Swimming With Jane

Theo-Westenberger-Jane-2

Theo Westenberger

 

A young man is stretched out on the beach lapping up the winter sun absorbed in a book. When he puts it down to hike into the ocean I take a peek.

Emma by Jane Austin. Whaa?

Having been force fed Jane at school and fantasized about sticking Emma with a toasting fork this fascination with the enduring English author has never gripped me. I alone seem to have resisted the world’s explosive love affair with both Ms. Austen and her Regency world.

Mr Darcy has never done anything for me, even when Colin Firth pulled on the breeches. The silent type is not my go. Nor polite society. Back in Jane’s day, the untamed Celts north of the border would have been more to my liking.

The young man is swimming to China so I don’t stick around to quiz him about his reading tastes. But I am curious enough to Google “Men who read Jane Austin” (the alternative was to get a life) and discovered that my young beach goer was far from alone.

Jane has always had an adoring following of male fans. The literary scholar George Sainsbury coined the name Janeites for them in the late 1800s.

Rudyard Kipling was a Janeite. He wrote a wonderful poem about her. It’s called Jane’s Marriage.

JANE went to Paradise:

That was only fair.

Good Sir Walter met her first,

And led her up the stair.

Henry and Tobias,

And Miguel of Spain,

Stood with Shakespeare at the top

To welcome Jane —

Then the Three Archangels

Offered out of hand,

Anything in Heaven’s gift

That she might command.

Azrael’s eyes upon her,

Raphael’s wings above,

Michael’s sword against her heart,

Jane said: “Love.”

Instantly the under-

standing Seraphim

Laid their fingers on their lips

And went to look for him.

Stole across the Zodiac,

Harnessed Charles’s Wain,

And whispered round the Nebulae

“Who loved Jane?”

In a private limbo

Where none had thought to look,

Sat a Hampshire gentleman

Reading of a book.

It was called Persuasion,

And it told the plain

Story of the love between

Him and Jane.

He heard the question

Circle Heaven through —

Closed the book and answered:

“I did — and do!”

Quietly but speedily

(As Captain Wentworth moved)

Entered into Paradise

The man Jane loved!

 

If any woman deserved love it was Jane who brought solace to so many troubled hearts. While awaiting news of his missing son, Jack, in the First World War, Kipling would read and re read her novels to comfort his wife and daughter.

He later wrote an article about the soldiers in the trenches who read Jane’s stories to transport them from the horrors of the mud and gore back to the gentle drawing rooms of England.

Winston Churchill, another devotee, claimed that antibiotics and Pride and Prejudice had cured him of some ghastly fever, although the IV drip of Johnny Walker Red couldn’t have hurt either.

I can bore the next man I see clutching a copy of Pride and Prejudice with all this information. Maybe even recite the poem if I learn it. It will be an opportunity I have passed up for other beach-reading, such as Dan Brown.

Although, no doubt, there are Danites out there and somebody composing a well-deserved poem about Dan himself as I write.

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