I woke up early on Sunday morning. I never wake up early if I can avoid it.
I woke up early, turned over in bed and spent the next two hours sitting wrapped up in my duvet, reading the last 1/3 or so of Pride and Prejudice. I’m tempted to go right back to the beginning and reread it again, in a way that I haven’t been with a book for a long time. Jane Austen is wonderful. It’s not just that she’s immensely clever, or that she builds a world you feel you could walk into any time. Lots of writers do that, and I love their books. When I’m finished their books, I miss their characters and worlds. But Austen? She doesn’t just do that. She does all of that and simultaneously leaves you feeling like the whole story has been narrated to you by your oldest friend. Like you’re the kind of friends who don’t see each other for months at a time, and when you do the two of you curl up on your comfiest sofa or armchairs with great big mugs of tea to catch up.
It was wonderful. Exceptional. I can see why she is so loved after centuries. I want to give a copy of P&P to every kid I know who’s just old enough to really love novels. And simultaneously I find myself despising the idea of P&P being set on a school syllabus.
That’s not a book to be dissected in a group for assignments. It’s a book that’s as cosy and intimate as it is witty and insightful. It’s a book to nurture a relationship with. To find joy in. To have a conversation with- scribble notes in the sidebar, exclamation marks and little written gasps of delight. To pass a dog-eared, well written-over copy along to a friend after years and share all of that joy of discovery. It’s a book to carry with you, to reread countless times and share with all of your past selves.
In a way, reading Pride & Prejudice is how I truly understood what it is to achieve immortality through writing. Austen is no more- she hasn’t existed for centuries. But while I’ve often closed a book and missed the characters, it’s rare to close a book and miss the author. To have such a wonderful sense of the voice behind it that it is that voice, more than the characters she creates, that you truly feel connected to. I was born hundreds of years after this woman died. But damn, do you get a taste of who she was. In a way, some essential part of this funny, clever, warm and deliciously biting woman survives her.
Falling in love with a 238 year old woman, eh? I’ve pined after some pretty inaccessible people before, but this might just be a whole new level. I’m certain I’m not alone, though.
But seriously- how magical is writing? I don’t mean that in any supernatural sense. I mean in the sense that in writing, we created a one-way time machine. We don’t just get to share information over vast swathes of time and space- although we do that, and it’s pretty damn cool. But more than that, we can meet people who lived centuries ago. We know who they were, who they loved, where they lived. Which is nice, but we also get to know what they were like. Whether they were the kind of people we’d pretend not to notice walking down the street, or someone we’d talk with for endless hours if they’d let us.
I’ve always found it difficult to imagine the reality of living in different times. A deficit of my own imagination, I guess. I know the past is real, but it feels cartoonish. Like an old video game, all clunky pixels and garish colours. I guess it’s because we often have to talk about the past in broad strokes- here are the buildings people lived in. There is a tool they used. Here is an outline of their social structures, and the names of some of the men in fancy hats with political power.
But Jane- I hope she wouldn’t mind if I call her Jane- does more than that. With a work of fiction she takes you past those brush strokes, leads you into her living room. She sits you down, pops the kettle on. You ask her how she’s been, and she smiles. You wouldn’t believe the story she has for you.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a stack of books to read.
(Although I am having a bit of trouble deciding which to go for next. Which do you think I should go for?)
- “We really do inhabit the novels”: An Interview with Elaine Bander, President of JASNA Canada (sarahemsley.com)
- ‘Dinner with Mr. Darcy’ dishes up Jane Austen inspired recipes (mnn.com)
- It Is A Truth Universally Acknowledged…that transmedia has the power to transform storytelling. (teachread.wordpress.com)
- Will The Real Jane Austen Please Stand Up? (marcys.wordpress.com)