I don’t like Jane Austen, and I’m so sorry about that

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.

Although the Regency-era submarine was a clever twist.

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, dear.

Oh, I’m so sorry Jane! I’m so sorry all of my dear friends who love, love, love the regency period!


My darling daughter in her Regency-inspired wedding dress and hair, with my hunky husband.
(The only song he would willing dance to was “People Are Strange,” by the Doors. May explain a few things about us.)

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.
Oh, dear.

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”!

Oh, dear.

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.
Oh dear.

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?”

(All I had to type into Google was “Colin Firth white” and it filled in the rest for me.
Popped this up all on its own.
Even Google gets it.
So why don’t I?)

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.”

I just can’t explain why this is better. Maybe because those bizarre mutton chops are missing. And there’s something about a dark blue uniform . . .

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.
Oh, dear.

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).

Dave smiling

Yet another man more appealing than Mr. Darcy; notice the lack of bizarre sideburns, the dark suit, and the presence of a smile.

Sadly, this is always what I picture when I think about any of Jane Austen’s leading men.
I’m so sorry.

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.”

Oh, dear.

And yet, we have nine children, so something seems to work.

want to love Jane Austen.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).
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.
want to see these people doing nothing more than talking, picnicking, talking, walking, talking and riding as something interesting, but I just can’t.

Commander Sam Vimes, awesomely armed with a swamp dragon.

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”

“An author is speaking clearly and silently in your head, directly to you.”

Until I read this beautiful quote from Carl Sagan (thank you, Grammarly), I didn’t know how to articulate the sensation I’ve felt that I’ve snuck into a writer’s mind, and was welcomed there. But as I thought about it, I realized I’ve “experienced” a variety of authors in such a manner. Tell me if you’ve had similar impressions with these or other authors:

Plato: I approached his writing hesitantly, researching background about ancient civilizations, when about two paragraphs into the chapter I felt as if Plato himself had come into the room to have a chat. In my mind he was a small, narrow-bodied man wearing a white tunic and sitting on plain stool. He smiled as if glad to see someone else was coming “in” for a visit, and he wanted to help. He pointed out sections, waved for me to skip other parts, and cheerfully gestured to a chapter he knew I’d particularly enjoy. Then he sat back and smiled as I read, waiting to answer questions he’s known the answers to for thousands of years.

 J.K. Rowling: Reading her feels like a group activity, a sense of sitting on the floor on comfy cushions (a la the Room of Requirement) with about a dozen others of all ages and sizes—and no one cares that we seem too old to do this—while our friend Jo sits on a soft chair, but at the very edge of it, reading to us her stories and getting all of the voices just right.

James Joyce: I’ve wandered a few times into Mrs. Dalloway to find Mr. Joyce sitting in the corner rattling on and on, only distantly recognizing I was there as he gestured to the wall and talked to the ceiling, until I quietly slinked out again and closed the door. I don’t think he ever noticed.

Hugh Nibley: This scholar and philosopher stands at a podium in a lecture hall, while I sit near the back frantically taking notes as he reads his words at break-neck speed. But I have a remote control, and every minute I zap him to pause his lecture, rewind, listen, then flip to the extensive footnotes while Professor Nibley waits, just on this side of patient. I bite my lip as I read the footnote, realize it introduces yet more names and archaic traditions I’ve never heard before, so I shrug, occasionally write down a reference to Google later, then hit “play” again, pretending all the while that even though I just sit on the surface of his topic, I understand the depths to which he’s diving. We both know I can barely tread water.

Flannery O’Connor: She tells me her stories as we wash dishes in the back kitchen of a large southern plantation home, and we snigger when the ladies with fancy hats walk past the window.

Shannon Hale: She tells me her stories as we drove up through the canyons in a big SUV to take the teenage girls from our church on a camping trip, because I met her at a book signing where she told me she also loves Terry Pratchett, and I knew right then we could be great friends.

J.R.R. Tolkien: He sits behind a grand desk, leaning back leisurely and gestures to maps on his walls and charts on the desk, while talking in an oddly lilting monotone about details and histories and peoples I’m not quite following until I fall asleep. Guiltily I shake myself awake a moment later, only to realize he never noticed I nodded off—he’s enjoying himself far too much. My daughters, however, glare at me in disgust.

Stephen King: Because he starts his stories by turning out all the lights, then shining a flashlight in his face, I slam shut the book just as he opens his mouth to speak, and I move on.

Lao Tzu: He’s a sweet, gentle man, forcing me to sit in an expanse of sand while he teaches me his verses of philosophy. Much like Oogway in “Kung Fu Panda,” he speaks slowly and repeats himself until he sees a light of understanding come in my eyes. Then he hands me a peach, and recites me another couplet about war, and fighting, and peace, and knowing.

Jane Austen: We sit primly in her parlor, with arms folded just so and skirts adjusted in just this way, and glance furtively at the door for someone wonderful or dreadful to come through it, while she tells me all the news of the town as quickly as she can before either of our mothers can interrupt us.

Jessica Day George: We sit in the back of some dull meeting gossiping quietly and giggling, hoping no one hears us, but knowing the speaker is glaring right at us.

Orson Scott Card: I actually sat in two meetings with him! At a small private college in Virginia! But I never spoke to him! And he never noticed me! And when I finally read Ender’s Game, I felt as if I was huddled in the corner of that classroom with his book, and he was watching me out of the corner of his eye as if to say, “It’s about time.”


TO PROTECT THESE  NEXT TWO AUTHORS FROM SCORN                               

(because I’m sure they’re both just as lovely as can be, but create utter drivel)

Authors who will remain anonymous, but have a fondness for writing about males that turn into animals and woo silly teenage females: I gritted my teeth and cringed through these authors first books, as if I was stuck on a long bus ride behind two chatting women telling each other far too many details about their fantasy love lives. I closed my eyes periodically hoping to avoid gooey passages, only to run into other sections that not only made my eyes roll but caused me involuntary gagging. I got off the bus at the earliest possible moment.

Terry Pratchett: My all-time favorite author who I visit frequently. He lets me right into his mind, which is most intimidating and most marvelous. Every time I want to turn left, he shifts me to go right; I look down, he points me up, and I sigh and wish I could think of such turns. He takes characters, sets them in front of me, then describes them in such terms that I despair, because I’ll never come close to writing like that. But he just chuckles, grabs my arm, and drags me to yet another amazing place until suddenly I stop and say, “I just had an idea . . .” To which he smiles and waves good-bye until I come back again, because it’s not about being better than him, or even as good as him, but about discovering what I want to say.