What would our lives have been like without Jane Austen?
This is an interesting question because I can’t imagine the answer. Separating Jane Austen from my life would require a “what if” reaching so far back into my childhood that I don’t think I’d recognize my own story.
I first read Pride and Prejudice in the eighth grade and fell in love with Austen’s stories, her style… everything. I raced through her novels and then found myself basing reading choices on their similarity to her works, time period, style etc. I even remember, during my high school English AP exam, eschewing the question our teacher had anticipated and prepped simply because another question asked about Pride and Prejudice and I couldn’t help myself. So off I went… I don’t remember my score on that test.
And then the movies started rolling in and Austen more fully gripped our imaginations. I have definitely seen them all and when I was injured in 2009, I found her again. While most people bring friends flowers in the hospital, mine brought me books. I left my three-day stay with over 30 new titles, but all I wanted was to spend time with Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse and Anne Elliot. I started reading… And as I did, a character formed in my head, but not one who would fit comfortably in Austen’s world.
I started writing Dear Mr. Knightley that spring and although the story line and context did not begin with Austen, there was no way to leave her out. She was woven into its fabric before the first keystroke – much as she is woven into my life.