Shannon Hale on Jane Austen

Get ready, guys. Next Monday, February 13Shannon Hale is coming back to Figment! She’ll be joined at 8 p.m. ET to talk about all things Jane Austen with fellow Austen-ites Elizabeth Eulberg (Prom and Prejudice) and E. Lockhart (The Boyfriend List). Afterward, all three authors are going to be taking your questions, so start planning your brilliant queries now. Sign up to get an email reminder about the chat by going here

Below, Shannon–author of the new novel Midnight in Austenlandlets us know what Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice means to her.

I first read Pride and Prejudice in high school for unassigned pleasure. I can’t remember who recommended it to me. Everyone, I guess. I loved it. I’d never read a romance before, and I lapped it up. Mr. Darcy was perfect! Elizabeth was perfect! The long ago–far away, the longing and finding—perfection! I immediately sought out the rest of Austen’s novels and ate them up too.

At 19, I went on a study abroad to Mexico. Saturated with Spanish, far from home, I found a worn copy of Pride and Prejudice in the school’s small English-language library. I didn’t mean to read it. I was supposed to be immersing myself in a new language. But I opened the first page and that was all it took. I was in England again and falling most dangerously in love with Mr. Darcy. I turned pages, hungry, as if I had no idea what would happen next. It was as fresh to me as it had been at first.

At age 23, I read Pride and Prejudice for at least the third time. But wait . . . it was no longer a romance. How on earth could a book simply change genre? Now it was social commentary, feminist and raw and heady and fascinating. The slavery of women! The bindings of social custom! I wrote a seething essay for a college course—well supported from the text, I thought—on how Austen is mistaken for a romantic when really she was a biting satirist.

At 27, I read Pride and Prejudice again. I was married, my master’s degree finished, and working on novels of my own. And the book changed genre on me yet again. It was a comedy now! How had I never noticed? It was a laugh-out-loud romp with the most fun dialogue and deliciously askew narrator. Simply brilliant.

Many people ask me, why do you think Jane Austen is so enduring? Simple answer: she writes books people want to reread. Books mean different things to different people at different times. It’s impossible to generalize why so many people love her. All I know is, her books are just plain good. She’s a marvelous writer. Her characters are unique and relatable, her voice is funny and sharp, her observances are intelligent and worth examining, her dialogue is rich and believable. Heck, the dame can write a sentence. A book written with that much skill and depth doesn’t age. So many of the classics are historically dependent—a reader needs to decode language or understand complicated historical contexts in order to fully appreciate why the book was (and/or continues to be) important. Austen is only human dependent. Her characters could live then, now, or anyhow. Her stories feel vibrant and alive. They grow with you.

I can’t wait to see what genre Pride and Prejudice becomes next.

Want to check out Pride and Prejudice for yourself? Read the full text here on Figment!

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