Monday, October 29, 2012

Jazzed about Jane

I'm embracing a growing passion for Jane Austen novels. I always appreciated her writing style, but returning to her stories as an adult has brought new themes to life.

Have you ever noticed how much Austen related fan fiction exists out there? Google it and you'll be amazed. From altering the stories into a present day setting to morphing characters into zombies or continuing the story focusing on a particular player, there seems to be a huge fascination with the works of Jane Austen.

Book clubs, societies and online forums exist. It's maddening.

Now I love Austen as much as the next reader, but the overwhelming support of her work seems to be something worthy of taking notice. What is it about these stories that capture the imagination and attention of authors and readers alike?

I'm currently re-reading Pride and Prejudice.  I've noticed that so much of the story is built around hearsay, gossip and other's shared opinions. Everything we know about each character is funneled through the back room chatter of the characters. It's all second-hand knowledge.

This writing device creates a very accurate picture of the social nature in Britain at the time. The hierarchy was established and the classes divided by wealth and extravagance. Though is was against etiquette to speak on one's own private personal matters, no one seemed to refrain from discussing another's personal matters.

In my church we call this Lashon Hara. You might call it simply gossip. Austen's works, at first glance, seem completely buried in it.

Here's the brilliance of it: Everyone knows gossip is wrong. Every character in the story whispers their opinion in secret because, in fact, they know they are out of place by making such statements. Yet they are compelled to share and as we read their gossip we are pulled into their failures, following them in judgements and forming opinions based on the same limited knowledge that the characters have. In the end we see (along with the characters) the errors of our ways and the foolishness of judging others on half truths and misinformation.

We share the character's shame and guilt and the author planned it that way, a moral lesson as relevant in her time period as it is today.

How do you model proper speech in your home? Do your children hear you speak ill of others? Do you cause your friends to judge others based on your view of them? Are you missing something.

These are the crux of Austen, the core of misunderstanding, how it wounds, steals and destroys the beauty of truth.

This is just one (of many) reasons for sharing Jane's work with our children and revisiting them ourselves.

Go here to learn more about Lashon Hara. Lessons in the power of speech work in perfect concert with Austen's books and can create a dynamic discussion with your children.

Happy Learning!

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