Jane Austen, one of England’s foremost and most beloved novelists, died 200 years ago today, July 18, 1817, at the age of 41. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral where thousands travel every year to pay their respects. Five years ago I went there myself, chasing Jane. I’ve chased Jane for much of my life, loving the wit, depth, and challenge of Jane Austen’s novels since day one. I studied abroad in the spring of 2012 in Bath, England, taking classes through Oxford and interning at the Jane Austen Centre. Living in Bath was a dream come true for a Janeite. Every day, I walked by places she lived and buildings and pathways she describes intimately in her novels. I explored who I was, the things I loved, and when I returned to New York I changed my major and embraced my desire to work in book publishing.
And now, dear readers, how could I possibly leave you without a list of books to satisfy all of your Jane Austen desires?
Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
One of the most well-recognized biographies of Jane Austen’s life, it’s also my favorite. It’s a vivid and immensely rich portrayal of Jane Austen, dismantling the image of Austen as a sheltered spinster. It’s not a light read by any means—Austen’s life was filled with tragedy and frustration—but it’s so worth the time. I’d also recommend Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye.
Longbourn by Jo Baker
“If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.”
I’m often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Jane Austen spin-offs and retellings available but if I could only read one it would be Longbourn by Jo Baker. It’s a downstairs retelling of Pride and Prejudice and while it has all of the romance and drama of the original it also captures the daily life of the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars. It adds this level of grit and nuance to the original that is fascinating.
Don’t let anyone fool you—men love Jane Austen too! A Jane Austen Education by book critic William Deresiewicz is part memoir and part analysis of all six of Austen’s novels. Deresiewicz looks back at the arrogant young man he was when he first read Austen and details the lessons he’s taken away from each novel (Northanger Abbey: learning to learn, Persuasion: true friends.) It’s honest and moving and has this sweet, poignant ending that I just adored.
Other fun (and some bizarre, but hey I’m no purist) related titles that I recommend:
Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe
Austenland by Shannon Hale
Bridget Jones’s Diary: A Novel by Helen Fielding
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
Jane and the Damned by Janet Mullany
Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen by Arielle Eckstut and Dennis Ashton
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters
(Cover picture is from Penguin Books USA, shared on their Twitter. Isn’t it beautiful?)