I am often asked what it is I love so much about your novels. This is a very difficult question to answer, but I usually respond with something about the strength and realism of your characters. I consider it a remarkable accomplishments that you were able to write characters who have transcended time and setting for more than two hundred years, and who continue to appear recognizable and relatable to readers around the world. No two of your heroines are alike, nor are two villains. Your characters stand staunchly on their own and ignite some sort of reaction from all kinds of readers. Though your characters’ pursuits and manners of speech may be dated, most people can still claim to have a neighbor who is exactly like Miss Bates, or to have known a charming yet disingenuous suitor like Mr. Wickham. By creating rich and entertaining characters who inspire visceral reactions, you drew me deeply into the world of your novels at a young age. I have never looked back.
When I was in college I spent a semester studying at the university in Canterbury, and towards the end of my time there I took a day trip to Chawton. That is the first time I can remember spending an entire day by myself during which I felt that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, and felt entirely fulfilled. Six years later I returned to England to spend three weeks traveling to your former homes and places mentioned in your novels. This was a more challenging adventure in self-sufficiency, but a much more fulfilling one. It turned out that your novels were all the familiar company I needed as I discovered your world in a whole new way. I know I am not the only Janeite who can’t help but feel intimately acquainted with your characters. When I was younger I looked to them as role models; now I think of them as friends.
Sometimes people argue over whether you were a feminist, but I think your characters speak for themselves. In portraying your heroines living out a typical, day-to-day Regency existence, you implied that it is normal for young women to be smart, discerning, spirited, stubborn, and witty. Your heroines do not faint and they do not need to be rescued by a hero. One of the most traditional “rescue” tropes in your novels—Willoughby carrying home the injured Marianne and her subsequent infatuation with him—leads to disaster and heartbreak. In fact, another dramatic scene—one that ends better for all parties—defers the credit of rescue to a female character. It is Anne Elliot’s calm, sensible behavior following Louisa Musgrove’s fall from the Cobb that convinces Captain Wentworth of her superior character and abilities. It is modest moments like this; or Fanny Price’s quiet awareness and abhorrence of Henry Crawford’s true, selfish nature; or Elizabeth Bennet thanking Mr. Darcy for the kindness he has done her family that they will never otherwise repay, that make these characters worthy role models for other young women. I believe that the subtle, relatable brilliance of your novels and the admirable qualities of your heroines will continue to inspire future generations of feminist-minded readers. For this, and for the countless blissful hours I have spent, and will continue to spend, inside your novels, I am forever grateful to you.