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I’m sure by now you’ve figured out from the daily “Plain Jane” quotes that I’m quite the fan of the brilliant Miss Austen. Ok, more than a fan, I’m actually completely obsessed. I thought I ought then to do a post dedicated to her since she has a daily voice in this process. So, in lieu of just a quote, here’s a little more of just plain Jane.

Despite all her popularity, Austen is, I believe, one of the most prejudiced-against authors of all time. Lets just write out a few of the labels I’ve heard Jane try to be pigeon-holed in:

  • A writer just for women.
  • A writer just for women looking for a husband.
  • A writer just for women who want to stay at home.
  • A woman out of touch with reality.
  • A woman just writing about home life.
  • Definitely NOT a writer men would be interested in.
  • Definitely NOT a writer men should read.
  • Definitely strange that she wrote about love since she was never a mother or a wife.

Well that narrows the playing field just a bit now doesn’t it? And yet, If you’ve ever discussed Jane Austen in public, most likely you suddenly found yourself embroiled in a terrifying civil war between the the defend-to-the-last-breath-Austen-lovers and the-I-can’t-imagine-reading-more-than-one-novel-about-this-stuff-casual-readers.

For some reason, for being “just a writer of domestic novels,” Jane’s parlor-talk gets people really fired up. Trust me, after taking an Austen senior seminar in college where the class was given a debate topic–one side to defend and promote the decisions of one character, the other side to promote and defend a different one–the room quickly chose sides and tossed literary digs back and forth across the room like we were revisiting  the Chamberlain-Hitler meetings of  1938–only this time, there was no appeasement. Even our Professor grew a little worried and called off the torrents of impassioned quotes being bantered about…honestly, things were really getting heated.

So, what’s the big deal about Austen? How are her novels able to transcend generation gaps and centuries of progress to affect the emotions of readers everywhere–despite discussing the small lives of well-to-do English families of a past era?

The woman just gets it. She understands the human character. Her writing reveals the social absurdities in a time where few people had the confidence to call them out. And, since people don’t change, her commentary upon the human heart is still able to shock you into a bit of introspection. No one is safe from the observations of her pen, both good and bad, and these unbiased opinions are exactly what she is adored for.

Without being overly didactic, the pages of her novels are overflowing with advice on pretty much anything. Apparently, I can’t get enough of them so I had to have two complete sets from two different publishers.

My Penguin Books set is a little more worn–sorry Penguin. Hopefully they feel the love. And, of course, besides her snappy one-liners and heart-wrenching truths about human character, Austen is probably most famous and most read for her romance. You might wrinkle your nose at it, or roll your eyeballs until they’re sore at the squishy-ness of some of the dialogue, but please, confess, can you really read along and not feel just a little tingle of delight?

I sure hope not. Take it from Jane, “the person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” (Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey) You wouldn’t want to have that label now would you? Happy reading!

– ❤ A. 

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