Persuasion, or the story of a reluctant Jane Austen’s fan

persuasic3b3ndejaneausten

What’s all that fuss over Jane Austen? I just didn’t get it. Apparently, I needed some persuasion to find out, -he he.

In Madrid, during my high school years, we didn’t have to read Jane Austen. I don’t believe we should force ourselves to read this or that unless it’s a cheerfully and self-imposed dutiful decision. And there’s that reader’s responsibility. Jane Austen is worth some of my reading time. At least one bit, one book.

Somehow, (for the aforementioned reason, -one book, at least, to be able to say, I’ve read Jane Austen, and be done), I read Pride and Prejudice in my twenties, and again in my late thirties, hoping for a different reception. Never happened. This book left me indifferent. The only reaction I got was from the fandom around it, they got painfully under my skin. A good reader must be polite, -I reminded myself. I never admitted to this (or did I?). I’d hear comments such as, “she writes with humor, she criticizes but never slanders, she is so satisfying to read”. Huh. Really?, (those were my incredulous replies.) And the quotes. “Would someone stop the avalanche of quotes, and memes, and tests, please?, we are trying to read something good here!” No.more.janeausten.instagram.pictures.thankyouverymuch.” Ahem.

cover

Rewind. Two years ago, -my first real life book club year, they picked Emma for our November read, and an Emma’s retelling by McCall Smith for December. I listened to Emma. Emma moved slowly, it almost came to a halt. I remember picking up weeds in our small garden, under the Texan (not Tuscan) sun, listening to the book, and thinking that I was, at least, doubling up my duties by doing both not so pleasant tasks at once. I wanted to assault the book at book club day, but revenge wasn’t legit if I didn’t read/listen to it. I wasn’t just going to watch the movie, that’s cheating, and to my impervious personality, being in front of the TV for a couple of hours was an even worse type of torture.

At book club, both, Austen’s Emma, and MacCall’s Emma, were high fun to discuss. The modern retelling highlighted the humor that I had troubles spotting in the original. I’ve talked before about the subject of humor, and what a key component that is to classics. I defend that all the great classics have a tragicomic component, they all possess some form of humor (black humor, satire.) Whether they mock or have a more serious denunciation or criticism, there’s that complicity the author establishes with us, a smirk and a wink done openly or subtly. For Jane Austen, I was tone deaf.

And whenever I wrote a post not loving Emma or Jane Austen in general, I always got the two kind of responses, me either, or I loved it/her. In any case, I felt horrible after criticizing Emma, and I always regretted giving it only 3 stars. I’d change the rating to 3 and a half stars, even after everybody read the original post with mere 3 stars. It was always too late. I was a complete wish.y-wash.y type of Jane Austen’s reader.

A few months after the Emma’s small crisis, I started reading books with Kim. We offered book suggestions, -she always tags along with my choices, and since she hadn’t read any Austen at all, she told me ‘what do you think about reading Northanger Abbey?’ We were still under the spell of Wuthering Heights when we read Northanger, and the fact that it’s said to be a mockery of Gothic style novels, and short, and given that she had not read any Jane Austen before, I couldn’t say no.

Secretly, I wanted to be done. Maybe a modicum, “it was OK” from both of us, and we’ll move on to greener pastures.

It wasn’t like that.

I found the book refreshing, and finally, I found an Austen book funny. At the same time, I didn’t see it as a huge solid meaty type of classic. I heard it described as the title the ‘non Jane Austen fans like the most’, and the ‘big Austen fans like the least’. Yay. That sounded about right. I was ready to close the shutters. (I’m trying to do some good serious reading here, guys, don’t you see?)

But who knew?, to my astonishment, my friend Kim was becoming a die hard fan of Austen, and she kept on reading more of her. She was one of them. (How did this happen?) And her pictures of all her copies of Pride and Prejudice were nice. For real. At this point, I adopted a laissez faire policy. You can be you, and I can be me. My inner rage had subsided. I was a decent (if not proficient), like clicker of occasional Instagram/FB Jane Austen pictures at this stage.

At the beginning of this year, Kim told me she’d like to add Mansfield Park to our together list, (the last of the main six for her). I still don’t know why I said yes to this. Maybe because Northanger Abbey was OK to me. The first two titles left me indifferent, the third, –Northanger, gained her some points, but the fourth, Mansfield Park, won me over.

After reading Mansfield Park, my other reads at the time shrank. I felt the classic devastation that assaults those after turning the last page of a powerful and gripping story. I went back to some sections, and re-read some paragraphs. (I have to clarify this was a strange hodgepodge of a reading. I read parts of it in English, listened to the middle chunk a Saturday morning of frantic cleaning, and finished it in Spanish. I admit I got it more in Spanish. The humor lifted up above the corseted language. My brain was more comfortable in Spanish, and it had spare neurons to grasp that je ne sais quoi, which floats over (or travels under current) of what’s said.  I have to add that the British accent audio adds to my understanding and my enjoying of her books. The tone and rhythm in the audio help.

I found out that I’m in good company. Nabokov almost missed the Jane Austen experience himself. A good friend of his, a British English professor, convinced him that Austen was first rate, and Nabokov also gave her another try with Mansfield Park. Reading his essay on this book, only made me admire Jane Austen even more. Nabokov looks at Austen from his own writer perspective, and uncovers for us Austen’s structure and form, her skill, her artistry. He shows us how she invented a language and a universe of her own, a new and different way of writing.

And it also happened that I put Persuasion in my classics spin list. You guessed it. #3 was the spin winner. Persuasion. Right after Mansfield Park, the odds were in Miss Austen’s favor, and I obliged.

Austen’s writing may not show in just one of her titles, it may be that she requires loyalty and persistence. It’s OK if we don’t have it. I understand. I was there. Why do I have to read one more of her books, when the one or two, or three even, I’ve read don’t cut it for me? Trust me. I’ve looked at Austen’s fans, and I too have shaken my head while thinking, there you have them, the frilly, repressed and boring tea party anglophiles, always with memes and tests to find out who in her novels you resemble, which is your favorite; Ranking her books and the heroines in them, in love with the boring mister perfects, with impeccable hair cuts and diction, dressed in tight pants and high boots type of men. Don’t get me started on how many things, blogs, books, clothing, bags, mugs, etc. have Mr. Darcy in/on/around them, arghhh, it’s an invasion! No cure for them. 

I still have to read one more of her main six, and I hope to regain some sense and sensibility on this journey. And while I don’t have any disdain for those who watch the many movies and adaptations, and while I’m much more calm now about the Austen paraphernalia, knowing me, I don’t think I’ll end up watching those just because I’m not very keen on watching TV these days. Maybe a bit of that former pride remains, and I’ll always be prejudiced to admit I’m a big fan. I think I’ll keep calling myself a reluctant fan, a late convert.

Jane Austen Persuasion £1.28 stamp

As for the need to make others join club Austen, much it’s been said about which will be the best first title to be sure the person has a good first impression and keeps reading her books. To me, there’d never be a perfect first title. I believe that’s not until we read 3 or 4 of her books, or until we haven’t discussed them with others, that some appreciation for her will surface, appreciation that could easily turn into admiration once we start to become familiar with what she is doing, and doing so well.

Virginia Woolf wrote this about Jane Austen, and about Persuasion in particular.

But it is not mere cowardice that prompts us to say nothing of the six novels of the new edition. It is impossible to say too much about the novels that Jane Austen did write; but enough attention perhaps has never yet been paid to the novels that Jane Austen did not write. Owing to the peculiar finish and perfection of her art, we tend to forget that she died at 42, at the height of her powers, still subject to all those changes which often make the final period of a writer’s career the most interesting of all.

Six finished novels. Only six. Still missing Sense and Sensibility, but I have also perceived a difference in Persuasion’s tone. The fact that the characters stand out less than in the other books, may be in line with what Virginia Woolf says she would have done had she written more books,

She would have stood further away from her characters, and seen them more as a group, less as individuals.

Rereading Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Mr. Steven’s, the butler who narrates, asks himself and the readers, why is Britain Great? And not only but, what makes a butler great? I add, what makes a writer great? And like that, from Persuasion to The Remains of the Day, I’ve just found the answer to three questions on greatness, and what looked to me Ishiguro’s tribute (conscious or unconscious I don’t know), to Jane Austen, British per excellence.

29 thoughts on “Persuasion, or the story of a reluctant Jane Austen’s fan

  1. Ah, this makes me so happy! If you get a chance to read her unfinished novel, Sanditon, tell me what you think of it. I believe it would have been her greatest. There’s something in the tone, or maybe in her subject matter, that just sets it apart from the others. I love them all, but Northanger Abbey is my favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will surely read Sense and Sensibility, AND Sandition. And I will let you know my opinion. (I will look for that different tone. I believe she was about to offer us something different, a new Jane Austen, as she was approaching a more mature age in which some women, -and men, find new nuances and gain new insights.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love all of this and especially enjoyed reading/seeing your transparent transformation to becoming a Janeite! 🙂 Ha! Did I ever send you the Kipling link to the short story he wrote about war vets reading Jane?!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I came, a little as you did, as a late convert to Jane. Maybe it was because when I worked in libraries so many twittery middle-aged ladies went into ecstasies over Georgetown Heyer’s romances which were supposed to be sub-Austen. Maybe it was because of the cultural injunction against boys reading girly books. Maybe I was frightened that, if I really made an effort, I might come to see what the fuss was about. But, thank goodness, once started I haven’t looked back. I’ve not yet read Sandon or the Watsons or finished her juvenile pieces, but I know I have those joys to come. As have you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Mind you, predictive text is an interesting way to generate ‘found’ or ‘aleatoric’ creative writing, for flash fiction or even poetry. For example:

        “Well I was walking down the street
        Just a couple of times to say hello
        And we all had a good night out
        I mentioned that I was going to stop
        And we all had a bit of a great night out”

        On second thoughts…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we still have Sandition and the juvenile pieces, oh, the joys that await us, -and the rereading, that’s the best part. I’m glad you too defeated the odds of becoming a fan! That Heyer, -I am not going there, lol, it’s difficult to read anything sub-Austen after the real deal, huh?

      Like

      1. Beware, I think Heyer might be making a comeback as I’ve read a few reviews on a couple of blogs which suggest there might be a new edition brought out recently!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My book club friends read her. They even offered me a free duplicate one had, but I refused… (there’s other books that interest me more), she may be a good story teller, and all that, but nope, the classics are more enticing to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My first experience of Jane Austen was watching a TV version of Sense and Sensibility. I watched the first half with someone and was quite engaged, but alas! the second half was not recorded. About a year or two later, the person sends me an email: “Hey, just so you know, the second half of Sense and Sensibility is on TV tonight.” I turned on, even in the face of a mother and many sisters asking “What are you watching???” By the end, they were all watching too. Not long after that, my family watched the 6-hour Pride and Prejudice, taking only a small break in the middle for supper.

    I haven’t watched an adaptation since reading the books, but I imagine they’d still be as enjoyable!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s so funny. You always challenge me, now with the watching, huh! (Expect a post admitting to have become a fan of the TV series too!)
      I know that in the past I have watched some movies. At the time of Emma Thompson in the young roles, Austen movie adaptations were popular in Spain, dubbed an all. It’s just something I have lost track of, but I think I should watch, specially S&S with my dds.
      Now I feel bad about being dismissive of the TV and movies, hahaha. I am rereading The Remains of the Day, and scenes from the movie, (which I watched before reading the book), come to my mind. That movie with Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins was amazing at capturing part of Ishiguro novel’s atmosphere.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. SENSE & SENSIBILITY IS MY FAVORITE AUSTEN! They are all so different, & yet all so similar. I didn’t like Austen either, on a first read. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: The Classics Club
  7. “I remember picking up weeds in our small garden, under the Texan (not Tuscan) sun, listening to the book, and thinking that I was, at least, doubling up my duties by doing both not so pleasant tasks at once.”

    Haha, I love that.

    I may be on the same journey as you, just further behind. We’ll have to see when I read another of her novels…

    Liked by 1 person

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