On the anniversary of Jane Austen’s death – she died 190 years ago today – I thought I would put a different spin on things and celebrate her life. Jane means so many things to so many people, and her popularity, instead of diminishing, increases each year. What is it about Jane that attracts so many to her? It seems that every time we turn around, another book about Jane’s life sits on a shelf in a book store and she is more popular than ever.
In her new book, A Walk With Jane Austen, author Lori Smith describes the first time she encountered Jane Austen in college. She discovered Pride and Prejudice in a used book sale, and so, over Christmas break, her love affair with Jane Austen began. My own relationship with Jane’s novels started during my fourteenth summer. Like Lori I have read Jane’s marvelous words ever since. But I digress. This post is meant to be a review of Lori’s quest to strengthen her relationship with Jane and, in doing so, gain a better sense of her own life, which was whirling out of kilter.
During a critical juncture in Lori’s life when she faced a personal crisis, she chose to do what many of us yearn to do but few actually dare, which is to leave everything behind and embark on a life altering journey. Lori’s account about her search for Jane is written on several levels, as a memoir and personal journey of faith and discovery, as a search for the places where Jane Austen lived and trod, as a straightforward history of Jane’s life, and as a way to deepen her understanding of the author.
One January not long ago Lori gave her notice at work. “In February I walked away from meetings and coffee breaks and lunch breaks and paid vacation and health insurance to the gloriously terrifying world of writing full-time.” Lori did not choose an easy road when she decided to walk with Jane Austen. Writing a memoir might seem straightforward on the surface, but…
There are enormous difficulties in reconstructing anyone’s life, for however copious the evidence of letters, diaries, journals, and eye witness accounts, there is always the problem of interpretation, of the subjectivity of witnesses, and of the basic contradictoriness of the human being. Moods and emotions are volatile, but when recorded on the page are often forced by posterity to carry a much greater weight than was ever intended by their author. The Art of Writing Biography
Lori’s journey is deeply personal, but one she willingly shares with her readers. The first chapter ends with her heading for Oxford, the city where Jane’s parents met and married.
I plan to review Lori’s book chapter by chapter. The book, published by Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a Division of Random House, Inc., will be available this fall. Click here to visit Lori’s blog.