Jane Austen remained a closed book (a pun so awful - I just couldn't resist) to me until I was nineteen. We didn't go in for the classics of English literature at home and I suppose I was lucky not to have 'done' Austen for A Level. At university I joined the local public library and vowed to read the fiction section from A - Z; it was pretty heavy going at times and I read an awful lot of second rate books. Fortunately Jane Austen made it all worthwhile. I had always imagined her books would be austere and humourless - instead they still make me laugh like a drain.
I love them all and read them at least once a year since that moment of discovery. They are comfort when I feel sad or ill and skip along when I feel happy. Having said that I have to admit that reading Northanger Abbey is a bit of an ordeal, but for the sake of completeness I wade through it. Also Fanny Price in Mansfield Park needs a good shake, no - let's make that a good slap. For goodness sake Fanny, why didn't you accept the handsome (and fairly sexy - for an Austen anti-hero) Henry Crawford - I know Edmund is a good egg, but I reckon he'd bore you silly within a year (if not before).
Pride and Prejudice - such a fantastic range of characters and great story with lots of twist and turns. It even translates well on TV and at the cinema; especially the Firth/Ehle TV version - no complaints from me about the addition of Darcy jumping in the lake (poor lamb did look a bit warm). But I do wish Alison Steadman hadn't played Mrs Bennett as a pantomime dame and - while I'm complaining - I'm not convinced by the guy who plays Wickham - would you elope with him and risk social ruin?. Definitely don't approve of the Keira Knightly/Matthew thingy film - she's too thin and he's just a bit of a drip (Daughter has come in and thinks I am being a little harsh to Matthew thingy). The 1940 film, although not totally true to the book, is good (disappointing that they didn't stick with the Regency period on a costume front). Laurence Olivier sounds good as Darcy, but his hair is too glossy to be convincing.
But for me the best of all the books is Persuasion where second chances are possible and faithful love is rewarded. I recently went to Lyme Regis and en hommage to Ms Austen walked on the Cobb. Actually I didn't enjoy this very much - it was rainy and windy, the Cobb is high, I got vertigo and was worried I'd replicate Louisa Musgrove's fateful jump. Fortunately I managed to stagger off the Cobb into the nearest museum (by way of a café and a restorative shopping experience).
Anne Elliot is a brilliant Austen heroine - long in the tooth (for those days at least - think she was about 28), long suffering (awful father, selfish sisters, interfering friend) and longing for her former beau Captain Wentworth. Frederick Wentworth is my all-time hero, despite being a bit of a chump at times - someone really should have told him that women don't like to overhear their heart's desire telling all and sundry that they haven't worn that well. But having written (in MHO) the best love letter in literature he redeems himself - you can judge for yourself:
... You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight and a half years ago. Dare not say that a man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.
I hope they never make another TV/film version as no one can out-do Ciaran Hinds - Captain Wentworth personified. A note to my colleague (you know who you are) I will not have Ciaran described as a horse and do not send me images of him pouting - it is very disturbing. Do I insult Michael (office pin-up) Fassbender? Although I must admit that young Michael makes a more convincing Mr Rochester - less facial hair than poor Ciaran had to sport in 1997 (just had an unpleasant thought - I'm assuming those mutton chop whiskers were stick on - say they were real?).