Two hundred years since the novelists death, Austen obsessives celebrate her legacy
Roland Anderson, 44, finance director, London
It wasnt until I was in my 20s that I started getting into Austen. My friend Mark kept going on about Pride And Prejudice, so I reread it, then worked my way through the rest of the novels, plus anything I could get my hands on: the letters, the unfinished novels. Once I read a boyfriend Pride And Prejudice as a bedtime story. It doesnt take as long as you think 20 nights at two or three chapters a night. He really liked it, even if the relationship didnt last.
After I started posting at the Austen messageboard pemberley.com, I met other fans. We visited Bath and other locations, and spent the afternoons drinking tea and talking about Austen. I studied French and German at university. Whenever I visit a new place, I look for a translation of Pride And Prejudice and see if I can read it. Ive now got copies in French, Italian, a couple of different German ones, and Im looking for a Norwegian.
Virginia Woolf says somewhere that Austen is the hardest writer to catch in the act of greatness. Shes so economical: she can sketch a character in a single stroke. When Elizabeth Bennet is feeling sorry for herself about Darcy, she goes for walks to indulge in all the delight of unpleasant recollections; its such a perfect phrase. In Sense And Sensibility, Elinor looks at Robert Ferrars, whos a complete idiot and decides that he doesnt deserve the compliment of rational opposition. Who hasnt thought that about someone theyve met at a party?
The novels are so modern, particularly in the way they treat women: I dont think any writer before her managed to write about female characters as if they were actual human beings, with their own feelings and ambitions. She was centuries ahead of her time.