Jane made it real

I hope I won’t be drummed out of the Risky Regencies for this, but I have to confess it took me a while to warm to Jane Austen.

My introduction to the Regency wasn’t Jane Austen, but Georgette Heyer and the stacks and stacks of Regency romances by other authors lying around our house. I read them voraciously as a child, getting in trouble with the nuns at my elementary school for having one in my book-bag.

I think I was about twelve when, having read enough book blurbs that said, “in the tradition of Jane Austen”, I decided to pick up Pride and Prejudice. And embarrassing as it is to admit, I found it slow going. At the time, I was a lonely, nerdy kid and I craved the escape of fantasy, preferring the Chronicles of Narnia to realistic fiction like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books (even though I now recognize how wonderful they are). The same thing happened with Jane Austen, since she wrote realistic contemporary fiction, using events and settings (“three of four families in a country village”) that seemed less glamorous than the glittering ton parties, duels and adventures I found in Regencies by Georgette Heyer and other authors.

Pride and Prejudice 1995As I’ve gotten older and possibly a bit wiser, I’ve come to know that reality can be as powerful, maybe more so—than fantasy. I recognize the brilliance of Jane Austen’s characterizations and the skill with which she crafted her stories on “the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush.” I’ve come to love her portrayal of her times and I know this has affected my own writing. I enjoy rural settings very much and I don’t feel the need for all my heroes and heroines to be aristocrats.

My own daughters are learning to appreciate Jane Austen at an earlier age. We’ve read the books together, but seeing the movies does help. I didn’t see any of the Jane Austen adaptations that were available when I was growing up, which is probably just as well, as I’ve been disappointed in the 70s versions I’ve seen. But any of the more recent productions, like the 1995 Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle P&P would have provided enough visual beauty—the costumes, the settings—to satisfy my craving for fantasy. I’m sure I would have read the book with different eyes.

So how do you see Jane Austen—as the realistic fiction, as fantasy, or something else?  Can you forgive me my youthful foolishness in not recognizing her brilliance on first reading? Comment for the chance to win this “Amiable Rancor” calendar from The Republic of Pemberley.

Amiable Rancor Calendar

 

P.S. Lesley Attary, you have won an e-copy of The Persistent Earl by Gail Eastwood. Gail Eastwood will be in touch.

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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19 Responses to Jane made it real

  1. Jo's Daughter says:

    I did love Austen’s novels from the beginning. They where a challenge to read in English and I liked how they made me feel. Didn’t see P&P 1995 until it was at least 10 years old but it’s my fav version.

  2. I didn’t start reading Austen until I’d memorized just about everything in the 1995 P&P. Adding a layer of irony to the romance and humor that were already there was definitely the icing on the cake for me. I guess it doesn’t matter how you come to appreciate Austen, so long as you get there in the end.

  3. I was like you, Elena. I began my Regency fascination with Georgette Heyer, and gradually grew to appreciate the great Jane Austen. The fault was with me, not her. I do think her world is real, and that we learn much about Regency society from her novels. But we are so distant now from that time that it has become a fantasy–a wonderful, delightful fantasy that we can explore in many, many ways.

  4. Jane Austen was my introduction to historical romance and Regency romance. The two retired librarians who introduced me to her books started me at the age of nine with all of Jane Austen, next they had me read the Bronte sisters and then they started me on Georgette Heyer. So for me, Jane Austen WAS Regency England. And I have come to realize her very realistic presentation of the era has colored my perception and tastes when it comes to historical romance. It is the elegance of the era, the civility, the manners and respect that appeal to me. And knowing these things were real make it all the more appealing to me. We live in an era of tasteless, mannerless, worship of the tacky, the violent, the idiotic. Jane Austen reminds me of what humans were capable of an in many cases have forgotten for the sake of being what the media has told us is “cool.” Thank you, Jane Austen, for reminding me of the possible.

    • Elena Greene says:

      Louisa, I love your story of those two librarians! What a wonderful experience it must have been for you and for them. It has been fun introducing my daughters to Jane Austen.

  5. Lesley A. says:

    First, thank you, Riskies! Secondly, I’m a little shy saying this, but I’m a little star-struck that Elena announced my name for Gail Eastwood’s book. (I’m a big fan Elena!) It’s actually very appropriate, as it was Elena’s “Three Disgraces” series that inspired me to return to reading and more importantly, to writing about what I love – the Regency! And reading them lead me here! I love the Riskies! (Would Jane think this was an excess of exclamation points? Very likely!)

    In response to Elena’s post…. When I was a kid, I devoured all the regency I could get my hands on- Harlequin, Signet, and Zebra…then Barbara Cartland. (I know…but I had no one to guide me to Georgette Heyer, until now – I fully intend to explore her body of work.) I had barely heard of Jane Austen before high school and – the 1995 version of P&P. The first time I read P&P I found it very dry — to me, it was too different from the regency romances I’d been reading, but I was really ignorant about the time and the type of story it was. My teacher did nothing to guide us through P&P. The movie, of course, brought everything alive for me and at the second reading, I was able to understand the humor and dialogue much better.

    The regency period IS my fantasy world. I read and write to escape to the time of courtship, manners, and simple pleasures. My husband tells me that I wish he was Mr. Darcy…I tell him ‘well, at least I wouldn’t have to pick up Mr. Darcy’s socks!’

    Thanks again Risky ladies!

    • Elena Greene says:

      Lesley, I am truly moved and honored to hear from you. Readers have said they enjoyed my books but you are the first to say anything like this. It means a lot to me and I wish you much happiness reading and writing in our favorite period!

  6. HJ says:

    I read Georgette Heyer when I was a bit too young, so just thought of them as historical novels with not much happening (although I enjoyed them). I read Jane Austen a couple of years later, aged 12, and liked them immediately. All except Emma. It was over a decade before I could finish Emma, and I still don’t like it. So that’s a confession to equal yours, I think!!

    Persuasion would be a desert island book for me. And either Frederica or The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer would be another – yes, I read them again and this time fell in love with them, too.

    • Elena Greene says:

      It’s OK, HJ. Jane Austen herself admitted that she’d written a controversial heroine. Is that it, maybe? It took me longer to warm to Emma than most of the other heroines although I get her better now after rereading.

      I agree about Persuasion; I’m never sure whether I like it or P&P more. Fortunately, there’s no need to choose.

  7. Kathleen says:

    I have always loved Austen but as I have gotten older and re read her books over and over I think my appreciation changes and I find I still have some ah-ha moment while reading her books.

  8. Stella says:

    Hi Elena. Just a quick comment-I love Kathleen’s entry and agree with it 100%. The entire week at Risky Regencies is like a present.

  9. librarypat says:

    I will plead guilty to wanring action in the books I read. That being said, once I get into a book with quality characters and writing, it is hard to put it down. It takes good writing to carry a story without the chases, spies, and shootouts. One is an easy distraction, the other is a rewarding experience.

    I have many of Jane Austen’s books, but must admit that I have not yet read them. I must make time in the new year to read at least one. I love reading books written many years ago. The difference in phrasing, cadence, and feel of the stories helps bring you to a different world.

    Amiable Rancor, interesting title for a calendar.

  10. Maureen says:

    I didn’t read Jane Austen’s stories until I was older and I think the movies are lovely to watch.

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