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Article  •  7 March 2019


A letter to Jane Austen

Star-crossed author Minnie Darke pens a letter to one of her literary heroes.

Dear Jane,

I do hope that you won’t be offended by my apparent familiarity in calling you by your first name. You see, I write to you from the early 21st century, when it would be politically insensitive to address you as Miss Austen, and formal to the point of frosty to call you Ms Austen (of course, the whole ‘Ms’ phenomenon probably requires explanation to someone of your location in time, but this is still the first paragraph of my letter, and thus no place for lengthy digression).

I wonder how you would feel to know how extraordinarily famous you have become, how revered you are here in the early 21st century. The BBC (hmm, it occurs to me that the concept of television would require explanation, too) has not only adapted all of your novels for the screen, but has made many of them multiple times. Movies (oh, right, I’ll add them to my explanation list) have been made as well, and your books have given rise to countless spin-offs and reinventions. A charming young lady called Helen Fielding reworked your Pride and Prejudice into a very successful novel called Bridget Jones’s Diary, and a funny chap called Seth Graeme-Smith penned an homage titled Pride and Prejudice Zombies (far out, I’ll have to put zombies on the list, too).

You know, dear Jane, you are actually so famous here in the 21st century that people write articles on the internet (now that’s going to take some explaining) about your astrological profile. Although astrology has been around in one form or another since humans began looking up at the stars, it wasn’t until the 1930s that people settled on one particular aspect of astrology – sun signs – as the most significant way of categorising one’s identity and predicting one’s fate.

Since you were born on 16 December 1775, this makes you a Sagittarius, just like Justine, the heroine of my novel Star-crossed (incidentally, Justine is a huge fan of yours; particularly, being something of a meddler herself, she loves your matchmaking Emma Woodhouse). I wonder if you would have seen yourself as a typical Sagittarius, an optimist and an adventurer, a straightforward soul, yet with a philosophising bent? Using the coordinates of your birthplace, and even going so far as to consult your father’s diary (he wrote that you were born ‘before midnight’), astrologers have calculated that you have your moon in the balanced sign of Libra, and that your ascendant is the meticulous sign of Virgo – another thing that you share with my dear Justine – which surely explains the perfection of your prose.

Of course, not everybody is potty about astrology here in the early 21st century, but there are sufficient followers of the stars that some of them have even gone to the trouble of trying to work out the star signs of your most famous heroines. How they wish they could write to you to ask you the precise place, time and birth of Lizzie Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, and Marianne and Elinor Dashwood! But since you gave us so few clues to these matters, we must rely on guesswork and deduction.

Some say Lizzie is clearly a Taurus, since she is so stubborn and reluctant to compromise, while others say she is a Sagittarius, like you, since she loves her freedom and being out of doors (oh, those muddy hems!). There seems to be quite a bit of consensus that Emma is a Gemini, given as she is to impulsive decisions, mischief and wordplay. I’m quite persuaded that Marianne Dashwood is a Leo, with her huge heart, romantic instincts and occasional self-absorption. It’s been proposed that big sister Elinor is a Libran, with her natural grace, but I’m more inclined to think of her as a Capricorn, sure-footed and clever, responsible and honourable, with excellent manners and remarkable self-control.

How I wish I could visit you for afternoon tea and discuss these matters in detail. But alas! We are separated by centuries – centuries in which so much has changed, even while people themselves have changed very little. Since we cannot meet, I shall have to settle for occasionally taking a stroll outside at night, and looking up into the sky to wonder which one of the brightest pinpricks is yours.

In fond admiration,

Minnie Darke

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