I went to England to try and find Jane Austen.
When you read Jane’s books, you can feel her alongside you, laughing with you, leading you down the path, but when you have to define her as an actual person things get complicated. Her heroines have so many different traits; Emma is very different from the Bennet sisters, etc. She is so good at characterization you have to wonder if any of her “real life” experience and traits inhabit any of her characters.
Most scholars will argue that authors grow from book to book, so could an argument be made that she is the most like Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey? No, I can’t imagine a character like Catherine (even with her wild imagination and love of books) creating novels.
Some Austenites would point to Anne Elliot from Persuasion for being the most like her (maybe the book is playing out a fantasy she had about a returning love?), but that would be a much later creation when her skills were at the strongest. With someone with her literary skills it feels like a moment of weakness.
Chawton (home of the Jane Austen’s House Museum) is a small village and not at all easy to find. It is very charming and I can see why fans of her novels love visiting it. It feels like one of her novels could take place on those streets, in those gardens, in those fields… yet, something felt off to me.
Jane’s actual home, which is the museum now, was a modest house even then. While there have been some structural changes to it, it is easy to imagine her wandering those halls, sitting in that garden. Still, my feeling of discomfort was growing. Yes, as I visited each room, the feeling increased until I had to leave and sit in the garden, get a breath of fresh air.
It was then, looking around me, watching other visitors come and go, that the feeling that had been haunting me so prevalently became clear…
Jane Austen had one of the great minds of her century, easily one of the greatest minds in literature. So how could someone with her capacity be content in a small house, in a small village like this?
That is not to say she didn’t enjoy her family’s company or her friends in the village; I’m sure some days she was happy with the arrangement. Yet my gut was telling me that on many days she felt utterly trapped, stuck in a world she couldn’t escape from. I’m not going to compare it to a prison; but consider what the life of someone with Jane’s ability would be like today, and then think of a person like that living in such a small environment with little resources. And little capability for growth because of her gender…
You see what I mean?
Then add in the fact that her books were anonymous. She had no writing friends, no one she could talk to really about her favorite artform, her passion.
Trapped, lonely, misunderstood.
No wonder Jane did so much writing during her eight years in this home. It was her only escape, her only way to be herself fully.
That visit made Jane real and helped inspire my novel A Jane Austen Daydream.
Congratulations to Melissa of Avid Reader’s Musings, who was randomly selected as the winner for our final giveaway! She has won a signed copy of A Jane Austen Daydream!
Jane Austen spends her days writing and matchmaking in the small countryside village of Steventon, until a ball at Godmersham Park propels her into a new world where she yearns for a romance of her own. But whether her heart will settle on a young lawyer, a clever Reverend, a wealthy childhood friend, or a mysterious stranger is anyone’s guess.
Written in the style of Jane herself, this novel ponders the question faced by many devoted readers over the years–did she ever find love? Weaving fact with fiction, it re-imagines her life, using her own stories to fill in the gaps left by history and showing that all of us–to a greater or lesser degree–are head over heels for Jane. You can purchase A Jane Austen Daydream at Amazon.com
Scott D. Southard, the author of A Jane Austen Daydream, swears he is not obsessed with Jane Austen. He is also the author of the novels: My Problem with Doors, Megan, Permanent Spring Showers, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, and 3 Days in Rome. With his eclectic writing he has found his way into radio, being the creator of the radio comedy series The Dante Experience. The production was honored with the Golden Headset Award for Best MultiCast Audio and the Silver Ogle Award for Best Fantasy Audio Production. Scott received his Master’s in writing from the University of Southern California. Scott can be found on the internet via his writing blog “The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard” where he writes on far-ranging topics like writing, art, books, TV, writing, parenting, life, movies, and writing. He even shares original fiction on the site. Currently, Scott resides in Michigan with his very understanding wife, his two patient children, and a very opinionated dog named Bronte.