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Saturday, 21 June 2014

The Charming World of Jane Austen.

When it comes to literature, I like to be adventurous. As a hard-core bookworm, I've read my fair share of classics from across different historical periods. Yet, I suppose that depends on what you interpret as a 'classic' - for me, Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar' is one of the best books ever written whereas others would completely dismiss it. The work of Jane Austen, on the other hand, remains at the forefront of the literary world some two hundred years after they were first published. The small success Austen enjoyed in her own lifetime is nothing compared to the status she has achieved in the modern world. Her work has been dramatised more times than I can count and even inspired spin-off sequels. I love immersing myself in the world of19th century England's society of manners. Her characters are three-dimensional and often unpredictable. Her tone varies from comical to passionate as her heroines confront difficult lessons of life and love. Although romance underlines every novel, Austen's works don't consist of the repetitive fairy-tale formula: boy meets girl, they fall in love, problem emerges, with love conquering all. Her ability to create interesting and flawed characters are the reason why her novels are still relevant in the 21st century world. Marianne Dashwood is young and passionate, Elizabeth Bennett is proud and protective, while Emma Woodhouse is manipulative and innocent. These characters capture our imagination and we become emotionally invested in their journey.
Perhaps the reason Austen has such devoted readers in this day and age is due to the romantic world she depicts. Whereas as we live in the age of the 'booty call' and 'friends-with-benfits' faux relationships, Austen describes a simpler time. A period of history where men courted ladies, would invite them to dance at social engagements, and ask their father for their hand after an appropriate amount of time. These days, relationships can become much more complicated - when is the right time to make it official? Facebook official, obviously. When do you meet the parents? Do you become friends with his friends? Are his friends therefore your friends, or are they now joint friends? How do you handle distance? Where's this relationship going? It can all become very complex very quickly. In that case, Austen's simpler romantic world of manners and courting offers wonderful solace.
At the same time, however, Austen's heroines undoubtedly have their romantic ups and downs. Take the classic example of Elizabeth and Darcy - she thinks he's an arrogant snob for half the novel while he's absolutely in love with her and willing to ignore her lowly status. The novel is based around this misunderstanding. After all, it is called 'Pride and Prejudice'. Moreover, the young, beautiful Marianne Dashwood falls hopelessly in love with the slanderous Mr. Willoughby and spends the novel in heart-break as a result of his deception and betrayal. Perhaps the ladies of 19th century England were just as fixated on their relationships as the rest of us - just in a different way. They analysed letters in the same way that we analyse text messages.
Like I said before, Austen's novels don't revolve entirely around the men. What makes each and every one of Austen's works so unique is the character's development as throughout the novel and her interesting depiction of the family. For Elizabeth and Jane Bennett, their embarrassing family are a concern of their social superior suitors. Yet they remain fiercely protective of them nonetheless. Elinor Dashwood also strives to protect her younger sister, and nurses her heart-break - even providing her with the full extent of Willoughby's misgivings. Austen therefore values family above all - even they're inappropriate and unpredictable - they're still the most important people in her character's lives. Providing them with love and support through their romantic hardship and personal journeys (apart from when Mrs. Bennett tries to make Elizabeth marry Mr. Collins...). This is a lesson modern readers can relate to in their own lives.
I love escaping into Jane Austen's world of social propriety and romantic endeavours.  In the 21st century, it is escapism in every sense. Not only do we gain a sense of this historical period, but we also indulge our fantasies in the romance of it all. But Austen's works are so much more than this - they create a diverse range of moral and immoral characters who all function within this unknown social spectrum. As readers, we are invited to make judgements and support our heroine in her quest for love and independence. For me, reading an Austen novel is one of life's greatest pleasures. 


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