literature, personal

200 years on: What Austen means to me

It’s July 18th 2017. A long anticipated date for me. Today is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, one which she came to in Winchester. I’ve visited her grave, of course I have. I’ve even been to her mum and sister’s. But visiting her grave over a year ago now is something I found extremely emotional. I stood beside the stone in which her name is carved on the floor in Winchester Cathedral (the trip was planned, so I could visit her burial site) ad felt such a strong pang. Being there, I felt a strong emotional connection with my favourite author, one who’s been an incredible inspiration to me for years.

Me, at Austen’s grave

In this post, I’m going to talk about my own personal Austen experiences; how she became so important to me and what I’ve done to celebrate her life and works. There’ll be a follow up series of posts related to Austen over the summer, but this is the first, on this important day, as that’s what you guys asked me to write on twitter, and I am more than happy to.

My first experience involving Austen was when I was in year 9. I was 14 years old and having been put off Jane Austen by others for years despite being curious about the much talked about ‘Pride and Prejudice’, I decided to ignore others’ claims of boredom and read the novel. This came about as I volunteered to do my school’s ’12 hour read’ event (6am to 6pm- a whole day of non stop reading novels, poetry and acting out plays) due to loving literature, and Pride and Prejudice was on the list. I decided to, as I was familiar with most of the other texts, read this Austen person’s novel. Instantly, I fell in love. I was engaged. I loved the period. I loved her writing style more than explainable. I truly fell in love on the first read, so was more excited to be taking part in this event. I seem to remember on the day I read the parts of Mrs Bennett and was more than happy to be acting out the part of such an extravagant character as people read and listened to the novel. After the event, I took it upon myself to read the novel again over the summer. It was then that I was first familiar with, and fell in love with Jane Austen and her beautiful writing.

Although I adored her, I didn’t necessarily talk about her frequently after that due to the summer holidays approaching and the next memory I really have is an encounter that happened between my friend, a teacher and I when I was still 14, but in year 10. Adelaide and I waited outside our English classroom a lot earlier than the lesson was due to start (both a little keen with nothing better to do with out break) and we were told we could go into the classroom. I said to Ad about how I was jealous of a certain class because they were doing the syllabus’ best play (A View From The Bridge), and best novels (To Kill A Mockingbird and Pride and Predjudice) and the teacher that called us in was still there and overheard our conversation. The teacher happened to be the new head of English and Drama, Ms Sutherland, and I think this was my first ever encounter with her (before she became my favourite teacher and couldn’t get rid of me). Ms S turned to me and said something along the lines of ‘Just because you’re not studying them doesn’t mean you can’t read them!’ And I told her how I’d already read and loved both, and that Pride and Prejudice was actually my favourite book and Austen subsequently my favourite author. I remember little more of the encounter than being told I’d made a good first impression, and advised to delve further into the works of Austen. That’s when I got Emma out of the library. It wasn’t long before I’d read every Austen book, the letters she’d written and mini astories and in-competed works followed by a wide arrange of ‘follow ups’ (which makes me laugh because even PD James’ Death Comes To Pemberely is essentially a form of fan fiction).

I fell in ove with Austen then, and don’t think I could ever fall out of love with her. Any mention of her name, books or even the tiniest reference or quote will attract my attention from the other side of the world.

I’ve actually been lucky enough to have a family that allow me to love her; they don’t get annoyed about this, like they might with my love of eg. Lush and Doctor Who. My parents and grandparents have done a lot to fulfill my obsession, especially by going to Austen locations.

I have so far, following the trail of Austen, been to;

  • Bath (her houses, the museum and locations from the novels)
  • Lyme (locations from her novels and to an Austen themed house)
  • Basingstoke
  • Alton (her house and the museum, her church and mother and sister’s graves)
  • Winchester (acclaimed Austen locations and her grave)

Every one of these experiences have meant a lot to me; be it pretending to fall off the Cobb in Lyme Regis like Louisa does in Persuasion, or visiting her school or bedroom, I’ve always felt extremely emotional, but at home. It feels like she’s there, and like I’ve always got her. I’ve got this human on my side who died 181 years before I was even born, but she’s there.

Austen has helped me through a lot. Be it with my constant re-reading of her novels, or my favourite quote,

None of us want to be in calm waters all ours lives

Or my love for literature and aspiration to be an author and/or English teacher, or the fact she didn’t hide the fact she was a lady (women are great!) writing in the regency era, she has a massive impact on my life.

Even with things that are little such as fashion! I’ll look for shirts with regency collars and cuffs whenever I’m shopping because I love it. I really wish I could experience the life of the period, and Austen life for just one day. But as my blog title says; History’s a burden… Stories can make us fly!

And stories really can make us fly. Austen’s words make me soar high and escape to a land where all things are good, even if in reality they’re not.

I wish I had the talents to write as incredible as the woman I’ve admired for years and hope to many years into the future (though I have pinched a few techniques from her and it’s drastically improved my writing).

I could talk about my love for her and each individual experience at her houses etc for longer but I’d be here typing until the 300th anniversary! I just have so much admiration for her and not the words to truly release the love from my heart.

So, Happy 200 years, Austen. Although you have been gone for that long, your work lives on. You literary legend and inspiration, thank you.

Lauren Curr 

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