After years of shielding my pride, of trying to convince myself I’m of another persuasion, of losing my sensibilities in the attempt, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I must, once and for all, admit the truth:
I don’t particularly care for Jane Austen.
Oh, how it pains me to write those words! I feel positively wretched because for years I’ve done my best to watch every movie adaption and read every book, including Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and now I must confess that I rarely finished reading any of them because . . . I got bored.
Oh, I’m so sorry Jane! I’m so sorry all of my dear friends who love, love, love the regency period!
I love it too. I’ve sewn empire waist dresses for my daughters as costumes, would wear one to church (the non-cleavage kind, of course) if I had the bosom to do it justice, and my oldest daughter’s wedding dress was obviously Austen-inspired.
But I slog through Austen’s books as if they are philosophy texts.
Actually, I’d prefer philosophy texts.
I came to this horrible conclusion as I tried to read one of my favorite authors about one of her favorite periods which was adapted into a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed: “Austenland.”
About one-third of the way through the book I found myself skimming—yes, skimming, as if I’m in college again and have to get through Thomas Hardy! How could I do this to Shannon Hale?
What’s wrong with me?!
I was hungrily looking, searching for the interesting parts . . .
And last night I nearly cried when I realized that the conversations, the nuances, the descriptions—all of that is supposed to be “the interesting parts”!
Where’s my romantic gene that revels in significant looks and subtle dialogue? I get completely lost in Austen-esque language, just like I was always lost in my college poetry classes.
(Hey, if your breaking heart feels the same way the stormy sky looks, just say so, ok? Don’t ramble on with images for three pages, because I have to write an essay on this, and my stupid grade depends on my inability to figure out a dumb puzzle written by a depressive dude hundreds of years ago!)
(Little wonder that when I pursued my graduate English degree, I shifted to rhetoric and technical writing.)
I have a sister who reads Pride and Prejudice every year.
I have daughters that do the same.
But I simply can’t. It took me my fourth reading attempt before I even finished it.
I fear that I am alone in this I Don’t Understand this Madness for Pride and Prejudice (I-DUMPP).
It seems everyone else gets it.
“You’ve Got Mail” is essentially an adaption of Pride and Prejudice, and the book plays a part in the movie. Even if Tom Hanks’s character rolls his eyes as he muddles through the “hithers” and “dithers” he finishes it his first time around so he can discuss it with Meg Ryan.
Even Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory” read and had to acknowledge that Pride and Prejudice is a perfect novel.
Except that I find it . . . dull.
I love the time period; perhaps that’s why I adore Terry Pratchett; all the stories of DiscWorld are set in a similar time. But maybe my I-DUMPP is because I’m no good with subtlety. Since Pratchett’s characters frequently have the delicacy of a sledgehammer, I can relate to them.
Or maybe I suffer from I-DUMPP because I don’t have a romantic cell in me. My book club read a nauseatingly sappy book which had me cringing for so long my face was cramped for a week. As we discussed it, I mentioned that the kissing scenes were a bit too detailed and long, and I was met with several blank stares as if I’d just said I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t have a third hand like I do.
My friend/editor said sweetly, “That explains a lot in the first book you wrote—you really don’t do romance, do you?”
Nope. I simply don’t get it.
I try to, though. I chuckled when Shannon Hale wrote, “Colin Firth, in a wet, white shirt,” was that all women would need to hear to understand the appeal of Mr. Darcy.
But I don’t understand.
The I-DUMPP in me rather preferred Colin Firth in “Nanny McPhee,” or even better as King George in “The King’s Speech.”
That’s because in every screen adaption and in every BBC version of P&P I keep trying to understand why Mr. Darcy is attractive. He just strikes me as a moody, quiet man without much to say or do except to brood.
Brooding is . . . boring.
I’m so sorry.
A British literary character I do appreciate is Commander Samuel Vimes of Ankh Morpork: ragged, rugged, and using his sword for more than foil practice. Perhaps this is why I write stories about men in dark suits and uniforms who run after the bad guys, rather than reading about men who stand around in parlors saying underhanded yet witty things that go over my head. I get fidgety when I read such passages, and want to drag the men out of those stuffy rooms and over to the pond so we can do something more constructive, like chase geese.
My husband doesn’t understand this notion of romance either—and he’s dutifully watched nearly all of the adaptations with me—which is probably why we’re such a good match. He proposed to me off-handedly in a baseball dugout after a spectacularly embarrassing intramural game I played in college (my fantastically hit ball—intended to impress my boyfriend–instead turned foul, and also the umpire into a soprano).
My husband doesn’t bring me flowers, nor do I want them. Instead, we buy each other fruit trees or berry bushes, because those are far more practical. Our idea of date is wandering around HomeDepot sniffing the lumber, driving up the canyon looking for moose, or sharing a slice of cheesecake while watching something starring Rowan Atkinson in something entitled “Sense and Senility.”
And yet, we have nine children, so something seems to work.
I want to love Jane Austen. I like and respect the woman, and all that she accomplished.
And I want to see the purpose of taking long turns about the park (what the heck does that even mean?) and gossiping about people (although I thought that was a socially unacceptable thing to do).
I want to see the long dances as something more than dull exercise where you have to touch men you wouldn’t touch in any other circumstances.
I want to see these people doing nothing more than talking, picnicking, talking, walking, talking and riding as something interesting, but I just can’t.
Instead, I want to smack them out of their fretting and lecture them like Sam Vimes did in Snuff, (a book I just finished reading for the fifth time, in two years. Oh dear.):
“Ladies, the solution to your problem would be to get off your quite attractive backsides, go out there in the world and make your own way! . . . Trust me, ladies, self-respect is what you get when you don’t have to spend your life waiting for some rich old lady to pop her clogs. And takers?”
(Sledgehammer diplomacy; I understand that.)
So forgive me, my dear friends, for while I love the idea of Jane Austen and all that revolves around her, she has become to me like peppers: I thought I loved them, I know I like the idea of them, and I certainly see their value in so many dishes, but on the rare occasions I actually get to eat one, I find myself gagging at the rubbery texture, at the flavor that’s too piquant for my tastes, so I spit it out and think, “Darn it—I really wanted to like that.”
If anyone else is willing to come out of the closet and admit to I-DUMPP, I’m here for you.
She’d read a few silly love stories when she was a teenager, trying to understand her friends and their longings for admirers. Most of the secretive tales were slid from girl to girl under desks where teachers wouldn’t notice, and were so sappy that she was surprised the well-worn pages weren’t stuck together from the goo.
~ “The Forest at the Edge of the World”