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Janeite Spotlight: Introducing Sharon Hansen

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. Next up is Sharon Hansen, a perfectly “accomplished” modern Janeite boasting jeans, pearls, and a distinctive Southern drawl.


Sharon Hansen

“I’ll read anything that’s not nailed down,” declares Sharon Hansen, a snazzy sixty-five-year-old Janeite living in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. Sharon has always been a great reader. As a young girl with a big personality, she turned to literature to broaden her mind and her horizons, and to escape from the small rural community in which she was raised. Her love for literature is evident in the piles of books scattered across her house, most of them Austen novels, books relating to Austen’s life or fiction, and modern Regency romances—though she is very critical of their often-plentiful historical inaccuracies.

“Where are the gloves?” she cries. “The bonnets? And why are they in a room together when they aren’t married?”

Sharen is a lover of all-things-Austen, first encountered in the form of Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride & Prejudice film adaptation. (She’d technically read Mansfield Park as a teenager, but she struggled to relate to the novel and did not pursue Austen’s other work.) In the summer of 2006, Sharon’s step-daughter returned home from her freshman year of college with the Pride & Prejudice DVD in tow. Quickly falling in love with the film’s gorgeous scenery and beautiful language, they watched and rewatched it countless times in the months she was home. “I blame TJ,” Sharon says, fondly referring to her step-daughter, “and to this day I tell her it’s her fault that my Christmas list is always a bunch of books and things that have to do with Jane Austen.”

The Bennet Sisters, circa Pride & Prejudice (dir. Joe Wright)

As a naturally curious individual with an intense love of learning—she has two master’s degrees, after all—Sharon plunged headfirst down the rabbit hole into the world of Pride & Prejudice. She read Austen’s original novel book before progressing to the iconic 1995 BBC miniseries, and then she tackled the rest of Austen’s written works. Later, she began buying annotated versions of the novels, works of Austenian fanfiction, and books relating to the history of Jane Austen’s England.

But ten years ago, Pride and Prejudice became so much more than a means of escapism or entertainment for Sharon—it became a balm to the grief she felt over losing her husband, who died very suddenly. For an entire year after he passed, she read Pride and Prejudice over and over again—every single night before she went to bed. The book literally fell apart in her hands. The story of Darcy and Elizabeth provided solace and comfort during one of the most painful periods of her life, allowing her to process her grief.

For Sharon, Pride and Prejudice offered the relief of familiarity, a story she already knew by heart to counterbalance her rapidly changing real-world situation. When the pain became too much, she could escape into Austen’s enchanting playground of society balls and high tea for an evening at least. Most importantly, the story had a happy ending—something she desperately needed as she recovered from the monumental loss of her husband.

Jane Austen’s mastery of the narrative happy ending, appealing to readers whose lives may not be as picture-perfect as those of, say, the eldest Bennet sisters, is a large part of the reason Sharon believes Austen still resonates with so many readers today:

“We can all relate to wanting to be in love, to being in love, to being disappointed in love—and if you’ve ever had a happy ending, it’s like it all comes together.” She adds, “I think most everybody wants a happy ending—not just for themselves, but for other people, too.”

St. Swithin's Church, Bath

In 2022, Sharon traveled internationally for the first time to attend the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath. She spent five days in the city, renting a flat just across the street from St. Swithin’s Church where Jane Austen’s parents were married in April 1764, and where Jane’s father was buried in January 1805. She arrived in England on the day of Queen Elizabeth’s death and attended Evensong at Bath Abbey and St. Paul’s Church in London. She didn’t attend the festival’s famous Regency ball—she was traveling carry-on, with no room for a proper Regency-appropriate gown—but she did enjoy browsing the marketplaces.

While there, Sharon also visited the Roman Baths and had tea in the Pump Room, backed by a three-piece string quartet and served by very handsome waiters. After strolling along the Royal Crescent, she dined at Sally Lunn’s, the oldest operating restaurant in England, and visited the Assembly Rooms. “I was totally geeking out!” she says of the polished floors and high ceilings. “I was like, ‘Jane Austen probably danced here! Oh my god!’”

Inside the Bath Assembly Rooms - gorgeous!

Unfortunately, Sharon did not get to visit Chawton Cottage during her trip, but she hopes to return to England soon for a tour.

In the meantime, she’ll be at home in Atlanta, staying involved in her community as a dedicated Rotarian and local church Vestry. She is very close with her daughter and two step-children, as well as several grandchildren and step-grandchildren—and Bruce Wayne, her beloved black cat. She likes to amuse herself by playing the piano (with sheet music from Pride & Prejudice’s film score, of course), sewing, and reading, much like Darcy’s vision of an accomplished woman.

“I even speak two languages: English and Southern!” she exclaims with a laugh.

Excerpted from Zoom interview with Sharon Hansen, February 7, 2024.


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