Monday, March 31, 2008

In appreciation of Jane Austen

As I have said before in this blog, Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. Pride and Prejudice is among my all time favorite classics. In fact, reading P & P is a yearly ritual for me. Each time I read it, I never fail to find more things to appreciate about the book as well as Austen's writing.

Initially I used to be biased towards P & P as the pinnacle of Jane Austen's writing skills. I had read and enjoyed her other books too - but did not think them to be quite in the same league as P & P. In fact, at first read, I thought Emma was downright annoying - what a pesky, self-satisfied, meddler heroine!

So, when I got Emma as a gift a couple of years ago from a fellow Austen-loving friend, I was disappointed. Why Emma of all the possible books? The book got relegated to one of my book cases, to enliven the learned look of the room, but for nothing much else. Then, on one of those lazy days when I had nothing better to read, I pulled out the book.

What a revelation! I could not believe that I had ever despised the book. I don't remember the specifics of my attraction now but I do remember being completely drawn to the book. At the end of that mesmerizing session, Emma was slotted into the category of books I will definitely read again.

This year, during one of the meetings with the Austen-loving friend, our conversation veered towards books and more specifically, Jane Austen. The friend described a period at grad school when she got so hooked onto Jane Austen that for about a week she completely abandoned her research work while she devoured all the books one after the other - only stopping when she had exhausted the entire Austen supply her library had to offer. I was amused at this story but not surprised. I knew exactly what she meant when she concluded, "That's how it is with Jane Austen's books. Each time you read them, you discover something new."

Last weekend, when I was in the library, I recalled the conversation. I walked over to the section with Jane Austen novels and picked out Persuasion - its been a while since I read it last. And once I got back home, I started the process of enjoying the book. It is uncanny as to just how many of the observations that Austen makes are still so relevant to today's world. And just how does she manage to say everything so well? I dwelt on the conversations and the characterisations, savoring it all slowly.

Last night, I still had a few more chapters to go and it was already past my bedtime. Disregarding a) I have read this book before b) It would most certainly be the wee hours of the morning by the time I am done if I wanted to finish reading it and c) I had to go to work the next day, I happily read on till I reached the last page. And contented, I fell asleep.

Today has been on the bleary-eyed side consequently. Nevertheless, in the evening, I returned Persuasion to the library and picked up my next Austen fix: Sense and Sensibility.

To my sorrow, Jane Austen is not around to write new books to delight her fans. But in a way, she has left an inexhaustible supply of reading material by giving so many layers to her books. Each time you read it again, a brand new dimension is revealed. That kind of reading is fun too!

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

:) Jane Austen ... I never could get around to finishing Emma, but Sense and Sensibility is my favorite. I really appreciate stronger women characters like in Little Women, Gone with the wind, and Pride and Prejudice. Somehow the authors now a days dont tell stories as well. It sounds more like a narrative with doses of sex thrown in to keep the audience happy.
I was wondering what book to read next - now I think I will re-read all the classics :)

Altoid said...

My God. Not another JA fanatic. I have a very good friend L who lives, breathes, eats, drinks, sleeps JA. No kidding. She has experienced every creation of JA in all possible formats- books, videos, plays, dvd's- you name it, she owns it and relives it all the time. Its no wonder she doesnt find time to read other authors and not surprising that she is stuck in a Victorian time warp :D. To top it all, she too is from the bay area.

Must be something in the water there, me thinks! :)

Binaryfootprints said...

Oh..I love Jane Austen. I thought Emma was a bit of a bore too, I mean come on compared with fiery Lizzy she seemed like she needed a life, until I realized after another rading thta Emma was one of those books that were truly different from other Austen books. Have you been watching PBS "Masterpiece". They are having a full month of Jane austen works. Film Adaptations by BBC are being screened. They just aired part one of Sense and sensibility. The rest ofcourse are over. Maybe they might air it again. You can check out your local channel. it is amazing.

Saumya said...

I must try Jane Austen again - maybe I was too young to appreciate it when I first read Emma - probably in 6th grade then. So, I wasn't attracted to it much. Maybe, if I read it now, it will be different.

Anita said...

so maybe you should write about the bits you really liked in the book.

Survivor said...

I like to pick up a Jane Austen or any of the old English Classics on a lazy day...Thoroughly enjoyable. Interestingly, Emma was the first JA novel that I read and liked it too.

Joy said...

I have read Emma and PP in my childhood and I prefer the latter. Ofcourse I used to like the relationship Elizabeth and Darcy shared. Later when I told this to a friend of mine, he said to catch attention of girls, one should just ignore them like Darcy :)

I need to checkout Sense and Sensibility. I love her novels too. It transforms me into a different world altogether.

Shilpa said...

I love P&P !!

I watched parts of BBC's P&P last night and was so excited (even though I have watched it many times) !!

I agree with you, there are different interpretations each time you read them.

I watched the movie - jane austen book club, recently, where they talk about her books and how it is relevant even today...btw its a nice movie...watch it.

SK said...

Hey,
Enjoy Jane Austen's books. Love Pride and Prejudice! Of course I have some difficulty relating to the characters now.
Enjoyed Little Women too, too good, I dont think its by Jane Austen.

Sree said...

P and P is one of my all time favorites too :).. by the way, did you read confessions of a Jane Austen addict?

Archana said...

Anon - I really liked Gone with the wind too - little women, of course, is an all time favorite. I love the way P & P also works as a lovely romance without even a kiss thrown in. Rereading classics will be fun :-)! P.s. do you know me from before?

Altoid - lol - I am not at the same level of fanaticism as your friend. Though I would love to know her so I can borrow JA stuff from her :-P!

Binaryfootprints - Someone else told me about the PBS series too. Unfortunately I don't get PBS :-(! Must have been really fun to watch!

Saumya - Oh do read it again. A second reading is usually an eye-opener with JA books!

Sindu - hmm, ya, I thought about it - but it seemed like too much work :-P!

Survivor - Welcome aboard :-)! Oh, nice :-)!

Joy - hahaha - I think Lizzie ignored Darcy with good effect :-P!

Shilpa - :-D! Oh man, the BBC P&P is very nice - though I thought Colin Firth was not handsome enough to be Mr. Darcy! The one which came out a few years ago with Keira Knightly as Lizzie fell short of the BBC one! Oh - I need to see that movie!

SK - Heheh - relating to the characters as a whole is difficult I guess. But the way the characters think at times is so strikingly relevant! Yup yup, Little Women is by Lousia May Alcott (most of her other books aren't that great though).

Sree - :-D! Oh, I haven't even heard about it. Should read it - thanks for letting me know!

Anonymous said...

yes - from undergrad! - anon.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually in the middle of PP and am loving it :)

T

(Refer post on Utah trip for identity of T)

Archana said...

Anon - okie, will narrow down further - hehe :-)!

T - enna treasure hunt clue-va :-)? Pick up Sense and Sensibility next - just finished it last night - it is such a fun and awesome read!

Abhishek Upadhyay said...

I had brought Emma couple of years back....by mistake I picked it up from street.Still its there with me half-read.

I can complete novels of Jeffery Archer,Frederick Forsyth,John Grisham in a week.But Jane Austen is out of my league.

Archana said...

Abhishek - Welcome aboard :-)! Oh you should try reading it again - a few years do make a huge difference, trust me!

Sandy said...

I have not read the book but recently saw the Masterpiece version on PBS. I think it has been fabulously rendered. Not sure how the others (Emma, Sense And Sensibility) are.

athiran said...

watched this movie 'the jane austen book club' or read the book of the same name?

Archana said...

Sandy - Welcome aboard :-)! Do you mean BBC's P&P? I think that is the best screen adaptation of P&P that's there. I saw BBC's Sense and Sensibility - it was quite good - though poor Margaret had been written out of it for some strange reason.

Athiran - Nopes - not yet! Mean to though, been hearing about it of late. And oh, welcome aboard :-)!