 – before the Keira Knightley version of the book that reinvigorated society’s obsession with all things Austen. I started to read the old, musty copy, turning every page with care. I was worried, though, afraid that I would damage this vintage copy, so I raided my junior high school library for a copy. The one I found was almost as old as my great-grandmothers…
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (For the record, I did not look that up, I have it memorized.)
I devoured the book. It was the first book I ever “fangirled” over. I despised Caroline Bingley, liked then hated Wickham, hated then loved Mr Darcy. My Jane Austen obsession did not end there. Over the next two years, I read the other five of Jane Austen’s complete novels, and as of now, I’ve read all of them at least twice (I read Pride and Prejudice at least once a year).
I’ve been to England twice in my life – first on an AP Literature tour that took us to see Dickens’ London and Shakespeare’s Stratford as well as York, Oxford, and Bath. Jane Austen despised Bath, but she set two of her novels there, and there exists the Jane Austen Centre – a bookstore and museum dedicated to the authoress.
I almost didn’t get to see Jane Austen’s house in Bath. We were on a tour of the city, on our way to the Royal Crescent, and as if as an afterthought, the little old woman giving the tour called back to us, “Oh! And that little blue door back behind us. That is where Jane Austen lived when she was in Bath!” Needless to say, I was not pleased to be denied a proper photo of the place…
When I went back to England for my semester abroad, I managed to visit Winchester – the final resting place of my heroine. I took the train and went alone, taking the time to pause everything and devote one day to seeing a place I had needed to visit for ages. After gathering my nerve, I paid the entry fee to get in to Winchester Cathedral, where I immediately found Jane Austen’s grave. I stood there for a few minutes, taking in the feeling. I took photos of the markers, and placed my hand on her grave, almost praying to her, willing her to hear my thanks.
Then, I took a bus to Alton and walked from there to Chawton Cottage, where Jane lived in the last years of her life. I saw her writing desk, and the bedroom that she and her sister Cassandra shared.
I had made the entire journey by myself, and most of the time, was silent in thought. There were daffodils in Jane’s window – my favorite flower.
Almost every book I’ve read has influenced me in some way. From Harry Potter, to the Princess Diaries, to The Fault in Our Stars, to Catcher in the Rye. But I can think of no author whose work continues to inspire me to this day.
Jane Austen’s heroines have character. They aren’t spineless women who don’t know who they are. They are strong, intelligent, sometimes foolish, sometimes wise, sometimes proud or spiteful. But her characters make difficult choices. They choose to marry for love instead of money. They make decisions based on their heart. They make mistakes, but they learn from them. In everything they do, they are true to themselves.