When I first started college I decided I was mature enough to read Pride and Prejudice, so I bought it, tried to make it through and hated it. In fact, it took me quite a while to be done with it. My conclusion? I hated Jane Austen. I thought she was overrated and was too much 18th-century and too little 19th-century in both style and themes for my taste.
Five years later, I still think the same about Pride and Prejudice. I love the movie in which Keira Knightly plays Elizabeth but it is so historically inaccurate and so modern, that I can hardly link it to the original work. But I decided to give Mansfield Park a try. It slept there, resting in my Books-I-probably-won’t-read shelf since 2006, but last week I felt like reading something classic. The book kind of started talking to me, to take it, take a look, read something about the plot etc.
Now I’m in page 100 and I love it. I don’t know if I will keep loving it or if I will eventually find Austen’s relevance. But I know I’m enjoying discovering it and that’s enough for now. Funny enough, I find myself attracted to the characters (love Fanny, hate her aunts, have a love-hate relationship with Edmund [how could he take the horse away from Fanny so that Ms. Crawford could learn to ride?]) and the story in general.
As a literature student, I usually have to read historically relevant texts that, although really good, I can’t love. I see their importance and I appreciate that they are there, as a background to many other works that I do love, but I don’t like them. This dont’-like-literature usually covers the 18th century (although not always since I love Fanny Hill) and anything pre-Shakespeare. But I’m really aware of the importance of giving works a try, no matter how they are labelled (by whom?) and how they are taught. Sometimes it depends on the professor or even on the blogger who recommends them. Trust in the person and a similar literary taste usually play a key role in what we read. Lately, Jane Austen has become fashionable: there are movies, BBC adaptations and her novels have made it to a lot of book clubs. That is fascinating… and interesting. I don’t agree with this commercialization of Austen, but I agree with her importance in both English literature and culture. And I know I need to give her another try. Not because everyone loves her or because she is everyone, just because right now, I feel comfortable reading her works.
I’ll keep you posted on my love-hate relationship with Jane Austen. Meanwhile, I will be enjoying Mansfield Park as long as I can, watching the new BBC adaptation and doing some research on Sense and Sensibility. Maybe, now I’m mature enough to appreciate Austen or maybe I just found a book that fits my taste much more than Pride and Prejudice. Or, just maybe, this is the moment to rediscover Jane Austen.