Jane Austen (1775-1817) was an English writer who wrote six novels which, at first glance, seem to be romantic comedies. However, there is much, much more to them: they are critiques of the society of the time. They comment on the politics of the day, they focus on the importance of education, and they are thought by many to be examples of early feminist writing.
Must watch filmed version:
Pride & Prejudice, BBC 1995 version
Sorry Judi Dench, but not even your brilliance could make the 2005 film version of Austen's best-loved novel acceptable. If you're a real fan of the great work, there is only one version worth watching (over and over): the six-part serialised 1995 BBC show. Every character was impeccably cast - I can't now read the book without picturing David Bamber as the odious Mr Collins. It is perfection.
Best modern reinterpretation - book
Emma by Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith knows his Austen: his retelling of a stubborn, self-important but well-meaning young woman is a brilliant standalone story, but fans of the original will be delighted at how well he reinvents the themes for the 21st century.
Well, almost. Becoming Jane contains several historically accurate plot points (it all goes a bit Hollywood at the end), and is a reminder that Austen wasn't a lonely, friendless old spinster, but an attractive, fun-loving young woman whose life was not unlike some of her most likable heroines.
Best modern reinterpretation - film
It's Emma again in this 1990s retelling which remains a cult favourite. This time, Emma is a spoilt little rich girl who just wants her friends to be happy - and has a wardrobe that is the envy of all of Beverly Hills. While you can watch this as a dated teen romance, it's far better if you know the story, and can draw the parallels as you watch. It's nothing short of brilliant.
Companion to her life
Jane Austen's Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye
This is a wonderful look at the author's life through a collection of letters, mostly to her sister Cassandra. They relate the daily life of the time, all in Austen's distinctively witty and observant voice.
Most interesting biography
The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne
Rather than a simple timeline, this book tells the story of Austen's life by pegging each chapter on objects from, or that represent key moments in the author's life, and examining that important period in her life and history.
Theme park that should exist for fans
Austenland is the name of a movie about an obsessive Jane Austen fan who spends all her savings to leave her disappointing life in the US to spend some time at Austenland, a theme park where you dress as people did in Austen's time, do the sort of activities people back then would have done, and, hopefully, meet your own Mr Darcy. The film was moderately well-received, but that doesn't stop the concept being a brilliant one that someone should look into. After all, it's just a different style of cosplay, and we all know how popular that is!
Most relatable book
Catherine Morland is young, imaginative, ignored by her parents (who have too many children to focus on any one), and in search of adventure. In many ways, she's a typical teen. She makes some foolish mistakes, some bad friend choices, and regularly over-dramatises situations, but seeing Austen's world through the eyes of a 17-year-old is fascinating.