Top 10 Reasons to Read Jane Austen

Because I came to appreciate — and love — the work of Jane Austen later in life, I’ll admit I’m a bit of an evangelist on the subject. I regret to say that had you asked me, a decade or so ago, about Austen, I might have vaguely answered, “Oh, yeah, she was the English gal who lived a long time ago and wrote that cute story ‘Pride and Prejudice.’”

Noob that I was! Little did I know that Austen utilized the conventional — and commercially viable — form of the romance novel as a means by which to wittily, wisely, talk about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. Far from being dry passionless prose (this a notorious smackdown via her fellow author Charlotte Bronte), issued from the hand of a withered spinster, Austen’s writing sparkles with a comic vigor and subtle sexuality which, with flattering confidence in the perspicacity of her readers, she invites us to decode.

If you haven’t yet read Austen’s work, don’t wait like I did! Here’s why I’m confident you’ll love Jane Austen, too.

#1. Because she was a rebel. In Jane’s lifetime, it was considered highly unladylike, even scandalous, for a woman to publish her writing. Jane went ahead and did it anyway.

#2. Because she was a visionary. Jane’s heroines aren’t perfect, but they’re smart. Women, Jane suggested in her books, could use their minds, their intelligence, to create the best possible lives for themselves. It was more fantasy than reality at the time, but what a wonderfully bold concept.

Elizabeth Bennet and Lady Catherine

Elizabeth Bennet coolly defying the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh: “I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness.”

#3. She’ll make you laugh. Jane doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and her novels are replete with indelible buffoons brought to vivid life through Jane’s deliciously pointed irony, as in: “He was not an ill-disposed man, unless to be rather cold-hearted and rather selfish is to be ill-disposed.” (Zing!) Plus some of the cleverest dialogue around.

#4. She’ll make you think. Jane’s grasp of human nature was powerful, and the spot-on way in which she portrays the vagaries of social interaction — gratifying, infuriating, troubling, humorous — is fascinating.

#5. She’ll make your heart beat a little faster. Dashing Henry Tilney, charming Mr. Knightley, smoldering Mr. Darcy . . . are you fanning yourself yet? And let’s not forget her sexy bad boys: silver-tongued Wickham (paging Dr. Freud!), rakish Willoughby, and beguiling Henry Crawford.

smoldering Mr Darcy

Colin Firth as the aloof, magnetic Mr. Darcy in the 1995 film version of “Pride and Prejudice.”

#6. Her writing will amaze you. No longwinded descriptions of scenery here! In fact, we barely know what her characters look like or what they’re wearing. Jane’s prose is lean and exquisitely precise: she trusts us to bring to her work an alert and capable imagination.

#7. Her life story will inspire you. She broke through sociocultural barriers, struggled with endless financial hardship, endured setbacks and rejections, yet all the while seemed to maintain a deep, unshakable belief in herself and her art.

#8. You’ll learn some history in a very cool way. Some critics complain that Jane was oblivious to the larger events of her time — there was a war going on, they snarl, and all she cares about is romance! — but sensitive reading clearly reveals Jane’s nuanced understanding of the real world around her, including (yes) war, social change, and women’s fundamental, and frightening, precariousness.

#9. She won’t bore you. Each of her most well-known books, the six major novels, ends triumphantly in marriage, yet they’re all strikingly different. As an artist Jane took daring creative risks. And for bonus enjoyment, check out her “Juvenilia,” written when she was a tween and teenager: it’s shockingly good for someone so young, and it’s hilarious.

#10. You’ll be one of the literary “cool kids.” Admire Jane Austen, and you’ll be joining a remarkably diverse group of fans. Among them: Virginia Woolf, Anna Quindlen, Winston Churchill, Amy Bloom, Sir Walter Scott, Whit Stillman, C.S. Lewis, Martin Amis, Rudyard Kipling, Lena Dunham, P.D. James, Fay Weldon, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, Eudora Welty, and Jay McInerney.

Winston Churchill

Virginia Woolf

Jay McInerney

Lena Dunham

So . . . have I convinced you?

This post appears with the kind permission of vvb32 reads, where it was originally published.