I can still remember my very first introduction to Jane Austen, and it pains my literary soul to admit that it was through a movie and not a book. My parents had invited friends to our house for dinner, and after we children had gone to bed, the adults watched the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, starring Emma Thompson and a very young Kate Winslet, and I was absolutely fascinated. I don’t recall exactly how old I would have been, but I do remember that as my first taste of period drama, and I hated being excluded. I’m pretty sure I sneaked into the kitchen and peered around the corner into the living room, just to snatch a few minutes of the movie.
Years later, a friend of mine told me I simply must watch the BBC miniseries adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, so I requested the 6 VHS tapes from the library, and my mom and I watched all 5 hours together–and have rewatched it countless times since then. I absolutely adored Elizabeth Bennet, with her razor-sharp wit and her fierce but humble confidence, two qualities which I lacked entirely as a young teenager. Of course, no female, of any age and with any of her wits about her, could resist falling in love with Colin Firth’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, and he remains one of my favorite heroes of all time.
I think I finally started picking up the Jane Austen novels after my initial encounter with the BBC Pride and Prejudice adaptation, and I have since enjoyed all seven major novels several times over. I still find something new to delight me each time I return to them–the very definition of a classic, in my mind. I have relished many of the film adaptations over the years, but as always, the books are infinitely superior to any of the movies. Surprisingly, I wouldn’t actually pick the famous Pride and Prejudice as my favorite book; instead, I would call it a perfect tie between the deliciously funny Emma and the bittersweet and haunting Persuasion, followed closely by Pride and Prejudice and then Sense and Sensibility.
Jane Austen has endured as one of the great novelists of her day because of her uncanny ability to give her readers a glimpse into not only the daily world that surrounded her with its seemingly unimportant but delightful details, but also into the complexities of human nature itself, and her tales twist and turn with the charm, heartache, and triumph of what it means to be human. Her stories are not just for girls, and certainly not just for girls who are interested in period drama–rather, they are for anyone who wants to experience the human joys and sorrows of living in this frustrating, delightful world.