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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Ahead of his time

Janeites first discover Jane Austen at different moments in their lives. I’ve talked with people who read her first in a high school or college class, or who found their way to her in middle age, perhaps by way of a movie adaptation. Bookish girls, especially, seem to stumble across her around the age of twelve, give or take a year or so.

And then there are outliers like Rory Stewart, a Brit with the kind of eclectic resume—soldier, diplomat, adventurer, politician, professor, podcaster--that sounds like something out of the nineteenth century. (Well, maybe not the podcaster part.)

Stewart got started on his Jane Austen reading very, very early, according to a recent profile in the Guardian.

“Rory Stewart has long been a man out of time,” the newspaper reports. “At three, he named his rocking horse Bucephalus, after Alexander the Great’s famed steed. At six, he was reading Jane Austen. At 29, he walked across rural Afghanistan, dodging Taliban fighters . . . . At 30, he was . . . during the Iraq war, effectively serving as the modern equivalent of a colonial administrator.”

Alas, the Guardian piece leaves its Janeite insights there, providing no further details about which novel our precocious little first-grader may have read--not a board book version, presumably--let alone whether this early exposure led to a lifelong Austen habit.

Personally, I like to imagine that, as a youthful colonial governor during the ill-fated Anglo-American adventure in Iraq, Stewart relied on Austen for pointers on how to handle his gargantuan managerial task. I’ve heard she’s good for that kind of thing.


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