The curiousness of an Austenite

E.M. Forster, renowned author of Where Angels Fear To Tread and A Room With A View, once said:

“I am a Jane Austenite, and therefore slightly imbecile about Jane Austen. My fatuous expression, and airs of personal immunity-how ill they sit on the face, say,of a Stevensonian! But Jane Austen is so different. She is my favourite author! I read and reread, the mouth open and the mind closed. Shut up in measureless content, I greet her by the name of most kind hostess, while criticism slumbers.”

I’ve heard the term “Austenite” before, and knew it made affectionate reference to a fan, follower and enthusiast of the literary works of one Jane Austen. I’ve also read some of her works – Persuasion is a favourite of mine, and we studied Emma at college. However, I see the merit of trying to investigate her novels still further. It would definitely be an improvement on the romantic overload of my last post.

I watched “Pride and Prejudice” (the Keira Knightley version) yesterday, and it inspired me to hunt for my neglected Kindle once more, and add her second novel to my ever-growing list of things to read, and I have struggled to put it down since I read the first page upon waking this morning.

I admit to struggling a little with the language – it isn’t difficult per say, but I tend to work so hard interpreting the words used that I often miss the subtlety of her wit and humour. It’s not fully lost on me, however, and I hope further revisal of the book will unlock further hidden gems from its pages.

So what’s with the quote, you may well ask? I’m very much enjoying the book, but it’s about more than that. I’m an aspiring author, aspiring only because to truly BE an author, you must have works of fiction published. Now, that application of term would classify me a journalist, and of course a blogger (no surprise there). I’d even be able to call my teenage self a poet, though I’ve never seen the copy of the book containing my work nor have I any recollection of the title. In certain circles, I’m even somewhat of a fanfictionaire and an eroticist as well, though I count those as my somewhat guilty pleasures… and no, we’re not talking Twilight-come-50-Shades-of-Grey! A little more credit, if you please.

But, despite my lack of publicatory support, I’ve always been a novelist. I made stories before I could write, whole worlds of life that grew only more complex and intricate as I aged from stormy adolescent to educated young woman. And yet, I use the term educated again only through proxy and automated application. I do feel somewhat educated beyond much of my background, and that isn’t me being snobbish. I think university life brought me a deeper appreciation for those around me, both with and without a higher qualification. But I don’t feel like I fit into the category of truly educated.

I am reminded of a quote from, believe it or not, Pride and Prejudice, that helps convey my thoughts:

“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse, or covering a skreen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”

“Nor I, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley.

“Then,” observed Elizabeth, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished women.”

“Yes; I do comprehend a great deal in it.”

“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished, who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”

“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”

Of course, this concept is an amusing take on “accomplishment” from an era when young ladies were given little else to occupy their time. Were it that women these days had so much leisure at their disposal! But the concept of being well-educated, I feel, has lessened even in recent years considerably. Although I suspect “cultured” to be a better word to describe what I am referring to.

One book which I recall making a considerable impression on me was The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. In it the dashingly unwilling Henry DeTamble is dragged unceremoniously through his life by a genetic disposition that catapults him at random intervals into both past and future, while in what we can haphazardly refer to as the present he fights to forge a passionate, romantic and aspiringly normal relationship with patient, long-suffering and adoring wife Clare.

It wasn’t so much the trials that captured me in the novel, nor the romance itself – I’d experienced plenty exposure to the bare bones of the tale from the motion picture adaptation. No, the biggest jewel of the book for me was the sophistication, culture and intellectual conversation teeming from the pages. I was captivated by the beautiful poetic quotes, not just in english but bilingually represented between the characters. I longed for a relationship of such distinction, such elegance and education in classical music, literature, poetry. Even early films have a timeless charm that I feel is lost in modern days, and I wish to invigorate my own life until it is teeming with these wonderful treasures.

And so, I begin my more recent education on the subject of Austenite theology, in the hopes of becoming what I see as truly accomplished. It’s no mean feat, that’s for certain, but I believe Pride and Prejudice to be a wonderful place to begin such a journey. If nothing else, Austen’s incredible complexity of character depth and wealth of study on human interaction has already inspired me to begin working on my own stories again. Such is the magnificence of the spell she casts.

A toast to culure, and its rediscovery. In my life, at least.



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