Wednesday, April 26, 2006

In Praise of Jane

I can’t remember when I first became aware of Jane Austen’s work--probably back when I was in elementary school and read every book I could get my hands on (I was one of those kids who always checked out the maximum number of books allowed, then devoured them as quickly as I could). My enjoyment of her stories extends to the various movie and TV versions. Some I enjoy more than others, but I can’t think of one that isn’t worth watching. It’s always a pleasure to “spend time” in Regency England!

Despite the fact that I own--and have watched many times--both the A&E and BBC versions of Pride and Prejudice on DVD, it’s probably been close to 20 years since I actually read the book. I’d been considering reading it again (before I bought the new movie version on DVD), when I noticed that the local library was starting a reading group--and the first book to be read was Pride and Prejudice. Since I’d been looking for something that would get me away from my computer and around other people every so often, I signed up, dug out my copy of P&P and started reading.

Don’t ask me how, but I’d forgotten what a fantastic writer Jane Austen was. The DVDs are good, but there’s so much in the book that simply cannot make it into a film version. I soon found myself enmeshed in Lizzie Bennett’s’ world, loving every moment of it. It was hard to putting the book down, and I was sorry it was over when I’d finished reading it.

I can’t think of higher praise for a book than that!

The reading group discussion was fun, and it was interesting to hear what the others had to say about the book. I was surprised that several of them had never read Austen’s work--even more so that several didn’t finish because they couldn’t get into it (that shouldn’t have surprised me--I know everyone’s tastes are different--maybe my enthusiasm got in the way of my brain :-) ).

The one thing that stood out, however, was how many of us thought the book showed how little human nature has changed. IMO, that--along with Austen’s writing style and voice--helps explain why her work remains “readable" and relevant (anyone read Emma and watch the movie Clueless?).

What I got out of this experience, besides the pleasure of an enjoyable read and a lively book discussion, was that as a writer of historical romances I need to keep that in mind. Settings and situations may change, but human nature essentially remains the same. To keep a story set in the 12th century relevant to present-day readers, I need to show that my characters are real people with recognizable flaws and strengths--they just happen to live in a different time.

For me, that’s one of the neatest things about reading and writing.

I’ve been lax lately about reading classic romances as well as newly-published ones (let’s face it, there are a lot of good books coming out every week!), but that’s about to change. At the bookstore yesterday, along with Kerrelyn Sparks’ Vamps and the City and Gaelen Foley’s His Wicked Kiss, I picked up a copy of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Three yummy books to choose from . . . I’d better be good, maybe drag out my timer and sit myself down at the computer asap. Otherwise I won’t get anything done on my own work!


Anonymous said...

It's Jane Austen.

Sharon Schulze said...

I know :-(

Should have checked my spell check before I put up the post (we've got an Austin in the family, so it's in my computer and it changed it).

Nancy Herkness said...

Sharon, I know exactly what you mean about missing the actual writing in the movies. Every time I read something by Jane Austen, I sigh longingly and wish I could write even half as well. She has an extraordinary command of the English language which makes her insights into that unchanging human nature you mention all the more vivid and profound. That's it, I have to go re-read the first chapter of P and P just for a fix of that wonderful prose...

Sandra K. Moore said...

More than language gets lost in some of the P&P movies... I enjoyed the most recent P&P but, given the time constraints, it could only ever be a "fluff" piece. Lost in the translation to the big screen was that oh-so-delicate balancing Lizzie must do of the class sensibilities, in which she is the only Bennet capable by birth, station, and intelligence to bridge the divide between her own family and Darcy's.

And Persuasion with Amanda Root remains my favorite of all the Austen movies, because it economically provides that class-consciousness while making you feel as though you know exactly how damp those houses must have really been.

Sharon Schulze said...

Nancy, I hope you enjoyed chapter 1!

Sharon Schulze said...

Sandra, I agree with you about the most recent P&P; I thought they got a decent amount into the movie, considering the length of time they had to work with.

As for Persuasion, I just watched it on Sunday (for Comcast customers, it's available in the free movie "on demand" section right now). I hadn't seen it in quite a while, and enjoyed it very much. Anne's transformation--from appearing plain and almost downtrodden to the wonderful glow she has at the end of the movie--is a wonderful symbol of the change in her outlook and circumstances.

And you're so right about those damp houses . . .

Nancy Herkness said...

Sharon, Chapter 1 led to Chapter 2 which led to...well, you know what happened. I haven't gotten much writing done since I read your blog.