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Sharon Bill Music Tutor & Author

Jane Austen Bicentenery Anniversary


It is a truth universally acknowledged that we all love Jane Austen. The 200th anniversary of her death is a good time to appreciate the pleasure her work still brings. But why? How does she still capture her audience after all these years?

‘Lost in Austen’ easily illustrates our propensity to escape into a good Austen novel; a novel where the girl ultimately gets the guy and we can have a good laugh at the foibles of human nature. I personally love to revel in the descriptions of finery and lace, music and art. If we dare admit it, we all know a Miss Bates or two and don’t we all wish we lived in a grand house and wore silk and lace every day?

Even this isn’t enough though. The ready appeal of Austen goes even deeper than that. The author was the original working woman who, against the odds and against tradition, was a success. I know the conspiracy theories of why she never married, ultimately we’ll never know. The one thing we can be sure of is that she was married to her art, her creativity and her writing. It’s a story that we never tire of. That’s why we like to watch ‘Miss Potter.’ Beatrix Potter and Jane Austen epitomise our love of grit and determination pleasantly mixed with art and creativity rising above this murky world to transport the author (and us along with them) into one of their own making.

Much as society protests against being preached at, it “doth protest too much, methinks.’ We are preached at every second of every single day! Whether it’s via the TV and other media sources (of which the list is endless), the music we listen to, the conversations we hold there is always a prevailing presupposition. Nevertheless, if it’s cleverly disguised or subtly given, we all like a moral to the story. This is where Austen excels. Via Miss Bates we learn to hold our tongue a bit, Emma’s father teaches us to beware hypochondria and Harriet urges us to have a bit of grit and self respect whilst also teaching us to hope for the best as it will all be OK in the end. And who doesn’t want a bit of Mr Knightley or Colonel Brandon in their life? (I do think my husband would make a fabulous Brandon if anyone is casting a new movie - just putting it out there…) Yet she does all of this without being overtly preachy and with a distinctly sardonic smile between the lines of the text.

It is this subtle mixture which makes Austen’s work so appealing to every new generation. And yet, even now the magic isn’t over. I find that the woman herself is such an inspiration and not only because of her ability and success as an author. She herself exemplified the accomplished woman that Darcy found so hard to articulate. Apparently she would rise early to practise the piano quietly alone before breakfast and was an accomplished musician herself. She organised her own albums of sheet music and regularly played for others to dance to. No doubt she made a better job of it than Mary Bennet. No wonder music figures so significantly in her writing. She once wrote her character, Emma, as stating that, ‘Without music life would be a blank to me.’ One wonders if this wasn’t the author herself speaking here. Her favourite composer was Ignaz Pleyel and had many of his compositions in her own collection.

I remember once watching the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice with a group of friends and an interesting faux pas occurred. I noticed the recurring piano theme that grew in strength throughout the film and immediately fell in love with it. “I do love that piece. I wonder if you can get the music?” I asked. “I’m sure you can buy a CD of the film themes.” My friend replied. When I explained that I actually meant the sheet music I was hailed as a snob and much hilarity ensued. I think Jane Austen would have enjoyed that!