My book club has chosen to read Persuasion by Jane Austen this month. I have a tattered old paperback copy sitting on my book shelf, along with the complete collected works of Jane Austen in a leather-bound hard cover. Though I would have probably enjoyed reading Pride and Prejudice (that proper Mr. Darcy!), Sense and Sensibility, or Emma (the bumbling but likeable matchmaker) more, I was looking forward to delving into and re-reading Persuasion because it has been years since I’ve read any of Austen’s work.
In some ways, I find myself surprised that Jane Austen has gained such popularity amongst book clubs, supported by so many recent movies in the past two decades. Though her writing is superb, many of her stories and characters come from common backgrounds and follow similar fates. In effect, they are romances set in a specific time period, yet they have somehow transcended from romantic period pieces to classics.
I read everything Austen in high school, as a teenager steadfastly attached to my independent ways yet somehow still hopeful for that happily-ever-after. Jane Austen suited my taste back then. I find I still enjoy her writing, particularly her understated humor and wit as she exaggerates her characters’ quirks and flaws. However, it’s not the same as reading her books for the first time during that adolescent phase in my life.
In a conversation with my brother yesterday, he summarized it best, saying that most people who discover Jane Austen tend to appreciate her work during a specific and brief time period in their lives and then move on to other authors, as if finishing that chapter in their reading habits.
Jane Austen will always be Jane Austen, but I am no longer that teenage girl reading her work for the first time.