Jane, I should have trusted you. Yes, I am ashamed to admit it, I was duped by the Serious People into taking something you said at face value. Out of context even.
I’ve been reading William Deresiewicz‘s new book, A Jane Austen Education, which is better than the Huffington Post feature makes it sound. (Geez, I wish I could say that about my book . . .) But we can talk about that later. The point is, all my academic life, people have told me that you repented writing Pride and Prejudice, and justified themselves by this quote:
The work is rather too light & bright & sparkling . . .
This is how they explain Mansfield Park, you see. However, Mr. Deresiewicz continues the quote:
—it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long Chapter—of sense if it could be had, if not of solemn specious nonsense—about something unconnected with the story; an Essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte.
Or, to sum it up in modern terms, Jane is saying, “I’m too sexy for Moby Dick.” (Oh dear . . . you all remember that song, right? . . . and anyway she is.)
Is this generally known by those that didn’t study math in college? Is it just me who’s been underestimating Miss Austen all these years? Learning the truth here is such a relief—Jane didn’t really hate P&P after all—but is also a little disturbing when you think about it. A friend once said that I was ironic at least 70% of the time, and Mr. Fitzpatrick thought he’d underestimated it. How many of my off-the-cuff remarks have been wildly misunderstood? How many of yours? If we’re still read in 200 years (ah, if only!), will the Serious People have their way with us? It makes me kind of sad to think so.
Ah well, who cares, I say! We’re too sexy for them! Repeat after me:
Jane’s too sexy for your paper, too sexy for your theory, so sexy . . .
As a final thought, I leave you with this quote from a Guardian sports article: “this Mr D’Arcy is some way removed from Jane Austen’s bodice-ripping fop.” Bodice-ripping fop. Just let that sink in. And then go hit someone with your copy of Pride and Prejudice. Repeatedly.
Bookslut crushed my soul today, o readers of Austenacious.
It all happened during Siobhan Neile Welch’s review of Bring on the Books for Everybody: How Literary Culture Became Pop Culture, when Welch wrote:
“Pop culture implies that school has taken the joy out of literature, so in turn pop culture has taken literature out of the hands of the experts and into those with a true passion for reading.”
To quote that fine musical establishment, the Bangles, can you feel my heart breaking? Do you understand?
Yes: reading takes on less of a leisurely tinge when a grade hangs in the balance—but the idea that school reading isn’t real reading stings a bit. After all, I first discovered Jane in school, under the tutelage of a well-informed and passionate English teacher (and, I suppose, the California twelfth-grade literature requirements)—and what am I, chopped forcemeat balls? Is my passion for books, or for Jane, diminished because we first met on a by-semester basis? Clearly, Jane and I would have crossed paths eventually, but I say with great assurance that nothing about Pride and Prejudice was diminished for its association with the AP test, nor have I loved her other novels more for having read them on my own time.
In any case, aren’t “the experts” so called because they have “a true passion for reading” in the first place?
The truth is—and I know how much of a surprise this will be—I sometimes miss reading for class, not because I love being told what to read and when, but because reading with a) a group and b) a graded incentive sometimes makes for a more thoughtful and productive read. A little, er, external motivation, shall we say. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading for the joy of reading—Hi, I’m Miss Ball; have we met?—but I resent the implication that the reading we do in school doesn’t count, or is necessarily un-fun. I’ll have you know that Jane and I had a fine time in Mr. Rammelkamp’s class, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(Also, if my reading the entirety of Moby Dick in eleventh grade is now invalidated, having not been exactly “for pleasure,” I will officially be one pissed bookworm.)