Sundays with Jane Austen

In Austen's 'Persuasion,' Sally Hawkins appears as Anne Elliot, who again meets Captain Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones) years after rejecting his proposal.

Published: Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Her smirk recently graced the cover of Newsweek, her name consistently tops international best-seller lists, and in the last six months, two full-length films were released about her life and work.

Make no mistake: 19th-century novelist Jane Austen's still got it.

As a cover girl and household name nearly 200 years after her death, chances are, this "great-great-grandmother of chick lit" will never lose "it."

Beginning tonight at 9 p.m., PBS will give millions of Austen fans at least seven more reasons to schedule emergency book club meetings.

The popular British series "Masterpiece Theatre" will kick off "The Complete Jane Austen," a four-month marathon featuring adaptations of all six major novels plus a new biographical drama based on the English writer's life.

Every Sunday night until April 6, PBS will air one of the author's popular film adaptations, including "Emma" starring Kate Beckinsale and "Pride and Prejudice" starring Colin Firth.

On Feb. 9, after the first four installments, Gainesville's most dedicated Austen admirers will gather to discuss the series and other topics at a monthly Jane Austen Society of North America meeting. The Gainesville chapter, which boasts about two dozen members, includes men and women from college age to 80 plus.

Although each member may not agree on a favorite work or character, their reasons for reading and re-reading Austen's six novels an average of two or three times a year were unanimous.

"It's the way she portrays her characters," said Muriel Kay Heimer, former president of Lake City Community College and member of JASNA in Gainesville for 23 years. "They're just as alive today as they were 200 years ago."

Her "sparse" style strips the prose of any flowery details or excess description, Heimer explained. What you see is what you get, which is why the characters can "live forever."

Gert Desjardin, a retired school librarian and member of JASNA for 20 years, has read Austen's novels so many times she can quote most chapters from memory (and often does.)

"Jane's people are real," Desjardin said of the characters her family has fallen in love with. "You don't roll your eyes at her descriptions because you meet them."

It's this insight into the human condition that keeps most fans interested.

Although Austen lived as an 19th-century gentry woman, her characters seem plucked from modern day, explained Julia Martin, store manager at Books Inc. at NW 13th Street.

"A lot of times 200-year-old jokes don't translate but her dialogue stays fresh and relatable," Martin said, explaining why Austen's six novels sell so well locally. "We sell something of hers at least every week."

To join JASNA or attend a local meeting contact president Amy Robinson at

Austen all the time

Tune into to PBS every Sunday night at 9 p.m. until April to catch film adaptations of all of your favorite Austen novels. In Gainesville, PBS is on WUFT, Channel 3.

"PERSUASION," 9-10:30 p.m. Sunday: Eight years ago, at the urging of her snobbish friends and family, Anne Elliot declined a marriage proposal from Captain Wentworth. Now he's back from war - rich and single.

"NORTHANGER ABBY," Jan. 20; 9-10:30 p.m.: Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) forms an affection for Henry Tilney, but her powerful imagination may undermine their relationship.

"MANSFIELD PARK," Jan. 27; 9-10:30 p.m.: Fanny Price (Billie Piper) grew up with her wealthy relatives, including cousin Edmund Bertram. New neighbors, however, threaten her happiness.

"MISS AUSTEN REGRETS," Feb. 3; 9-10:30 p.m.: This biopic explores romances the unmarried Austen might have had.

"PRIDE AND PREJUDICE," Feb. 10, 17 and 24; 9-11p.m.: Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth) and Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle) trade barbs and misconceptions. Originally aired in 1995.

"EMMA," March 23, 9-11 p.m.: Emma Woodhouse (Kate Beckinsale) plays matchmaker while knowing little about her own desires. Originally aired in 1997.

"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY," March 30 and April 6; 9-10:30 p.m.: Sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood (Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield) navigate the perils of poverty and love.

Jane Austen Society events

Join Jane's biggest fans at local Jane Austen Society of North America meetings. All meetings are held at the Tower Road Public Library from noon until 2 p.m. unless otherwise posted. Members are encouraged to bring a teacup and a finger food to share.

Feb. 9: Austen Portraits and Films:

Gert Desjardin will give a short talk called "Searching for Jane Austen, or the Great Victorian Cover-up," in which she discusses the portraits of Jane Austen. After a PowerPoint presentation, she will ask, "Which one is your Jane Austen?"

Members will discuss the Austen film adaptations that have aired on PBS.

April 5: "Sense and Sensibility":

Members will discuss Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" and the first part of the new film that aired on PBS.

July 19: "Sanditon":

Members will discuss "Sanditon" through Austen's uncompleted fragment and completed versions by various authors. Suggested: "Sanditon" by Marie Dobbs/Ann Telescombe/"Another Lady" (1975), or by Juliet Shapiro (2004).

Sept. 13: Travel in Austen's Novels:

Carrie Bolte, a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Florida, is working on her dissertation about the depiction of travel and tourism in the literature of early 19th-century women writers and will be speaking about "deliciously selfish tourists" in Austen novels.

December: Happy Birthday, Jane!:

Celebrate Jane's birthday with an annual toast. Location TBA.

To join JASNA or attend a local meeting contact president Amy Robinson at

Vanessa Garcia can be reached at 352-338-3166 or

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