I guess I should start by explaining why an American male would decide to throw himself almost obsessively into the study of an English woman that lived 200 years before his time. Well, at the age of 13, most boys fall in love with celebrities and super models, but by some act of fate or the funny curriculum of an American public school at that pivotal moment, when I should have formed a crush on Debbie Gibson, all my time was occupied in struggling through Pride and Prejudice. Instead of a youth enthralling pop-star, I fell in love with the vibrant and charming Lizzy Bennet.
I now see Lizzy with a critical eye, which was focused in college, but her faults are almost as endearing as her perfections. My progress as an English major eventually brought me here to England and to the Jane Austen Centre. Before starting, I feared they would throw me in front of a room crowded with top notch Janeites who would batter me with obscure, impossible questions. Instead, they gave me the time to absorb the author. Whenever I am at the centre- with employees who study and talk about Austen, with visitors inquisitive about Austen, and with shelves of books just itching for a browsing- I learn by immersion.
Finally having gained some confidence and expertise, I began to introduce the exhibit. This involves a 15 minute talk about the biography of the author. I was nervous, but it was made easier by not being compulsory; voluntary anxiety is the least painful. Each talk has been better than the one before, but, more importantly, I get to meet others who have the same tastes as I do, yet with widely different backgrounds. The Jane Austen Centre, while allowing me to contribute to England, has brought me closer to the country, Lizzy, and others who enjoy them both.
Kevin Piper is a college student who recently spent a semester as an intern at the Jane Austen Centre. Enjoyed this article? Check out our Submission Guidelines and get in touch.