Jane Austen Appears in Tweed Jacket

Portrait made just after confronting her about Antigua

I met Jane Austen through my parents.  She occupied a top bookshelf between Aristotle and Balzac, wearing the same tan tweedy jacket all the Great Books wore.  From my teenager perspective, she seemed as accessible as a marble goddess in a museum.  Nonetheless, one acutely boring day while wondering WILL I EVER ESCAPE THIS SMALL TOWN, I found myself precariously bereft:  between books with nothing to read, and decades before the day of instant downloads.  Thus, the annoying choice:  either not read, or resort to my parents’ Great Books collection.  I pulled Sense & Sensibility off the shelf and spent several days out of town—in Jane Austen’s world.  I could have mustered greater enthusiasm if she’d included a Heathcliff in her pages, but she was a friend of my parents, after all.

I met Jane Austen again as a young adult, busy launching my entry-level self in the big city and wondering WILL I EVER FIND LOVE, which is to say, I was meeting my fill of characters and navigating rapid plot twists.  Home sick one day, I read Persuasion which led to Northanger Abbey and might have continued except I recovered, went back to work, and lost touch with Jane Austen.  Back then, I read without regard to author, subject, or literary orientation and, in the blur of young life before Facebook, relationships fell through the cracks.

And then I met my husband.

From that moment, I avoided plot twists.  No conflict, please.  The tension that makes fiction so compelling, doesn’t translate to real life, and as my life perspective changed, so did my literary perceptions.  We read Love in the Time of Cholera aloud on our honeymoon.  Heathcliff?  GAH.  What was I thinking?  Books that moved me in my youth no longer had the power.  I was aware of Jane Austen’s growing popularity—and Mr. Darcy’s wet shirt, who wasn’t?—but I was too busy changing diapers to get involved.

Twenty years passed before running into Jane Austen again.  We met by chance in the New York Times Book Review through our mutual friend, The Jane Austen Book Club.  By then, I had four sons and a novel-in-progress.  Jane Austen was an immortal supernova.  My reading program had narrowed to novels reflecting life’s complexity, often leading me to revisit classics, which led to reading all six Austen novels without interruption.  Jane Austen spoke to me from between the lines of her prose, a perfect blend of irony and optimism and we became best friends.  We agreed on many things, most importantly that bookish women should be the heroines of their own lives.  We spent five years together writing My Jane Austen Summer, experiencing ups and downs, including a revelation regarding her father’s trusteeship of a slave-owning plantation in Antigua she never bothered to mention.  But we’ve established boundaries and moved on and, thanks to books, discussion groups, and cyber-celebrations, we meet almost every day; one fixed point in the chaos of life.

What about you?  How did you meet Jane Austen?

Welcome, Austenesque revelers!  This post is offered in conjunction with Austenesque Extravaganza, a month-long celebration of Austenesque novels and authors hosted by Meredith Esparza.  Leave a comment on this post to be included in the drawing for one of 80 Austenesque novels she’ll be giving away.  For more information on the festivities and to enroll in her giveaway, visit Austenesque Reviews.


Filed under Cindy Jones, My Jane Austen Summer

8 responses to “Jane Austen Appears in Tweed Jacket

  1. I actually fell in love with JA before reading her novels. After reading a short BIO on her, I wanted/needed more info. I think it was to my advantage to “know” the author while reading the novels. Against my own will, she has become an obession:) I want to thank you for having such a wonderful blog.

  2. Karen Field

    FYI, I have tried several times from 2 different pages to open Austenesque Reviews and been immediately redirected to a Webring page that made no sense to me.

    How did I discover Jane Austen? I met Miss Austen when I was diagnosed with Lupus and was limited to my couch or bed. A good friend from church decided that I was in need of a literary rescue and brought over the 1995 Pride and Prejudice which had just come out, possibly that month. She was a Jane Austen fan for years and was shocked that I’d never read any of her. I was ready to give up on the whole thing after Lizzie’s trip to Netherfield to tend to Jane because of Darcy’s unconscionable behavior to Lizzy, telling my friend that he was an arrogant cad and I didn’t want to see anymore. She said, “just keep watching.” I did and continued with frustration at the inability to of the characters to just say what they meant. By the end of the miniseries, I was totally in love with Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen. I borrowed all of her novels and read them straight. I’ve been a fan ever since. She encourages me when I’m struggling and is something I can do when I’m too weak to do the things I feel like I should be able to do.

    • There’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight place. (or something like that) Rudyard Kipling.
      Wonderful that you can take comfort! And sorry about the trouble getting into AR today.

  3. Mary Preston

    I first met Jane Austen when I saw “Pride and Prejudice” with Colin Firth. I was hooked. I could not get enough of the books or indeed any movies made (most sub-par.)


  4. I met JA when my mom, a teacher took home from school an abridged version of Pride & Prejudice. At that time, I find it was ok but I like it. I never bothered to read the unabridged version until about 2-3 years later when my friend lend me her 3-in-1 novels with P&P, Persuasion and Mansfield Park and yet I only read P&P. But it didn’t become an obsession until I bought my first JA sequel Old Friends and New Fancies.

  5. Another great example of how the spin-offs bring new people to Jane Austen. So glad you got obsessed, Luthien!

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