What Janeites Talk About When They Talk About Jane Austen, by Eliza Shearer

What Janeites Talk About When They Talk About Jane Austen, by Eliza Shearer

Today I received an invitation to the first real-life event of the Scottish branch of the Jane Austen Society UK, and I cannot express how much I am looking forward to it. As excellent as the online events have been, being on Zoom prevents us from having those all-important chats.  

The meeting got me thinking about the themes that tend to appear whenever I am with other Jane Austen fans. Here’s a quick list. Would you agree?

Pride and Prejudice 

Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy’s story is often the first one future Jane Austen fans encounter, often through TV or film. Pride and Prejudice is also the best-known Austen novel, and the most adapted, so it’s no surprise that it tops the popularity charts.

At the same time, the Austen fan community appears to be a bit more split when it comes to their favourite book. Persuasion, long overlooked, seems to be gaining ground, with many readers appreciating its maturity more and more as they grow older.

Another book that tends to be much discussed is…


Mansfield Park (and Fanny Price in particular) 

Bless Fanny Price. She is possibly the main character that most divides the Janeites. Some of us praise her resilience and ability to stick to her guns, in spite of her timid exterior. Others see her as bland, boring and pathetic.

To be fair, it’s not just Fannie, it’s the whole of Mansfield Park. For every reader who considers it a brilliant metaphor, there’s one attacking it as the book where nothing happens. And the big dilemma among fans: is Edmund really that boring? Compared to him, Henry Crawford scores high on the charm stakes. 

Casting directors

Colin Firth may have turned out to be a rather splendid Mr Darcy, but there have been some awful casting choices as well. Some of the worst ones come up over and over again in conversations with fellow fans. Some examples: 

Billie Piper looked too healthy and was way too sassy to play timid and sickly Fanny in the 2007 adaptation of Mansfield Park.  Broad-shouldered and manly Ciarán Hinds was a much more credible and believable Captain Wentworth than gorgeous Rupert Penry-Jones in the respective 1995 and 2007 adaptations of Persuasion. Tamsin Greig is a top comedian, but her Miss Bates in the 2009 adaptation of Emma didn’t feel right.

However, most Janeites agree that it’s not the actors’ fault. We blame it instead on casting directors who can’t be bothered to read the novels (it shows!). 

Jane Austen’s use of language

Shame on those who think Jane Austen is romantic literature! We know she is much more than that. The themes she touches upon are universal and pressing, the characters eternal. And the language! Literary critic George Steiner was spot on when he said that  “the urbanity of Miss Austen’s diction is deceptive”.

The language Austen uses may seem straightforward enough, but the style, the untold meanings and the vocabulary are anything but. Austen uses an abundance of “polite” words such as nice, civil or fine, and gives them a subtly different meaning in every sentence. Fans can’t get enough of just how perfect her pitch is at all times. 


Austen’s secondary characters 

Austen’s leading characters jump from the page. They are so real, it’s easy to forget they’re fictional creations. But in Austen, there is much more beyond the hero and heroine. In my conversations with fellow Janeites I have detected much admiration for Austen’s secondary characters. Mr. Collins, Aunt Norris, Caroline Bingley, Tom Bertram, Lady Bertram and Lady Catherine de Bourgh are just some of the ones that tend to appear in conversation. (They also appear in my Austen continuations, Miss Darcy’s Beaux and Miss Price’s Decision). 

We all agree on is that Jane Austen was exceptionally gifted at crafting well-rounded characters, regardless of their actual importance in terms of “screen time”, and we love her for it. 

I look forward to spending a day in the company of other Jane Austen fans, especially after the awful year and a half we have had. I may even look at visiting Bath again soon. Anyone for the Jane Austen Festival in 2021? 


What do talk about when you meet other Janeites? 


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[…] This post originally appeared in Austen Authors. […]

Mirta Ines Trupp
September 18, 2021 3:15 PM

Oh! I’m jealous!! (In a good way, of course!) Enjoy the event and do tell us all about it! As far as bad casting goes, I STILL can’t let go of my disappointment with the choices made in Death Comes to Pemberley 🙁

September 15, 2021 1:48 PM

I’m not a fan of Mansfield Park at all. I’ve read it twice over many years but I wouldn’t read it again. I’ve seen two adaptations but didn’t like either.
I always watch P&P 1995 and 2005 whenever they are on TV and I have DVDs of both. I sometimes watch Persuasion on TV, they are both ok (except for Anne running through Bath in the RPJ version). I watch a couple of versions of Emma sometimes (Kate Beckinsale is my favourite and I like the Romola Garai version). I can also enjoy S&S both with Hugh Grant and Dan Stevens and have watched a version of Northanger Abbey.
All in all I adore Colin and Matthew as Darcy, I do wonder if they will make a new one and who they could possibly cast to top them?
Enjoy any events you attend! 🙂

Riana Everly
September 14, 2021 4:41 PM

How exciting! I can’t wait to hear about your event. When is it?

I’m lucky to have a very good friend who is an English scholar and an Austen fan, and she actually teaches Austen in some of her classes. We often talk about characters’ motivations, ways of understanding Austen in a modern world, and such sorts of themes. But really, any convo about JA and her books is a good one, right?

September 14, 2021 3:36 PM

Hope you have a great time. I’ve never met another JA fan in person so I’ve never had any conversations but I have seen these same topics talked about online so I’m not surprised by your list.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
September 14, 2021 9:27 AM

Best wishes on a safe and healthy journey. I think a Jane Austen historical travelogue should be on any Janeite’s bucket list. I know it is on mine. Whether I EVER get to physically travel there or not… unknown. However, I do depend on those intrepid Austen authors who do travel and don’t hesitate to share their photos with me. Thank you very much. Blessings and thanks for sharing this interesting post. Billie Piper… really?

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
September 14, 2021 6:56 AM

There aren’t too many Janeites where I am but when I do find one we usually talk about her books and our favorites and charactets.

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