I recently gave a speech in my communications class in an attempt to persuade my classmates to read Jane Austen, my favorite fiction author. Since I have not written anything on her works yet, I thought I would share this speech with you.
There comes a time in every persons’ life where they need something new to read. Now, that people can choose from a plethora of different books; there are factual books, fantasies, romances, science-fiction novels, biographies, satires, and more. There are so many different books to choose from, it’s hard to narrow it down. Trust me, I know. And since I understand the struggle of picking something to read, I am here to offer a suggestion to you. In your spare time, when you are in need of a book, or number of books, well-worth reading, I suggest that you pick up a Jane Austen novel.
Yes, I am aware that Austen can be difficult to comprehend. I know that her books are thought of as girly romances. And it is true that her books are not passionate like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and other Gothic novels. However, Austen novels are worth the time one must put into understanding them, and she is probably easier to comprehend than Van Mastricht (a Dutch theologian) or Shakespeare. While it is true that Austen’s works center around heroines, it does not follow that they are books only for girls. Firstly, that is a misconception, and, secondly, it is a faulty social stigma (after all, girls read books that center around male characters all the time, so why can’t guys read books that center around girls?). And for those of you who are worried, like Charlotte Bronte, about the lack of passion and intrigue, well, I would posit that you are missing the point of what Jane Austen is trying to do.
As a matter of fact, the source of these objections can be found in a misunderstanding of Jane Austen’s purpose. Austen is not writing just for the audience’s enjoyment. She intends for her books to be thought-provoking. After all, they are cultural satires. They are intended to teach. Her novels are not mere romances, which is part of the reason why there isn’t any passion and intrigue. They are commentaries on everyday life, and while some characters do have fairy-tale endings, it does not necessarily mean that the story is not allowed to be grounded in reality. In fact, most of her stories are a critique of the overly passionate trend of the era. Jane Austen, as Angelina Stanford, a literature teacher, notes that in Jane Austen’s most popular novel, “[w]hen people follow their hearts, they think only of themselves and neglect their duty to love their neighbor. Duty, loving your neighbor, considering the consequences of your action beyond just your own pleasure… these are the themes that drive Pride and Prejudice” (“Don’t Follow Your Heart”). Reading them purely for romance and intrigue is asking the text to do something it was not intended to do, which lessens the enjoyment of the book.
There are many reasons to read Jane Austen as well. Firstly, it will improve your vocabulary and writing. I always find that after reading Jane Austen, my writing sounds better than it did before. Jane Austen is also good for understanding the culture of Regency Era England. Since her writings focus on social interactions, Austen provides an in-depth look at the people of her time, their roles and responsibilities, and their rules. I have learned more about how their society operated from Jane Austen than from any history book. Austen’s writings are also virtue-oriented; her characters typically journey to become more virtuous throughout the book, like Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice and Emma Woodhouse from Emma, or are upstanding role models, like Fanny Price from Mansfield Park and Anne Elliott from Persuasion, who observe the faults of the world around them. Jane Austen very clearly shows who is to be admired and who is not when it comes to good and evil, but she also raises thought-provoking questions as to whether some are to be pitied or not, or why are they good or evil. Sometimes her characters fall into grayer areas, usually because they are forced to make a decision based on pragmatism and the limits of their society. Jane Austen does an excellent job of depicting good and evil while causing the reader to contemplate the subject.
The best part of reading Jane Austen is her wit. Be it in dialogue or in the narrators commentary, Jane Austen knows exactly how to phrase what she writes. My friend Sarah bought me a book of Jane Austen quotes, and it is probably one of my most favorite books. The first two lines of Pride and Prejudice are genius!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be upon his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, pg. 11
Whether male or female, romantic or rationalist, Jane Austen’s works are must-reads. She writes to teach and to encourage people to use their heads and their hearts. She is never afraid to critique her society; she notes the good and bad points of it. Her writing style is excellent, full of witticisms and brilliant vocabulary. It is true that her writings can be difficult to comprehend, but the best things require hard work and perseverance. Reading Jane Austen may just be a one-time thing, or, perhaps, you will read her works multiple times, as I have. But even reading it once is worthwhile. So now I charge you, “Go, read Jane Austen.”
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. Pan Macmillan, 2003/2016.
Stanford, Angelina. “Don’t Follow Your Heart: Anti-Revolutionary Lessons form Pride and Prejudice.” Circe Institute, 2019. https://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/don%E2%80%99t-follow-your-heart-anti-revolutionary-lessons-pride-and-prejudice. Accessed 19 Dec. 2019.