It is no secret for those who know me that I simply adore the novels of Jane Austen; even the name of my blog comes from a favorite excerpt in one of them. My main attraction to Jane Austen’s works – apart from the author’s thorough knowledge and ironic representation of human nature – is that whenever I open one of her books, I immediately find myself immersed in a world of peace, quiet, civility, neatness, order, and all that I love so much in the life of home.
There is something so very charming in reading about ladies and gentlemen living in a pre-industrialized world; about their country walks and dinner parties, about horse-riding and needlework. But what captivates me most is the style of human relations described in these books; in particular, people frequently coming in for neighborly visits, and communication through letter-writing between friends and family who are away from each other.
Miss Austen didn’t live a very long life, but it seems to me that she had lived happily and quietly, surrounded by family and with ample time to work on her novels. She probably had more peace, quiet and freedom for contemplation in her life than most people in the modern age will ever experience even if they live twice as long as she had.
I sometimes wonder what Jane Austen would think of our modern means of communication, such as emails, Facebook and Twitter. I’m sure she would be impressed with how remarkably convenient all those are. But at the same time, something tells me we would be reproached for the minefield of bad taste and superficial contact such ways of communication provide.
As a child, I lived in a world without internet, and was lucky to have a long-standing correspondence with two friends who had moved overseas (one of them might well be reading this right now, and of course you know who you are!). The letters were long awaited, relished, re-read, and are cherished and kept to this day. Knowing you only have the chance for one letter every few weeks is a great stimulus to do your best to write good letters. While with email, the possibility to respond within minutes produces pressure and impatience. Not that I would willingly give up email, but that’s how things are.
As to Facebook, it seems to me that many people are wrapped up in it for hours in a day, commenting on the status messages of people they hardly know, and maintaining a very superficial illusion of “keeping in touch” with hundreds of people. Some of my friends have chosen to deactivate their Facebook accounts and I understand why.
I consider myself very fortunate to live in a place where people stop for a bit of friendly chat whenever they come across a neighbor. I understand that not all can appreciate a quiet life as I do – a quiet, simple, unhurried, and in many ways, even retired life. That’s another reason why, whenever I open a book of Jane Austen’s, I feel as though I’m talking to a friend – a friend who thoroughly understands and highly values the simple pleasures of good conversation, enjoyment of nature, and quiet intellectual pursuits.