LENOX -- Elizabeth Bennett is a friend sharing a silent joke, looking at you straight-faced until you dissolve into helpless giggles. She is a sister sitting on the edge of your bed in the small hours. She throws open the door and comes in wind-blown on a bright, clear day.
And her spirit always rises to meet any attempt to intimidate it -- in Jane Austen's words.
She is the heroine of Austen's novel, "Pride and Prejudice," and she will celebrate her 200th birthday in Edith Wharton's living room on Saturday with a high tea, stories and music.
Alison Larkin first read "Pride and Prejudice" when she was 15.
"I fell in love with Mr. Darcy, as we all do," she said.
Now living in the Berkshires, Larkin, writer and performer and author of "The English American," was raised in Sussex, England, not far from where Jane Austen lived and wrote.
She has recently and intimately rediscovered the novel as an adult.
"Now I read it and there's so much wisdom behind the wit and the story," she said.
In honor of the novel's 200th anniversary, Larkin has read "Pride and Prejudice" aloud in a new audiobook produced by Jason Brown and the Monterey-based Berkshire Media Arts.
On Saturday she will perform music as Elizabeth might have sung it at a party and read aloud from the novel.
"Getting to play all the parts is heaven," she said.
She felt she knew them all. She reveled in their voices: ironical Mr. Bennett and his chattering wife, the hilariously smug Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Bough gracing the world with her opinions, and Elizabeth's generous sister, Jane, wrestling with her first unhappy love -- and Mr. Wickham's immediate charm, and Darcy's cool reserve and unexpected fire.
At the center, Elizabeth's is a love story. Finding her own way, she is learning to tell love from desire and to open herself to both. She is "looking for the soul-mate who completes her," Larkin said, and folowing her "we are recognizing that we're all frightened of love and looking for what's real."
As she read, she found the novel resonating with her own book, in her own journey between two countries, two sets of parents -- and two men.
"I've come to value integrity and honesty, the qualities Darcy has, as well as his looks," she said.
She said it with a glint in her eye. She wants to bring out the fun in Austen, she said: Too many readers have made Austen sound ponderous. Larkin hopes to make her words light and bright -- Asten is mischieviously funny. Some scenes Larkin had to re-read because she kept breaking down into laughter.
But the laughter has depths beneath it. Austen writes with real wry warmth in her voice. She also faces realities -- forced marriage, failed marriage, the threat of bankrupcy and child molestation. Elizabeth Bennet's youngest sister is 15.
"Lydia is often portrayed as too silly," Larkin said. "She's a lively 15-year-old in an isolated part of England."
Lydia is thoughtless, untaught and in danger of hurting herself badly. Until she read the book aloud, Larkin said, she had little empathy for Lydia -- but as she read, she found new compassion for her. Lydia is oblivious. She feels like any young teen in a newspaper story today who has been taken advantage of.
And today's teens can find the book grippingly close to home. Larkin has heard from a 16-year-old listener who had never read the book, who called to say she loves it, and that she has found people like Austen's characters in her own life.
And a group of 7- to 10-year-old readers will come to the tea, said Kelsey Mullen, public programs coordinator at Edith Wharton's home, The Mount, which will host the tea on Saturday.
Wharton read Austen, and many people since have compared them. They were two bright writers writing when most writers were men and commenting on a society they knew intimately, Larkin said.
Both won acknowledgement in their own times, and both made a living as writers, said Rebecka McDougall, communications director at The Mount.
And both write with a clear eye and a good ear.
They have a gift for "getting to the heart of the point without directly offending anybody -- and using the full English language, which is so refreshing," Mullen said.
Larkin finds Austen funny and sharp and brazenly sane.
"Human nature is the same," she said. "We fall in love without realizing we're in love. The questions women face, how dependent women still are on the men they marry or are born to," all the tensions and dramas go on now as they did 200 years ago.
Any writer who writes what she thinks and feels will touch people centuries later, Larkin said, and she can imagine nothing better than to celebrate the 200th birthday of the book with a high tea overlooking Wharton's quiet gardens and lake shore.
"The Mount is my favorite place," she said.
Austen might have felt at home here, talking with Wharton on her terrace or bicycling with her along the back roads.
Austen loved the outdoors. She took long walks with her sister, and Elizabeth walks three miles across the fields on a bright and muddy morning after the rain, to see Jane.
Sussex is a beautiful part of England, Larkin said, a place of woods and hills. When she moved to the Berkshires, she felt at home.
"If Jane Austen lived in the United States," she said, "she'd live here."
If you go ...
What: Alison Larkin celebrates 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's ‘Pride and Prejudice' and new audiobook with music and performance and High Tea
Where: The Mount,
2 Plunkett St., Lenox
When: Saturday, 4 to 6 p.m.
Admission: $15 (combined with audiobook, $40)