Like Janet, I don’t remember precisely when I started reading Jane Austen. I do know it was early on, because I’m pretty sure I read Pride & Prejudice when my family was living in New Hampshire, and we moved away after sixth grade.
I was lucky enough to be raised in a household filled with books, and with a person–my dad–who loved language and wordplay. And consequently I had a huge vocabulary for my age, as well as an appreciation for Austen’s wry, witty commentary on society and life in general. I specifically loved her portrayal of Mrs. Bennet, whose machinations I saw through because of Austen’s inciteful skewering.
Plus it had a love story! And even though I read the book multiple (MULTIPLE!) times, I was never quite sure it would end up happily ever after. I saw the movie with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, and loved that, too.
At the same time, I was reading and re-reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and in hindsight I can see those three books completely defined me as a writer and a reader. I read other Austens, too, but Pride & Prejudice had–and continues to hold–a special place in my heart.
When I was 15, I dated the captain of the football team (yes–really!) and made him watch that version of Pride & Prejudice with me (and what does it say that he actually watched it?). My husband puts up with me sighing over men in cravats, and promises to read Austen someday himself (he read Emma in college, but his teacher does not appear to have understood Austen’s wit).
Austen’s legacy to me, and to romance writers in general, is that it is indeed possible to write a fantastic, heart-wrenching love story that nonetheless disperses a wider commentary on society, offers clever writing, and can surpass its tag of ‘romance.’
What do you think Austen’s best legacy is? Is your favorite part the wit, the love story, the characters, the setting or something else?