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Why We Read (Or Write About) Jane Austen by Joana Starnes

Updated: May 15

Jane Austen's body of work delivers a nuanced understanding of life—especially as a woman, family dynamics, insights into the historical context of the period, and the social norms between men and women. For the last two decades, I have been fascinated by Austen’s diverse and massive fan following, scholars, and writers, and I love discovering why her words and characters still resonate with so many these two hundred years later. Over the next twelve-months, I plan to feature one Austen fan a month to offer their insights.


My April guest is my dear friend, the popular Austenesque author Joana Starnes.

 

By Joana Starnes

I think I was about twelve when I began to read Jane Austen. I started with Pride and Prejudice, and it was love at first sight. Little did I know that the love would grow and end up shaping whole decades of my life.

 

At the first read, I’m sure it was the storyline that captivated me. I was too young to fully appreciate the nuances, the historical context, or Jane Austen’s superb craft. Looking back, I often wish I could remember my initial reactions as the plot began to unfold. I know I loved Elizabeth from the start, but what did I think of Mr. Darcy? Or of Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. Bingley, the Gardiners, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet? Did I fall hook, line, and sinker for Mr. Wickham’s lies?

 

Two women in burgundy Regency era gowns and feathered bonnets
Joana Starnes (right) with Julia Grantham (left) at Jane Austen Festival, Bath (2017). Courtesy Joana Starnes

I also wish I could remember how many times I read Pride and Prejudice. I have no idea, but I know I’ll never grow tired of re-reading it. I discover something new each time, and the same goes for re-reading Jane Austen’s other novels.

 

Why do I do it? Because it makes me happy. And why is that? Now that I stopped to ponder, I can think of all sorts of reasons. I’ll try to jot them down as they spring to mind.

 

The sheer optimism of her works is extremely appealing. All her novels, not just Jane Austen’s ‘own darling Child’, have varying degrees of light and sparkling brightness. This uplifting glow naturally comes from the fact that all her central characters find their happily ever after, but it also shines from other sources. Even when the main characters are faced with trials and tribulations, the notes of optimism can still be glimpsed beneath the surface, along with touches of subtle humor. There is neither doom nor gloom, not even for those characters who richly deserve both. Her villains are not dark, twisted souls driven by ghoulish and deeply disturbing motives, but perfectly ordinary people with flaws that can be laughed at, such as plain greed or angry jealousy or the self-absorbed desire to get their own way. Her heroes and heroines are realistically portrayed as well, each one with their faults and foibles, whims and inconsistencies. None of them is an implausible picture of perfection. I think that the very credibility of Jane Austen’s characters contributes greatly to her novels’ timeless appeal. Who among us doesn’t know at least one Mrs. Bennet? Or a Mr. Collins? A Sir Walter perhaps, or a Miss Bates, a Mrs. Norris, or a Miss Bingley? The language of Jane Austen’s novels may be a little dated, and some of the words may have changed their meaning over time, but the human nature she had so skillfully captured is very much the same. Just as significantly, there is no moralizing judgment in her writing style, but a generous and wryly humorous acceptance of the fact that nobody is perfect, and it takes all sorts to make a world.

 

three woman and one ma dressed in Regency period dress making lavender sachets/
That time I met Joana Starnes in real life. Playing dress up as we made lavender bags at Jane Austen's House. May 2017 (Pictured Mira Magdo, Joana Starnes, Christina Boyd, and my dear MrB) I like that my red sneakers are peeking out from under that blue day dress.)

I also think that a great deal of optimism and warmth – and sometimes comedic effect – come from the characters’ near-constant interactions. They are rarely left to brood in solitude and silence. Even when they are unhappy and would much rather be alone, they are seldom allowed to. They eat together, they sit together, and, welcome or not, neighbors come to call. Their pastimes are unavoidably convivial and may seem boisterously childish to the modern eye. Jane Austen’s contemporaries write of grown men and women playing lively card games, musical chairs, or blind man’s buff.


Her critics point out that she makes no reference to the grim realities of her times. To her good fortune, she could not have acquired first-hand experience of ‘dark, satanic mills’ or urban slums, but with two brothers in the Navy, she could have hardly been ignorant of the challenges faced by a country at war. Even though she had lived most of her life in a quiet and beautiful corner of rural England, she and her extended family had not remained untouched by grief and tragedy. She could have written of lovers parted by war, disease, or the guillotine. She could have had her heroines live their lives as spinsters, having been jilted because they lacked fortune and connections. She could have finished the novel centered on the plight of young women cast into penury following the death of their father. She could have written of abusive husbands or of neglectful landlords who mistreated their tenants and bankrupted their estates on a roll of the dice.

 

Yet she did not. By her own admission, she chose to ‘let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.’ However dysfunctional their family life, her characters are not left to struggle unaided in a mire of despair. Her heroes are mindful of the responsibilities placed upon them, and her heroines are given the happily ever after that Jane Austen and her sister never had. Was that a form of escapism? Or her capacity to focus on the bright side of life?

 


There are other questions that will remain unanswered. How many masterpieces would she have left us, had she lived to a ripe old age? Would she have finished The Watsons after all? What about Sanditon, what plot developments did she have in mind? What intriguing sections had she edited out when she had ‘lop’t and crop’t’ about a third of the First Impressions manuscript? If I could ask her just one question, I would pick the last. I can’t help wondering, what gems, what unexplored paths were there, in that tantalizing third?

 

And this brings me to my reasons for reading and writing Jane Austen variations: I love the world she created, and it’s so tempting to explore the tantalizing wealth of possibilities!

 

Every now and then, friends from outside the Austen world ask me, ‘Are you ever going to write about something else?’, and they tend to look a little puzzled when I say, ‘I don’t think so, no.’

 

The friends I made in Jane Austen’s world have never asked me if I planned to steer away from this genre. We share the love and understand the attraction. So please let me borrow Captain Wentworth’s words and say to you, my Austenesque friends, and my kind readers: For you alone, I think and plan. I’ll keep writing in this genre for as long as I can, and I’m enormously grateful to you all for your wonderful companionship on this journey!


ABOUT JOANA STARNES

Joana Starnes lives in the south of England with her family. She swapped several hats over the years (physician, lecturer, clinical data analyst) but feels most comfortable in a bonnet. She has been living in Regency England for decades in her imagination and plans to continue in that vein till she lays hands on a time machine. She loves to look for glimpses of Pemberley and Jane Austen’s world and to write about Regency England and Mr. Darcy falling in love with Elizabeth Bennet over and over and over again. She is the author of twelve Austen-inspired novels and a contributor to the Quill Ink Anthologies. Joana’s novels are all available on Amazon in Kindle Unlimited and in paperback, and some have also been released in Audible. You can connect with Joana via her website, FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM and find her books on Amazon.

 

 

20 comentários


Sophia Rose
Sophia Rose
28 de abr.

What a pleasure to read Joana's guest post. :)

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Respondendo a

Thanks so much, Sophia Rose! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

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Thanks so much for hosting me, Christina! Sorry about the radio silence, I've been away & offline last week. Love the photos you added, they bring such happy memories. What a lovely day that was, back in 2017! I can't believe it's been that long. I hope you and Mr B will come back soon!

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Joana, many thanks for all you do to bring the joy of Jane Austen to so many!

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Respondendo a

Your dream world sounds like heaven! 😍😍 Thanks so much for everything, and keeping my fingers & toes crossed for PowerBall!

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Convidado:
17 de abr.

Jane wrote some wonderful characters but my favourites are Darcy and Elizabeth so obviously I’m really happy that they are the couple you write about Joana. I do feel sorry for the way you torture poor Darcy in most of your books, especially when his besottedness is so blatant (once he decides Elizabeth is definitely the one for him) keep up the great work and do you both still have the lavender bags? I don’t see anywhere to put my name - Glynis

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Respondendo a

As soon as I saw 'besottedness', I knew it was you :)) Thanks so much, Glynis!

I still have the lavender bag, but it could do with a refill. Take care, and have a lovely day!

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Anji Dee
Anji Dee
17 de abr.

Lovely to hear about your experiences with Jane Austen’s works right from the beginning, Joana. Very similar to my own actually, although my first reading came after seeing the 1940 film in the mid 60s. Like you, I wish I could remember my reactions to various parts of the book. Ah well, it’s over 50 years ago now, so maybe not surprising!


I love that you used a quote from “The Letter” in Persuasion when you mention carrying on writing your amazing books. To visit that back on you, I will only say “Too good, too excellent creature!”


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Respondendo a

Thanks ever so much, Anji! I'm so glad our experiences were so similar. I loved the 1940 adaptation, despite the crinolines and all the liberties they took with the text. Few could arch a brow like Sir Laurence Olivier, and Lady Cat was such a hoot!

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