Jane Austen December 16, 1775 – June 18, 1817
By Victoria Hinshaw
My dearest Jane,
Here I am in the snowy midwest of the United States (that country born just after you), 242 years after your birth, expressing my thanks to you for all your talents and achievements. I can only hope that somehow you are aware of the esteem in which you are held by millions of people. Are you surprised that your novels are still adored 200 years after their publication? And that you are celebrated as one of English Literature’s most famous authors?
|Jane Austen, sketch by sister Cassandra
How do you account for the fact that many of us call ourselves Janeites? That we gather yearly in several countries to discuss your work, from the earliest of juvenilia to the final letters, prayers and poems you wrote just before your demise? That we scour your words, the accounts of relatives and friends, the objects you touched, your travels, your acquaintances, and every scrap we can uncover that might relate to your life? That universities devote entire courses of you? And that your work has provided the backbone for a whole industry of films, television series, sequels, continuations, contemporary interpretations, and scholarly treatises?
|Jane Austen, as revised 1871
I wonder how you would like to visit Chawton Cottage and see how it has become a shrine to you and your books? Or Chawton House, where the mansion has been restored to its late 18th century appearance and is now a library of women’s writings before 1900? I would not recommend that you travel the streets of London to see the blue plaques on the buildings where you stayed with Henry — it’s far too dangerous unless you have a blue badge guide and skillful driver. Of a car, not a chaise.
Would you believe that among the most popular reasons that people visit Stoneleigh Abbey, Netley Abbey, The Vyne or the Wheatsheaf Inn is that you were there? Or that one of the highlights of my life was to eat an apple in the garden of Chawton House when the gardener told me it was from a tree which you probably knew and from which you sampled the fruit. I wasn’t alone either.
And were you lingering high in the lofts of Winchester Cathedral when JASNA held a service dedicated to your memory, and that was only one of many so held in that great place? I hope you died in the knowledge that your family loved you and that someday you would be commemorated worldwide.
Perhaps some of us have overdone things a bit and owe you an apology. Zombies, vampires, sea monsters, as well as highly fantasized so-called bio-pics have played fast and loose with the facts of your stories and your life. But through it all, we know, if we love Jane Austen (and we do!), all we have to do is pick up a copy of one of your books and immerse ourselves once more.
Most of all, I want to express my gratitude for the brilliant way you have enriched my life and that of many of my friends. You are one of a kind, Jane Austen, and we are so lucky to have “known” you. Thank you, Jane.