"I have read all [of Jane Austen's] novels at least five times. Each time I see something new. I like her writing and humor. It's subtle."
by Betty Ann Burch
Jane Austen saved my sanity. It was during the Minnesota legislative session when I was working 10- to14-hour days. I'd drive home and be too tired to cook, so I'd grab something fast to eat and go to bed with a Jane Austen novel. I began with "Northanger Abbey" and read my way through all six novels. It was the perfect escape from the hectic session!
I first read Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" when I was 15. I loved it. Since then I have read all her novels at least five times. Each time I see something new. I like her writing and humor. It's subtle.
I was raised in an industrial town in northwest Indiana, 40 minutes by train from Chicago's Loop. Because our mother was from Chicago, my sister and I were oriented toward that big city.
When we started earning our own money, my sister and I traveled to Chicago for movies, plays, opera, ballet and concerts. Likewise, we were oriented toward big cities when we traveled. New York City drew us first to its sites, museums and culture.
When I was in my 50s I took a trip to London by myself for two weeks. After visiting the usual London tourist places-the Tate Gallery, Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, and attending two plays, I decided to visit Jane Austen's home in Chawton, southwest of London. I took a train to Alton and a taxi to get to this small village.
I recall being in her upstairs bedroom and on the landing staring out the window-daydreaming about where she walked around, I guess. I was there so long that the museum caretaker came up to see if I was OK!
From Chawton, I took a taxi back to Alton and then a country bus to Winchester where Austen is buried in the floor of this city's magnificent cathedral. There is nothing on her gravestone to acknowledge her fame, although there is a plaque on the outer wall to recognize her. I was very moved.
When my sister and I were kids, we talked of going to Europe together to experience big cities. As adults, we traveled separately around the United States and Europe. We were in our 60s before we fulfilled our childhood dream. We went to Switzerland together. To my delight, I found my sister, too, liked to talk to people on trains, in restaurants, Laundromats and wherever. Talking to the people is a way of experiencing a country, too. Betty Ann Burch lives in St. Paul and has had 43 jobs including teaching English and American literature in small colleges in Indiana, Maine and Wisconsin.
BOOKSHELF: Betty Ann Burch recommends these travel-related books: Jane Austen's Letters, the 4th edition, compiled and edited by Deirdre Le Faye Jane Austen's England by Maggie Lane 1000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz Where to Take Tea: A Guide to Britain's Best Tearooms by Susan Cohen The Food Lover's Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells
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