A Jane Austen Birthday Toast

I had the pleasure this past weekend to participate in the annual Jane Austen Birthday Gala hosted by the Jane Austen Society of Northern California. Along with my conversation with Holly Brady — in a Q&A entitled “Obstinate, Headstrong Girl” — I’d been invited to offer a champagne toast to kick off the high tea.

Here it is.

Recently I read a fascinating book called Your Atomic Self: The Invisible Elements That Connect You to Everything Else in the Universe.

The author, Curt Stager, talks about the big existential issues from the tiniest of perspectives: the atomic particles from which we are all constructed. The narrative moves, like an elegant dance, through the processes of birth, death, decay, renewal, and immortality.

Here, we gather to celebrate one particular, and very special, birth: that of Jane Austen, who in an abstract, but vivid sense lives on through her work — her brilliant, bitingly funny, romantic, poignant, sharp-as-tacks writing — that we all admire and enjoy.

And as we celebrate her birth, we can’t help but recognize the reality of her absence — that in 1816, at age 41, she met her end.

However, Your Atomic Self says that we might want to think of all this as a physicist would. To paraphrase Mr. Stager:

We could think of Jane Austen in terms of conservation of energy. Her energy not died. According to the first law of thermodynamics, no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. All of Jane’s energy, every vibration, every BTU of heat, every wave of every particle that was ever Jane Austen remains with us in this world. Not of bit of Jane is really gone.

So today I’d like to offer a toast to Jane who is — I like to think — in a real way, metaphorically, abstractly, scientifically, in a real and wonderfully concrete way, among us.

Please join me in raising a glass: to Jane. The Jane-that-was . . . and the Jane-that-is.

More about the Jane Austen Society of Northern California here.

More about Holly Brady here.