The decorously subversive chronicler of England’s drawing rooms died in July 1817. As we enter a timeline that marks 200 years without Aunt Jane, here’s a celebration by many Janeites (one writer tells us why he does not read her and another pretends she is reading her for the first time)
‘Jane Austen— you mean that BBC series?’
The writer who doesn’t read Jane Austen, and why
I am not indifferent to Jane Austen. I don’t dislike her writing. I read her when I was younger. Just that I don’t read her now.
As a boy I ploughed through reams of 19th century fiction, first in the abridged version, then entire novels. The feudal world portrayed in them—the world of landlords, class hierarchies, arranged marriages and oppressive social customs was very close to what I saw around me, growing up in Allahabad.
Why don’t I read Austen now? As one grows older one has a sense of time being finite. The cultural choices we have now are so many—there’s so much to keep up with. One often doesn’t go back to what one has previously read.
I think what’s also happened is that Jane Austen’s been appropriated by television and cinema. So even though we don’t read Jane Austen, we now watch her. In this sense, there’s no escaping. Her novels are made into an Ang Lee film or a new BBC series. What we remember now are not the sentences but her stories, and that Colin Firth took off his shirt in one scene. Another instance of the movies and TV gobbling up literature. Or, if you want to take a generous view: giving literature a new lease of life.
By Palash Krishna Mehrotra
And the best Jane Austen heroine award goes to...
Top publishers pick their favourites
Diya Kar Hazra of Pan Macmillan India
“Depending on the time of year and my frame of mind, my favourites are Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse. Elizabeth is sharp, resilient, robust and opinionated. She’s inherited her father’s intolerance of silliness and dim wit, and is quick to judge people. She’s all about possibilities; she gives me hope...Emma, though less complex, less endearing, is, to me, perhaps, more human. Her judgement is flawed and her perceptions wrong—she doesn’t know her heart because she’s so sure of her mind. Her flaws make you impatient, at times even irritated with her, but they also make you empathize."
Chiki Sarkar of Juggernaut Books
“I don’t have a favourite. There are novels of hers that I love—just read Persuasion again which is possibly my favourite. Anne (Elliot) is a bit wet, I think. I like Elizabeth (Bennet) fine but she is no patch on Natasha Rostov (of War And Peace). I rather loved Emma (Woodhouse) but it might have been teenage posturing."
Karthika V.K., formerly of HarperCollins India
“I shall be boring and predictable and tell you it’s Elizabeth Bennet. She is way ahead of her times, isn’t she? Fiercely independent, eloquent, witty, warm and unselfish, and when it came to marriage and men, it’s like she rewrote the rules for herself. I see a bit of her in most other female protagonists I’ve connected to strongly and enjoyed getting to know, from Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With The Wind) to Bridget Jones to our own Zoya (The Zoya Factor)."
Meru Gokhale of Penguin Random House India
It turns out Gokhale seems to have no strong feelings for any Jane Austen women. She says, “But my favourite character is Mr Darcy! Because he is a misunderstood curmudgeon."
The perfect Pakistani Darcy
The founder of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan on the search for Darcy in Lahore