I am a Janeite. Well, perhaps not. I don’t belong to the Jane Austen Society, but I do love Jane and read her over and over.
And I very much enjoyed Rudyard Kipling’s humorous, touching story, “The Janeites.” One of the protagonists, Humberstall, a hairdresser and World War I vet, recalls how he began to read Austen when he was an assistant mess waiter. The officers in the mess hall often discussed “Jane.” They introduced him to the books, and he still reads them again and again.
But his friend, Anthony, has never heard of her. Humberstall says,
‘Jane? Why, she was a little old maid ’oo’d written ’alf a dozen books about a hundred years ago. ’Twasn’t as if there was anythin’ to ’em, either. I know. I had to read ’em. They weren’t adventurous, nor smutty, nor what you’d call even interestin’—all about girls o’ seventeen (they begun young then, I tell you), not certain ’oom they’d like to marry; an’ their dances an’ card-parties an’ picnics, and their young blokes goin’ off to London on ’orseback for ’air-cuts an’ shaves. It took a full day in those days, if you went to a proper barber. They wore wigs, too, when they was chemists or clergymen. All that interested me on account o’ me profession, an’ cuttin’ the men’s ’air every fortnight. Macklin used to chip me about bein’ an ’air-dresser. ’E could pass remarks, too!’
I love his hair-cutting interest. And, yes, Frank Churchill in Emma rode his horse to London whimsically, saying he had to get his hair cut, but actually took care of other business.
Quite a few Jane fans dislike Emma, or so I’ve heard online. Not necessarily the book, but the character.
Emma Woodhouse? My Emma? Emma of my favorite book, Emma?--at least it’s my favorite Austen. How could they dislike Emma? It is one of the funniest books ever written.
One thing all should remember: Jane doesn’t lie. When Jane praises Emma and shows us that she is good to her hypochondriac father and visits neighbors of a lower class, these actions count. It is Emma’s lively conversation that sometimes gets her in trouble.
Here is the opening sentence.
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
Yes, that’s who Emma is. She has a “happy disposition.” I once heard someone call Emma malicious, and I almost fainted.
I am not an intense enough fan to read Jane’s unfinished novels.
But now I want to.
Anthony Lane at The New Yorker has written a charming, inspiring essay, “Reading Jane Austen’s Final, Unfinished Novel.”And he recommends the Penguin with Margaret Drabble’s introduction.
I don’t often read unfinished novels, though I wonder if I did read Sanditon “finished by another lady” when I was in high school.
In his lively essay, Lane begins,
On March 18, 1817, Jane Austen stopped writing a book. We know the date because she wrote it at the end of the manuscript, in her slanting hand. She had done the same at the beginning of the manuscript, on January 27th of that year. In the seven weeks in between, she had completed eleven chapters and slightly more than nine pages of a twelfth—some twenty-three thousand five hundred words. The final sentence in the manuscript runs as follows: “Poor Mr. Hollis!—It was impossible not to feel him hardly used; to be obliged to stand back in his own House and see the best place by the fire constantly occupied by Sir H. D.” This is a joke. Mr. Hollis and Sir Harry Denham are dead, and it is their respective portraits that contend for social eminence in the sitting room of Lady Denham, the woman who married and buried them both. Exactly four months after writing that line, Jane Austen died, unmarried, at the age of forty-one. Her position, unlike theirs, remains secure.
I am now yearning to get my hands on a copy of Sanditon. Here are some of our options:
This lovely Everyman hardback fits the bill.
Oops, is that the same “Another Lady” who wrote the other one?
The Oxford always has nice legible print. And, look, we even get Northanger Abbey in this volume!
It’s so much fun to read Jane. It’s been a few years, so now I can go back and reread one of my favorites. And I must find a copy of Sanditon.