It probably comes as no surprise that this week’s “Friday’s Favourite” is the Great One herself, Jane Austen! What came as a surprise to me, however, is how hard it is to think of something to say about Jane Austen that hasn’t already been said. Initially I was going to write a bit of a biography of her, then I remembered wikipedia existed, but so much has been said it seemed pointless. Instead I want to tell you why Jane Austen is so dear to me.
In order to do so I am going to tell you a little bit about my favourite Jane Austen novel, Mansfield Park. Now, I am going to be honest with you. I know there’s a lot of people who really don’t like Mansfield park. And I get it. In terms of likeable heroines, Fanny Price is pretty low on the list. It’s my favourite Jane Austen novel because it introduced me to classic fiction, not because I really love the characters or plot. Let me explain…
My first impression of Austen, I can admit to you after much soul searching, was actually disappointment. When I turned 13 I decided I was going to read one of her books for the first time. Instead of making the logical choice for my introduction to Austen, I decided I would read “Mansfield Park”. The main reason for this was a typical teenage obtuseness. When I browsed the shelves in my local bookshop, I noticed the introduction to “Mansfield Park” said that it was Austen’s least popular novel…and right there and then I vowed it was going to be my favourite, come hell or high water.
The thing was, it was just a big shock to my system. It was my first real foray into adult fiction and the step up was, probably, a little too big. I found “Mansfield Park” so much more linguistically complicated than anything I’d ever read before and I didn’t really understand all the subtleties of Jane Austen’s style. Or how to take her dry humour. I struggled through it though, and when I finished I felt a huge sense of achievement. I can remember thinking how clever the language was, that I wished I could write a bit like that and that she really knew how to use fancy sentences to insult people properly!
When I look back on this moment now I recognise that this was one of life’s “light-bulb” moments. Part of what I’ve learnt to love about the English language is the way words can say so many different things depending on how you phrase them, or the intonation that you use. Some of the books I love the most are the ones where authors do something wonderful with words. Jane Austen that introduced me to this. Needless to say, like Lizzie Bennet, my first impression is not the one I have now.
My favourite Jane Austen novel introduced me to the splendour of English. It instilled a love of reading that has remained forever. Without “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen, I would have had fewer hours of great reading. I probably wouldn’t have done an English degree. And I definitely wouldn’t have had anything to write my dissertation on! If that isn’t a good reason for picking it as my favourite Jane Austen novel then, really, what is?
What’s your favourite Jane Austen novel? Or, even better, what did you (honestly) think the first time you read her?