Why Austen?

As a student studying mainly science A-levels when I relate my fourth choice to my peers their reaction often goes along the lines of: ‘[shocked and disgusted expression] Why would you do that to yourself?’. Upon which I commence lecturing them upon the importance of the arts, understanding the human condition etc.

However I realise that I did this magnanimous task in a less than efficient manner- lacking strong evidence and a succinct relation of argument. Hence, I decided to write this blog post for all those ‘literature haters’ out there (who have found themselves in this condition in life due to their unlucky fortune of not finding the right book)- focusing on the work of my long-standing favourite Jane Austen.

Last year I was asked the question ‘Why Jane Austen?’ And to my shame, I was stumped. I had read almost all of her work ( only her Juvenilia and Mansfield Park remained), watched every Lucy Worsley documentary on Regency England at my disposal- yet I couldn’t answer this simple question. I am no literary critic when I relate that my love for books comes from the moments when they draw me into their world- a personal relationship and one I hadn’t been used to sharing before arriving at Harris Westminster. Simply put, my appreciation ran deep, however my articulation did not. It wasn’t until I began studying Austen’s Sense and Sensibility as an A level text that I began to quantify exactly what about Austen’s writing held me rapturous whilst reading Pride and Prejudice.

Austen has a way of getting inside every character’s head. The reader is aware of the fancies of the protagonists even if they may not say it themselves explicitly. However, we do not have the full picture though it seems to be presented to us. Austen creates and artfully manipulates the technique of ’free indirect speech’ hence her creations seem greater than the page they reside on. This techniques allows her to mimic and unlock the inner workings of the human ( and some may argue radically female) mind. She explores the human condition not through her plot but through the character’s development. We appreciate ambiguity as a reader, and relish the flaws and quirks of each character.

One of my favourite characters in Austen’s ( though not my favourite book ) is Emma. A character which is always in flux, she cannot be quantified. A forward-thinking young lady who devolves into a self-righteous aristocrat, and then sensitive and repentant friend, the reader cannot quite pin her down. I personally had a deep revulsion for her when I finished the novel. Yet there is inherent humanity about Emma. Her flaws and self-serving inner monologue that counter-intuitively makes her appear genuine. Emma’s character isn’t narrated, it is told from self-serving human angles which the reader is left to dismantle ( an interesting fusion of striking realism and relative escapism).

Just scraping the surface of Literature is full of riches and is a truly self-inflicted joy. This succinct brief discussion is what I wish to say to my peers who hope to be scientists in the future. If they are so pent on finding the truth ( that the true beauty of the English language may pass them by ) then perhaps embracing literature may be a means of reaching their goal.

Let me know your thoughts @aatqaarham on Twitter

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