Somehow it doesn’t feel right to call Jane Austen’s literature – romance novels. Though I think perhaps they are the first true romance novels. And maybe the best in that their popularity has lasted almost 200 years. I’ve read each one of her books and often wondered where her inspiration came from. Today, as I held her ring in my hands, I was learning the answer to that question firsthand. Literally.
Traveling on the energy trapped in her ring, I had danced from ball to ball, and had taken long walks with the man she called Thomas. As I looked through her eyes and felt her feelings, it was clear, at least to me, that both of them had found their soul mate. Each found within the other both a mirror and an understanding for who they were. Something they wanted to embrace for the rest of their lives.
Jane began to feel so bold about her connection to Thomas that she often threw caution to the wind, thumbed her proverbial nose at society’s rules and perceptions. They sat close to one another at gatherings, playing cards and touching one another in ways that were considered intimate to the society of that time.
I watched Jane as she sat at a small, round, wooden table, just large enough to hold paper and quill. She penned letters to her sister Cassandra telling her in all confidence and happiness that she would receive a proposal from Thomas any day now. I watched her read letters from Cassandra who cautioned her to be careful. Warned her to reign in her behavior.
But Jane didn’t listen. She knew what she felt in her heart and she knew what she and Thomas shared. Of course this would be her future. Thomas loved her.
I walked as Jane as she and Thomas strolled along a grassy path in the light of day. When Jane watched a flicker of disappointment skitter across Thomas’ features, and Jane’s heart seized in response, I knew the end of their love affair was near.
“Addie,” I heard Thomas say as he looked into Jane’s eyes. He caressed her face with his hand and I felt her draw back in fear.
“What?” I asked.
Thomas’s face slowly melted into Henri’s features. “I’ve been calling you,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. “I guess I was concentrating. Lost in my own world, – or something like that.” I looked down and still saw Jane’s dress on my body. A cream colored empire waisted dress with a blue sash tied in the back. I took a deep breath as Henri took the ring from my fingers.
“You’re crying,” he said as he wiped a tear from my cheek.
I felt the wetness on my cheek as Thomas’s news trickled through me. He had just been telling Jane as I was pulled from her life – his family was insistent that he marry another. A wealthy woman in another town. He had to. For his family.
“I’m fine,” I said as Jane’s sadness consumed me. “Just – her life was such a sad story in many ways.”
Henri pulled me into his arms, and though it was less than professional, I welcomed the distraction and the comfort. I needed something to pull me back into today.
“How did it go with your girlfriend?” I asked as I pulled back a little from the man I knew to be a confirmed bachelor.
He sighed and stepped away, the scent of his cologne staying with me. “Ah well, perhaps not as well as I would have liked.”
“Oh?” I asked.
“She has always wanted marriage.”
Henri shrugged. “Why mess up a good thing with marriage?”
“Ah,” I said as the room became more real around me.
“I never promised her marriage,” Henri said as gathered his notes together from the table. “She just said she knew from the beginning that I was the one.”
“And you?” I asked again.
“I think marriage is about more than love,” he said as he glanced up at me. “And I don’t know if I’m ‘the one’ for anyone.”
“Huh,” I said as I smiled. I watched Henri pull on his white gloves again and inspect Jane’s ring. I didn’t think I could touch it again any time soon. I thought about Jane and Thomas, the love they shared, the life they wanted, the books she wrote and the painful source of her creativity.
“She said she was certain,” Henri said distractedly as he turned the ring in the light.
“Sometimes there’s nothing as careless as certainty,” I said. A phone rang in the distance and its reality pulled me further into today.
“You’re very wise, Addie.” he said. “For as much as we search for the guarantee, certainty stops the seeking, a level of continuing awareness that we need.”
And that’s what I felt from Jane Austen as I stepped into her young life for a few moments. The extraordinary confidence that those precious few moments, their friendship, would last forever. Unfortunately that young naivete turned out to be the breeding ground for heartbreak. And many of the world’s most famous romance novels.