Saturday, November 04, 2006

4.2: guilty admission

So, yesterday I went to Utah to see a theater production of Pride and Prejudice. I did not enjoy it much: the humour was ridiculously amplified and obscured any wit that might have been found. The actor who played Darcy was shorter than Elizabeth and had awful dishwater-blond hair. And worst of all, there were more shrieking and jumping up and down than there should ever be in one theater production, much less one based on a Jane Austen novel.

I probably shouldn't have gone, and I wouldn't have if the ticket hadn't been given to me for free by a former professor. The experience has reminded me of a dark secret, a fatal character flaw that I am finally learning to accept after years of denial: I do not care for Jane Austen.

Yes, that's right. I'm a female literature student who does not like Austen. I am aware of the sacrilege of this, and I apologize. I've tried! I've read the books, I've seen the movies and spin-offs, I've listened studiously to the adoring raves of friends and teachers, I've even spent several years seriously pretending to be a fan. But I can't. I recognize her importance in the literary canon, but the books themselves fail to move me. I think it has to do with their very similar plots. I read an article at Salon a long time ago that discussed "chick lit" like Bridget Jones, calling it "marriage porn," and this is the perfect term for Austen's books: they seem to fulfill this gaping cultural obsession and need for weddings. Not so much the marriage that comes after the weddings; many of the married couples in Austen's books are impressively unhappy -- I am reminded in particular of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. It is the marriage that matters, the ecstatic union of two people who are just right for each other, and this is something that doesn't move me particularly on its own. Maybe this is because I don't particularly desire or expect a happy marriage for myself; maybe it's because I am too cynical. Or maybe it's the characters.* I do like plenty of other "ends in marriage" books.

I don't feel too bad, though. I've got Mark Twain in my corner:
"I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."**
*I actually like Northanger Abbey. I relate very strongly to Catherine, who has lost hold on reality after reading too many Gothic novels.

**I do not hate her quite this much.

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