On Pride and Prejudice

Jane and Me

By Karen Joy Fowler

I. “What is all this about Jane Austen? What is there in her? What is it all about?” –Joseph Conrad to H. G. Wells

I’ve been thinking about Austen again. We haven’t had a new Austen movie since Bush took office (coincidence?) so there’s less smoke blowing around the novels, a clearer of the books as books. According to BookScan, 100,000 copies of Pride and Prejudice sold last year with no help from the movies at all.

In other news, a tearoom in Bath, planning to market Jane Austen teas and coffees (in “distinctively nineteenth-century flavors”) found the name already trademarked for restaurant and catering services by a Mrs. Rachel Mary Morton of Dorchester, Dorset.

Plus, I’ve already seen my monthly quota of writer’s lists of recommended reading in which no woman author’s name appears (Carol Shields’ last book, Unless, has resensitized me to the issue) and we still have three weeks of the month to go.

But the real reason Austen has my attention again is that I recently published a work of fiction entitled The Jane Austen Book Club. Before it was published I passed out galleys of this book at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Convention. (So much more fun than selling them. I recommend it.) Several people there talked to me about Austen. Many women told me that they read her books over and over again. One woman said, “I read Mansfield Park four times before I liked it.” Another, “I didn’t really get her until I was forty  …

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