Advent with Austen has had the very unfortunate (and unexpected) outcome of making me unable to read any more. Before I started this, I had grown up appreciating Austen – ever since my Mum and I watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice adaptation. I was eight and had found the pinnacle of romance. We visited the stately homes, talked about the merits of and empire line and I read the book.
So far, so good. At University I had to study Mansfield Park. Despite this being Jane’s favourite I couldn’t get into it, but put that down to (a) studying it, and (b) that Mansfield Park and the heroine differs to her other novels. So even though I was never taken with Mansfield Park I still considered myself an Austen fan. A few years later I read Northanger Abbey and fell in love. Not only that, but it introduced me to a whole genre of writing that I’m still enjoying discovering. Quite recently I added Persuasion to my list, and carried on appreciating Austen.
The first book I read for Advent with Austen was Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman. I really enjoyed this book and it whet my appetite for exploring more of Austen’s writing. The best part of Jane’s Fame is how Harman captures the reception of Austen’s work through each century after publication. I also found out which authors Austen enjoyed – Samuel Richardson for one, an author I can’t wait to try, and who I cannot mention without a reference to o’s review of Clarissa (probably my favourite ever book blog review).
My overall feeling reading Jane’s Fame was guilt for not having read the major novels, let alone any of the short/ unfinished stuff. So here was my opportunity, and Sense and Sensibility was dusted off. As you may have read – I didn’t like it! But other people do! It is some people’s favourite Austen novel! Alas, even with a weeks hindsight, I still don’t see it – and everyone else’s reviews just leave me confused.
Perhaps against my better judgement I decided that finishing the big six would make me feel better so I went straight onto Emma. It has been a week, I’m barely half way through, I have 29 chapters to go and I seem to have lost all enthusiasm for reading. I’m bored. I’m bored with Austen. How has it all gone so wrong? I really and truly love three of her books. Why is she ruining this for me? Maybe this is a lesson in not just liking classics for the sake of their canonical value. I suppose its very unlikely that I’m going to love every classic I read. But the status of books as ‘classics’ heightens their worth for me – they have stood the test of time and are part of history. They shape writing today and in the case of Austen, they shape popular culture.
I’ll finish Emma, but it won’t be the achievement I thought it would be before I started. I can’t be alone in this: Are there any classic authors or novels you felt sure you would love but didn’t?