I first discovered her in AP lit in Middle School. Pride and Prejudice was on our required reading list, and it was one of the books we were told to buy for the school year. My mother, stumbled into the British book shop near the mall at Woluwé-Saint-Lambert, and bought a book of Jane's works instead of just P&P. It was a thick book with a soft cover, and those really thin crinkly sounding pages. Somewhere on my shelf, among the many other versions of Jane's works, that dog-eared book still lingers. The spine has creases in it, and most of the cover is worn off. I read, and re-read, marked, folded, quoted, browsed, referred to and thumbed through every page. It's in rough shape--but I still can't bring myself to throw it away.
I've always been a reader. I remember reading Jean Auel's Valley of the Horses when I was in the second grade. With a family of 'book thieves' (which means that if you were reading something and left it sitting in an accessible area, you risked it being stolen by another family member and would have to suck it up and wait for them to finish before you got it back)'--it was inevitable that I would be a book-nerd. I was one of the few kids in class that actually enjoyed required reading. That doesn't mean I did my assignments on time or at all; I was a lackadaisical student to say the least, but I did my reading regardless of whether I cared to prove it to my teachers. And Jane's books were hands-down the ones that had the greatest impression on me. There are a series of books I've kept all these years; 1) Jane Austen's complete works... 2) The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt 3) The Velveteen Rabbit, 4) and the complete collection of Beatrix Potter books and 5) Jean Auel's slowly growing 'Earth's Children' series. I have all of those. The children's books are meant to go to the child I hope to have someday.
As the years have gone by, Jane has sort of grown into my life. I am not historian, I don't claim to know everything about her life... I only know that her humour, her satire, her style and her imagination sustain me sometimes when other books just don't cut it. Her characters are timeless, her subtle truths are beautiful. I love Jane Austen. She's my eldest sister, who keeps my morale up. I feel connected to her through Anne Elliot's quiet tolerance and through Mr. Bennett's wit and sarcasm. I feel that her works are so relevant--and every time I read about the gentlemen boasting about their driving equipment, I think of men today, drooling over their cars... It's all so wonderful, I can only wish I could throw Jane a great surprise party, with a huge glistening cake and a circle of loving friends who appreciate all the gifts she's given us. Happy Birthday Jane!