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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Decompressing with Jane

In the past seven years, I’ve blogged at least twice about a recurrent motif: reading Jane Austen for a temporary escape from the horrors of war, whether bombing in Syria or invasion in Ukraine.

Turns out that Austen serves the same purpose even when those horrors are not quite so immediate: The New York Times writer Amanda Taub, whose regular column “The Interpreter” offers background and context for breaking news stories, has been rereading an Austen favorite lately.

In a recent edition of her newsletter, Taub noted that her work on Hamas terrorism and the Israeli response to it has left her reaching for books and movies that are “about as far from violence and war as anything could be.”

“Thinking about war crimes and atrocities every day has taken its toll,” she writes. “Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, is at the top of my decompress-and-disconnect list. As I’ve mentioned before, that’s always the first book that I pick up when I can’t sleep or otherwise need to calm my frenzied brain.”

As it happens, I too have been rereading P&P lately--in my case, to prepare for the recently concluded Jane Austen Society of North American conference—and I can attest that its restorative powers haven’t been overhyped.

That swift, economical storytelling! Those hilarious, self-revealing minor characters! Those lucid, balanced sentences! We’d love all of that even if we didn’t need it as an antidote to thoughts of war. Unfortunately, that particular use for Austen never seems to go out of style.


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