- Her characters are relatable
Seriously, who doesn’t identify with Anne Elliot, Catherine Morland, Marianne Dashwood or Lizzie Bennet at times? Or indeed, any of her other characters? Love her or loathe her, Jane Austen had a wonderful understanding of the human person, which is why she was able to create such three-dimensional, relatable characters that you could imagine meeting.
- She allows you to dwell in an ordered, simpler world
I fully believe there is a yearning of the human heart for simpler times, when manners and comportment guided everyday life. When men were gentlemen and women were ladies. Before the critics start typing furiously away, I know not everyone was a gentleman or a lady. There have been scoundrels and cheats in every age. I’m also aware the majority of people were extremely poor and life was deeply unpleasant, painful and hard in ways we probably cannot really understand today. However, society was also ordered by gentility, elegance and grace. There were social structures that made everything simpler and easier. For example, you always knew how to greet and address a member of the same sex or opposite sex depending on their status and relation to you. Today’s ambiguity and awkwardness when it comes to social interactions compare unfavourably for many.
- Her romances are beautiful and believable
Arghh the brutality of the proposal scene in Pride and Prejudice, the angst of wondering who Mr Knightley would ultimately choose, the torture of not knowing if Mr Tilney would defy his father and seek Catherine’s hand in the end..! Jane Austen’s romances might be described as roller coaster rides, were they not so genteel, well-paced and expertly-timed. Every time I read or watch P&P (the BBC version, obviously) I am a bit astonished at how much I believe in the love that has grown between Lizzie and Darcy by the time she visits Pemberley, given just one episode, or a few chapters, previously she tears him to shreds when he asks her to marry him! You realise, along with Emma, that she couldn’t possibly be with anyone other than Mr Knightley, and vice-versa. They were simply made for each other – literally, yes, but Jane Austen makes it so believable too.
- She’s funny
If you don’t enjoy Jane Austen’s novels, it’s possible that you either don’t get or don’t like her sense of humour. She’s wonderfully mischievous in her observations, and her reflections on real life are tinged with her iconic sense of irony. This comes across far better in her novels than in the adaptations. If you’ve only seen Jane Austen but never read her, I highly recommend you do!
- Her novels portray old-world values
Imagine a time when everyone was Christian; when divorce was virtually unheard-of, when adultery was a ground-shaking scandal and chaperoned dances were your normal social event. Well, you don’t have to! You can visit this time yourself with just the press of a button or the turn of a page. Sure there was rabid tuberculosis, filth and dirt at every turn and an appalling lack of plumbing – but who cares when you get to flutter your fan in anticipation of dancing with Mr Knightley!
- She is an expert story-teller
Austen’s novels achieve something close to perfection, in my opinion. Her everlasting popularity seems testament to this. She crafts the most delightful combination of realistic plots, believable characters, wonderful romances and drama, peppered with her ironic wit and social commentary. I’ve heard it said that her novels were the prototype of the modern romantic-comedy. While I think most of these should not even be mentioned in the same breath as Austen’s work, I understand this theory, and see how many tropes Austen created have been replicated and carried on in other fictional works ever since.
- She understands the female heart
For the men out there who just don’t get the Austen obsession, this is really what it comes down to. Her books speak to the yearning of the human, and particularly the feminine, heart – for love, romance, to be understood and appreciated. She understands the pain that can come from making poor choices and the hope that can burn through your darkest doubts. Well, Jane Austen never got married, you might say. True, but that doesn’t preclude her from understanding love, suffering, emotion and all the other elements that make up human life. Her writing makes it clear she had a keen eye and a great mind for understanding these things, better than many. Why else does she remain so popular?
I’m interested in hearing what other people, particularly women, think about Jane Austen and why she’s so popular with females.
I’ve had Austen on my mind lately as I just recorded a couple of podcasts, one about her books and one about the televised adaptations. Shameless self-promotion, but if you’re interested in hearing these, search for Campion Conversations on your podcast app. The first was released this week and it’s called “Getting lost in Austen”. The second will appear in a couple of weeks. It will also give you a chance to hear what my voice sounds like, if that interests you 🙂