Jane Austen

11 Year Olds and Austen

Like many romances, my passion for Jane Austen had a rough beginning. From third grade or so, I’d been reading my mother’s Georgette Heyer novels and selected traditional Regencies, so you might think I was prepared for Jane, but it didn’t actually work out that way. I read PRIDE & PREJUDICE sometime around age 11 or so after having seen “in the tradition of Jane Austen” on many Regency covers. But I found it hard going.

Perhaps as a pre-teen, I was more able to appreciate the glitz of Regencies featuring members of the haut ton and including exciting events such as duels and elopements. Maybe I needed to mature to properly appreciate Austen’s brilliant characterizations and what she could do with “three or four families in a country village.”

But I also think the period language itself was a stumbling block, between the occasional long, convoluted sentence structures and some of the vocabulary. Of course, I’d already learned many new words from Georgette Heyer, yet with Jane they mattered more. I realized why this past summer, when I read P&P with my own 11 year old. In Heyer’s books, context could help one understand the longer words (e.g. the “diaphanous gown” or the “ubiquitous footman”). However, in Jane Austen, the difficult words are often central to the meaning.

Consider this bit of Darcy dialogue:

“When you told Mrs. Bennet this morning that if you ever resolved on quitting Netherfield you should be gone in five minutes, you meant it to be a sort of panegyric, of compliment to yourself — and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or any one else?”

To make sense of it for my daughter, I had to explain “panegyric”, “laudable” and “precipitance”. I also found it helped when I read to her aloud with loads of expression.

But she hung in there with me, enjoyed it very much and laughed in all the right places. Now we’re planning some Austen activities over the holidays. We’re going to watch the 1995 P&P together and start reading NORTHANGER ABBEY. I am now looking forward to years of shared Austen obsession. I expect she’ll soon want a Regency gown of her own. : )

Has anyone else tried introducing Jane Austen to friends, family or offspring? How did it work out? Have you ever tried reading Jane aloud?

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13 years ago

My 12 year old loves the Austen-based films, has a Regency gown, and danced like Giselle at the last Beau Monde soiree. But we haven’t yet tackled P&P. Reading aloud is a great idea. I’ll just have to pull her away from the Twilight books, LOL.

Cara King
13 years ago

Sounds great, Elena!

I have no 11-year-olds of my own acquaintance, though…

Todd and I read Austen aloud to each other…that’s one thing that reminded me how very funny Mansfield Park is! (I think if one reads quickly, much of the humor is skimmed over…)


13 years ago

My mother and I recently watched the newest version of Northanger Abbey and she felt like it was really confusing. She decided to read the book per my suggestion and didn’t like the book. I told her she should try reading Sense and Sensibility because I loved that book. I suppose I should have suggested she read it first because I’ve not read Northanger Abbey myself yet.

I’m not familiar with Georgette Heyer. What book by her would you recommend starting with?

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Oh, I remember your daughter’s lovely gown at the Soiree, Janegeorge!

Strangely, neither of my parents are big readers (when I was a kid, they thought I was very strange for always being buried in a book!). My mother read P&P in high school, but never read the rest until I got older and the movies started coming out. We especially had fun with Northanger Abbey before we visited Bath last fall!

And I got my cousin’s pre-teen daughter to read them, too, after the 2005 P&P came out–we’ve had great discussions about the stories and the history!

We must spread the word of Jane, LOL

Cara King
13 years ago

I’m not familiar with Georgette Heyer. What book by her would you recommend starting with?

Maddie, if someone liked adventure stories, a la Scarlet Pimpernel, I’d go with THESE OLD SHADES.

For a more Jane Austen type of book, I’d recommend VENETIA or BLACK SHEEP.

For a book that’s very comical, and somewhat screwball/rather farcical, I’d go with FRIDAY’S CHILD.


Good luck!


Maggie Robinson
13 years ago

We have an exchange teacher from China at our school this year, and he came into the library to check out books to read over the holiday break (his wife and baby are in China, so I imagine he’ll be a bit lonely). He chose 4 Austen books—P&P, S&S, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. His English is not really great, and reading 200 year-old books that have words like ‘panegyric’ in them might be a bit daunting. I told him how funny Austen is, but also that I didn’t get her humor at all until I was rather mature myself (no Austen whatsoever for me until I was well out of college and working in a different high school library, amazingly enough). He saw the recent P & P movie, so that might be a help for him. When I went on about Austen being the godmother of all romance, he looked slightly alarmed, LOL. And worst of all, he thought she was an American writer! I can’t wait to ask him how everything went in January when he returns the books. 🙂

13 years ago

I’ve never tried to recommend Jane Austen to friends or family. I did make my friend go see “Emma” and “Persuasion” with me when they were in the theaters.

13 years ago

If I ever have a granddaughter, I will try to introduce her to Jane Austen. For now, I just see my husband and 2 sons roll their eyes at the mention of an Austen book or movie!

13 years ago

In the summer of 83 I had knee surgery that restricted me to sitting with my leg up most of the time for about 6 weeks. I went to the shore and spent much of that time (between PT sessions) doing needlework while sitting in a beach lounge chair listening to Pride and Prejudice on tape.

Hearing it well read was fabulous!

It’s funny this came up as I was discussing it with a class today. Kids in my freshman class are also in Honors English and are currently reading Jane Eyre. I talked to them about how books in those days were read aloud to the family and that sometimes hearing it is better than reading it.

I also remember telling some students several years ago who were not thrilled with Pride and Prejudice to try reading it outloud. The English teacher came to me the next day to tell me that “Susie” had gotten the whole calss excited when she came in and told them all that P&P was fabulous when read out loud.

So, yes, I have read it out loud, recommended it to be read outloud, and listened to it, as well as other Austens on tape.

13 years ago

You know I can’t remember if I have even read any of Austen’s books. Surely I have because I have been reading for about 40 years now. This is what happens when you read as much as I do, you forget what you have read.

13 years ago

I have had no luck at all convincing my husband to try her. He tried to read Pride and Prejudice and just can’t get past Mr. and Mrs. Bennet calling each other by their last names.

Janet Mullany
13 years ago

I’ve read Austen aloud to various people (husbands, daughter etc.) and I plan to read some to my father when I visit him next. He really loves the Elizabeth-Lady Catherine de Bourgh smackdown, and sadly he’s not able to read any more.

13 years ago

When I was sick a few years ago, my boyfriend agreed to sit and watch the entire BBC Pride & Prejudice series. (I’ve gotta say, I was impressed by his devotion.) Afterwards, he asked me if I would lend him the book because he thought it would be fun. And he enjoyed it, too.

He’s not a dedicated Austen-phile, but he enjoys her works enough that I have no trouble at all convincing him to watch the movies.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

LadyDoc, I think your point that books were often read aloud in Austen’s time was a good one.

I too learned to love Austen through audiobooks. Georgette Heyer, as well.

Maddie, I, too, learned of Heyer late. I highly recommend you start with Venetia or Friday’s Child or Frederica. (I’m not fond of These Old Shades or The Convenient Marriage but even those are well done)

13 years ago

Well, the most I really got anyone else into watching anything Jane Austen was a couple years ago, Mom sis and me went to see P&P on stage. That’s about it. 🙂

And PS – just wondering your thoughts on GH’s False Colours. I got it last week, and I’ll be reading it no matter what, but just looking at opinions on that particular book. Sounds like fun from the back though. 🙂


Elena Greene
13 years ago

Jane George, your daughter looked so cute and danced so gracefully!Mine would look cute too, but as to the dancing, I expect she’d take after her mom–more enthusiasm than grace. 🙂

Maddie, you’ve had a lot of good suggestions. My favorites include Venetia, Frederica, Arabella, Sylvester, The Unknown Ajax and The Nonesuch.

Maggie, I’d be curious to see what your Chinese exchange teacher made of Jane Austen. Though come to think of it, he might find a translation. I got a Lithuanian edition a few years back, with an odd Renaissance-looking cover.

Interesting that others have had good experience with reading Austen aloud and/or hearing good recordings. It certainly worked for us!

Lois, though it’s not quite in my top list I like FALSE COLOURS a lot. The main characters are very likeable and there are some very funny scenes. You’ll have to let us know what you thought.

13 years ago

My eleven year old has begun reading P&P this year. It was a bit of a struggle at first but she picked it up rather quickly and loves it.

This was also the year I ventured into Jane Austin spin offs. I resisted for years much as I did when Star Trek Next Generation first aired but I’ve been converted on both counts.

We’ve both delighted in ‘Lost in Austin’ in which all the Jane Austin books are featured. You read certain scenarios and, depending on your answer, you are shown different outcomes. Some follow the actual stories and some bring you historical factoids or really funny options.

What it did is introduce her to the other Austin books. Now she is all in alt over Austin and Regencies in general. She thinks they’re ‘top of the trees’.

Cara King
13 years ago

Lois, as to False Colours, IMHO, I would put it in the second tier of Heyer.

My first tier Heyers are my utter favorites: Venetia, Faro’s Daughter, The Unknown Ajax, Black Sheep, and about five more.

My second tier are ones that are very enjoyable, but for me just aren’t quite as good as first tier. They include False Colours, The Adventurers, The Toll Gate, and a bunch of others.

My third tier are ones that I feel are flawed or a bit tired: Lady of Quality, Charity Girl, April Lady, etc — but I’ve still read most of them multiple times.

And then I have a few other odd categories… 🙂


Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

Jane, your daughter is an absolute doll and looked so adorable in her Regency gown. My friend Tammy and I have a number of photos from that night and everyone comments on how lovely your daughter is (including my young nephew!)

I got my English students hooked on Jane Austen by reading Pride and Prejudice aloud to them. We discussed what was going on at the end of each chapter and it was amazing to see how much of the characterization they “got.” The boys were all on Darcy’s side and the girls were all on Elizabeth’s. These were high school students in an alternative school for at risk kids.

For these students, reading out loud was the best way to get to them. I read Edgar Allen Poe and Lovecraft, Shakespeare, To Kill A Mockingbird and many others to them as well.

I introduced my niece to Austen two years ago when she was thirteen and she had some trouble with the language, but generally liked the books. She LOVED the films. Oh well!

Black Sheep, The Unknown Ajax and Venetia are the three Heyers I would recommend as starters.

13 years ago

I am impressed with you and your daughter. I didn’t read Jane Austen’s stories until I was an adult. My daughter and I watched the Kiera Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice but she has yet to read it.

Elena Greene
13 years ago

Louisa, thanks for sharing. It’s pretty clear that reading aloud is a good thing to try!

I’m also pleased that so many people have been inspired by the films to go read the books. Even though we often have quibbles with the adaptations (and discuss them at delicious length in the Jane Austen Movie Club) I’m glad to see they’re helping to “spread the word of Jane”. (LOL, Amanda!)

13 years ago

I’ve never tried to recommend Jane Austin to family or friends. I’ve never read it out loud, either. I’ll have to give that a try. Thanks for the suggestion!

13 years ago

All of my children have watched the Colin Firth film version of Pride and Prejudice and I’ll be having them watch the newer one as well. Also Sense and Sensibility. I never really thought of reading them aloud to my kids – how sad is that? I guess I just figured it would be too difficult for comprehension. But maybe I can make it work! By the way, my kids are ages 14 (almost), 11, 9, and 6 – 2 boys, 2 girls.

13 years ago

I do enjoy reading out loud, but we’ve no kids to hear! 🙂 And I’m not with my nieces and nephews long enough to read more than very short things to them (and those only when they were quite small).

As Cara mentioned, we do read out loud to each other. We read Mansfield Park when we were both sick one time, and we’ve recently been reading Heyer and E. Nesbit during long drives.

We try to pass along books to our niephews (to coin a word) for birthdays and Christmas, and in general try to engage them in reading. So few kids read nowadays for pleasure. But reading adds such an extra dimension to your life…I for one can’t imagine a life without books.

It’s sort of interesting–riding the train to and from work, you notice two prominent groups: those who spend the trip reading and those who spend it talking on their cell phones. 🙂


Elena Greene
13 years ago

Hi, Deborah and Lisa. Reading aloud has worked for us so I’d definitely say give it a try!

Todd, I see the same thing about too few kids reading. My kids gets asked sometimes why they read books (like Harry Potter) when there are films to watch. Sigh… I think a lot depends on the parents. Many adults I know say they’re too busy to read, but they always know much more about popular TV shows than I do.

Whereas in my family we’re readers but my kids and I are often lagging re pop culture. They couldn’t care less about Hannah Montana, for instance. I worry about them getting picked on, but still think we’re doing the right thing in general.

13 years ago

I have not tried to sway anyone over to her stories since most of my reader friends already read those. I have, though, convinced several family members to watch the Jane movies and they really enjoyed them.

Keira Soleore
13 years ago

JaneGeorge, your daughter was adorable at the soiree last year, and such a good dancer!! I definitely see her getting into writing or studying history in college. You’ve given her your interests.

Lately, I haven’t met anyone new who hasn’t read Jane Austen. That must mean that Austen’s the benchmark by which I determine my friends.

13 years ago

I am very late in coming into Jane Austen writings. We never read it in school or college. So, I have never read it aloud either or had it read to me.
Dh would be against even trying this type of read.

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