Jane Austen, and her writing, have become so mainstream that she has an action figure–complete with writing desk and quill pen. So I’m asking a question that hundreds have no doubt asked before me: Why?
I wrote my Master’s dissertation on another famous author, Dickens, and how his writing on London continues to shape peoples’ perceptions of that city. The short answer is that his writing is nuanced and compelling; the longer one is that he was writing at a specific time and place, the beginning of the modern era; when, for the first time, charities were being formed to helped the poor that he was writing about; books were being shipped to America and all across the world; he was writing about the city at the center of the Universe at a time when its influence and reach was peaking; etc.
But Austen’s lasting popularity is of an entirely different sort. She isn’t known for sweeping descriptions of famous places, or tackling social issues that plagued the country. She wrote about people. And she wrote about them honestly.
Austen’s stories remain incredibly relevant while transporting the reader back to an age that, frankly, sometimes seems like a dream when juxtaposed with the more mundane realities of our day to day lives–even though, as we know, it was not. Somewhat ironically, her characters feel that same dullness and want of something more that we do. Emma Woodhouse thinks she needs to be the world’s greatest matchmaker so that she has a purpose. Kitty and Lydia Bennett long for dances, travel, and a chance to see the regiment, as ways of varying their unrewarding daily routine. Catherine Morland imagines she is the heroine in a Gothic horror because she has not had an opportunity to go out and live her own adventures. This is what endears them to us. We have an instant connection with them, we understand them, we see ourselves in them. As a result, they mean more to us than other characters we come across in novels.
One of the ideas I thought about when writing my book was the fact that Austen herself couldn’t have lived a very happy life. Never married (even after one or two suitors), lived with her parents until she died in the early forties, novels that were only moderate successes in her lifetime. So how did she create some of the most joyous love stories ever put to pen? In Aerendgast, I’ve rewritten her story with twists and turns, joys and sadness. But more than anything else I’ve tried to give her a voice beyond just that of just the spinster, the author, the chick lit icon. I’ve attempted to make her a three dimensional person with the fears, hopes, worries, and dreams like the rest of us.
Aerendngast will be published April 1, 2014.