Jane in the Modern Day

This painting hanging in a ballroom in the Bath Assembly Rooms caught my eye. Could it be the real Mr. Darcy?

My book club’s selection this month is Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I think it’s blasphemy for me to admit this in a literary blog, but. . . I’m having trouble getting through it. I’ve read the book before but her beautifully convoluted writing is harder to follow than I remember.

It pains me to admit this. Have I officially succumbed to the instant gratification and fast-pace of modern communication? Don’t get me wrong – I still fully appreciate the poetry of her words and the grace of her story telling, but I find myself quickly distracted while reading. It takes my full concentration to follow the story. Perhaps this is a good thing – a way to slow down and remove myself from the frenzy of modern life. When I do give in to Jane’s page, it’s well worth the effort… I’m transported to a more civilized and simpler time.

But was it really that much more simple?

We all know that Jane can tell a good love story. What I’ve found interesting in re-reading Persuasion is how similar the complexities of interaction and emotion between men and women is to the modern day.

Hanging out with Mr. Bingley at the Austen Museum in Bath, England

Of course, Anne Elliott didn’t have the world of Internet dating at her fingertips. Elizabeth Bennett never Google-stalked potential suitors. Neither could e-mail their girlfriends to brag about the handsome man on horseback who had literally just swept them off their feet. Ballrooms were the match.com of the day – providing a place to scope out potential suitors. Glances passed, impressions led to conversations, dance cards were filled like modern-day e-mail Inboxes. Hands brushed, passions ensued, relationships grew and were tested by everything from familial ties to financial obligations and societal standing. Hearts broke then just as they do now.

Two hundred years later, we still do the same dance of romance, play the same games of affection, and carry similar baggage. Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, William Elliot, Wickham… these are all men we continue to dance with. Maybe that’s why these women writers still attract modern-day readers. The fundamentals of romance – the elation, excitement, risk and heartbreak – haven’t changed. It just takes a little more concentration to realize the connection. With that, I’m back to bond with Ms. Anne and her romantic misadventures… if only I couldn’t relate so well.

Anne did not wish for more of such looks and speeches. His cold politeness, his ceremonious grace, were worse than any thing.

Persuasion

> Learn about Austen’s men on Masterpiece’s Men of Austen website

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3 thoughts on “Jane in the Modern Day

  1. Wonderful blog, Julie. I’m relieved to hear that I’m not the only one who has a hard time with the pace of her stories. You do have to set aside the time and concentrate. It took me forever to get through Mansfield Park; I wonder if I ever really did finish it! In case you haven’t already seen it, for an entertaining slant on Jane and Pride and Prejudice, check out the video “Lost in Austen.”

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