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Entrepreneurialism and the role of Jane Austen...

As a self-confessed Janeite, I could hardly let a recent trip to the beautiful and historic city of Bath pass without visiting the Jane Austen Centre, housed in a building just off Queen's Square. The building itself is not the actual establishment where the Austen family rented rooms: that building, a few doors up, is now a thriving dental practice. But this was close enough to make all of us feel that we really were walking in her footsteps. And, thanks to an extremely well stocked gift shop, I am now the proud owner of a rather natty 'I love Mr Darcy' bag.

Jane Austen's brothers, all military men, lived well into their 70s and beyond, while Jane herself died aged just 41, which goes to show how dangerous being a writer can be. It's been hard for us fans, too, as we've had to endure more than our fair share of ridicule and abuse over the years, with our stories of choice being branded as little more than 'chick lit'. What possible relevance, the critics frequently hurl at us, can Jane Austen have today?

True, much has changed in the world since Jane's day. But there is much that hasn't, and a good story then is still a good story now. As an example, what is 1995 movie 'Clueless' starring Alicia Silverstone if not a modern reworking of Jane Austen's 'Emma'. And 'Pride and Prejudice' was surely the inspiration for 'Bridget Jones' Diary'. The costumes and the language may have changed, but the ideas and the themes have an enduring message and a timeless appeal that are as relevant today as they were 200 years ago.

With the Industrial Revolution, the spirit of entrepreneurialism was as alive back then as it is today, and there is something distinctive about the British style of entrepreneurialism that sets us apart from the rest of the world. Perhaps it is a blending of the industrial with the romantic. This is not romanticism as an escape from modern reality. Rather, this is romantic as a view of the idealistic - the driving towards a utopian society where science and technology have addressed all the crises of the age to deliver the ultimate living environment; a world where technological advancement doesn't eliminate the possibility of Jane Austen style romanticism, but embraces it. Well, you've got to have a goal, haven't you? A dream, a vision.

I like to think that we are blessed with more than our fair share of visionaries in all sectors of industry, pushing forward with new concepts and creations for the benefits of their companies, their sectors, their countries and perhaps even society as a whole. And I'd be willing to bet that, even if they don't know it, there's more than a few Janeites among them.

Becky Silverton, 10 August 2011

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