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Jane Austen 200

Launch the fireworks and strike up the band! We’re celebrating a bicentennial, not of a nation’s birth or a famous battle, but in honor of one of the English language’s greatest writers. It’s been 200 years since Jane Austen walked among us, and if you’re in her native Hampshire in England, you can take part in all manner of commemorations. On this side of the pond, probably the best tribute you can pay is to turn to a book by or about her.

I said “greatest” above, which is true, but I could also have said “most beloved.” There’s a particular charm to Austen’s work that defies the years and makes her work as fresh today as it was in her own age. Yes, we still read Shakespeare, Swift, and Sterne, but they require readers to prep their minds a bit before plunging in. You don’t have to suit up for a time travel trip before entering Austen’s world. Maybe that’s because she continues to be so widely imitated–her brand of witty romance has never gone out of style.

There’s a lot more to her than teacups and bonnets, though ... continued