Thursday, October 27, 2011

Considering Jane Austen

Bryan bought me a Kindle for my birthday. At heart I am a girl who loves books, ink printed on paper and bound, held in my own two hands. The sheer number of books in this house has grown overwhelming, and so a Kindle seemed, in some instances, like a good substitute. An especially good selling point was that so many old books are free. And I am a girl who loves old books. I downloaded the Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh, her nephew, and delighted in his memories of his aunt. The Kindle has another clever feature that allows me to clip sections of what I am reading, download them onto the computer, and share…with you.

By the time I had finished James Edward Austen-Leigh’s memoir I was thoroughly confirmed in my love for Jane, and, as always, I was reading with an eye for an example to follow.

I do not venture to speak of her religious principles: that is a subject on which she herself was more inclined to think and act than to talk, and I shall imitate her reserve; satisfied to have shown how much of Christian love and humility abounded in her heart, without presuming to lay bare the roots whence those graces grew. 
She was, in fact, as ready to comfort the unhappy, or to nurse the sick, as she was to laugh and jest with the lighthearted. 
Her unusually quick sense of the ridiculous led her to play with all the common-places of everyday life, whether as regarded persons or things; but she never played with its serious duties or responsibilities, nor did she ever turn individuals into ridicule. 

You see, I have chosen a good example.

It has been said that the happiest individuals, like nations during their happiest periods, have no history.  In the case of my aunt, it was not only that her course of life was unvaried, but that her own disposition was remarkably calm and even.  There was in her nothing eccentric or angular; no ruggedness of temper; no singularity of manner; none of the morbid sensibility or exaggeration of feeling, which not unfrequently accompanies great talents, to be worked up into a picture.  Hers was a mind well balanced on a basis of good sense, sweetened by an affectionate heart, and regulated by fixed principles; so that she was to be distinguished from many other amiable and sensible women only by that peculiar genius which shines out clearly enough in her works, but of which a biographer can make little use. 

This is what I particularly love about Jane Austen, if you had known her she would have seemed so very ordinary.  When I chafe at the limits of my ordinary days, I like to remember her. A lifetime of ordinary days and a calm disposition are no impediment to greatness. I can’t aspire to literary genius but I can aspire to good sense, an affectionate heart and fixed principles, the very things that made Jane Austen’s short life so sweet while she lived her days.

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