Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jane Austen and Me, Part I

I haven't blogged in days. I feel so guilty. For once, I have a pretty good excuse. I've been working on my novel plus reading a wonderful book. Isn't that great?

I'll spare you the details of my own writing, at least for the moment, but I have to share my experiences reading Nancy Moser's amazing book, Just Jane, a fictionalized account of the life of Jane Austen. I mentioned this book once before, when I had just read a review of it and discovered that Jane Austen actually had a long, difficult journey toward being published. It's taken me this long to get around to reading the book myself, and it's hard to explain the powerful effect this story had on me.

Or maybe it's not hard. I felt a kinship with this woman as I walked through the years with her. I felt we had so much in common. I don't mean the details of her life, or the writing talent. (So you can all stop choking now.) But her temperament, and the overall direction of her life--well, here are a few examples.

From childhood, Jane was a writer. That's how she defined herself, and how most of her family and close friends defined her. She seemed to be working on one story or another practically from childhood, and yet she wrote only a few complete novels. There seemed to be a limited number of stories and special characters that she worked on, writing and thinking and rewriting, throughout her life.

I could have just described myself in that paragraph. I've identified myself as a writer since I was about seven years old. Like Jane, I have four of five groups of characters and stories that I pick up, finish, put down, and then come back to years later. When I signed with an agent a few years ago, the book I had just "finished" was in about its fourth incarnation. I started the first one when I was twelve, and at that time I was in my forties. The book I've been working on this past week is one I conceived when I was a teenager.

I've mentioned this before, but so many modern writers advise that you simply must sit down and crank out a certain word count every day, finish a story in a few months, and move on to the next one. I just can't do that, or at least it isn't natural for me. It wasn't for Jane, either. Not only did she seem to love the characters she created and want to live with them through the years (as do I), but life often intervened so she simply couldn't write for awhile. I know that feeling.

Jane Austen identified herself as a writer but she seemed to assume that she would also be a wife and mother. The years passed. Things happened. The husband and family never came, and the woman who conceived characters that will live forever never gave birth to a child in life. Though she never gave up on publishing a book, she seemed to accept that eventually it was too late for marriage and a family. I went through years of wondering if all that would pass me by. I did marry when I was 30, but I never was able to have the children I had planned.

I must confess that all the above Jane Austen information comes from only two sources: Nancy Moser's novel and a biographical article (which seemed to corroborate the general events in the novel). So I can't exactly say I'm an expert on her life. But I want to say thank you to Nancy Moser for introducing me to this woman, who almost feels like a friend now. Being a librarian, of course I'm so intrigued that I want to do more research.

This is getting a bit long for a blog post, so I'll continue tomorrow. I want to tell you some intriguing things I read about the end of Jane Austen's life.