Yesterday was Jane Austen’s 239th birthday and it was a day I observed by joyfully rereading my favorite parts of Persuasion (um…Sophia Croft being a badass lady adventurer, the awesome debate Anne Elliot has with Captain Harville on whether men or women love the longest when all hope is gone, and Captain Wentworth’s letter of reconciliation to Anne…yeah, that book contains some intellectually and emotionally hot stuff. Also, the Regency Era British Royal Navy: you know there are men of feeling with sideburns present.) and sought out Henry Tilney’s sassiest observations in Northanger Abbey (he really is the best).
Yet on a day when I reread Jane with gleeful abandon, I caught myself being introspective. As I met this fine author again in her sparkling stories, I realized why it is so hard for me to write directly about her in my own work. Jane is too close to me. She has influenced me more deeply than any other author, living or dead (though C.S. Lewis and Neil Gaiman are a close second and third to her magnificence). After all of my blathering about her brilliant narratives, outlandish characters, and smart social commentary, what truly draws me back to Jane again and again is the deep feeling of warmth, understanding, and safety her narrative voice gives me. Yet, though I know these feelings and I feel these feelings, I cannot articulate to you their particular natures.
As a writer, you need to have some distance to get anything done. I find it is much easier to write about things when you are on the outskirts, quietly observing the bustle and struggles of others. I could never have that distance with Jane. I’m too close. Jane is too dear. It was her Anne Elliot that helped a twelve-year-old me feel a little less lonely. It was her keen social observations that helped an awkward teenage and young adult me begin to understand the wonder and giddiness and awfulness of human nature. And it was her own confidence and commitment to her craft that still inspires me today.
No, I cannot have distance from Jane. I never will. Her stories have woven themselves far too deeply into my soul. But, I can have patience and allow time to help me figure out her influence upon me. For walking constantly with someone over time can be just as good as observing that someone from a distance.
Plus, it gives me an excuse to read her more often. Not that I ever needed one.