Keep calm and read Jane Austen, by Elaine Jeremiah

Keep calm and read Jane Austen, by Elaine Jeremiah

As I write this, the UK has been plunged into a second lockdown because of Covid-19. By the time you read this post, we will hopefully have come out of it and be beginning to resume going out more, seeing more people and generally getting back to some kind of normality.

This year has been one of upheaval for pretty much everyone. It’s been a tough year for many people and there’s so much uncertainty in the world. Now more than ever we don’t know what the future will bring. I’ve found it such a great help during this unsettling, often upsetting period we’re living in to immerse myself in reading novels.

Jane Austen’s novels in particular are a real form of escapism. They don’t just take us back to a time before we were having to wear masks, or socially distance, but to another time in history altogether. One of the things that’s so interesting about Austen’s novels is how they portray a – to us – bucolic, idyllic setting mostly in more rural areas of Regency England, at a time in Britain’s history that was anything but calm.

For most of Austen’s life, Britain was at war with France. The French Revolution had begun not that long before she was born and there was instability and trouble in much of mainland Europe. For some time Britain lived in constant fear of being invaded by the French, led by Napoleon, so it was a difficult era in Britain’s history. Many people in Britain would have been scared about a French invasion. In fact, the term ‘bogeyman’ comes from this era when Napoleon Bonaparte was referred to by the British as ‘Boney’, which then became ‘bogey’ or ‘bogeyman’.

And yet in Austen’s novels themselves, we don’t see any of this. While her novels are not without conflict – think of the sparks that fly between Darcy and Elizabeth – she chooses not to focus on the political conflict going on across the English Channel. Instead she focuses on young women and their search for happiness and love. For us reading them today, we can become happily lost in a world that seems simpler than our own.

It’s one where people are (generally) polite to one another, where gentlemen are courteous to ladies, in settings that are mostly rural in an era before cars and many densely populated cities. The values of society in the Regency era are also so different from our own and yet the people are not. They love like we do, they have disappointments like we do and they are forced to examine their own behaviour at times, as we often are. So we can sympathise with heroines like Marianne Dashwood, suffering from a broken heart or neglected like Fanny Price.

I think reading fiction in general helps us to forget our own circumstances and focus on the trials and tribulations of the characters we’re reading about instead of our own. To me, Jane Austen is a past master at drawing us into her world. Although it’s obviously set in a real era in history, the novels are of course fiction and in them she’s created these marvellous characters and stories that stay in our minds long after we’ve finished reading them.

Her wonderful writing draws us back to her novels time and again. Whatever situation we may be in right now, it is possible to find great comfort in reading or rereading Austen’s novels.

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16 Responses to Keep calm and read Jane Austen, by Elaine Jeremiah

  1. I agree, Elaine, that Jane Austen wrote with plenty of love and angst, and her words reach to the heart of matters. Her characters are so believable and enjoyable to read about, I think that’s why the variations are so popular. You mentioned reading the Bible as well, and that it brought you comfort also. It can, especially when we realize that it not only describes the days we are living through, it also shows how real peace and security will be obtained in the near future here on earth, very worthwhile reading. :).

    • Absolutely, I agree with you about the Bible entirely (and about Jane Austen! 😉 ) She of course was a devout Christian herself and I think this is reflected in the way she writes about her characters coming to a greater awareness of themselves, what they’ve done wrong in their lives and how they need to change.

  2. I’ve read more this year than I’ve ever done and I’ve always considered myself to be a prolific reader. It’s provided the escape from the real world, kept me from going mad during shielding and ‘taken’ me out of my back garden! I’ve read new stuff and found a few new authors who I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but there’s nothing quite like settling down with a copy of Persuasion, or Pride and Prejudice and just letting Regency England was over me. Wonderful!

    • I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been reading more recently and looking at the news a lot less! It’s just depressing and frustrating. Reading Jane Austen is such a great antidote!

  3. I have lately discovered the joy of audio books. I have always dismissed them but my daughter never gave up on trying to get me to listen to one. I’m glad she didn’t. I’ve been doing my yearly pre Christmas house clean and have been listening to Little Women on audio. It’s a book I would never have had the patience to read so it’s fantastic to be able to listen to it. I’m really enjoying it. Persuasion is my favorite Austen and I’ve read it many times but I’ve just finished it on audio and thoroughly enjoyed it. I listen to the news once a day now and that’s it. Enough is enough.

    • I’m definitely with you re. rationing how much news you listen to! It gets so depressing after a while. Do you know I’ve never tried audiobooks either. TBH I feel I’d rather read a book myself than listen to one and it’s also finding the time to listen. But I’m glad it’s working well for you. Maybe it’s something for me to think about in the future. I can imagine it being really good especially if you’re ill/confined to the house etc.

      I’m sure Austen must be great on audio. Her prose is so wonderful to listen to when it’s being read aloud. 🙂

  4. I have also been reading and have nearly completed my reading through the Bible Challenge. When my husband was in the hospital, step down, and rehab, I was reading 5 chapters in the Bible each day. I tried to take different sections… old, new, Psalms, Proverbs, and Revelations. They were such a comfort to me. Then I would read Austen stories. I’d go on line and see what my reading friends had to say and I never felt alone. Blessings, everyone, stay safe, and healthy.

    • Yes, I too have been reading the Bible a lot! I’ve been reading it more this year than ever before. It too is a great comfort to me, even more so than Austen. I’ve found it so helpful just to stop watching/reading/listening to the news. It’s not been a good year for news!

  5. There is something in well-loved, familiar novels that never gets old. It’s like eating comfort food or listening to music you know and love. It helps fortify us so we can face other challenges with a bit more strength and determination. (Don’t ask me how much chocolate or mashed potatoes I’ve eaten recently. Please.)

  6. I agree!I love to read and it makes a great escape from everyday life for a while! My lunch hour at work is the heart out of the day to read and escape for a while!lol

    • Yes, reading provides a great form of escape. I’m trying to read fiction more and more and listen to the news less! It’s a bit depressing after a while at the moment. I too like to read during my lunch hour.

  7. I repainted my living room yesterday, which meant moving book shelves. I fear I have “too many” Austen books. NEVER! I did decide I need to reread something other than P&P, though. It has been too long since I took up the other novels.

    • I think a lot of people have been redecorating their homes what with all the restrictions about where we can go and what we can do. I agree with you that you can never have too many Austen books! I have a fair few myself. 😉 Hope you’re enjoying reading some of Austen’s other novels.

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