What’s that hint of warmth in the air? Is it really time to shed the scarves and socks already? Yes, sadly my favourite season of the year is drawing to an end. And although I occasionally like the breezy warmth and the petal-strewn gardens of spring, this year I’ll be spending most of my time inside, studying for my classes and bemoaning the fact that all too soon, we’ll have to apply sunscreen before going outside to check the mailbox. Thanks, Australia.
My Austen in August quest to read more about Jane Austen’s life begins with the first ‘official’ biography. Written in the late Victorian period, more than fifty years after she died, A Memoir of Jane Austen is offered to readers as a kind of ‘family record’ of the author. Austen’s nephew, J.E. Austen-Leigh, was responsible for compiling family histories and records into a coherent account of her life.
It’s no secret that A Memoir of Jane Austen is a flawed account, and deeply unsatisfying for Austen’s readers and admirers. Indeed, my own personal opinion quickly came to be that it tells the reader more about Austen-Leigh, and the age in which he was living, than it does about Austen herself.
A Memoir of Jane Austen is responsible for launching the infamous ‘Aunt Jane’ image which has been impossible to shake off, even after more than a century has passed. The tone of the book is a little priggish, and at times you almost feel that Austen-Leigh is sermonising (probably not surprising, as he was a clergyman; in the Austen family the church had become something of a family business, and they churned out clergymen by the dozen).
On the inside of my aged copy of Mansfield Park is an inscription. It reads, “To Sara: I hope you enjoy this as much as you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice. From Your Sister.”
For many Austen readers, this sentiment would be met with a quiet chuckle. My poor eleven-year-old sister could have had no way of knowing that what she was giving me (paid for by several weeks’ laborious saving of her pocket-money) was not so much a wonderful gift as an obligation to read. To please her, I ploughed through the thick tome, and then put it down, resolving never to read it again.
I’m sure that this pattern of events is not unusual for Jane Austen’s troublesome third novel. ‘Hardcore’ Austen fans finish the book with a quiet and shameful sense of relief that it is over. Even critics sometimes have a hard time finding much to like in Mansfield Park, particularly in comparison to Austen’s other novels.
If there’s one thing I never get tired of, it’s reading Jane Austen. So when I found out that The Lost Generation Reader was hosting this year’s Austen in August reading event, I just had to join. Austen in August invites us to read anything Austen, from the novels, to reimaginings, to biographies. It’s a little too good for a weak-willed lit major to refuse. So let’s forget for a moment that this month is also my Back-To-Uni month, my I’m-Behind-On-My-Thesis month (which, to be fair, could also be applied to just about every other month so far this year), and my General-State-Of-Panic month. Anybody else feel an anxiety attack coming on? Don’t worry; I’m powering through the panic, and reading Jane Austen instead.