As a self-proclaimed Janeite, (noun: one who loves all things Jane Austen related), writing this has been difficult because it forces me to accept something I don’t want to:
Jane Austen doesn’t always have an answer.
It seems self-evident. How could a woman over two hundred years ago have answers to questions asked by modern day society? Yet, at times, she does. The brilliance of Miss Austen’s writing is that “we could conceive, without the slightest strain of imagination, any one of her fictions to be realized in any town or village in England… that we think we are reading the history of people whom we have seen thousands of time” (Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine).
Her writing strikes at the very core of human nature and at the complexity of human relations. If the reader now asks for proof of such a statement, I would ask them to refer to either Persuasion or Emma (or any Austen novel, in reality). Ergo, readers, such as myself, find it difficult to draw a line between reality and fiction, when searching for answers in her novels. And why shouldn’t readers turn to her for answers? Her work has both survived over hundreds of years and gained even more popularity with time. Clearly, she did something right, proving that her work is valuable. Her work tells the truth. We see that people haven’t changed much. Wealth and social divisions still dominate society. People still lie and hurt one another, while other people still love wholeheartedly with no reservations, being as either ridiculous as Isabella Thorpe or wonderful as Captain Wentworth.
Truth be told, I was content with looking to Jane Austen for the answers to problems in my life. How to not handle financial struggles? Sir Walter Eliot. How to not talk to someone on a first date? Mr. Darcy. How to not behave when you see an Ex for the first time in years? Captain Wentworth. How to throw shade in a classy way? Henry Tilney, Elizabeth Bennet, and Emma Woodhouse. See, nearly everything is accounted for! Yet, one day as my sister and I were attempting to prove that someone’s relationship’s story was similar to Anne and Captain Wentworth’s narrative, my mom said,
“At what point are you going to stop letting Jane Austen write the narrative and write your own?”
Our response? Silence.
We hadn’t realized that we turned Jane’s work into a crutch. A crutch to get us through life. Rather than attempt to devise our own solutions, we turned to Jane. My own fear of the future—the unknown—crippled me because by looking to Jane, I not only got an answer, but a final result: I know how Sir Walter’s story ends. I know Mr. Darcy’s story ends. And I know how Anne Eliot’s story ends.
I don’t know how my story ends.
I don’t know what will become of me and my financial worries or my future loves and lost loves. But I want to know. I want someone to tell me that it’s going to be okay or, even better, that it’s not going to be okay so that I know what to do. But no matter how much I want to know how my story ends, I will never know. I cannot escape uncertainty.
Remember that quote from earlier? About the brilliance of Jane Austen’s writing? This is how it ends: “and that with all this perfect commonness, both of incident and character, perhaps, not one of her characters it to be found in any other book” (Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine).
Jane Austen was an authoress. She wrote the ending to all those characters’ stories. While she may have turned to her predecessors, what allowed Jane Austen to thrive in the afterlife was her individuality. Put differently, Jane wrote her own— original & unique— narratives. None of those characters can be found in any other book. We might find similar characters, but never the same: I might find similar people, but never the same. My story can’t match hers. I can’t place myself in her narratives. The only thing I can do is accept the uncertainty of life and pick up my pen and start writing.
Evgenia, still a Janeite, despite this realization.
The quote was from the most prestigious magazine at the time, 1818, called Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.