The original tabletop on which Jane Austen used to write, in her home in Chawton, England — now the “Jane Austen House Museum”. Photo: Carrie Speaking

Jane Austen Would Have Been a Kick-Ass Blogger.

Sometimes you’re just in that mood — foraging through the classics you thought you’d never read. You know they exist, you know they are part of your culture, sometimes you even know key twists of their plots. But you always have something else to read, something hot from the oven, something just out in your local bookshop. Somehow, these classics have been around for such a long time that you feel they can wait a little longer: they’re not gonna run anywhere, they’re not gonna run out of fashion or out of print anymore.

Until one day, for some reason, you start reading one. Say, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. You find it refreshing, and strangely compelling. You realize you want to know what happens next. You realize the story feels oddly modern. You raise both eyebrows at some of the main character’s bouts of feminism:

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

Then you may read Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. You’re thinking: How someone in their right mind would come up with such a horrible character as Heathcliff? Everytime you close that book and come back to real life and real people around you, you feel on edge. You throw a side glance at the person seated a few feet from you, to check if they’re not actually staring at you, grinning and cutting their nails with a butcher’s knife.

And then finally, you see that tiny wee book on a shelf. You grab it. It reads:

Jane Austen’s “Lady Susan”

You know Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility. Classics. You even watched the BBC series. But that tiny book? You’ve never heard of it. You open it. It consists of short letters, chronologically ordered. Characters instant-messaging each other, kind of.

Well, let me tell you that reading Austen’s short but unbelievably witty epistolary novel was a delight. Pour yourself a cup of tea, and please, by all means, go for it. Let it surprise you.

Lady Susan could be you, or your neighbor, or your colleague. She could be around, like now in 2017. She will put you in a oh-my-gosh!, no-way!, what-a-bitch! (pardon my French) kind of mood. On the other hand, you will feel for her. You will feel the restraint. The stagnation. The thoughtless condamnations.

And suddenly Jane Austen is not that uptight, sepia figure anymore. She is, as she may be, a young and talented woman, smiling ferociously, observing her contemporaries and writing about them for a wider and wider audience, getting better at it, reading others and thinking of her next topic or character. She would have been a kick-ass blogger. She was an outstanding writer. A woman who was seeking to do more or learn more than custom had pronounced necessary for her sex.

I’d like to conclude this piece with a Facebook synopsis of Lady Susan. To put you in the right mood, and maybe convince the most reluctant.

You’re welcome.

Lady Susan: A Facebook synopsis. © Carrie Speaking

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