January 28, 2013

Pride and Prejudice is 200

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Pride and Prejudice begins with what has become one of the most recognized opening lines in literature.  My favorite book among those written by my favorite author, Pride and Prejudice celebrates the 200th anniversary of its publication today, January 28th.  What was happening in 1813 when this novel was published?  James Madison was president of the United States.  He was only the fourth president!  The U.S. was fighting the War of 1812 against the British.  Wait, what?  The War of 1812 went from 1812-1815?  What the hell?

Jane Austen
The above is one of the few recognized images of Jane Austen.  She was first published in 1811 (Sense and Sensibility) and died six years later in 1817.  Too young.  She left us with only six completed novels.  Her writing is witty, clever, and smart.  Calling Austen "chick-lit" is doing her a great disservice.  Also, let me state for the record that the definitive adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is the 1995 BBC miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.  Don't bother with any other.  That one is perfect.

When I was in England so many years ago (okay, fifteen), I was lucky enough to be able to visit some Austen-related places.  I'll share some photos I took of the area.  They were scanned and don't look too hot, but they still relay the feel of the place.  First up was her cottage in Chawton.

This is a "cottage."
Austen lived in Chawton Cottage for the last eight years of her life.  Much of her writing was done here.  I walked through the garden imagining that Austen had done the same.  A few months before she died, Austen moved to a house in Winchester in order to be closer to her doctor.
Austen's Winchester home
The plaque above the door reads, "IN THIS HOUSE JANE AUSTEN LIVED HER LAST DAYS AND DIED 18TH JULY 1817."  I visited the house in which she died in Winchester, as well as Winchester Cathedral, where she is buried.

Winchester Cathedral
Austen is interred in the floor of the cathedral.

RIP Jane
I also went to Lyme Regis, a seaside town that plays an important role in her novel Persuasion.

Lyme Regis
Austen used to visit this hamlet with her family.  Lyme Regis has a scenic, rocky coastline.

Young Jen!
I don't usually post other people's photos on my blog, so I pixelated my friend's face.  I enjoyed Lyme Regis immensely.  I can see why it is so popular with Brits past and present.

Lyme Regis
Southern England is beautiful.  Look, sheep!

Is one of you named Shaun?
This has nothing to do with Jane Austen, but it was around the same area as the rest of these places, and it amuses me.  The Cerne Abbas Giant.

Naked guy carved in a hillside!
My friend and I came across this by chance while driving around southern England.  A 180-foot tall, naked chalk man tends to draw one's attention.

Alright, back to Jane.  I have tried to resist calling her Jane up to this point, but I have typed it several times and have had to go back and replace it with Austen.  Fans of Austen's work often refer to her as Jane.  Why?  Do we feel a greater sense of connection with her?  When I talk about Neil Gaiman or Margaret Atwood, it doesn't occur to me to refer to them by their first names.  Yet, I refer to Austen as Jane without a second thought.  Thanks, Jane.  Two hundred years ago you gave us a novel which continues to delight readers and which remains relevant even after two centuries.

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