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Janeite Spotlight: Introducing Sarah Oakey-Kirkwood


Hello, dear readers! This year, we’ve begun a blog series highlighting Austen-lovers around the world—sharing how they first discovered Austen’s fiction, why they love Austen, how they’ve contributed to the Janeite community, you get the picture. Fans, who cultivate and engage in discourse surrounding Austen’s life and fiction, participate in workshops and conventions, host book clubs, and don I ❤️ Darcy merchandise with pride (but hopefully not prejudice—wink, wink), are the reason Jane’s spirit survives in the twenty-first century. We deserve a shout-out! And we deserve the chance to connect with like-minded individuals across the world. This article features Sarah Oakey-Kirkwood, a popular Bookstagramming Janeite who lives in a picturesque corner of France with her husband and three beautiful children.


 

Sarah Oakey-Kirkwood

Sarah Oakey-Kirkwood, born in Worcestershire, England, had an idyllic childhood, growing up on a beautiful farm in the English countryside. Though she is now a literature-lover through and through, she wasn’t a great reader as a child. In school, she suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia, which affected her study and comprehension of English literature and language.


Sarah’s love of reading began later in life, at the age of twenty, when she first picked up—wouldn't you know it, dear Austen vs. Brontë readers—Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. At the time, she was renting a room in the turret of an old mansion overlooking the Shropshire countryside. As she read, she liked to gaze out at the landscape from the window seat in her bedroom and imagine she the heroine of her own beautiful story, running wild through the moors.


In the summer of 2000, Sarah moved to France to work as an entertainment representative, singing and dancing in stage shows. The campsite where she was working offered her a job, so she decided to stay permanently in the land of croissants and fromage. That same year, she met her now-husband, who was employed as an entertainment manager.


A picture-perfect heroine...

In 2002, she borrowed a VHS copy of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation from a friend. “It felt like coming home,” she says. She watched and re-watched it religiously, and within the next three years she’d read all of Austen’s books and watched every available adaptation. Now, she has read countless spin-offs and continuations, and she’s obsessed with Austen’s unfinished novel The Watsons, for which she has written her own ending.


In 2021, shortly after the pandemic hit America, Sarah created a Bookstagram (definition: “a little corner of Instagram for us people that are totally book-obsessed”) account, on which posts a lot of Austen-related content. Being a “complete bookaholic,” she finds Instagram to be a great platform for connecting with fellow Janeites and book-lovers. Today, she shares her content with over 6,100 followers.


Last month, she received an Advanced Reader Copy of Miss Austen Investigates by Jessica Bull and reviewed it on her account, a post which the author later shared on her own page. You can read Sarah’s review here!


The Bookstagramming Janeite

While Sarah does enjoy the “classic” adaptations, like Andrew Davies’s Pride and Prejudice (1995) and Sense and Sensibility (2008), her favorite is—quite surprisingly, considering the substantial public backlash it received from the Janeite community at large—Netflix’s 2022 Persuasion, starring Dakota Johnson and Cosmo Jarvis. “Initially I was unsure of what to make of it, but I’ve grown to totally and utterly adore it.”


“Anne Elliot has long been my favourite Austen character,” Sarah says, her tone wistful, “even before I fell in love with the new adaptation. I like elements of other characters, I like Marianne’s gumption, Eleanor’s reliability, Elizabeth’s upfront manner, but Anne wins overall for me because she has a good level of all these traits.”


Sarah attributes Jane Austen’s continued popularity to her uncanny ability to write relatable characters who achieve neat, happy endings by the end of the story. As Jane herself writes in Mansfield Park, “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.” When we crack open the spine of Persuasion or Emma, we know things are going to work out in the end.


“Jane Austen gave us stories that warm our hearts like fairy tales,” Sarah says. “There is a positive, comforting vibe that accompanies her stories which bring such joy…. And this world so desperately needs as much joy as it can get. It’s always her books I turn to when I’m feeling low.” Sarah describes the world of Jane Austen’s fiction as “my comfort blanket and happy place all rolled into one… with a cherry on top.”


Sarah and her beloved family

At forty-six years old, Sarah still resides in France with her husband and three children. She is a full-time mum, caring for Jem (age ten), Thom (age thirteen), and Mathilda (age fifteen). Her family and friends are all well-aware of her Austen obsession, so she looks forward to receiving a myriad of Austen-related merchandise for Christmas and her birthday every year.


Connect with Sarah on Instagram.


Excerpted from email correspondence with Sarah Oakey-Kirkwood, February 12-19, 2024.


 

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