Sunday, March 3, 2013

Guest Blog: Jane Austen Overview

Thus far, I've only had one guest blogger on my site, but I want to bring this back and share some new perspectives.  So now I will turn it over to my good friend, Abigail Solberg...

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a wealthy man must be in want of a wife.”

Ah, the sentence that almost everyone who has ever visited a library or cracked open a book has heard once before.  I mean, honestly, I didn’t even have to look at the book to make sure I got it accurately.  As you can probably already deduce, this is not Amy writing. There will be too few intelligent words and many more (failed?) attempts at wittiness than what you've grown to know and love about Amy's blog. Sorry, hate to disappoint, but I'm not Amy. I didn't graduate after studying in the Oxford library, just a few dark-wood-tables-and-massive-aisles-with-ladders-and-books away from Anna Popplewell.

This is Abi, and this is what I believe to be one of Amy’s first guest blog posts! If you like what you read, you can try to follow me on my blog, The Abi Complex, but seeing as I haven't written in as many months as Paula Deen denied having T2 Diabetes, it might be a waste of time to sign up. But feel free to check it out!

As for how Amy and I know each other, that is a story that dates back nearly 6 years! It all started in the summer of ’07 when I got an e-mail while I was in Romania from some Indiana girl claiming to be my freshman roommate. She told me that her colors for her side of the room were blue and brown, AND (since picking the colors of your room seemed to me to be the most important part of preparing for college), I safely assumed that I would not like her.

What I learned within the first month of school was that me and my pink comforter would find her to be one of my closest friends through all four years. We would watch football together, talk about classes and guys, debate over movie choices, drink coffee AND talk about literature. I found Amy to be one of the only people who could excite me about reading a book! The passion that would fly across her face as she swore to me that I would love some book made me so excited to read it. We started a tradition, where every holiday we would give each other a new book to read that we had already read and loved.

Thanks to Amy, I have been exposed to The Bell Jar, The Four Feathers, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Moby Dick, and more.

Unfortunately for her, my selections have been on the girly side. Because I knew that she liked Uncle Tom's Cabin, I thought for some reason that the perfect first book to give her would be Mansfield Park by Jane Austen… because the movie version (which I'd seen more recently than reading the book) included a side story about the father mistreating his African slaves. Unfortunately, that is not in the book, and was probably the WORST book to give her to introduce her to Jane Austen.

Epic. Fail.

This is the one author that Amy and I have constantly disagreed on: “Jane Austin never writes about anything important. It’s just a bunch of lazy conversations that don’t amount to much of anything.” This is not a direct quote from her, but it is the reader’s digest version of our many conversations on the topic. So, because I will most likely not be able to post about this author again on her site, I will comment on Austen’s work as a whole, rather than one specific book - trying to spit out everything that I can before Amy catches on and kicks me out!

So let’s leave that lengthy introduction and get to the best part: Jane Austen.

Let’s think about this for a moment. What other author has had all of his or her works turned into movies, has had a film made about her life AND a film about a book club based on reading her works?! There is just no way that anyone can deny the impact she has had on the world.

I firmly believe that any woman who meets the following qualifications will benefit/enjoy reading one or all of Austen’s novels:

1. If you think you would like the Bronte sisters’ books better if they were just a touch happier.
2. If you enjoy talking with your girlfriends for hours about minute details of someone else's relationship status as well as your own and those you read in the magazines.
3. If you are a sucker for everyone in a novel getting exactly what they deserve (which for the heroine, always means the love of her life).

I will in no way deny Austen’s running theme in her stories. Nor will I try to argue that these are good novels based on a plot with an ending that can’t be deduced after the first chapter or copious amounts of action! What I will say is, you know that Austen’s novels are good because most women can read them and feel entirely engrossed even without these aspects.

I think there are 3 main things that reading an Austen novel offers:

1. It illuminates one’s character and shows how it really looks in the light of day.
Example 1: Persuasion - The character who pretends to be her friend, but advises her against an imprudent match.
Example 2: Pride & Prejudice - Momma Bennett, oh hell, the entire Bennett family - other than Jane and Elizabeth, of course.
Example 3: Emma - Unfortunately, Emma. Though you love her anyway, because you can see where her heart is… or you just see her as a pet that you can pity and love and secretly want to be - but not exactly respect.

2. It offers relief from an unfair world ruled not by right, wrong and karma, but by shades of gray, people you know, and frustrating circumstances.
Example 1: Mansfield Park - The brother and sister, who end up in relationships as shallow as the puddle on the floor of my bathroom when I step out from the shower.
Example 2: Persuasion - Captain Wentworth, of course.
Example 3: Pride & Prejudice - Lydia Bennet marrying a whore. Need I say more?

3. It’s a chatty kathy’s heaven - Tons of gossip rolled up into one nicely bound or Kindled copy.
Example 1: Sense & Sensibility – Mrs. Jennings
Example 2: Emma - That’s a hot bed of information
Example 3: Northanger Abbey - Probably the least accurate gossip of all of them

Now the degree to which I like Austen is somewhat inexplicable, but let me end this post with some opinions by other writers you may admire and see if they can sway your opinion! These all come from a book titled A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen. (See! You know she has to be great if there are books out there trying to explain why!)

Harold Bloom: “We read Austen because she seems to know us better than we know ourselves, and she seems to know us so intimately for the simple reason that she helped determine who we are both as readers and as human beings.”

James Collins: "Her ironies swirl and drop like the cast of a fly fisherman. This rhythmic motion seems to me ideal for both accepting and rejecting the ways of the wretched world while maintaining balance."

Amy Bloom: “Jane Austen is, for me, the best writer for anyone who believes in love more than in romance, and who cares more for the private than the public. She understands that men and women have to grow up in order to deserve and achieve great love, that some suffering is necessary (that mewling about it in your memoir or on a talk show will not help at all), and that people who mistake the desirable object for the one necessary and essential love will get what they deserve.”

And probably my favorite, Benjamin Nugent, writer of American Nerd: The Story of My People: “Young nerds should read Austen because she’ll force them to hear dissonant notes in their own speech they might otherwise miss, and open their eyes to defeats and victories they otherwise wouldn’t even have noticed. Like almost all worthwhile adolescent experience, it can be depressing, but it can also feel like waking up.”

Now, I hope that I have done enough justice to this author in as short a blog post as possible, as there will most likely not be another chance. AND now, all you readers, please comment and further beg Amy to read through at least 3 more Austen novels before making up her mind!!!


Kathryn said...

I love this post! I'm halfway through my first Austen (Pride and Prejudice) and I adore it! I totally agreed with your first reason to read Austen, that she's a happier Bronte. When I started P&P I was worried that it would be as depressing as Wuthering Heights and I'm so pleased it's a lot cheerier.

Kathryn x

Kokila Gupta said...

I have to google most of the words which end with you can understand my literary knowledge.But I am a classic lover and survive solely on them is undisputable to the extent that visitors generally comment my book-collection as weird ... being devoid of best-sellers! On Jane Austen I agree with Abi and that Austen's are cheerful Bronte` without lacking the depth, wit and reality. I like Austen's work as these are breezy yet layered, happy endings but gives a FULL reality check as into what might have happened if luck had not favoured? And yes Love and Purity are important then whirlwind romance and too much pluck!