by Flora Vesna
It all started with Colin and Jennifer.
For any Jane Austen fan, I don’t need to provide their surnames, but I will to give them proper credit--Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, the actors who brought Austen’s Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet to life in the 1995 A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. For me, they are the quintessential Darcy and Lizzy (apologies to Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, but I don’t think Mr. Darcy would’ve been caught dead walking across a meadow soaked with morning dew as the sun was rising with his shirt open, revealing his chest hair.)
I never read any of Jane Austen’s novels in high school or college. I felt watching the series was enough.
However, that all changed for me a few months later. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine to live in Europe someday, I moved to Prague in 1996 to teach English as a Foreign Language at the University of Economics. When I arrived, it was January, the dead of winter--cold, grey, overcast. I didn’t have anyone to talk to except for the teaching staff. Within days of arriving, I had begun to regret my decision.
Then on a visit to one of Prague’s English language bookstores, I decided to buy a Penguin edition of The Complete Jane Austen. It was three inches thick, weighing about four pounds with pages that were rice paper thin and a miniscule font to accommodate all of her works. I started with Pride and Prejudice, and after that, that book became my constant companion. I carried it with me wherever I went. The best times I spent with it were on the hour-long bus rides to the university’s campus outside the city center where I taught a class on Friday mornings. Besides Darcy and Lizzy, Austen’s other characters kept me entertained, from Emma Woodhouse’s horrible attempts at matchmaking to Anne Elliot’s torture of seeing her former suitor, Captain Frederick Wentworth, eight years later after she broke off their engagement. I could escape into the worlds Austen created. Gradually, I began to appreciate where I was and became more aware of myself and my strengths, perhaps mirroring an Austen heroine herself.
Now, as a romance writer, I realize that Jane Austen could be considered a pioneer of the HEA ending. The influence she had on me then is just as present now as it was in 1996. Most importantly, as a single woman living the expat life in Prague, Jane Austen had become my BFF because of the truth she universally acknowledged in the nineteenth century which remains valid today: Dating sucks.
Flora Vesna writes erotic romance and paranormal romance. She grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, now residing in New York City. She has an MFA in creative writing (fiction). She can be found on Twitter at her handle: @floravesna.