The Saddest of Days
A Eulogy for Jane Austen
July 18th is the saddest of days for Janeites. Yet it is also a time of celebration. While we collectively mourn the loss of someone so great to us, we also celebrate her life. Indeed, it is a time of both long-delayed tears, and joy.
As General Patton once said, about the casualties under his command, “It is foolish to mourn the dead. Instead, we should thank God that such men lived.”
I half-agree with the esteemed general. It is not foolish to mourn the dead; whether recent, or in the past. Though I agree, we should be thankful that such a woman lived. The daughter of a humble clergyman changed the world. She had lead no battlefield victories. Nor, did she run for office. Instead, she fought against convention. In a time when there were few opportunities for women, she created her own career path. In that respect, she did fight a battle, and won. She became not only an inspiration to women, but to men as well. Two-hundred years after her passing, her legacy continues.
It is a rare thing for a novelist to impact the whole of society. It is even more rare for that novelist to endure. The words that flowed from her pen are fresh on the lips and hearts of all her admirers. Though written by her hand in another time, they still hold power today. Not only do we see ourselves in her characters, we see universal truths. Jane’s work is a microcosm; not just of Regency England, but of all human thought, and emotion. She knew human nature when psychology hadn’t been dreamed of yet. Her observations, and her good use of them, have shown readers a greater insight into the human condition than any college textbook.
As we mourn the loss of one who has touched our lives, we also celebrate.
Two-hundred years have passed since Jane Austen walked the stones of Bath. Her well-used writing table stands in Chawton, as if its mistress is about to use it again. Though her pen may lay idle, we feel she is with us. All one has to do is read her books, and instantly one is in communion with her.
Two-hundred years, and her visage will grace the ten-pound note. Lovely statues of her will be erected in Basingstoke, and Winchester Cathedral. Her life will be celebrated with readings, costume balls, and (naturally) specially brews teas and ales. In a great way, those that love her are giving back to her by honoring her memory.
Though it was two-hundred years since she was laid to rest, she lives. Millions of people, in various languages, will open any one of her books on any given day. They will read the thoughts of a woman who has inspired, and will continue to inspire for many more centuries to come. The costume balls will continue. The readings will never cease. The pianoforte will fill the air with the sounds of her time. Many a match will be made. Many a broken heart will be mended by her words.
Two-hundred years, and she is still with us.
I will close with words from that distinguished lady herself.
"All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!"
― Jane Austen, Persuasion
Text copyright Riley Joyce