Some girlfriends and I recently got together for a girls’ day in which I was initiated fully jane_austen.jpginto the Jane Austen world with the definitive 5-hour production of Pride and Prejudice. I don’t really consider myself a girlie-girl, and I am definitely not fond of anything mushy. But some dear female friends and relations have helped me remember how much fun it can be to occasionally indulge in pure girlishness: attending greeting cards parties, buying nice-smelling lotions, and, appropriately, discovering the pleasure of Jane Austen. What struck me was how many of these girlish events involved women I had not considered, by my unflattering definition, “girlie,” and how many of them loved Miss Austen, who I had, mistakenly, placed in the “girlie” category. I gained a deeper appreciation of the women I knew, and indeed, a richer understanding of their multifaceted romantic minds. Contrary to what I had previously suspected, girlishness did not have to involve frivolous fluff and rude, gossipy nonsense, but rather the sharing of confidences, intelligent and light conversation, and, quite simply, enjoying the pleasant company of fine ladies.

My first encounter with Miss Austen was in college and the book of choice was Mansfield Park, which I later learned was one of her more controversial novels among her devotees. At the time I enjoyed it, as much as one can enjoy a 400-page novel one is forced to choke down within a couple of weeks. Such is college life. What made it enjoyable was the attitude and admiration of my professor toward Miss Austen and her work. I admit, however, that I was confused by my reaction to Mansfield’s ending. I wanted to like Jane Austen, but I wasn’t sure I was satisfied with this story. This was not the witty, romantic tale I had expected from this highly regarded author. Then I attended the lecture. My professor walked in holding his battered edition of Mansfield under his arm, the book twice its size with yellow sticky notes bookmarking his favorite passages. He stood before the class and began with, “Sometimes I think Jane Austen has a way of flipping us off.” At that moment I liked Miss Austen. She knew what she was doing. My professor continued to put things in perspective by saying that people read Jane Austen because they know there is going to be a wedding at the end; the fun is seeing who marries whom and how everybody gets there. And I realized that this was a perfectly legitimate reason, among the many others you discover, to read Miss Austen. I welcomed her to my library.

With Emma I discovered Miss Austen’s humor and revealing social commentary. I loved the much talking and little saying of anything between the characters, and at times I enjoyed, at others rued, the openness our own society has embraced. Carrie Nation, whose literary tastes I admire, then suggested Northanger Abbey, and I was surprised at how intentionally exasperated Miss Austen could make her reader with the bizarre, yet revealing, behavior of her characters. It seemed I was laughing at myself while shouting at these characters, “Yes, you love each other! Get married already!” Then Leaf Child, a romance devotee, surprised me with her admiration of Miss Austen by inviting me to watch the film version of Emma. Later, she brought her friends over to show me new version of Pride and Prejudice. Soon after that I met Lady Meredith, another hopeful romantic, who invited me to watch her Miss Austen favorite, Persuasion, accompanied by fine varieties of chocolate (this latter I have found to be a girlish necessity). That event inspired me to start reading Pride and Prejudice. Lady Meredith was flattered yet dismayed that I had not read the book before, her exact words, as she sighed dramatically, being, “Oh, how have you lived!” Miss Austen’s stories gave me a bit of insight into myself and these fine women whom I admire.

What I have discovered is that there is (like, you know) the ridiculous, mindless girlishness that I refuse to take part in (utter rubbish, that is), and then there is the sophisticated fun of Jane Austen and her readers—readers like the fine women mentioned above who teach the rest of us the pure nature of girlishness. Women who understand that the romantic world is alive and well, and perfectly acceptable to belong to. Women who are intelligent, sweet, witty, and at times slightly irreverent who, like me, occasionally need to surround themselves solely with like-minded women to experience, and indeed, remember, the pure joys of giggling, chattering, and of simply being a girl.

Now, a question for you: What book or author have you read that has given you an unexpected insight into yourself or someone else?
 
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