As part of my being (appreciatively!) invited to share a spot in Meredith Esparza’s ‘Austenesque Extravaganza’ (throughout August event), I felt inclined to ramble a little around Jane Austen’s works (and times) and why I love them so. You are also cordially invited to comment here with your own thoughts or feelings about our own dearest, loveliest Jane, her mind’s meanderings, the wholesome world she lived in and focused on; and, or perhaps more especially the characters, loves, situations and relationships that she wrote about. (Remember, every comment here also counts as an entry for the ‘Amazing Austenesque Giveaway’! Check Austenesque Reviews, as per the link in my last post below, for more information and to sign up for the contest – if you haven’t already done so.)
Am I a regency woman? Well, generally yes, though I’m not entirely certain if I am wholly so. I do love many aspects of regency society and I enjoy some of the styles (even empire/princess waistlines at times!), although I think maybe I’m more a Victorian mores and design details girl (I’ve long been weak for late and high Victorian almost anything, and especially the richly detailed houses with their lacey interiors and ornately carved furnishings!). Since my long-ago tomboyish tweenhood, I’ve been completely romantic about the eighteen hundreds (Regency through Victorian), long-since thoroughly romantic about the somewhat wild American west for many years of my cowgirl leaning life. My tastes then grew towards a more Victoriana Americana shabby chic affinity (picture a diamond-tufted crimson velvet chaise lounge and delicately detailed lace curtains, up against the backdrop of a rustic golden log cabin interior complete with a hefty fieldstone fireplace; and you may feel the sense of the ambiance of which I’ve often dreamt). Though, in recent years, for more than a decade and a half, in fact, Jane Austen has expanded my vintage loves to include a grand dose of jolly old middle Englishness (call me also an English Manor girl now, not to mention that a cottage is always very snug!), and has got me always turning fondly towards my greater British Isles heritage, with Royals and gentility plus not so nobility included. With or without money (United Kingdom pounds or pence!), there is plenty of simply charming. The English countryside of old, doth call to me! Do you wish we all were a little more regency nowadays? I truly do. Wouldn’t you just love a short bridge over the pond, and a way to back in time in many ways as well? (and for those of you beautiful Brits luckily of England and the greater United Kingdom, I wave my Union Jack to you in solidarity!)
Are you regency leaning?
Am I a Janeite? I do tend to believe so, but it all depends on your interpretation of that word. Most of us nowadays who fully enjoy Jane Austen’s world, would likely explain the Janeite term as anyone who truly appreciates all things Austen; whereas others (unromantic types we Janeites couldn’t possibly relate to!) might use that Janeite label as a sort of supposed crushing insult that intentionally suggests an obsessive cultish silliness (No really, I’ve occasionally been ridiculed and even laughed at for being such an Austenaholic! Do you at all relate?). I understand that the word ‘Janeite’ was first coined in the very late eighteen hundreds (first seen in text in the 1890s I seem to recall – not that I was technically around quite way back then!) and its original meaning was more of an elitist literati usage: self-anointed by highly educated snobs who believed that only they could fully understand Jane Austen’s writings (script that only literary leaders should read because only they can comprehend it properly? Whatever that means!), as opposed to the simpleminded masses who can only like Austen prose on their own lowly superficial levels. And so, we shock at the original intent of ‘Janeite’! Can you comprehend that?! The word ‘Janeite’ has apparently also (sometime since 1900 – I‘m not sure when this other meaning began – I’m currently too tired to dig for that accurate date!) been used by the unAusten masses as a mocking or negative label aimed against Austen aficionados. And thus a newer meaning of ‘Janeite’! I object! Nonetheless, for those of us who revere Miss Austen and her works with an adoring romantic passion (whether we see ourselves as Austenian purists or not), the Janeite term seems a badge of honor we envision as befitting ourselves. Yes, this is the best usage of the word ‘Janeite’. The other two denotations (snob or slob!) surely must be forgot! I should say so!
Are you a Janeite? How would you prefer to interpret the term? Is there any other label that suits you better?
Am I a regency style romantic? You bet your sweet Pemberley I am! Call me a Regency Romantic, an Austenophile (or Austenphile), an Austen aficionado, an Austenian semi-purist, an Austenite, a Janeite, or simply an ardent admirer of the darling genius Jane Austen. I will never take any such label as an insult, even if it ever were thrown as one. I shall embrace and revel in Austendom! Even proudly so! Do I fit into any one or even all of those labels? You bet our dear Longbourn I do! I am inextricably linked and inclined towards all things truly Austen – from all her writings (that are still in existence), to most movies that have aspired to measure up to her works… to the wit in her wordings, her delicious sarcasm in so many sentences, to the dances and dialogue, the selfishness and silliness, the clarity of her characterizations, to the squeaky clean and heart-warmingly entertaining fun… to the teatimes, teapots and teacups… to the eye-candy style in the movies and the word-candy chic in her novels. In short, give me Jane Austen style regency romance food any day of the week! Austen-stuff is major medicine. Like the best vitamins. Yes, Jane Austen’s literary gifts to us nourish our minds and hearts… and our lungs too. Just breathe it all in! It is quite actually like oxygen to me! What of you? Am I an Austenaholic? Most probably! Am I passionately romantic about Austen romance novels? Most assuredly!
Are you a regency style romantic?
Did our amazing Austen create the regency style romance novel? I would say so. How would I define that? I might be wrong (because I’m no papered literary scholar, so what do I know about the finer points of these higher things?!), but, beyond simply a romance, set in the English Regency period of time, I see Jane Austen novels as rich with varied facets, heights and depths of feelings; with multiple levels of telling the story and sharing who the characters truly are. There are layers upon layers of discovery. To read an Austen novel once is not to have read it enough. You have just scratched the surface: you have barely tasted from its full flavor. Like all classically great literature, to fully appreciate why something became a classic over time, I would say that you must read each work more than once, and I would further claim, perhaps twice or thrice and maybe many multiple times. Thusly, you will find the hidden treasures within the greater gold that glitters on the surface. There is more to a gourmet cake than the pretty initial icing you taste at the outset of sampling it at first bite. There are far more flavors to find beneath. Even amid all the eternal verities that are woven into Austen’s stories, she always handled whatever challenging situations the hero or heroine faced with humorous panache, and dealt justly with the villains – using bitingly sarcastic wit for their punishment. What I love most about Miss Jane’s not plain romances, is that they are so much more than simply romances. There is depth, breadth and such imaginative scope with peripheral characters and situations that go far beyond the simple boy meets girl and then girl gets boy. Instead of a single story thread or even a few, there is an elaborate woven tapestry to munchingly enjoy. As a type of illustration of just one example: since I first met and knew the ‘Sense and Sensibility’ Dashwoods (from Norland to Barton, London and beyond), I absolutely hated upstart in-law (SIL) Fanny, was disgusted with the brother John, felt sympathizing empathy with the widowed older Mrs. Dashwood, revered dear Brandon, was keenly disappointed in dashing Willoughby, laughed at benevolent busybody Mrs. Jennings even while still quite liking her, laughed at verbosely silly Charlotte but had more difficulty liking her, and so forth do those periphery details go. I adore the entire tapestry picture, not just the main subject themes. I thoroughly enjoy Miss Austen’s supporting characters. Not that I don’t adore the main romantic thread: the couple or couples that get together in marriage at the end of the novel! Oh my, I just love those happy endings! It’s just that all which surrounds the main storyline is what gives Jane Austen’s novels the richness that often lacks elsewhere, at least for me. Maybe I need more than a simple romance meal. I want all the rest of the buffet of a banquet going on! In a nutshell, what I just attempted to share in this paragraph’s meanderings, is my general idea of a regency romance, Austen style.
Would you say that Jane Austen defined the regency romance novel? Do you think that all succeeding romance stories seem to flow out of Jane Austen’s novel beginnings?
Why does Jane Austen speak to me so completely and intimately? In many ways and for multiple reasons, Jane Austen speaks akin to my heart and mind. If you appreciate Austen as I do, you will sense with me as I say that I feel like she knows me, and I know her. She knew some people, like some I’ve known. She saw their strengths and failings. She understood human relationships. No, she did not know life in a marriage first hand, but she knew courtship (and does not a good marriage always include courtship?!). All we who love Austen’s works, love them for similar and perhaps differing reasons. When I first began to discover Jane Austen, through ‘Sense and Sensibility’ the 1995 movie (thank you Emma Thompson and your interpretations of ‘Sense and Sensibility’!) and then Austen’s original novel of the same name, I was delightedly intrigued by many wonderful surprises beyond any expected (or surprise) romance elements. Once I knew ‘Sense’ quite well (having read it through many times), I searched out every Austen novel, movie and even early writings and her letters to her sister, because I craved genius Jane’s sense, sensibilities and style. I hung on her every word. Can you imagine her ever truly picturing so many people hungering after all her writings more than a couple of hundred years later on?! I dare say she would have been incredulously overwhelmed (all amazement!) to comprehend how she and her words have become so supremely beloved, at least the English speaking or reading world over! Miss Austen seems to speak to each of us directly. It has often felt like my dearest Jane was writing just to me. Pray, forgive me as I somewhat repeat myself, but; more than simply the romance threads with heroes and heroines falling in or out of loves, I quickly adored those further-reaching elements that explored relationships beyond just between men and women, but also sharing mother-daughter, sisterhood, neighbor and friendship details too. I laughed at if not learned from especially periphery characters. I was reminded of truths of human nature. I rode literary rides with Jane Austen as she poked fun at the follies we each might be tempted to fall into. Yes, I would say that Jane Austen’s writings speak to many of us quite completely and with an amazing intimacy.
How does Jane Austen speak to you?
What do I love about Austen style? Jane Austen’s novels are literary comfort food to me. She has a supremely comfortable and inviting style that thoroughly entertains. Beyond her reminders that people have always been people – with her particular wit and sarcasm sharing old familiar follies, frailties, feelings, hopes, fears, and so forth; one thing I love about Jane Austen’s writings are the wholesome morals and endearing manners of those early years in the eighteen hundreds. I love the decorum of the times and at least a semblance to that kind of civility and society. I can’t say I’d be keen on corsets or any other discomforts relating to Regency or Victorian fashion trends and living (ooh, but I just adore indoor plumbing with hot running water!), but I certainly do love to romanticize about their society. I love to fantasize about living back then. Of course I focus on the kinds of things that Jane Austen focused on for and with us. I adore the way Jane Austen gets me thinking. Her works inspire me. Besides or maybe more relating to the fact that her characters and plotlines have inspired some of my own novels, she always gets me wondering ‘what ifs’. I would say that is a key reason there are so many ‘fan writer’ sequels, spinoffs, and inspired-bys. And perhaps that is one reason so many fans of Miss Austen are open to Austenesque attempts to recreate more of what she didn’t write (or what some might think she didn’t have time on Earth to get to writing). We all crave more of the same, or at least similar! Many want Jane Austen’s ‘children’ to go on living and loving. Beyond the ‘what ifs’ and ideas that have spurred on some of my own novel ideas (already done and out, plus still simmering), I find myself not only asking such as, ‘what if Elizabeth had said or done this instead’, but I have asked myself fateful questions like, ‘If the Dashwood mother and sisters had not been muscled out as cast offs by the step and half brother John and his pernicious wife Fanny, and so were then invited to go live at Barton, would Marianne ever have met wily Willoughby or constant Colonel Brandon? Would Elinor have met Edward Ferrars? Would there have been such a glorious story with its happy ending without the villain Fanny to set things off first?’. But first, I had asked myself thusly, ‘Why cannot the Dashwood mother and sisters simply stay living at Norland? John and Fanny already have a house in London. They will hardly live at Norland at all. Why cannot they simply share?’ You see, the questions seem to me to be endless. Every time I read an Austen novel or watch a movie interpretation, I find myself asking more questions. These are some of the things I adore about Austen and her works. She continues to keep me interested. And, I dare say, she has kept a good portion of the world interested for more than two hundred years. Does this not prove that she is well deserving of a great deal of our admiration and affection? I should say so!
What do you love about Austen style?
Why do I have such a romantic affinity for the eighteen hundreds? I grew up wishing I lived back in those golden olden days. I think it all began on my Grandparent’s farm: the Bennett Ranch, to be more precise. Not far from the hidden treasure of Waterton, the Canadian National Park in southern Alberta (basically the northern side of Glacier National Park in Montana), ‘the farm’ as we all called it, was where many of us Bennett cousins preferred to spend a chunk of our summer vacations. Who needed Disneyland (no offense to Disneyland intended!) when you could run wild on all that land, swim in one of the ponds and ride horses to boot? What a hoot! Yes, I was thrown onto the back of a horse from a very early age, and then there were the open ranges to run on. There were old buggies and pieces of antique farm equipment in a field behind the farmhouse, like a heritage park of sorts, and our imaginations ran wild as we pretended to be farmers and ranchers in the rustic pioneer days. The gigantic haystack was our fort or our castle. Our imaginations decided, and were our only limits. The Hutterite Colony (somewhat related to Amish communities) over one slightly distant hill was like stepping back in time when my Grandpa Bennett took me there. Yes, those happy childhood times on the Bennett Ranch rooted my mind into days long gone by. As I grew older, my heart still yearned backwards towards the good old days. I often said I was born a hundred years too late. I craved by-gone days (Once again, don’t get me wrong, I do love modern conveniences, all the more especially as the years roll by!). I know that I am sentimentally inclined and likely quite unrealistic as well, but it always seemed to me that the eighteen hundreds were kinder, gentler, simpler times; when men were gentle and women were ladies, at least many certainly were. Well, I like to think so.
Do you feel romantic about the good old days of regency through Victorian times?
What are my relative regrets? That Jane Austen can’t come back to live amongst us now, to write more for us; that she died too young, without finishing her every work entirely; that she could not have written more novels (that I’m certain she must have had simmering on back burners in her mind); and that she did not meet and marry a near-perfect hero of a man worthy of her genius, sense and sensibilities. Yes, she lived too short, she wrote too little and after writing so many happy endings for us each and all, she never received her own well-deserved happy ending and marriage to a man worthy of her. While I see this as tragic, I can still imagine her giving me a witty rejoinder that would comfort us both on at least some level. Her sarcasm proved to me that she could see others quite clearly and her wit showed me that she had a jolly wonderful sense of humor. She could laugh at herself as well as others. I continue hungry for more literature like hers! (And this is why I read her works over and over again!) My only real regret relative to Jane Austen’s works is that I stumbled onto them decades later than I believe I should or could have. Why was I never introduced to the works of genius Jane, throughout my childhood or schooling? And in British Commonwealth Canada no less! That more than seems a tragedy to me! I dare not say how old I was when I finally discovered the female novelist who made me want to take breaks from my standard non-fiction fare and to truly read fiction once more. In my twenties, I had gradually decided that fiction was for kids and teens, and I had strictly stuck to non-fiction for quite some time. Indeed, it was years. Dare I say that it had been almost a couple of decades since I had turned my back on fiction? It was Miss Jane Austen who finally sold me on stories again. At least I was certainly sold on stories like hers! And I have no regrets about that. Jane Austen got me reading ‘parables’ once more, and then I turned to Bronte, Gaskell, Dickens and many more classics as well. Thank you, most amazing Jane.
Do you have any regrets about our dear Jane Austen?