It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least by those to whose opinion I give credence, that Jane Austen is one of the greatest literary greats to ever great. I have so many high opinions of her that I hardly know where to start this article. Should I wax eloquent about the power and impact of the themes she explored?
Maybe I could point to some of her finest quotes and say, “See, I told you, the woman could write!” Or perhaps I should just point to the existence of Pride & Prejudice (2005) starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden, because really what more do you need?
Scratch all of that.
The thing I love the most about Jane Austen, the fact of her career that inspires the most awe in my little heart, is the fact that she has endured. Jane Austen has been dead for 204 years, yet we as a society are still talking about her. Every day, probably, someone new discovers one of her books.
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Authors are still writing modern versions of her stories and filmmakers are recreating them — this year, Sarah Dass wrote Where the Rhythm Takes You (2021), a modern-day YA take on Persuasion (1817). Curtis Sittenfeld wrote Eligible in 2016, an adult novel take on Pride & Prejudice. And lest we forget Emma (1815), which inspired the 1995 film Clueless, a modern classic film.
Jane Austen has achieved something I can only dream of: staying permanent.
I can’t speak for future generations if there are any, but I know that after more than 200 years, we’re not over Jane Austen yet. So I highly doubt we’ll get there anytime soon.
Part of that, I believe, is because many previously disenfranchised voices, after years of scraping and clawing and proving themselves in measures no human should ever have to, are finally getting seats at the table.
Movements like We Need Diverse Books are working hard to make sure that marginalized creators can tell their stories — and sometimes their stories are fresh takes on old classics.
Then there’s the Remixed Classics series that MacMillan is doing, where the publisher is hiring authors of a variety of ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, and disabilities to take classics, like Little Women (1869) and Treasure Island (1882), and reimagine them through their lenses. All that to say — diverse voices are finally being given a chance to speak, they are freaking killing it, and I’m here for it.
And so many of them are turning to my girl Jane! Which, frankly, I’m also here for. That’s because, as I alluded at the beginning of this article, the themes she explored in her six published novels have lingered through the centuries.
Her discussions of things like classism and sexism during her time have echoed to discussions happening today, where despite progress like women’s right to vote, the gender pay gap still exists and at least in America, the minimum wage is so far below the cost of living it would be laughable if it weren’t depressing. So when we read about Lizzie Bennet and her sisters, who fear becoming destitute upon their father’s death because his inheritance will go to a (dude) distant cousin, we may not be able to say “yeah, same,” but we can say, “oh. Yeah, I feel that.”
And it’s not like Austen merely had good stories to tell; her writing style itself was flawless.
“A reason she is admired and looked up to most for is that she proved that women can write as well as men can,” according to Smita Singh in an article for She The People.
In preparing to write this article, I looked up a few quotes on GoodReads and was smacked in the face once again by just how great Austen’s turns of phrases are. She was witty and eloquent and even though her sense of humor is 200 years-old British, it still gets me no matter how many times I re-read Pride and Prejudice.
As an aspiring author, and as a fellow bookworm, I can only hope to come close to embodying her literary essence. Every time I put pen to paper, Austen’s name looms large in my mind, and that will never, ever be a bad thing.
Get your Darcy fix and read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen on Bookshop.org!
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