Today marks the 235th anniversary of the birth of British author Jane Austen. Austen was born on December 16, 1775. 1775: How amazing is it fact that a woman who lived in a time so removed from our own, can still remain one of the most beloved writers to ever put ink to page?
I came upon my Austen devotion quite early thanks to the abundance of classics in my great grandmother’s bookshelves. She never believed in limiting me or my reading choices by my age. Looking back on this her reasons were probably two-fold: first her library consisted of mostly classical works which were very unlikely to damage my young mind and secondly my reading level was near that of your average English major by middle school. I don’t think anyone knew what to do with me at that point since I had exhausted all the reading options that were age designated. I literally grew up on books, my family never pushed me to read in an unhealthy fashion although of course they never discouraged my book addiction either. I simply had a book in my hand as soon as I was capable of it. To me reading was as necessary as breathing. It was the same to my Granny.
Years later after her death my mother and I went through her boxes of books that she had always claimed would someday come to me. As we opened each box, I waited barely breathing. As I looked over the treasure of classics and old books that showed my Grandmother’s reading library in all it’s detail, I hoped just one was contained within. Meticulously as my Granny would read a book inside she would write her name and the year she had read the book. Most of the books showed this distinctive habit but many did not. As my mother finally pulled out the treasured book I had wished with all my heart was in the box…I took it in my hands and took a deep breath. It was her copy of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. And as I opened the cover I saw the inscription that brought tears to my eyes.
R. Welch 1971.
Of all the books I have held in my hands and perused with my mind…this is one that means the most. Pride and Prejudice has always been a favorite of mine. It’s always been a book that I could fall into and live in again and again. But what means the most is not only that it is Jane but it is a connection to a woman who made me who I am today. A woman who led me on my path not only to reading but to Jane and eventually librarianship and a desire to spread the classics to others… most of all children.
Sometimes we have “kindred spirits” in this world and just rarely I believe we are lucky enough to find them. Heather Vogel Frederick is no doubt one of mine. Her passion to spread the love of classic literature with children including dear Jane is one I share with all my heart. I am so pleased to share below a little bit about her love of Jane Austen, her newest Jane inspired work and her much coveted pilgrimage. Welcome Heather once again to Stiletto Storytime!
For Austen fans, all roads eventually lead to Jane, don’t they?
“When The Mother-Daughter Book Club was first published several years ago, I had absolutely no idea that my tale of four middle-school girls reading Little Women would spark a sequel, let alone what has now become a full-blown series (as of this writing, there are two more books in the works). And yet, somewhere in the back of my mind I must have been open to the possibility, because in retrospect all the seeds for Pies & Prejudice, my just-published tribute to Jane, were planted right from the start (including Phoebe Hawthorne, the librarian mom who is such an Austen nut that she names her daughter and son Emma and Darcy.)
Once it was clear that there would be more than just the one book, I knew right away that at some point the girls would read Pride and Prejudice. It is, after all, my favorite book, narrowly edging out Persuasion and Charlotte’s Web. The question was, though, when would my club be ready for it? I didn’t want to spring it on them too early and risk spoiling the experience. As difficult as it was, I had to wait a few books while my girls grew up a little. And so they went on to read Anne of Green Gables in Much Ado About Anne and Daddy-Long-Legs in Dear Pen Pal. Finally, as ninth grade and the fourth installment rolled around, I deemed that they were ready for Jane.
Christmas came just as I was preparing to launch into the research for what would become Pies & Prejudice. Wanting to get me a meaningful gift, my husband presented me with a glorious set of the Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen.
“I had hoped to find first edition Austens for you,” he confided. “But they were, um, expensive.”
“Really?” I replied, somehow managing to keep a straight face. “I had no idea.” I waited until he left the room to fall on the floor laughing. Bless his heart, he is such an innocent.
I’m thrilled with the new set, of course, which joins my Everyman’s Library edition and Penguin Classics edition and several dog-eared paperback editions on the shelf. And of course Jane is on my Kindle in her entirety as well. One simply cannot be without one’s Austen, and I don’t leave home without her. And leave home I did, at the earliest opportunity. Travel for research is one of the perks of a writer’s life, and I take full advantage of it whenever I can, in this case hightailing it to England, where Bath and Chawton and all the other Austen sites awaited. You can read about my pilgrimage here.
But I can sum it up in one word for you right now: Sublime.
(Pictured: Heather Vogel Frederick and Jane Austen’s Writing Desk)
My goal for Pies & Prejudice, as with all the other titles in this series, is two-fold: first and foremost, to tell a good story, because it is a truth universally acknowledged that a good story is the beating heart of any book. Beyond that, however, I also hope to inspire my readers to seek out the originals and read them, too. There are certain books that deserve to be known and loved by a new generation, and nothing could make me happier than if my Mother-Daughter Book Club series was single-handedly responsible for a spike in sales of Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Daddy-Long-Legs, Pride and Prejudice, and whatever classic novel my fictional book club ends up tackling next.
My plan appears to be working. “Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorites now,” wrote one young reader recently, her words echoed by numerous others in the letters and emails I receive. And really, what better reward is there for a writer, and an Austen fan, than that?”
Coming up on Stiletto Storytime:
“With interesting facts about Austen interspersed throughout, and a visit to relevant sites in England incorporated, this book makes an excellent introduction to one of the most masterful—and popular—writers of all time. Don’t be surprised if 12-year-olds start checking out Pride & Prejudice after reading this teen-tailored adaptation.”