Jane Austen is a literary great. She is one of the most recognisable female authors across the globe and her novels have been translated into more than 40 languages. It's estimated that more than 30 million copies of her books have been sold, and even more have been read.
There are thousands of international Austen societies and her novels have been adapted into movies, mini-series and fan fiction (yes, there's even a zombie version of Pride and Prejudice).
Through her wit, her observations, her humour and her timeless characters, she has had an extraordinary influence on so many lives. Which makes you wonder: if she'd been a child of the "noughties", would Jane Austen have been an influencer? Would she have millions of views on TikTok? Would she have been a blogger? Or a vlogger? Would there have been more crazy cats in her novels?
To be honest - and I suspect someone could calculate the true numbers for this - I'm convinced that she has far out-influenced the entire Kardashian clan. Austen has prevailed in a world now transfixed by Insta gratification. Her novels remain a place of solace and connection.
However, unlike the influencers of our time, we know very little about Jane Austen. Who was she really? How and why did she create? These questions led me to my passion project, By Jane's Hand, a play exploring the enigma of Austen but crafted and performed by the Insta and TikTok generation.
I have co-created this new work with my adult daughter, Olivia. Far from me having to tear her away from her smartphone, this project has been driven by our shared love of - and fascination with - Austen's novels and characters.
Together, we have crossed the intergenerational divide, looking back in time to unearth the real Jane, to tell her story. However, unlike the open books of personalities on reality TV these days, Austen's true story has been difficult to unveil.
Let's think about this fact: of the estimated 3000 missives written by Austen - the equivalent of today's blogs and posts - only about 161 survive. Her personal letters were destroyed by her older sister, Cassandra, and her nephew, James, several years after her death. Why did they burn her letters? What did those letters reveal?
James also took it upon himself in 1869 to publish a memoir of "Aunt Jane" where he paints the picture of her as the perfect "Regency woman", sweet natured, unconcerned with her career as a writer, or anything else, other than a bit of a piano concert or a game of cards after dinner. He wrote significant people out of her life, and in particular her intimate friendship with Martha Lloyd, a personal and professional confidante.
The nephew's biased saccharin depiction of her, influenced by his time and the attitudes towards women of the people around him, has been challenged by many contemporary writers. Had he tried that on today there would be a major backlash by the sisterhood online. Dare I say, he may even have been cancelled.
Like our modern social media world of fake news, there are many myths and contradictions about Austen. She was a feminist or she wasn't a feminist. She wrote about war and political issues or she only cared about her own backyard. She was critical of colonisation, the sugar trade and slavery in her time or she ignored it all and was uninformed. She yearned to be married or she scorned men.
To explore these conflicting perspectives and "reports" of Jane, you need to delve into her letters. Some of them are sharp tongued (not quite trolling, but she certainly knew how to cut someone down) and others are as inane as your average Facebook post, even down to describing how well the chicken was cooked for dinner - if only she could have snapped a pic! Similarly, the songs of her personal music collection would throw any playlist algorithm into a frenzy. Her musical tastes were so broad, ranging from classical tunes to bawdy ale house songs.
To create By Jane's Hand, we immersed ourselves in her letters and her music as well as her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice. We reimagined her creative process, not by playing the audio book on double speed to be more productive, but rather slowly breathing her characters in. As mother and daughter, Olivia and I escaped the relentlessness of the here and now - together with Jane Austen.
All the text of our play is by Austen - from her letters and from Pride and Prejudice - and we have woven in her favourite music. But we concluded that one actor was not enough to play her many sides so we cast the show for three actors to all play Jane within a dreamscape.
We hope that we have uncensored many of her narratives and honoured her talent. Now we're inviting audiences to step inside her magnificent mind and bring with them what they know about Jane Austen, her novels and her meaning. We hope they will discover more of #herstory.