Confession. I just finished reading one of my own books: Return to Longbourn… again.
I have talked to other authors who say that once their books are finished and published, they never look at them again. The reasons they give? I’ve heard two: either they are sick to death of the book after working on it so long, or they’re afraid they’ll find flaws that it’s too late to correct, which would torment them.
I feel completely different. Yes, it bugs me when I discover a typo in one of my books, one that managed to somehow elude all the beta reads and edits meant to catch that kind of thing. But my books and the people in them are like old friends to me. Friends aren’t perfect either, and yet that doesn’t keep me from wanting them to visit from time to time.
In this case, it had been a few years since I had read Return to Longbourn – long enough that I’d forgotten some things which I had fun rediscovering along the way.
Since I was reading on my Kindle, I periodically came across an underlined “popular highlight.” Are you familiar with this feature? It shows which lines in a book have been highlighted most by readers. It’s designed to be of interest to readers, but it’s tremendous fun for authors too. It’s so interesting (and gratifying) to see which things I’ve written have been marked, indicating that people especially loved or valued them.
In a pair of posts I wrote on this topic several years ago, I reported that the most popular highlights from The Darcys of Pemberley and For Myself Alone seemed to fall into one of two categories: romance or wisdom. Return to Longbourn, is a little different. Perhaps because Mary Bennet (the book’s primary heroine) has a more practical, less romantic, turn of mind (at least in the beginning), the “highlights” of her story fall mostly into my so-called “wisdom” category. Or maybe it’s because Mary had so much to learn! Here are readers’ 9 top picks from RTL followed by a bit of Austen’s own wisdom:
“I believe most people tend to judge things just and fair only when they have their own way.” (Mary Bennet)
“To never experience the good, for fear that it will one day be taken from you – what kind of way is that to live?” (Tristan Collins)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every mortal being must at some point face the certainty of death and the day of reckoning.
Marriage: how much of happiness or torment seemed bound up in that one, irrevocable act.
No quantity of worry or tears would alter that which could not be changed.
True right and wrong were still what they had always been, of course; only her sympathy for those who sometimes found themselves over the line had changed. Her former prejudices had been stripped away, and she had more understanding of the powerful forces that pushed and pulled at the vulnerable hearts of men.
“The proper measure of a man is not taken by how he treats his peers and betters, but in how he deals with those over whom he holds unconditional power – his wife, his children, his tenants, those in his service and employ. If he treats them fairly when he has no one except his own conscience to answer to, then he is honorable indeed.” (Mr. Darcy)
She had always been so severe on people who were not perfect and so unwilling to show any sign of frailty herself. Now, however, she rejoiced in her own weaknesses so flagrantly displayed over the last year, because it made accepting Mr. _____’s past failings not only possible but compulsory.
To admit to a joy was to admit to vulnerability, and the voice of caution in her head always protested loudly against taking the smallest risk of that kind. This time, however, she was glad she had found the courage to ignore it.
Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection. (written in a letter from Jane Austen to her niece Fanny)
Yes, Mary had a lot to learn. And by the end of the book she has come a long way. In fact, you might say the overlooked ugly duckling turned out to be a swan after all!
I enjoyed visiting with my old friends again in Return to Longbourn – the Bennets, the Bingleys, the Darcys from Pride and Prejudice, as well as several more characters of my own invention – and remembering what a wild ride it was to write this book, with all the unplanned twists and turns the story ended up taking along the way (see the RTL launch post).
What’s your policy about re-reading books? If you read on Kindle, do you ever use the Highlighting feature? Do you have a favorite quote amongst the highlights from RTL given here, or a memorable bit of Jane Austen wisdom that has stuck with you?
PS – In case you haven’t heard, I’ve started posting chapters of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen every Friday at Austen Variations. So you can now read it for free! To get started, follow this link to part 1.