Posted on May 5, 2023 at 4:09 PM by Kyra Troendle
I’ve always wondered what it was about the works of Charles Dickens, The Bronte Sisters, Jane Austen and other literary masters that made them so special. It is often hard as someone living in the 21st century to read a book describing courtship, carriage rides, or solely communicating to their loved ones through letters. When I first read Romeo and Juliet, I had a hard time not feeling frustrated and unsatisfied upon completing it. This led me to feel as if works of literature from before the 1900s were just not meant for me. It wasn’t until I picked up my first copy of Pride and Prejudice, following repeated pleas from a Jane Austen fan, that I began to understand the allure of this literature.
By the fall of 2022, I had read all of Jane Austen’s books many times over and found myself traveling abroad to England, the very place where these books took place. I found myself in Bath at the Jane Austen Center surrounded by dozens of people who shared my love for this author, many of whom were from the United States. While I became engrossed in the world Jane Austen lived in, writing with an ink pen, wearing a long skirt and bonnet, I felt I could connect with her characters in ways I hadn’t been able to before due to the differences of our two realities.
Upon beginning my internship at the Farm House Museum I noticed a copy of Sense and Sensibility by none other than Jane Austen among the many books on the shelves in the library. I became intrigued to understand how Jane Austen’s writing may have influenced American society beyond just serving as a past time. Austen seemed to criticize society through plots and characters that created commentary surrounding middle and upper class individuals attitudes toward women and marriage, education and slavery in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries which can be read more about here. Austen seemed to question the society she lived in through her characters and plots.
The parts of Jane Austen’s writings that stood out to me were the strengths that the female characters possessed and their position in their respective societies. Many of her female character did not stand as inferior to men, but reflected Austen’s beliefs that women should be afforded equal rights to their male counterparts. Many scholars today consider her to be a feminist through her female leads taking agency in their own lives and defying the gender norms of the time. It can be clear to see how while some of these beliefs are not revolutionary today, they would resonate with women in the United States who did not have simple rights such as the right to vote. These writings gave hope to women of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that they may one day be able to be seen as equals to men in their societies.
As I conclude my final semester at Iowa State University and in the Farm House Museum I hope to continue to be curious about history and to discover more about the collection housed here. I will be pursuing my master’s degree in Historic Preservation this fall to continue pursuing my passion for history and bringing these wonderful stories to life.