Gentle readers: We are happy to add the story of another conversion to Jane to our monthly column, Reading Austen. Today’s guest blog is by Emma Mincks, who shares her personal story of how she discovered Jane Austen and why she is passionate about defending her.
My love affair with Jane Austen’s storytelling began early. I watched the Gwyneth Paltrow adaptation of Emma in eighth grade. At the time, the melodrama and internal conflict that Emma experiences during her discovery of love for Mr. Knightley resonated perfectly with my teenage angst and misunderstandings of love. It also didn’t hurt that the musical score was beautiful, that Emma was a painter (so was I), that she tried hopelessly to set up all her friends (so did I), or that she and I shared the same first name.
Throughout the years Miss Austen has inspired me as a writer and artist, and her timeless stories continue to be a source of diversion. I love reading her novels, and feel that I gain something new each time. Now, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion are tied at the top of my list for best Austen novel, and I find Emma’s character completely different (thank goodness!) from my adult self. A large portion of my experience with Austen has been personal, but in recent years, my devotion to her writing has gone pretty public, and I even created a blog, Looking for Pemberley, inspired by my love of Pride and Prejudice.
Jane is an important part of my life, but I often feel like I have to defend her from attackers who question her merits, or who see her as a “silly lady novelist.” Quite frankly, I am glad to do it. However, I also must admit that a part of me wishes that the people who deride her appreciated her as much as they ought.
In my opinion as a reader, scholar, and feeling human being, Austen has made an incredible contribution to the world of literature that cannot be discounted. The main groups I find myself at odds with regarding Jane Austen’s talents fall into different categories, including: anti-canonical modernists, male friends, and skeptics worried she will bore them with her 18th and 19th-century marriage plots.
For the record, I do not believe that all men hate Austen, and in fact, Austenprose has helped counteract the stigma of male Janeites.
Many of my friends studying modernism, contemporary literature, and even comic books, often seem biased against Miss Austen. This comes in part because she has become so canonical, and so popular that they feel bombarded by her.
For those readers who are not familiar, the literary canon is a list of books (primarily written by white men), that scholars have favored for present and future generations to study. The canon is problematic for many reasons, including the fact that it was created and is still being created with a Western Anglo bias. The books from the canon are often seen as the “great” books, or books you “must know” if you are pursuing a career in literature, certainly.
May I say to the anti-canon critics that Austen has earned her place in the history of writers, and even in the canon if we are to study it. Her outstanding attention to detail, illustrative character analysis, the clever, and dare I say at times subversive social commentary in her works, is outstanding. As far as I am concerned, she is one of, if not the best author of her day, and any widespread acceptance she has had is not a valid reason to disregard her work.
Furthermore, Austen’s writing has much more character development than some give her credit for. For example, Anne Elliot’s innovative first person narration in Persuasion is more illustrative of the later Romantic period than Regency in the extreme focus on Anne’s interiority and emotion. As readers, we get to see and feel Anne’s thought process as a primary focus in the novel, a pioneering writing technique that is not frequently enough attributed to Austen.
In my experience, those who have an extreme dislike of Austen, or who are prejudiced against her, are also generally not familiar with her writing on an intimate level, or haven’t read her much, if at all. I realize that everyone has different opinions and tastes, and I respect that. However, I also believe it is silly to discredit a body of work you haven’t read.
If provoked, I will continue to defend the merits of Jane Austen’s writing. However, I have recently come to the conclusion that Jane doesn’t need me to defend her; she does just fine without my help.
After all, her work has been powerful enough to glean hundreds of years worth of loyal fans.
Read the books if you haven’t; they can speak for themselves.
Emma Mincks is a free spirited freelance writer, editor and English tutor in her mid 20’s with feminist leanings and a love of all things foodie. Emma has been defending Jane Austen for years. She has lived in many different locations, from South Dakota to London and New Mexico, but is excited to currently work and reside in Seattle. Emma is a recovering academic beginning a career with words. You can check out her literary musings at her blog Looking for Pemberley, and visit her on Facebook at Looking for Pemberley.
Would you like to share your personal story of reading Austen here with fellow Janeites? Submit your essay of approximately 750 words revealing how you discovered Jane Austen’s novels and why they are so special to you to Austenprose. It just might be included in our monthly column, Reading Austen, which will be published on the first Friday of every month.
© 2007 – 2012 Emma Mincks, Austenprose