Today is cold and today is wet. The budgies all want to be out, and because the coal fire is blazing they don't realise it's they'll catch a chill out there, so they're surly despite having a new toy, and I'm sitting in the study surrounded by piles and piles of paperwork. For the past few days, having begun the spring clean, I've been "weeding" - pulling out all irrelevant bills, notes, and receipts (I found a receipt for energy drinks from 2007), and now everything is piled up ready to be put in order. In theory, this is the tidiest it's ever been, but to look at it - absolutely and utterly frightful. But it's progress.
The past few days have been lovely - mild and misty, so the sky all day was soft blue and dusky pink on the horizon, even at midday. Now it's all grey and drizzle, and everything is dark with wet. I'm drawing still closer to the end of my 'Ought to Have Read' pile, having got to the half way point of The Canterbury Tales, and I plan on starting The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud this evening (but I have to ask myself: why did I ever feel I "ought to" have read this? It's not that I don't think that people should read Freud, or that I may not enjoy it, but it seems quite random of me to pick that). I also started Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole last night - picked because it happened to be the closest to me, and even though I'm not very far through at all (a chapter or two in) I'm really enjoying it. I still haven't started One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I will when I've finished Freud.
So, things are coming together, but I'm not in a position to write any reviews, therefore I'm taking advantage of this month's Classic Club Meme on Jane Austen! This is with thanks to Adam for our Jane Austen chat yesterday, which helped me shape some of the ideas for my response. Yesterday was the first anniversary of The Classics Club, and as 10th March will mark my first year participating, I shall post more then.
Do you love Jane Austen....?
I haven't read a great deal of 18th Century literature, but so much of it had elements of the fantastic. I've written before on Candide by Voltaire, and The Nun by Denis Diderot, but I never did write too much about The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, apart from to say I hated it, and that Gothic Literature was not my thing. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, although I loved it, was reality amplified, whereas Gulliver's Travels had next to no basis in reality whatsoever. I think, looking closer and with more knowledge of the time these books were written, one could quite possibly blow this apart, but to me, the 18th Century novels somehow, in some way, were more extreme than real, whether it be for escapism like Ann Radcliffe, or to bring home a certain message, such as Voltaire. And then, in the early part of the 19th Century, along came Jane Austen writing about things everyone could identify with in an entirely realistic way. Like those before her, she was offering a social commentary, however she was one of the early realists, a style or movement (however you term it) I greatly love and admire. She went on to influence a great many writers, from Virginia Woolf to Stephanie Myer. She wrote about what she knew, of her experiences and her way of life. She was witty, far funnier (in my eyes) than Samuel Johnson, who she admired greatly. Love her or not, Jane Austen is important, still to this day, and has a huge following.
... or want to “dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”? (Phrase borrowed from Mark Twain).
I do not wish to dig Jane Austen up and beat her over her skull with her own shin-bone, aside from anything else that would take a supreme amount of effort, get me arrested, killed, or worse: unfollowed :) But, I think I would sooner someone else beat me over my own skull with whatever shin-bone happened to be at hand at that point than re-read some of Jane Austen's novels.
I have read the big six: Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey, and the only one I truly enjoyed was Mansfield Park, although I didn't hate Northanger Abbey all that much. The only reason I have any interest in reading Lady Susan is because of Patty. I am the awful person who preferred 'Clueless' to Emma, who enjoyed the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice far more than reading the actual novel, who couldn't even get through Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, and who almost ruined December 11's Readathon by forcing my way through the novel itself (you may remember I turned to Finnegans Wake, which I found infinitely more fun). I cannot get along with Jane Austen, and oh, I have tried. For me, she's technically wonderful, historically important, but like Katherine Mansfield's teapot:
E.M. Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot. He’s a rare fine hand at that. Feel this teapot. Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain’t going to be no tea.
It's funny, how guilty I feel about writing all of this. People say you either love Austen or the Brontës, and I do love the Brontës so very much. Even so, I can't help but feel it would be less daunting to write a post on why I disliked Villette (that said, I can't remember why I didn't like it). People, I think, would be more understanding if I disliked Virginia Woolf, Anthony Trollope, Émile Zola, Leo Tolstoy, not Dickens of course, but any other author that springs to mind. But Austen? So many readers identify with her characters, and so in insulting Jane Austen, or, say, Sense and Sensibility, you are effectively insulting an individual reader, which is perhaps why so many Austenites so fiercely protect her. And why not? To create characters with such universal appeal that all these readers so identify with is surely indicative of remarkable talent. And I see that. I just don't feel it. One day, perhaps.
And so, I shall return to my paperwork, my Chaucer, Freud, and Toole, the surly budgies asleep on the curtain pole, the perpetual mist, and the dank forest. Whatever the weather may be, there is certainly some colour, and the daffodils are almost out!