LITERATURE No reading of the classics is complete without Jane Austen. Here is what some fans have to say about the 19{+t}{+h} Century English novelist on her 235th anniversary

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

This Jane Austen line still brings a smile to Jane Austen lovers, of which there is a legion. The celebrated English novelist, of works such as “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “Emma” and so on, turned 235 years old last week.

Her books continue to be widely read by those who enjoy a taste of the quintessential English society of the early 19th Century.

Bhavini Pant, a literature graduate, says, “Jane Austen had the most subtle manner of interweaving her own authorial voice into a story. Her books are rich, historical archives for Regency England. Her skilful description of locales and clothes and also her perspective on the lives of women and how society perceived them made her an icon among women writers. Her insightful observations and protean characters have made her stand out brilliantly in the literary world.”

A panacea

“Pride and Prejudice”, with its feisty heroine Elizabeth and the tall, handsome and noble Darcy, still continues to sell like hot cakes in book stores. Prema Subramaniam of Higginbotham's, unfailingly recommends it to children who visit the store. “Jane Austen's novels are perennial favourites. And, “Pride and Prejudice” should be read by all, irrespective of the age. Students aspiring to speak good English must read Jane Austen,” declares Prema. The classic is also prescribed as a part of the syllabus, in colleges and schools. Jayanthasri Balakrishnan, Associate Professor of English Literature, who loves Austen's novels, muses, “Austen's works are a panacea for self-generated maladies of a modern woman's psyche. Austen's Emma, Elizabeth or any other female protagonist is endowed with a sense of well-being. The heroine in her works may not be perfect, but she is certainly comfortable in her skin.”

Working woman Deepthi Sriram, read “Pride and Prejudice” just when she was beginning to understand the ideas of love, courtship and an "accomplished" woman.

Elegant women

“None of Jane Austen's heroines is exceedingly rich or beautiful. They are elegant, kind and witty. They have their misgivings but they do the right thing. Someone you can hope to be, she says.”

Jayanthasri thinks that in this world of imperfection, it is important that her students know to address and love people for what they are. “Austen's novels can be used to highlight this aspect of life. However, I have to keep reminding my students that Austen's stories do not belong to the Mills and Boon category of books!” she remarks.

Manspeak

Whoever thinks Jane Austen writes only for the female spectrum of readers should listen to Subramanian, President of a Consulting Firm. “Jane Austen was a remarkable and astute observer of human nature who captured the quintessence of the English bourgeoisie in her finely written novels,” he says. Sudhakar Vishwanathan of Arctern Consulting, Bangalore cherishes memories of reading Austen's novels in his 20s. Why, Prema's brother Ambi has read “Pride…” more than a 100 times!

There are of course, the voices of dissent. Jane Austen has herself said, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.” Such as Dev Dutta, an English (Hons) student of Delhi University. He finds it hard to cruise through her books. “All the characters without exception, in “Pride and Prejudice”, talk about trivial things instead of directly addressing the issue they want to. This leads to a full chapter on a single action. And, there is an exasperating air of superficiality in most of their conversations. It is a style that persists throughout the novel. Everyone is obsessed with marriage,” observes Dev. It isn't easy to find teenagers reading Jane Austen.

Shraddha, a 14 year old says, “I prefer reading books like Harry Potter, Narnia or Twilight. There is a lot more action in it and I like the elements of fantasy in these books, which are lacking in classics,” she says.

A hard act to follow

Classics might get pushed to the back of the bookshelves and mash ups, like ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies', and ‘Emma and the Werewolves' might appear. But, nothing will quite cut a dash like Jane Austen.