Well, it’s true. Her name was Emily Susan Dickinson, and we were both in third grade Day Camp in Shalimar, Florida. Last I heard, her name was Emily Susan Lanham, and she had left the country. There was little left to accomplish, I guess.
Still, remembering getting my keister handed to me by a sickly 19th century poet got me thinking about another famous literary character of that century, Jane Austen.
The name of my sister blog, “No Talent for Certainty”, comes from Patricia Rozema’s 1999 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (the line does not appear in the novel). One of the old taglines of that blog was, “Varnish and gilding hide many stains,” which is from the original novel.
Clearly, I’m something of a fan. Why?
It is a question I can only answer by recording a conversation I had once about my predilection for steak:
“You seem to love filet mignon. Why?”
“Because its GOOD.”
I know many people don’t like steak, and some people don’t like Jane Austen. All I can say to that is, there is nothing more needed to disprove once and for all the ancient Persian theory that we are all really the same person.
Those of us who love Jane Austen love her for all kinds of reasons. The main ones for me are that her stories are timeless, her characters are interesting, and her writing is exquisite. In addition, she has a unique voice; nothing else is quite like her.
The world of Jane Austen fandom has some true fanatics: these are the so-called “Janeites”. These are people who do quite a bit more than post a few reviews on blogs and reread the novels every few years. These are the literary version of cosplayers, specializing in the reenacting of the various dance scenes from Pride and Prejudice and the wearing of Regency gowns.
Which brings to mind a big stereotype: that only women like Jane Austen. My mother thought that way at one time: when I asked her what these books were (her complete Jane Austen set) she said, “These? These are probably my favorite books. But you wouldn’t like them. They’re more for girls.”
(When I repeated this story to her a couple years ago, she laughed. “That was an idiotic thing to say,” she said. “Well I was only twelve, and it was 1974,” I said.)
I also think that Jane Austen – like Emily Dickinson – is a sort of patron saint for struggling writers. Not terribly well-known in her day, she’s gone on to be seen as one of the titans of literature, influencing tens of thousands of authors and millions of readers around the world. Her stories are still read every day: the characters she created are still very much alive.
So maybe I should have arm wrestled one of them, instead.