Joys of Rereading Jane Austen.

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My dear friends, I hope you will forgive me if I write this post in haste, for I am deep in Jane Austen country this week. And I find I cannot pull myself out of it. Indeed, I do not want to pull myself out of it. “How has this happy circumstance come to be?” you ask. Well, attend to my words and I shall tell you all. After I force myself to drop the phoney Jane Austen-y style. And cease to converse in a ghastly imitation of a Regency English accent. Hopefully the latter happens before dinner. Else I will be subject to the usual rolling of eyes and the mild epithets often uttered by my esteemed husband whenever I am in the clutches of our dear Jane. Ha. But I digress.

Painting of Jane Austen in a mobcap and a blue dress from Encyclopedia Britannica.com.
Jane Austen source

Earlier in the week I finished a charming book which we are reading for book club this month, The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. Jenner’s novel concerns a group of people who, in the years after World War II, decide to form a society to preserve the last home of Jane Austen in the village of Chawton, in Hampshire, England. There is a real Jane Austen Society and a museum in Chawton, but Jenner’s characters and society are fictional. The plot eventually centres around the establishment of this fictional society, but begins by introducing us to each of the eventual members, their lives which become intertwined, and their love for Jane Austen and her work. Jenner, born in England but raised and educated in Canada, obviously has a great love for Jane Austen herself.

Oddly enough, the book captivated me, and at the same time, it annoyed the heck out of me. This was due to the occasional lapses in Jenner’s knowledge and understanding of English culture in the 30s and 40s. Mostly these were small stylistic blips in language usage by the English characters, and a few other anachronistic details in the plot. At one point a character makes tea with tea bags. “In 1946? Really?” I thought, “Can that be right?” I checked and turns out that tea bags were not introduced to common usage in the UK until the fifties. So Jenner and/or her editors and copy editors should have picked up on this error, as well as a few other instances that I won’t mention.

But, here’s what is really odd. These problems did not put me off the book. I enjoyed it. I became quite attached to the characters, and saw and loved so many parallels with their stories and the stories of Austen’s own characters. And I loved all the talk of Austen’s books, the conversations between Jenner’s characters about plots and characters in Austen’s books. I loved the varying insights shown into Darcy’s behaviour versus Elizabeth’s, for instance. And in particular the reasons put forth for reading Austen, and for rereading her. Especially the rereading. The comfort found in revisiting favourite characters in full knowledge of the outcome of the plot. The joy of being able to focus on Austen’s genius without the worry about how the book will end. If the characters will find happiness. Or not.

Three Abbey Green hotel in Bath, UK.
Three Abbey Green, our accommodation in Bath in 2017.

I’ve long been a fan of Jane Austen. Of her books. And of the myriad of film and television versions of her books. Primary of these is, of course, the 1995 television mini-series Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth as Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched that. For years my mum and I watched it at least once a year when I was home. Happily staying up way past bedtime, making extra pots of tea, and at the end of each episode, looking at each other, raising an eyebrow, and murmuring, “One more, episode, do you think?” We also love Emma Thompson and Kate Winslett in Sense and Sensibility, Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds in Persuasion, and to a lesser degree Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma.

Parade Gardens, in Bath UK, 2017.
Parade Gardens, Bath, 2017

I usually find that the books spawned by the Jane Austen canon, the sequels and spin-offs and whatever, leave me cold. But there are a few notable exceptions. I loved P.D. James’ imagining of Lizzy and Darcy five years after their marriage when a murder takes place near Pemberley. Death Comes to Pemberley is vintage P.D. James, conveying both her skill at mystery writing and her love for Jane Austen. I also really liked The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Australian writer Colleen McCullough. I had not read any McCullough books since The Thorn Birds back in the seventies. A few years ago, I bought McCullough’s Mary Bennet book for Mum for Christmas, and we both loved it. The reimagining of Mary Bennet as something beyond a pedantic stick-in-the-mud, as she is usually portrayed, was delightful.

But my favourite Austen spin-off novel is undoubtedly Jo Baker’s Longbourn. Baker’s book is a brilliant retelling of the Pride and Prejudice story from the point of view of the servants who are notably absent beyond a brief line here and there in Austen’s book, but without whom the lives of the main characters would have spun out of control. From the merest mention of maids, cooks, and footmen in Austen’s book, Baker builds a wonderful below-stairs story.

Tea at the Regency Tea Room in the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, UK.
Tea for one at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath.

According to Nicholas Dames in his 2017 article Jane Austen Is Everything in The Atlantic, Austen is now more popular than ever. He says that, like Shakespeare, Austen has become a symbol of literature itself, that to the modern reader “the hazel-eyed woman in the mobcap [is] as iconic as the balding man in the doublet.” Ha. I loved that line. Apparently we Austen lovers are a contentious bunch though; we simply cannot agree as to why we still love her work. Nicholas Dames asks whether the appeal of Austen is the “fantasy of escape” from our modern world? “Or is it the pleasure of recognition, the sense that she is describing our world?”

Either way, reading and rereading Jane Austen is a pleasure sought by many, many book lovers. Including me, this week. For after finishing The Jane Austen Society, and hearing about the pleasures of rereading Austen, I was anxious to dig into Pride and Prejudice again myself.

So I have been doing double-duty. Reading the novel on my iPad. And listening to it on my phone while I walk or do housework. For the past two days as the cars sped by me on my walks, I was at Longbourn with the Bennets, or at Hunsford parsonage and Rosings with Charlotte and Mr. Collins and their house guests. I heard Mr. Darcy’s disastrous proposal while I made the bed this morning, and ate my lunch while Lizzy, in Derbyshire, read the letters from Jane relaying the news of Lydia and Mr. Wickham. I reluctantly put down my book to begin this post just as Lizzy and the Gardiners fled back to Longbourn from Derbyshire. It’s been total Austen-immersion therapy for me this week.

My mum and I share a love of Jane Austen. A love of reading and rereading, and watching and rewatching our favourites, again and again. We had a long talk on the phone on Mother’s Day, and spent several happy minutes chuckling over our favourite scenes from the Pride and Prejudice series. Mr. Collins’s obsequiousness, Mrs. Bennet’s shrieking, “Oh, my poor nerves.” Lizzy’s refusal to be quelled by Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mum said, “Remember the scene where Mrs. Bennet is winking?” “What’s the matter, Mama? Why do you keep winking at me?” I replied. And we both laughed.

“Those were good times, weren’t they Susie?” she said. “They sure were, Mum.” “Let’s watch the whole thing again when you and Stuart come home this summer.” “Let’s do that for sure,” I said.

“Maybe we can get Stuart to watch with us, eh?” she suggested.

“Nah,” we said in unison. “Not a chance,” I added. And we laughed again.

Now, my friends and fellow readers, it’s time for me to cease writing and get back to my reading. Or my rereading. I’ve left the poor Bennet family in an agony of suspense as to what will become of poor Lydia. How about you? Are you an Austen fan? Do you partake of the joys of rereading?

P.S. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will earn a commission.

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50 thoughts on “Joys of Rereading Jane Austen.”

  1. I also love to reread Jane Austen. I always find something new and interesting. A few years ago when I was in Bath I walked the route Anne took up to were the Elliot’s lived. Also lost in London I accidentally found Gracechurch Street and was delighted. I enjoy the adaptations. I wish a good version of Mansfield Park existed.

    1. I did the same in Bath. I hunted down Virginia Woolf’s square in Bloomsbury when in London, but wish I had also found Gracechurch Street. I so love a literary pilgrimage. Even if there is nothing to see, just the name, and to know you are there is enough.

  2. Years ago when my boys were very small I decided to read the entire Jane Austen while “watching” them at the swimming pool over the summer. Now I have purchased the collection for my e-reader. So it’s at my fingertips. I will take your recommendation for the videos…many thanks for reminding me of the singular pleasure of Miss Austen.

  3. This was such a fun post. I just finished rereading Pride and Prejudice. The book was a gift from my daughter-in-law the first Christmas after their marriage (our youngest son to his wonderful bride). She inscribed it, “Thank you for my Mr. Darcy”. I will always treasure the book.
    Karen

  4. Love Austen. Just finished re-reading Persuasion for the umpteenth time. Usually take a copy of P&P or S&S with me when I travel, too. Such good travel companions. 🙂 Agree with your choice of favorite film versions, too.

  5. As much as I have enjoyed the stories,films,etc. I still find it hard to believe that people actually spoke that way. A whole paragraph at a time, now really! So I have enjoyed the made for TV versions,particularly the ones with Colin Firth.Anyway, more power to those of you who have the patience to wade through those books. The English teacher in me fades with her. I did just finish re-reading “Gone with the Wind”,probably the 6th time. However,what registers each time,in any book, is different as the reader matures. Scarlett was really quite the feminist and ahead of her time, even the time period in which the book was written. Southern women are just beginning to come to the forefront in expressing themselves!Victorian mores lasted a long time in the south. What one did or did not do in polite society,at least at a certain level,are only now beginning to disappear.Along with many other things. (enough from me) Best and stay safe!

  6. I adore Austen. I think because she takes the everyday experience of women and makes it fancy literature. I feel my own annoyances elevated. Thank you for letting me hear that writing and those stories in my head this morning, over a cup of tea.

  7. Oh, I always love your blogs about reading and cooking. You always focus on a book or an author I can’t wait to read. I love the idea behind Longhorn. I can’t remember if I read Death Comes to Pemberly. Off I go to order something! Thanks. Oh, and I must try the chicken with peas. I do enjoy Gaby cooking live on Instagram.

  8. Love,love Jane Austin! Last time I’ve read Sense and Sensibility was in Dubrovnik,oh happy times…..
    I used to re-read a lot my favourite books,now-not so much, sometimes as a comfort read
    I’m not sure about P. D. James-so,it might be a re-read! Or not! Have to see and order or,vice-versa 🙂
    I’ve just finished new DC Smith-The Truth. I’ve missed him,but here he works alone,so, I guess, I miss the rest of the team
    Dottoressa

  9. Like you, I shared my love of Jane with my mother, who first read P&P aloud to me when I was about 8 or 9. I still hear her voice when I read them. Recently I’ve been watching Dr Octavia Cox discussing the books on youtube (you may enjoy these?) and realise all over again how thoroughly we discussed the books years ago and what a thoughtful reader – as well as a thorough-going Janeite my mum was. Not sure if it was you who introduced me to Longbourn, if so, thank you, I agree it was the most engaging of the “fanon”.

    1. I have seen those videos on You Tube in the “you might like” suggestions. I will check them out. Love a good book discussion. I wrote a post about Jo Baker’s Longbourn a couple of years ago. Not sure if you saw that.

  10. One year I was going through a mentally rough patch and a friend of mine suggested we meet at her place Sunday evenings to watch a marathon of Jane Austen stories on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre that was running over several weeks. Never a big fan of JA I agreed as my friend was a harried mom and physician navigating her way through a divorce and we both needed the escape. It turned out to be great fun and we really enjoyed the acting, costumes, locations and stories. My friend grew up in England so the countryside and the domestic scenes seemed comforting and familiar. We would discuss over tea and Marks and Spencer biscuits how contemporary some of the characters and their life choices were and how different JA’s tales were from the dark and dour Brontë stories. For two women whose careers were based in science it was a mental vacation for both of us. I was spurred on to read several of Austen’s novels.
    In the end we both successfully moved on with our lives but I am forever grateful to Jane Austen for her charming assistance.

    1. The costumes and locations of those film versions of the JA novels alone make them worth watching. I first watched the 1995 P&P series on Masterpiece Theatre. How lucky we are to have public television, I think.

  11. I need to admit something.

    I have never read any Jane Austin.

    I have read Charlotte Brontë (I loved Jane Eyre). I nearly threw Wuthering Heights out a window on a road trip two years ago. Really hated that book.

    I’ve seen Sense and Sensibility but I think it was because I was on an Emma Thompson kick more anything else.

    This needs to be rectified this summer.

    Thank you.

  12. Be still my heart! Jane Austen is my favorite author. I too have not read many spin-offs, I will read your recommendations. And like you I have problems with novels written today set in the last century that use current idioms and phrases. I drive my book club crazy when I point out these mistakes. I love reading books from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Years ago I took a Jane Austen course at UCLA taught by a wonderful professor.In 2005 my husband and I went to England, me to do my Jane Austen tour and my husband to fly fish in the world class chalk streams in Hampshire. What a happy coincidence they were both in close proximity! While he fished I visited Chawton and the museum. I spent several hours there and lunched in the pub across the street. I saw where Jane would sit and write. We went to Winchester where she died. It was late in the day but I had another pilgrimage to make, Steventon. We had to return the car and my husband was so good about taking the extra time to go there.It was close to Overton and we had to ask for directions. The house where she lived is no longer there, but the little church where her father was rector is still standing and has a plaque. I channeled Jane and Elizabeth, I walked on the same road.It was wonderful. I notice my speech improves when I reread the books or watch the film/tv version. Even my sons speak differently just hearing it in the background. And every once in a while I have to have a Jane Austen film fest, like at the beginning of the pandemic. Sorry for length of this but you got me going.

    1. Some of the errors in The Jane Austen Society novel were so easy to spot; I would have chastised my highschool writing students heartily over them. I can’t believe that some editor didn’t pick up on them. Your day in Hampshire sounds wonderful for you both!

  13. I. Love. Jane. Austen. All the books, all the movies. The sequels and spin offs not so much…except Longbourn. Big confession, I have a daughter who has not read Emma! She has read all of Jane Austen except Emma. It’s a continuing battle between us, she thinks Emma is a flake! I argue that Miss Jane Austen put all vast knowledge of human nature in Emma also! Of course my daughter argues with me because I don’t like Fanny Price. The debate continues…. Lately I have watched the new Emma movie over and over. Emma. with Anya Taylor Joy is different, took a while to enjoy and now I love it. The depiction of Mrs. Elton is a hoot. Jane Austen is a good companion all the time. Did I mention I have many, many copies of each book…obsession or collection? Thank you for a wonderful post.

    1. Your daughter is quite right (both re Emma & Fanny Price). Although my mother would have agreed with you …

    2. Ha. I thought of you when I was writing this post, Heather. I remember that you love Austen. I’m not a fan of Fanny Price either. She is entirely too good for her own good. Ha.

  14. I regularly reread all of Jane Austen. One of my major regrets is that, even though I have been to Bath three times (supervising grade nines on a Europe trip), I did not visit the Jane Austen sites. Sigh. I have promised myself I will go back.

  15. Thank you for reminding me of the pleasures of rereading Jane Austen. Her books certainly stand the test of time! There is something true and somewhat delicious in the way each story unfolds. I have thoroughly enjoyed the film versions of most of them, too. I, too, have watched “Pride and Prejudice” with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, “Sense and Sensibility” and “Persuasion” several times. Marvellous.

  16. I smiled at you watching pride and prejudice with your mum – my daughter and I love to watch that too and we quote lines at each other. i hope we are still doing this when my daughter is my age. i loved Longbourn too and Death comes to Pemberley. the mini series of that was almost as good as the book. you might also like The Other Bennett Sister.

  17. I am not much of a fan, I will admit this quite freely. Sense and Sensibility was a lovely film, a joy to behold and beautifully acted but the books simply irritate me and I have read them all, apart from the juvenilia, so that is quite a bit of annoyance under my belt.
    Re the proposal. A little different to my experience, washing the floor on a Saturday night. I didn’t do much blushing, leaning on my mop.

  18. Have you seen the latest Jane Austen Masterpiece Theater PBS series, “Sanditon”? Based on the novel she was in process composing when she died, it has been reimagined/completed and just announced there will be a season 2 and 3. If you should so desire a new take on her work, it does satisfy the need to be “lost in Austen”. First season premiered on PBS in the US last year and it was a welcome distraction during quarantine. Conversely, I find myself so irritated by the current Masterpiece series, “Atlantic Crossing” mixing fact with fiction equaling boring result. Though, it makes the revived “Sanditon” appealing, in spite of a MALE author trying to inhabit Jane’s mindset and presume to finish her work. What ARE they thinking?! Mrs. Bennett would be overcome by the vapors at the thought!

      1. After I commented on “Sanditon”, I remembered I found it unsatisfactory. The sub-story line about the incestuous brother and sister was so off-putting! The writer assuming he can revise Austen’s work proved he was not up to the task. Apparently someone new will be composing the upcoming 2 seasons, but doubtful it can be improved.

  19. I’d love to spend the weekend watching P&P with you! Acorn has a great documentary on Jane Austen and the role of the Regency Ball, and other historical context that modern readers miss. I’m looking forward to rereading Austen with the documentary in mind.

    1. That would be lovely my friend. You, me, Jane Austen, a cup of tea, and a piece of your homemade Saskatoon berry pie. That would be heaven indeed. xoxo

  20. Kathleen Doherty

    seem to be translated to film. When I was in graduate school working to a PhD in art, yes, there is such a thing, I made a book of my favorite Jane Austen quotes. I made the paper, hand set and printed the type, and bound the pamphlet. I can’t comment with all my favorite quotes but here’s a small sample
    From Pride and Prejudice –“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and them at them in our turn.” And ”Mrs. Bennet was restored to her usual querulous serenity.”
    And from Mansfield Park-“If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.”
    I want to continue but will stop because in the words of Mr. Bennet I have “delighted you long enough,”

  21. This is a bit late comment, but I just started re-reading “Family Fortune” by Laurie Horowitz. It is a modern day take on Persuasion and , if I remember correctly, well-written. I don’t know of you have read any Elizabeth Gaskell, but I highly recommend “Wives and Daughters” and “North and South”. set just a bit later than Austen’s work. There were BBC ( I think) series of both of them, that I enjoyed very much. I also liked Cranford and Larkrise to Candleford, but haven’t watch any of these in a while..

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