Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The world of Jane Austen

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.


Susan said...

Anna, I also love Jane Austen! You described her writing perfectly. I feel so blessed to have a quiet, simple life. I have always been able to relate to her characters. I am sure life wasn't easy in her time, but I find myself longing for the simplicity of such a time. To be sure, I love my many modern conveniences (internet!) but I love a quiet, orderly, simple life. It's also very nice to read your blog and know that I am not alone! Although, these days it is very hard to find someone who shares my way of thinking.
One more thing: How are those chickens doing?!

MsJess said...

Except that in Austen's era being one of the landed gentry was a luxury afforded to a precious few. It would be like if someone wrote a novel about lives of a the super rich and famous and then 200 years from now all readers assumed that everyone living in our era had multiple mansions, servants and nannies aplenty, traveling the world first class, etc.

Most the population in Austen's was very poor and spent their lives working as farmers, tradesman or servants without leisure time to to write letters and take country walks. The industrial revolution essentially created the middle class. It also gave people more mobility to chose different lines of work.

I personally enjoy reading Austen's books but I also like living in an era where I have access to modern comforts like indoor plumbing, dishwashers and washing machines evidence based medicine, the right to vote and own property.

Anonymous said...

Miss Austen bucked the conventions of the time! Her books were not originally published under her own name, but rather were credited to "A Lady", because a female novelist was something quite unsettling! Respectable women did not allow their names to appear in print, except in certain rare circumstances, and women were not expected to earn their own money. Her acquaintances were meant to simply accept that, somehow, she had enough money to live on, although as time went on, people did figure out who had written those books. She was a rebel for her time and place! A... dare I say it?.... a FEMINIST!

Lena Michalev said...

I still have your letters too! And even though letters were very much anticipated and re-read, it greatly reduces the interaction time. For example, as a child, my grandparents were in Russia. We would write them a letter, send it. It would get there in 2 month. They would respond, and we would wait another 2 month. So essentially we waited 4 month for a response, in which time a lot would change. Long distance calls were extremely expensive, and therefore short and rare. For a child, 4 month is a very long time! Right now, I call call my grandma regularly (with a calling card that makes it very cheap). Or better yet, get her on Skype (my cousin helps her) and that way I can see her and talk to her (for free). There are advantages and disadvantages to modern communication, but I think the advantages outweigh. There is still the choice of writing letters, or being part of a social networking site, so now we just have options:)

Rose said...

Do you know Anna, I had never associated your blog name with Jane Austen until reading this. I am an Austen fan too and can quote great reams of her books especially P&P and S&S. How lovely to find we share that interest.

Katie V. said...

So true Anna! I love Jane Austen too! And of course the Bronte sisters. You brought back memories of when I used to correspond with friens and family while away in another country and how I eagerly anticipated the arrival of a new letter. Thank you for reminding me of how quickly Facebook can become superficial. Blessings to you and your family.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Susan, the chickens are thriving, except for the one that was killed by a fox!

msJess, you are right of course and I wanted to mention it too, but then thought it would be so obvious. My enjoyment of Jane Austen's novels doesn't mean I think everyone lived a life of luxury at the time.

Rose, the blog name comes from Mr. Darcy saying to Miss Bingley, "have you anything else to propose for my domestic felicity?"

KTHunter said...

I love Jane Austen, too! Thank you for telling us about how your blog was named.

I prefer a quiet life, myself. There is so much beeping and whirring and noise these days! It makes me a little crazy sometimes. I do appreciate all the modern comforts, and I like being able to reach my friends by email or call my husband on my cell phone if I get a flat tire. I believe it's not the technology that makes me crazy, but what people tend to do with it. The ability to text is fine. Knowing when to text and not to text (during a movie!) is a skill a lot of people lack these days. I think we could have a lot more of the peace of the older days if we knew how to handle the tech properly and did not let it control us!

I had a pen-pal who lived in England when I was a child. We lost touch over time, but I still have those letters, thirty years later!

emily said...

I too love Jane Austen, but rather for her social commentary and the themes of feminism, satire, sarcasm and irony that pervade her works.

I believe Darcy was dripping with sarcasm in the quote re: 'domestic felicity' which he addressed to the overbearing Miss Bingley. :)

The Kitchen Witch said...

Ahh yes Jane is one of my favorites too! I am so glad you posted about her because I could really use some peace and quiet and have just finished my last library book. I think I shall read Pride and Prejudice again.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Emily, of course. But I love the expression 'domestic felicity' without any sarcasm.