For one weekend in Canberra during April, lovers of Jane Austen everywhere come together to celebrate her life and works. The question that is forever bandied around that always frustrates and mystifies me is “Why has she endured in popularity?
As a lover of Jane Austen novels since my teens, the answer has always been evident to me. Her Collected Works are within arms reach on my bedside table, re-read and chortled over in the same way I regularly pop on a Sex and the City DVD. Because I’m a girl. And we girls love our relationships. We love analysing relationships of every kind; with our parents, our siblings, our friends, our extended family members, our neighbours but always, always, most importantly and emphatically, with our men.
“ …there is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry. Look where I will, I see that it is so; and I feel that it must be so when I consider that it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect more from others, and are less honest themselves.”
– Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
Jane Austen was a master at capturing the essence of human nature and exposing the strengths, the weaknesses and the frailties of individuals and their relationships with each other and their society. Written with a deft hand and sparkling wit, her characters are realised with such penetrating insight into human nature that they appear timeless. Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice travelled a similar tortured lover’s journey to Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City; to finally end up in the arms of her Mr Darcy/Mr Big. Like Carrie, Elizabeth had the strength and support of her girlfriends along the way, each navigating their own complex relationships. Hairstyles and fashion were essential components to both heroines. The same attention and devotion given to the selection of muslin for a new gown as to finding the perfect pair of Manolo Blahniks.
The constant flow of letters between characters in Jane Austen’s novels, some as many as two or three a day, courtesy of the penny post, carries the same sentiment and urgency as a text or an email from modern counterparts. We girls require updates on the minutiae of everyday lives and the status of evolving romances. For these reasons, Jane Austen endures in popularity, bridging the cultural and generational gaps to speak the language of what it means to be human.
So to all the devotees of regency, those who revel in the richness of the history and culture, I take my bonnet off to you. Thank you for donning a gown and slippers and immersing yourselves in the period. But for me, I’ll slip into my Manolo’s, grab my phone and see you at the Festival, united in our love of Jane.