By Katelyn Diaz
I have a list of things I say I want to do one day, but that one day never seems to come. Now, thanks to zoom calls and quarantine, I was finally able to cross one of them off the list.
I have always loved reading—among my friends I’ve always been known as the person who you do not want to get started on anything related to feminist ideals. So how could it be that I had never read a Jane Austen novel?
Jane Austen has many famous quotes, one in particular says a lot about what she values:
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
This quote can be found in one of Austen’s earliest novels, “Northanger Abbey,” and is said by her beloved character, Henry Tilney. Throughout the novel, Tilney acts as Austen’s voice peeking through the story, a technique Austen uses flawlessly. This extremely blunt critique is only part of why I’m so glad to have finally begun reading Jane Austen.
I have always wanted to read her novels, but I always made excuses that prevented me from doing so. One of my earliest memories that shaped the way I think was the time I was told girls did nt\ot need to be smart, just pretty enough, by some boys in my class. I confided in my third grade teacher about this incident and she told me that one day I should open up a piece written by Austen or Virginia Woolf and I would see that that wasn’t true.
Literature professor, Gaura Narayan, offered my friend and I an independent course centered on Jane Austen’s most famous novels. Professors Narayan and Anne Kern, Dean for global strategy and international programs, were kind enough to give us their time after our study abroad program in Spain was cancelled. It was too difficult to continue the classes we had begun in Spain, with the change in time zones being the most obvious challenge. Somehow, we still had to make up the credits we were missing. Although, I had a lot to complain about because COVID-19, I couldn’t find myself to be upset with the independent courses these two wonderful professors have provided me.
Professor Kern created for us a rich syllabus about the female gaze in movies. She gave us the authority to shape the course and topic however we wanted. While this was scary at first, we now dive into a lively discussion every week about a film I would never have picked for myself.
The films are also about female empowerment, which as I stated above, is something I’m always proud to talk about. The bright side of all the turmoil going on at the moment may be small, but I will never forget what Austen and even some of the inspiring films I’ve seen this semester, have already taught me.
Austen shows how a novel is more than a plot, it is all about the language used. The way she embedded Mary Wollstonecraft’s beliefs into her novels is almost like a scavenger hunt of feminist discourses.
In Northanger Abbey, the heroine read many novels that altered her reality. Austen utilized Wollstonecraft’s stance on the negative effect of women reading sensationalist novels. She taught her heroine how to use her common sense in order to depict what is real and what is just part of a narrative.
Jane Austen focusing on critical thinking, language, and the average heroine is
revolutionary. As her young character was brought back down to earth and learned a valuable lesson, I was also learning that lesson right beside her.
This all may sound like it came straight from a Jane Austen fan club, but despite all that is happening in the world right now, adding another extraordinary female author to my knowledge is a clearing in all the darkness. I can be that unlikely heroine that Austen illustrated, especially during this crisis we are in.
It took me a long time to get here, but my third grade teacher was right. In the works of women like Austen lie a lot of important lessons. Now I can leave this quarantine with a larger comprehension of Jane Austen and searching for anyone who wants to discuss feminism