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Jane Austen's voice

It is Jane Austen's birthday. I still have the paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice which so fascinated me when I was ten and caught sight of it in a supermarket. It showed a lady in profile, a peacock, and a lock, and I must have persuaded my parents to buy it for I received it that year for Christmas. What heaven it was, lying on my bed eating Christmas cookies and reading my first Jane Austen.

As a girl I was enthralled by the Cinderella aspect of the story, and I was just old enough to grasp Jane Austen's wit. Looking back, I think I encountered literary wit for the first time in my life that Christmas day. I can still remember my thrill of surprise and pleasure. It's a passage that occurs early in the novel, in an exchange between Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley during a party at Sir William Lucas's. Miss Bingley guesses that Darcy has been thinking how insupportable it would be to spend many more evenings in such company. But Darcy says no,

"Your conjecture is totally wrong, I assure you. My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow."

Miss Bingley immediately fixed her eyes on his face, and desired he would tell her what lady had the credit of inspiring such reflections.

Miss Bingley immediately fixed her eyes on his face. . . That was it. I heard Jane Austen's slight inflection on the word her, and I was hers forever.