I was thinking the other day about how “Jane Austen” is not just a name anymore. It’s not even just an author. Jane Austen is a world. A universe, if I’m not being too extreme. There are the books, the movies, the spin-offs. There are the costumes and the music and the dancing. But it’s more than just these things – Jane Austen is a mentality.
watercolor portrait of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra
First let’s talk about the “things”… Best book – either Persuasion or Sense & Sensibility, in my opinion. Best movie – Pride & Prejudice with Keira Knightley is the most artistically filmed, though Sense & Sensibility with Kate Winslet is maybe my favorite and the newest BBC Emma is excellent as well. Best spin-off? Anything but Lost in Austen. I think my fellow Austen followers will agree with me that the Regency costume definitely needs to come back in vogue, along with the elegant dancing. Tea-drinking and social calls and letter-writing and health trips to Bath. Need I say more?
I think I do. Jane Austen isn’t just about the stuff. Sure a girl wouldn’t mind dressing up in a white gauzy gown and satin slippers for the dance at the local aristocrat’s mansion. Sure she would love falling in love with a Mr. Darcy or a Mr. Knightley. But is this all that attract the millions of Austen fans?
Jane Austen means elegance. The Regency Period was a time of elegant living, at least for those above the lower class, or at least we imagine it was. Ladies and gentlemen spent their days in civilized refinement, guided by the uncompromising rules of etiquette. In our day and age, ordinary life can easily lose a little of this dignity, and though I’m sure the Regency Period had its own failings, we like to think it was a time of true elegance.
Jane Austen means femininity. A great deal of Austen appeal is due to the importance and value of femininity. Women today are expected to have successful careers as well as successful families, and much of feminine grace seems to be lost in the process. The women of Jane Austen, though they did not have as many legal rights as women today, were expert in the art of femininity.
Jane Austen means romance. Maybe it’s just me, but something precious is lost in romance when affection is put on a show through social networking, texting, voice mail messages. Perhaps it’s the lack of time and thought that is put into a relationship today. O, for the forgotten days of hand-written love letters, of marriage-minded men, of committed love.
Jane Austen means principle. Jane Austen is rooted in principle and truth. Today moral standards are being cut down, devaluing family and church. We long for a time when Lydia-and-Wickham affairs were considered scandalous. When “Will you marry me?” was the expected follow-up to “I love you.”
Jane Austen means beauty. Perhaps this is the summary of why we love Jane Austen. Beauty. An elegant, feminine, romantic, and principled life can’t help but be anything but beautiful. Jane Austen gives us a glimpse into a world that all too often isn’t matched by our own.
Living in the World of Jane Austen
We don’t live in the times of Jane Austen, but the women of today can still use what we learn from her world to better our own. Even in today’s modern society we can live with grace and elegance, not in an affected way, but by showing respect and kindness to those around us. We can express our femininity by swimming against the current of gender-role confusion. We can treat romance seriously, putting a greater value on real love. We can live principled lives, weighing right and wrong, being fearless in our stance of truth. We can discover the beauty of our world, giving more than taking. We can live our own Jane Austen lives in reality, going beyond the fiction and the fairytales. We can discover that daydreams really can help to create a better world.