Who Loved Jane Austen?
Jane Austen finished writing her final complete novel, PERSUASION, 195 years ago this month. It’s my favorite among her novels. I feel it more than her others – the pain Anne Elliot feels. Imagining that she’s made a mistake that cannot be undone, she holds her pain in check, always ready to serve others, to grieve privately, but to wish she had not been so easily persuaded when she was young.
I can’t help wondering how much of herself Miss Austen poured into Anne’s character. Perhaps not as a copy of her experience, but an imprint of her own heartache, pieced together into another form that has become one of literature’s most loved characters.
Many have speculated about the romantic inspiration for Miss Austen. Whom did she love? Was she loved in return? What were her regrets?
Histories have been dissected, correspondence examined; we read between the lines and speculate. Books are written, movies filmed. We wrap them in fiction to try and understand, but we don’t know the truth.
It’s nothing more than fiction, but I like to imagine there is truth in it somewhere – even if in nothing more than the love we readers still feel for her so long after her death. Here's what I wrote:
I hold the page and smile. I touch the face I loved.
It’s become famous, this image, and called like and unlike by those who knew her. And I gaze at it and see what they see and see what they do not. I’ve tried to draw too, though not skilled in the art, and hold this example, that like my own attempts, has captured the cheek and the hair that wisped against it, the brow and the eyes that enjoy its shelter. They are orbs of beauty, glistening just as I remember, looking at me, as I always wanted, windows to the soul that I loved more dearly than I loved cheek, eye, brow or hair.
It is the nose and the mouth with which the artist has failed. I do not fault her – she loved, perhaps if not better than I, at least longer, as sisters always will. But the nose cannot be drawn to capture the way it looked at this angle or that, once pert, then smart, Grecian and then curled like a tulip’s petal, in all its dimension impossible to accurately portray in this medium – perhaps in any. But the mouth, I think, is harder still. The way it smiles and laughs – yes – as most artists will try to portray her, and it is fair to call her sisterly lines accurate, true, curving where a smile will, bowing at the right place above sweet chin, below perfect nose. But how true is constant smiling? Can a beloved be caught in such a state and still be fully seen as beautiful?
Though sorrowful to see, I loved her when she frowned, ate, spoke, hurled abuse – mock and earnest – and even when her lovely rudder was curled in grief and covered with tears. Still, I smile and touch the face again, remembering, loving ever still, the one who knew of love but little, spoke of love yet less, but wrote of love like no one has or ever will.