Most of the books I read this year are pretty heavy: 12 Years A Slave, In The Garden Of Beasts, Killing Jesus, One Flew Over The Cuckoo Nest, Fountainhead, In Cold Blood...you get the picture. These are remarkable books and left strong impressions, but it's time for a little happy-go-lucky. Jane Austen was the first author that came to mind - and Sense and Sensibility is sitting on my bedside table as the next on my "to read" list.
Austen is a timeless author who will continue to impact readers for generations to come. Her legacy is rich and cherished. She has addressed some of the most relatable issues of love and romance in an enjoyable and charming fashion. Life is not all sunshine and roses for the characters in Austen's novels, but she creates a beautiful journey - touching all of our emotions in different capacities.
Austen creates characters with faults that we can find rooted in our own personalities. Seeing characters with their own flaws, making mistakes, overcoming hardships, and encountering life's perfectly unplanned moments, can help us on our own life journey. We can empathize with the likes of Emma and Elizabeth Bennet; acknowledge and appreciate their imperfections, helping us do the same with our own. And, a little like life, the characters that are kind of heart are rewarded. Not exactly as planned - but it helps us look through life with rose colored glasses.
It's easy to get distracted by the "romance" element of her stories, just as it is in the modern day. But Austen isn't just a romance novelist. She told the story of life, and love and marriage are two of the biggest players - is that not much different from today? But, when reading her works, keep in mind this quote: "I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way." She envelops this message in each of her stories.
Just like the characters in Jane Austen's novels, the best way to reach happiness comes from your own effort. There's no rule book, no Mr. Darcy guarantee...but you'll be quite pleased at where your best perfectly happy may lead you.
A quick synopsis of Jane Austen's works from JaneAusten.com:
Jane Austen's first major novel was written in 1798-99, when she was in her early twenties. It is a comic love story set in Bath about a young reader who must learn how to separate fantasy from reality. Miss Austen sold the novel (then entitled Susan) to a publisher in 1803, and the work was advertised, but never published. She bought it back many years later, and her brother Henry Austen published the novel as Northanger Abbey after her death in 1817.
Sense and Sensibility was the first of Jane Austen's novels to be published. She began to write it sometime around 1797, and she worked on it for many years before its publication in 1811. The title page said that is was written "By a Lady," and only her immediate family knew that Jane Austen was the author. Impetuous Marianne Dashwood tumbles into a fairytale romance that goes sour, and her practical older sister Elinor copes with the family's financial problems while hiding her own frustrated romantic hopes.
Pride and Prejudice was first written in the late 1700s, then rewritten in 1811-12 and finally published in early 1813. It is probably the most-read of all of Jane Austen's novels and is a popular favorite among many. Originally entitled, First Impressions, the novel deals with the misjudgments that often occur at the beginning of an acquaintance and how those misjudgments can change as individuals learn more about each other.
Mansfield Park was written between February, 1811 and the summer of 1813. It was the third novel Jane Austen had published and it first appeared on May 4, 1814. During her lifetime, it was attributed only to "The author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice," and the author's identity was unknown beyond her family and friends. It is Jane Austen's most complex novel and deal with many different themes, from the education of children, to the differences between appearance and reality.
Emma was written in 1814-15, and while Jane Austen was writing it, it was suggested to her by a member of Prince Regent's household that she dedicate it to His Royal Highness. Austen took the suggestion as it was intended -- as a command -- and Emma was thus dedicated, but the dedication itself is rather slyly worded. Emma deals with a young woman's maturation into adulthood and the trouble she gets herself into along the way.
Persuasion was written in 1815-16, while Jane Austen was suffering from her fatal illness. She was still working on some revisions at the time of her death in 1817. The novel was published posthumously by her brother, Henry Austen. Persuasion is a novel of second changes, expectations of society, and the constancy of love.