Happy Birthday, Miss Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged...
that a single woman in possession of a biting wit was born two hundred and thirty-five years ago today! Forgive my silliness; the world certainly needs no more parodies of the infamous sentence that welcomed us all into Jane Austen's heretofore most revered novel, Pride and Prejudice, but I couldn't resist. Everyone is celebrating Jane's birthday - even Google who designed a special birthday logo for the day. It continues to amaze me that the strong, independent authoress who rocked the literary and feminist worlds experienced only modest recognition in her lifetime. Imagine what she'd say now if she could see how the world of Pride and Prejudice has seen life in so many mediums. (I imagine she'd be rather amused by the zombies. And vampires. And sea monsters. Oh my.) While she had many contemporaries who penned equally memorable literature, I consider Jane to be a master of social satire and human emotion. Her characters are among the most vivid and delightful I've come to know through the vast world of reading. Their interactions, quarrels and romances highlight the strange and beautiful journey we all embark on in life, making them eternally easy to relate to.

A watercolor of Jane by her sister, Cassandra.
"Here's harmony!" said she; "here’s repose! Here's what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe! Here's what may tranquillise every care, and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene."

- Mansfield Park, Chaprter XI

While my favorite of Austen's work is Persuasion as I've mentioned before, there's something in each novel that draws me into the Regency world with unhindered delight. I think Mansfield Park, Jane's third novel, is a vastly underrated piece of fiction. The heroine, Fanny Price, is very unlike the traditional heroine of feminist literature: she's shy, demure, poor and sensitive. Unlike other quiet heroines, such as Persuasion's Anne Elliot and Sense & Sensibility's Elinor Dashwood, Fanny lacks the gentle sparkle of pride and dignity that makes the others so substantial. But my favorite thing about Fanny is how human she is. I think it was brave of Jane to take an unconventional character and center an entire novel around her. This particular piece of dialogue from the novel struck me with just how passionate Fanny is, although she doesn't get many opportunities to show it throughout the story. On the list of Jane Austen characters I relate to the most, Fanny is quite near the top.

In the spirit of the day here's a great recipe for Jane Austen teapot cookies from Mischief Mari Cookies. My perfect day of celebrating Jane would involve making these little delights before settling in with a cup of tea and a novel or a film adaptation with a group of friends. How would you celebrate Jane?

Jane Austen watercolor from Wikipedia