Thursday, August 4, 2011

Yet Another Post In Which I Sing the Praises of Austen...

Last semester, I had this class called "PLS University Seminar I".
Sounds kind of cool, right?
We basically read and discussed the Greek classics.
Sign me up, right?
One day, after reading Plato's Symposium (to which my first response was ummmmmmmm....what the heck did I just read? and my second response was: Dang, Plato's got mad philozophy skillz. But yes, carrying on...) we were assigned to join the philosophers of the Symposium in their toasts to love and compose our own "toast to love".
Sounds simple enough, right?
Suddenly, we were half-way through the class period, when we found ourself entrenched in a raging debate over Pride and Prejudice. We were discussing chick flicks and Pride and Prejudice came up, and was roundly mocked by the majority of the boys-and one or two girls-in the class. Okay, alright, I can understand a young man taking one look at Keira Knightly and Matthew McFadyen making moon eyes at each other and saying: "Not for me, thank you very much. I'm going to watch Terminator 6." The movies' target audiences are-for the most part-women. They're not competing for Terminator 6's fan base.

But some of these students-both ladies and gents- had read the book, actually read Jane's glorious and satirical prose, and still didn't like it.
Worse than that, they dismissed it as fluff! One went so far as to claim that Lizzy marries Darcy for his money!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? How can the world tolerate such unbearable slander?!?

End of rant.

(Now you see how narrow-minded I am. I simply can't picture an intelligent human being reading Pride and Prejudice and not finding the value in it. I guess prejudice is one of my failings as well.)

Anywhoodles. Moral of the story: there persists this strange, sad stereotype of Austen's work-that it's too romantic, or gushy, or fluffy, or chick-lit. This was the stereotype that one William Deresiewicz had bought into up until he became a literature graduate student at Columbia University. Then, a beloved professor assigned the class to read Emma. And, slowly but surely, Mr. Deresiewicz fell in love with Miss Austen, and her delightfully witty characters. He discovered that her novels, with their simple and colloquial prose, are truly great books, written with the finest craftsmanship and a sharp insight into human nature, life, love, friendship, happiness, and virtue. The stuff that all the great works of literature deal with.

And then he wrote a delightful book about how he fell in love with Jane, Lizzie Bennet, and eventually with his own personal real-life Lizzie. It's called: A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter.
Read this book if you love Jane Austen- you will love this book. And everything he says will send shivers of delight through your soul.
Read this book if you hate Jane Austen-you'll realize the error of your ways and love her.
Read this book if you've never really gotten what the great fuss over Jane Austen is all about- you will get it.
Read this book if you've never heard of Jane Austen-you will want to make her acquaintance at once.

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."
--Jane Austen

Also, P.S. look at the list of incredible writers who also adore Austen. Heed their words.

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