Thanking Jane Austen: final Birthday wishes

The day is drawing to a close, and I’ve never felt so overwhelmed by the Jane Austen community.  Pride and Prejudice has been a part of my life for a long time, and I seek solace in the pages whenever I feel bored, exhausted, miserable or just in need of some form of recognisable beauty.  It’s like crying on your best friends shoulder, or asking for advice over coffee.  Sometimes the comfort can be hard to see, but it’s in the pages themselves and by the time Darcy and Elizabeth are coming to terms with their issues, you’re coming to terms with your own.

Blogging from Australia is a different experience to blogging from England, my home country, or from America (where most of the hardcore fans often appear to reside).  I am proud to blog from Sydney.  But sometimes one can feel alienated, watching all the other Austen bloggers meet up and become friends, sitting at the sidelines as other Janeites cavort around Austen’s home and museums, visiting her grave in reverance, feeling a little far from the rest of the literature loving world.  My inbox is full of Austen feeds and invites to things that I cannot go to.  Fan film and theatre launches half a world away.  However, this blog has made me realise that I am not alone in these sorts of sentiments.  There are so many Janeites out there, you just have to look a little harder.

I daresay speaking like this sounds like insanity.  And, yes, I am a little bit caught up in “Jane Day”.  But the Bennet family means a lot to me, and I feel like they have found me lovely friends (in the form of a Jane Austen book club), strengthened the friendships I already had and peeled my eyes open to who was not worth the time of day. It only makes sense then, that a day like this should be full of the reflections of many people and happy memories of books read and giggles shared. 

However, I am hardly well equipped to inform about other peoples’ points of view so I invited a couple of my friends to write me guest posts about their experiences with Miss Jane Austen, and of her birthday.

Pauline Wallis, a member of the frequently-mentioned-on-this-blog Jane Austen Anonymous club, is my closest friend.  We have shared many a day watching period dramas and lamenting over the lack of Darcys and over-abundance of Wickhams in our lives. She tells of what Jane Austen’s birthday means to her:

“The people who have the greatest impact on who we are and what we stand for are always the ones whose birthdays bring the most joy. And the inclination for celebration ought to be no less on such a person’s 235th birthday, than on their 21st, or 41st. So it goes without saying that today is important to me (understatement of the century perhaps?).

My day has so far been spent with a cup of tea and Northanger Abbey, this month’s Austen work for Book club. That this day has been spent too nursing rather revolting bites which have appeared all over my legs, or that I have a late night shift in Christmas retail hell to look forward to in the coming hours is of little consequence, for the weather has turned momentarily English in her honour. The grass is green and spattered with summer rain, and I am quite certain that I won’t be moving from my armchair until it becomes necessary once again to earn my keep (later to be spent on Austen-esque frivolity’s no doubt). And even to that I will undoubtedly be smuggling Miss Morland and Mr Tilney in with me, in the hopes their presence might make it bearable. And who knows what else today might bring, perhaps it will bring scones (I do hope it will bring scones), or perhaps a prideful young man with 10 000 a year and a wet shirt (I also hope it brings this).

But even if it brings Miss Bates, or Fanny Dashwood, or Caroline Bingley, or (heaven forbid) Mr Collins, I will be delighted, as it is only through the actions of these most exhausting and frustrating characters that Austen’s heroines were able to prove themselves. A challenge from Jane is a challenge I welcome with open arms. But quite seriously, I think I will definitely buy scones.”

Manda Diaz, a fellow journalism student and blogger whose humour is steeped in Jane Austen-worthy witticisms has written of her connection with Jane, and what reading Pride and Prejudice meant to her.  I recommend reading her blog Memoirs of a Word Nerd for more amusing anecdotes:

The Wizard and I

Rejoice everyone- it’s Jane Austen’s 235th birthday! 

You may have seen the adorable picture Google has on their homepage, but what you probably haven’t noticed is that The Bennet Sisters is having a commemorative blog fest to celebrate December 16- the most amazing of all days.

Initially, this summoned up an image in my head of a bunch of bespectacled bloggers hitting each other over the head with their Complete Works of Austen with shrieks of “No, I love Jane more!”

This is stupid for a number of reasons. The main one being that devotees of Jane would never behave in such an unladylike manner. Rather than resorting to violence, we would banter in an arch and lively manner about our wish that Pemberley was a real place, the fact that Colin Firth will always be Mr Darcy and whether or not Mansfield Park is the most boring of all of Austen’s novels.

But whatever.

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t read Pride and Prejudice until I was 14 or 15. I’d just watched Bride and Prejudice and been completely baffled by it and so decided to turn to the original source material to see what the hell was going on.

I was wary- afraid that P & P would be full of coughing orphans and bleak moors in the manner of a Bronte novel. But, like To Kill A Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind, it was one of those delightful classics that has deservedly stood the test of time.

But if you’re reading this, then you know that already. You know that Jane Austen is smart, witty and delightfully bitchy on occasion. You know that Lizzy is aspirational because of all her flaws and that Darcy is adorable.  Austen’s observations about humanity are just as relevant now as they were in 1813- which is why she’s so special.

Like most Austen nerds, I feel like Jane and I are long lost sisters. Separated by time, space and a continent. So of course, I was disappointed last year when I visited Winchester Cathedral and didn’t even realise that I was tramping thoughtlessly about my beloved Jane’s burial place. I should have known, should have felt some kind of spiritual connection. But the cold marble floor was just a floor. When I trooped down the road to the house she had died, I felt nothing.

So instead, I connect with Jane in other ways. By reading- of course. By saving my beautiful Complete Works tome for home and  taking my paperback copies out and about. By watching adaptations- movies and miniseries alike. Watching Austen on screen with my sister and my girl friends is fantastic for bonding.  And last of all,  I connect by blogging. See how Jane unites the sisterhood? That’s why we love her.

Happy birthday Miss Austen!”

Jane Austen: born 16th December 1775. 

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