Rediscovering Jane Austen

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.

Kate Beckinsale as Emma in the BBC adaptation from 1996 (and a personal favourite of mine)

8 thoughts on “Rediscovering Jane Austen

  1. That’s exactly how I feel about Austen. I can’t say I’m a fan, but over the years I think I’ve developed a certain admiration and respect for her work. Let me know how it goes, you may just inspire me to dust off my unread or partially-read Austens from the shelf and give them another go.

    • I hope to like at least one of her books. When I say I don’t like Austen people look at me as if I were a freak (a woman studying literature who doesn’t like Austen?). Anyway, I am merely enjoying the reading and that’s it!

  2. Interesting. I sometimes feel like I’m the only book blogger who likes Mansfield Park, yet here you are liking it when you don’t care for Pride and Prejudice! (Full disclosure: I do love all of Austen’s novels.) Fanny though, I do love and relate to. I only wish there were a decent (true to the characters) movie adaption of this one–if there is, I haven’t seen it yet!

    • I adore it, really. I find the setting and the characters much more universal and easy to relate to than those of Pride and Prejudice (the problem with that book is that, I am so sincere and direct in my relationships, that I can’t get to understand Elizabeth and Darcy).

      I’ll let you know when I’m done, but by now I’m in the middle of it and I love it. Hope that doesn’t change!

      Regarding the adaptation, I saw a British one (not the Emma Thompson’s one) in which Fanny is played by an actress who plays a prostitute in another tv show… and I find it terribly difficult to see her as innocent and prude Fanny. Have you seen that?

  3. How interesting! I think Mansfiled Park is the least popular of the Austen novels whereas P&P probably is the most popular one. You are swimming against the current, which is a good thing. I can barely remember Mansfield Park as it is decades ago that I read it.
    Keira Knightley as Elizabeth didn’t work for me, the best P&P adaptation is the one with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, even though she is a bit too old for the part.

    • I am always against the current in literature, don’t know why!

      The thing with P&P is that I can’t relate to the characters or the emotions. I’ve always been quite direct in all my relationships and I just don’t understand how two people who hate each other that much without a reason can end up falling in love. I mean, as I am writing this, I can partly understand, but when reading the book I didn’t feel it that way.

      I like Knightley’s movie but I think it is a modern adaptation rather than P&P taken to the big screen. My 19th century professor couldn’t believe how historically inaccurate it was and she was shocked, as much as if she had seen a crime! And I agree with Ehle’s age, to me she looks 30 and I always imagined Elizabeth to be 25 at the most.

  4. Pingback: A Year Of Challenges: Results « The Life of Shinke

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