Reading Austen: Guest blog by Meredith Esparza

Jane Austen, by Cassandra AustenGentle 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 Meredith Esparza who shares her personal story of how she discovered Jane Austen and why reading her novels is so special for her.

Finding Jane Austen During My Awkward Stage

You’ve heard that everyone goes through an “awkward stage,” right?  That awkward time of life, between the ages of eleven and fifteen where teens experience growth spurts, braces, and acne?  But the term doesn’t just apply to a teenager’s physical appearance, does it?  It can also apply to their social and behavioral development, as well.  During the “awkward years,” teens not only mature into their adult bodies, but they mature into their adult mindsets and personalities, too.  Some teens do it gracefully, while others, like me, experience some awkwardness…

When was my awkward stage?  It started when I entered middle school and lasted until about sophomore year in high school. (Kind of long, I know!)  These years were awkward for me because, unlike many of my friends, I wasn’t in a hurry to grow up.  I wasn’t into boy-bands, make-up, or cellphones.  I was still content with being a little girl, playing with my American Girl dolls and watching Disney movies.  I knew it was time to mature and leave my childhood interests behind, but I just didn’t know where to go next.

I didn’t find the answer until the summer of my sophomore year of high school when I borrowed the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice from my local library.  Up until that time, I felt isolated, socially awkward, and unsure of the person I wanted to become.  But after seeing my first Austen adaptation and subsequently reading all of Jane Austen’s novels, I saw with perfectly clarity the type of person I wanted to become: an Austen heroine.

I didn’t necessarily want to dress like these heroines and live their lives, (although, that would in no way be disagreeable to me!) I wanted to possess their strength of character, their moral compasses, and their sense of self-worth.  What better guides could a young girl ask for than Elinor Dashwood, Anne Elliot, and Elizabeth Bennet?  Who better to learn life’s lessons from than a writer who perfectly illustrates the flaws in human nature while gently imparting instruction in each novel?

After discovering the world of Jane Austen it no longer mattered to me that I didn’t have a boyfriend, or that I wasn’t friends with the popular crowd at school.  I didn’t feel the desire or need to fit into that world any more.  I found a whole new world that I’d much rather be a part of – one without AOL chat rooms, MTV, and peer pressure – a world that manifested itself in my life and gave me the feeling that I belonged.

From that point on, Jane Austen became a part of my everyday life.  With movie adaptations, Austenesque novels, and fantastic Austen blogs to follow, I found a niche for myself and grew out of my awkward stage.  And what’s even more wonderful, is that I discovered a community of the people that feel the same ways I do.  A community of readers and authors that love witnessing Darcy and Elizabeth fall in love over and over again, that secretly wish Anne Elliot could be their best friend, and that live by the motto “All Jane Austen, All the Time!”  What could be more perfect?!?

Looking back, I feel that Jane Austen entered my life at the perfect moment, not too soon and not too late.  She found me during my awkward stage, helped me survive my adolescence, and taught me how to be an Austen heroine.  She is more than just a writer, interest, or hobby, she is a part of my life, and I don’t think that will ever change.

At what point did Jane Austen enter your life?

Author Bio:

Meredith Esparza is a music teacher living off the coast of North Carolina with her very own Mr. Darcy.  She is a long-time admirer of Jane Austen and an avid reader.  Her blog, Austenesque Reviews is devoted to the reading and reviewing of numerous Jane Austen sequels, fan-fiction, and para-literature.  Currently she is hard at work planning her annual blog event, Austenseque Extravaganza, a month-long celebration of Austenesque novels and authors, which will be in September of 2012.  She hopes to see you there!  Visit Meredith at her blog Austenesque Reviews, follow her on Twitter as @austenesque and on Facebook as Austenesque Reviews.

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 Meredith Esparza, Austenprose

30 thoughts on “Reading Austen: Guest blog by Meredith Esparza

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  1. LaurelAnn, these testimonials are quickly becoming a favorite of mine which I look forward to reading each month. So insightful. And fun, too.

    Great contribution Meredith– I love that you freely admit JA taught you how to be an Austen heroine. That’s such a lovely sentiment.


    1. LaurelAnn, these testimonials are quickly becoming a favorite of mine which I look forward to reading each month. So insightful. And fun, too.

      Great contribution Meredith– I love that you freely admit JA taught you how to be an Austen heroine. That’s such a lovely sentiment.


  2. I loved reading how Austen was your companion and mentor as you journeyed to adulthood.

    > I wanted to possess their strength of character, their moral compasses, and their sense of self-worth.

    That definitely was and is my own experience. Sometimes I feel that everything I know I learned from Austen heroines.

    I first read P&P as a 7th grader wanting to move from kids books (this was in the dark ages before YA lit was even a genre), and my first adaptation was the same one you watched! It was crazy wrong but I loved it anyway. Unlike you, I felt alone in my Austen mania as there was no internet and I really felt like I was the only person in the world who read Austen.

    Thanks for sharing your story.


    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my guest post, Jane! I know my experience isn’t unique and it is comforting to know that many others felt the same way. I too felt a dearth of novels as a YA, I’m so happy to see that today that’s not the case!

      I discovered the 1940’s adaptation because I was into old Hollywood B&Ws, I will always love it because of where it led me – inaccuracies and all!


  3. I’ve visited your blogsite and thoroughly enjoy your wit, wisdom, and Austenesque point of view. My personal wish is that more young ladies (my granddaughter just turned 12) would do what you did and emulate the civility, dignity and manners that our Miss Austen exemplified. So beautifully shared!


    1. Hi Jeffrey! Thank you so much for your visits to my blog and your generous words about my reviews! The feeling is mutual – I greatly enjoy reading your eloquent and insightful takes on the novels that you read!

      If I ever have a daughter, I dearly hope that she finds Jane Austen to be the same type of wonderful mentor and guide I did.


  4. Your story is so similar to mine. Hurrah for Austen as mentor and guide! I, too, was immensely awkward in my middle and high school years, but more than that, I craved good literature and I loved to read – it was my escape and my deepest pleasure. I remember being assigned “Pride & Prejudice” (my sophomore year, too, I believe) and thinking that it was going to be tedious and boring, but ooooh! Once I got started, I couldn’t put it down and my love for the Woman Herself took off from that point on. By the time I had left high school I read all of her novels and was happily on my way to a degree in English literature at university. I had the distinct pleasure of enrolling in a Jane Austen lit course my senior year (my thesis mentor was the professor in charge of the class and she only taught it once every couple of years). Glorious, glorious times! I’m a high school teacher now, but I’ve sadly not had the opportunity to teach Austen; that honor falls to the senior English teacher, and I have thus far been confined to the lower grades. My hope is that, in a year or two, she and I can share some of the senior classes so that I can immerse myself once more in the joys of British literature on a professional level :D


    1. I think it is so wonderful to hear the way everyone experiences their “first encounter” with Jane Austen! How lucky you are to have been able to study her in college! That would be something I would just love to do for fun! :)

      I hope you get to teach Austen to seniors soon, that way you can bring more and more young readers to her delightful world!


  5. Agreed, Lori, I loved your story, Meredith, and am grateful to find that there are women out there who are still moved by the work of Jane Austen but realize that it isn’t work, but pleasure to learn more by reading her books and then looking at the life she led.


  6. What a lovely post, Meredith! Man, I sure wish I found Austen during my awkward stage in life. What a great guide for finding your way out of those times & becoming a heroine! And look! You got your very own Mr. Darcy in the send! Austen would be proud! ;)


  7. Great story, Meredith! I really enjoyed your post, and you know I love your blog. It’s at the head of my favorites list.


  8. Oh Meredith! I loved your story. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much about you before. I agree with Jeffrey (and the others above). I certainly hope my granddaughter can glean something to aid her thru these awkward times. (Let’s just say 14, health issues and after school are sometimes not much fun) It’s certainly hard to think of you as having an awkward stage tho’ I know most of us do. You are such a warm, generous, all around joy, and witty person. I didn’t read Austen until in my 40’s. I’m a late bloomer. Very late. First a friend of my teen daughter mentioned the Firth P&P movie. I didn’t take it seriously. (After all what could a teenager know? ouch) (Plus my husband who controls the TV and remote is more of a Star Trek kind of guy :)) Then I needed a hobby and decided to give it a try about a decade ago. I loved it and then read every Austen work I could find and as you know not quite as much as you since. (I’ve since apologized to that now 30 something year old for not taking her seriously) Keep up the great work! We totally look forward to your extravaganza!


    1. Suzan, you are such a supportive and kind friend! Thank you for reading my post and for your years of readership and friendship! I don’t think I have ever shared so much about myself online before! LOL! But discovering Jane Austen is a very personal experience and so I had to get a little personal…

      I am really enjoying hearing other readers’ stories about how Jane Austen found them! I bet you will always thankful to your daughter’s friend for helping you discover Jane! I know I would!


  9. Wonderful post, Meredith!! I love reading your blog & see you here on Austenprose quite a bit… and I am really looking forward to the Austenesque Extravaganza!! Was such a blast last year!! :)

    Now… when did Jane Austen come into my life? I read P&P, or maybe it was S&S in HS, but I don’t really remember it. However, when I do remember having become a JA “addict” was after having a major surgery in Oct. ’98. I was home recovering, only out of the hosp. for a couple of days, when the movie P&P (w/Keira Knightley, Matthew MacFadyen) came on the TV… I admit I was in a drug-induced “trance” when I watched the movie! LOL I watched the movie and liked it… and afterwards, I was flipping through the channels looking for something else to watch when I found that the same movie was starting on another channel… so I turned it on & watched it all over again!! LOL And ever since, I have watched every film release re: JA, and have read her books… and my fav. genre is HF, but it’s more about the JA-type variations and re-tellings – I just can’t get enough of them!! :)


  10. Thank you, Valerie! You are so sweet!

    How funny that you caught the same adaptation back to back on two different channels! You were destined to rediscover Jane Austen that day, one way or another! LOL!

    I most certainly cannot get enough of these variations and re-tellings either! It is like 90% of what I read! :)


  11. I wish I had found Austen in those “awkward” years! I didn’t discover her until my 40’s. I could have used her guidance growing up and as a young adult. Thanks for sharing your story, Meredith!


  12. Thanks for sharing! Your post brought back memories for me. I had a similar experience reading Austen. I discovered her in junior high, where I was mercilessly teased for being artistic and “different.” Once I “met” Elizabeth Bennet, though, I had found my heroine. I loved acting so sometimes I would imagine how she would respond to a situation I found myself in. That character taught me that it was OK to be different, because Elizabeth wasn’t like her sisters or friends. Austen’s books have great role models for girls.


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