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Why Do We Still Read Jane Austen Today?

In: English and Literature

Submitted By JolieEtoile
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Why do we still read Austen today?
By Ida Palmer

Jane Austen is considered a revolutionary novelist and prose-writer, arguably rivalled only by the likes of William Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde. But, 200 years after her books were written, why do we still read them today? Possibly the most apparent reason is Austen’s ability to make us feel better about ourselves. Her books are awash with moral guidance as we see the main characters go on journeys and encounter obstacles in their quest for happiness, and we cannot help but put ourselves in their shoes and wonder “What would I do?”. Austen uses subtlety to guide us through moral difficulties, avoiding the preachy tone of “You SHOULD do this”, and instead incorporating the delicate air of “This is a possibility.” Our need for guidance and role models relates back to the inescapable human desire for valid instruction from an influential leader; In her time, when unmarried women were virtually invisible on the social scale, Austen was not a typical body for a role model, and so many of her readers would not have uncovered, or expected, the moral messages written into her storylines. Contemporary readers, however, can easily unpick the subtleties in Austen’s work and indentify the intricacy in her “comedy of manners”. Another perfectly valid reason we still read Austen today is simply because she is an eloquent and articulate writer. She writes with wit, flair, irony, and an unmatchable humour in her tone. Her novels, albeit not popular in her own lifetime, are now greatly appreciated for their hilarity and tinkling mockery of society. Her characters are entirely three dimensional, not cardboard; she uses stock characters, typical in all comedies of the era, but has made them utterly her own by combining several stereotypes or roles into one person, giving them more magnitude and making their actions somewhat unexpected. We never know how an Austen character will react in a difficult situation: will they utilize their “fool” dimension and merely laugh their problems away? Or perhaps activate their “blocking” personality, and stand in the way of someone eager to reach their goal? –Austen’s ability to make her characters realistic and wholly believable is matched by none other. Austen’s work is considered timeless by many: not because of her setting, or characters, or storylines – merely because of her elaborate understanding of human nature. Society may have changed dramatically in the last 200 years, but human nature hasn’t. Austen’s novels combine many collective themes – money, love, status, and perhaps most importantly, personal happiness. Modern novels still include these themes as important parts of their plot, and we can see easily that Austen was a pioneer in the timeless story. Her characters may speak in the tone of their era, may dress in the clothes of their generation, and may conform to the societal standards set in their own lifetime, but their issues and problems are faced by many even today. Austen was cunning by inviting the complexity but reliability of human nature into her work – for it will never change, never waver, and will resonate with the masses, leaving her novels timeless pieces of art.

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