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Coffee and Classics: On Jane Austen (Guest Post by Amy Colton)

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Amy Colton’s joyful obsession with all-things-Jane might just make your day, as it did mine. Read her guest post and smile!

From Amy:  I love Jane Austen. I mean I really love Jane Austen.  

In my mid-thirties, I was living a fulfilling life in a new city, raising four young children with my sweet husband and working on endless volunteer committees. And then I met Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy (yes, somehow I missed them in high school and college – shameful!). A friend brought a video set of the much beloved 1995 BBC mini-series of Pride & Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as a hostess gift when she visited for the weekend. We watched the entire show in one sitting – all six hours of it. And then we watched it again. In one weekend, a lifelong passion was ignited, and my love of all-things-Jane has been my hobby and go-to happy place ever since.

Jane Austen’s works are pure joy for me. Boy meets girl. Misunderstandings and barriers abound. Boy is clueless. Girl is dense. A hint is dropped. Hope. Boy gets girl. Girl gets boy. Joy. A kiss. Delightful! I have always been an Anglophile, climb inside the pageantry of period pieces, and LOVE a good romance. Jane Austen’s stories plant me in Regency England amidst its big estates and subtle flirtations, and despite the restrictive primogeniture and societal expectations, Austen’s heroines show spunk, ingenuity and strength. And nerve. I want to root for them all.

Jane Austen (1775-1817) was the daughter of a clergyman in a large, happy, educated family in Steventon, Hampshire, England (about fifty miles southwest of London). Never married, she lived a simple life but was exposed to the upper echelons of society through family members and began writing stories at a very young age (eleven years old). She was one of the first authors to write from a woman’s perspective – what a new concept! – and boldly pushed the ‘delicate female’ envelope with some of her characters. She dared to give Elizabeth Bennet (Pride & Prejudice), a young woman with no assurance of financial independence, the audacity to turn down not one, but two proposals of marriage from very respectable men. Anne Elliot (Persuasion), way past her prime at 27, bolted away from the prospect of marrying a titled cousin and her father’s heir, and into the arms of her dashing sea captain. When Pride & Prejudice was published in 1813, Elizabeth Bennet raised many eyebrows for her feisty banter and energetic movements. (It must be noted that every generation since the publication of the book has adored Mr. Darcy.)

Austen’s characters are flawed but not helpless, and the arc they take from introduction to matrimony is filled with humor and adventure. There are well meaning but meddling family and friends (Pride & Prejudice‘s Mrs. Bennet, Sense & Sensibility‘s Mrs. Jennings, Emma‘s Mrs. Weston), disingenuous acquaintances (Pride & Prejudice‘s Miss Bingley, Sense & Sensibility‘s Lucy Steele), tiresome characters (Pride & Prejudice‘s Mr. Collins, Mansfield Park‘s Mrs. Norris) and always an appealing man.

After I wore out my videos of Pride & Prejudice, I tore into all seven of Jane Austen’s novels, absorbing every plot, character, and turn of phrase. We are a movie-quoting family, and Austen’s charming words figure prominently in our family chatter – “I have no fixed engagements,” “I am excessively diverted,” “excellent notion,” “and yet I am unmoved.”

The literary and film worlds provide me with infinite fuel for my hobby. After devouring all of Austen’s novels and seeing all film and TV productions available (including buying several soundtracks), I found that there are endless sequels, knockoffs and modern day adaptations of her works with new books and movies always on the horizon. Clearly, Jane Austen sells – and not just to me! A few of my favorite “sequels” are Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll, Mr. Darcy’s Daughters by Elizabeth Aston, and Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James. The films I watch over and over are Sense & Sensibility (1995 with Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant), Emma (1996 with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam), and Persuasion (both BBC TV movies, 1995 starring Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds, and 2007 with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones). Favorite movies ‘inspired by’ Jane Austen include Clueless (1995), Emma (1996) and Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001).

But Pride & Prejudice will always be my favorite. That famous wet-shirted Darcy in the 1996 BBC production AND the Academy Award nominated 2005 feature film (with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen) are both on endless loop at my house. And I am not alone. Claire Foy who plays Queen Elizabeth in the Netflix-original The Crown says, “I’ve seen Pride & Prejudice (1995) about 4,000 times. I’m not joking. I know every single line.” Shamelessly, I admit that I saw the first show of the 2005 film on opening day and when the words “Pride & Prejudice” emerged on screen in the opening credits (with the background of a beautiful sunrise over a haze and dew blanketed English countryside, birds chirping) tears came to my eyes. Total bliss.

My bookshelves overflow with books and DVDs and my drawers are full of trinkets and t-shirts (including one by Litographs printed with the entire text of Pride & Prejudice). I have Pride & Prejudice post-it notes, a Jane Austen refrigerator magnet, dogs named Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and a pin that says, “My husband is jealous of a fictional character.” Every one of them makes me smile.

Who knew that an author – one who never married nor lived an elaborate life – could write stories that would continue to delight audiences 200 years later? I, for one, am really glad she did.

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Amy Colton – pretty in pink! – is good at laughing and planning, two skills not always found in the same sentence or person. She enjoys, among other things, sewing and embroidery, scrapbooking, a walk in the park, yoga, and board games. Even organizing a closet. Cooking? Not so much. “I’m a terrible cook!” she claims. 

As the mother of four, she’s learned a thing or two along the way – “mostly that there is so much in life I cannot control (especially THEM, once they are adults!) so just to sit back, thank God for what I have, hold onto my sweet husband and ride all of the ups and downs of the waves together.” What she hopes her children have learned from her is “to put God first and be generous to others with their time, talent and treasure.” For more specific advice on parenting teenagers, Amy laughs. “I have lots of advice – anyone can call me!” she responds.

She also has good advice on large-scale party planning and fundraising, after serving as Swan Ball Chair a few years back. “I chaired the Ball the first year I was empty-nested, so I loved being busy and having something to do (a wonderful salve to my sad mommy heart). I loved that it was challenging. I met many fabulous, passionate women. I learned a lot more about Cheekwood. I got to be creative. And organized. And I got to spend 18 months with Julie Walker who is the sweetest, smartest, loveliest person.”

Right now, Amy’s looking forward to visiting their youngest daughter in London in June. All their other children will join them – amazing! – and Amy’s excited about the time they’ll share. Of course she’ll miss their two pugs – Elizabeth Bennet (Lizzie) and Mr. Darcy.  “Jane Austen (Janie) was killed by the garbage man in 2012, so now we just have Lizzie and Darcy. They have torn up my house and pee on everything but we still adore them.”  

I adored today’s post! Thank you, Amy.

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Top image: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_macrovector’>macrovector / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

12 Comments

  1. Great post, Amy! I think many bibliophiles have an author who is their personal goddess. L.M. Montgomery is mine (and Jen, you know this!❤️). It’s more than escapism and entertainment; these authors give us a true north.

  2. Wonderful post on a tremendous author by a terrifically talented friend! Loved your vigor and excitement, Amy! I am ready to sit down and dive into a timeless Austen novel, again.

  3. You can’t help smiling when you read this great post! Amy is whole hearted in all things! Brava!

  4. Amy, you always make me smile! Fabulous post!

  5. Even if you are not a raving fan of Jane Austen, one cannot help but being captivated by Amy Colton and a little more predisposed to Miss Austen’w works.

  6. Loved this post! Love Amy!!!

  7. Just now reading this post b/c I was traveling the day it came out and then forgot to go back to it! what a delight to read it now on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. Amy’s infectious enthusiasm inspires me to take Miss Austen off the shelf once more.

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