Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jane Austen't.

I think I just don't get Jane Austen. Whenever I encounter passages from her books quoted in other books or articles, or when writers I love write about her, I think, "Wow, that's so good I need to read some Jane Austen." But then I do and I always end up feeling somehow unsatisfied.

I read Pride and Prejudice, and I think Sense and Sensibility though I'm not sure, and I'm struggling through Persuasion right now. It's not a long book and I only have about 30 pages left but I am finding it such a chore, I don't even think I'll finish it. Seriously it's so boring I can hardly make myself sit down and finish it. The story is dull. None of the characters are sympathetic. They're either silly and vain (and we're supposed to not like them) or they're tedious and judgmental and just annoying.

All the things people say Jane Austin is so amazing at: the social observation, the critique of manners, etc., George Eliot does with as much bite and humor as Austin -- and, I would argue, more subtlety -- and her books have passion and warmth, sorrow and beauty. What is it I'm not getting?


Anonymous said...

George is better than Jane. It's just the truth. Sentence for sentence, sentiment for sentiment, insight for insight, book for book, Eliot is the best of the 19th century. Middlemarch is the perfect novel. Austen after Eliot is "howling after music."
David W.

Liz B said...

It's funny that you've been reading Austen now -- I just came off a Pride and Prejudice kick. Netflix had an old BBC 5-part version that I saw as a teenager, and that has my still-favorite Darcy and Elizabeth []. And I enjoyed it so much that I read the book again, which I've done many times over the years, and have read everything else of hers as well, even the horrible juvenilia. Since your post I've been wondering why it is that she's so fascinating. I've got a bunch of reasons.

Her women are so constrained by what's right and what's necessary and what's not possible; no matter my situation, I can feel that I am at least more free to take action than the Austen ladies were. And her so-civilized snarky humor still makes me smile, plus I especially love how the poverty-stricken women are forced to retire with only three servants and a small country house. And Darcy is exactly the kind of approval-withholding perfect man to tap into my own mental damage. And finally, every one of the books has a happy ending, so you know good is rewarded in the end, though you may have to suffer in silence a long time first.

All that said, after I finished P&P I started reading Sense and Sensibility again, and got bored a quarter of the way through. I like George Eliot better too -- Adam Bede might be my second-favorite book (after Nabokov's Ada).