|Silhouette of Jane Austen |
On Becoming Older Than My Dead Best Friend: Reflections from a Janeite on Our Respective Birthday/Death Day in Mid-July
I spend so much time thinking about Jane Austen throughout the year because I run the Boston Austen Book Club. This past year, I have often thought, "we are the same age." And as of last Tuesday, I have now outlived my dead best friend, Jane. My birthday is July 14. Her death day was 203 years ago on July 18. With a deadly pandemic running rampant in this country, I knew the milestone wasn't a guarantee.
Still, I can't help but thinking about our similar lives. We are spinsters. We are writers. We are relatively poor among our cohorts, but in the grand scheme of things actually quite comfortably middle class. We are totally fun aunts. We make people laugh. We love books.
Jane Austen wrote 6 complete novels before she died: Sense and Sensibility, Price & Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. Her juvenalia included: Love & Freindship [sic], Henry & Eliza, and A History of England. Her unfinished works are Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon.
She called her writing her children. I can totally relate to this.
But for my part, I actually relate to a different Dead Best Friend, Emily Dickinson, who never published any of her poems; they were all published post-humously. They were tucked in a dresser drawers. All the hundreds of them. I have published some of my poems, but I haven't published any of the manuscripts they're housed in. They sit on a shelf in my bedroom, anywhere from totally complete (and actually submitted to some presses), to almost finished, to a terrifying hybrid of hand written pages, typed pages with lots of edits scratched on them, and paper clipped chunks of multiple versions that need to be reconciled.
Have I mentioned that I am pretty sure I have ADD but I can't get my sh*t together to get diagnosed? Pretty sure I do.
But now that fate has granted me more time on this earth in this iteration, I have a duty, I feel, to show my gratitude, by making sure I do all the work to get my "children" graduated from the Google Drive and out into the wide world.