Edit: This is DEFINITELY a generalization about men. I’m sure there are some out there who are exceedingly fond of Ms. Austen and her novels. I just wanted to note that because, after much thought, this might be a harsh.
Okay, so it isn’t exactly a secret that I love Jane Austen. I love her stories and I’ve learned a lot from her books. One of my pet peeves in life is how most of the men I know react to Jane Austen. There are groans, moans, and complaining. And it always rubs me the wrong way. To men Austen is merely a romance writer. She offers nothing to them that they would want to consume. They are SO WRONG.
I’m currently reading A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz (who, you may have noticed is a MAN). He talks about how reading Emma changed his life. His insights were fascinating and I’m excited to move on to the next chapter. There are some things that he talks about that made me vexed at men I know who “tried” Austen but discarded her because it wasn’t to their taste.
Recent adaptions of Austen’s novels has portrayed them as romances, and it’s not completely false. Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey have romance, but they are more about families, about the transformation of the main character about the society in which Austen lived. She wrote and thought like an independent person, which women weren’t in her time. She wrote more like a man.
The women who wrote novels at the time wrote gothic, over-the-top novels about heroines who fainted at every turn. Austen and many of her contemporaries wrote about every day life. In Emma, she annoys you so much with the everyday, that you invariably hate Emma because she so selfish and horrid. Mr. Deresiewicz says that it wasn’t until he reached the Box Hill scene that he realized that Austen was showing how easy it is to be aggravated at someone and justify it. Emma, annoyed with Miss Bates, finally lashes out and realizes too late that she has hurt someone important to her. It is a scene that convicted me when I read it too. She uses the every day to make her point.
Boys may be easily bored by the everyday…heck I’M easily bored by it, but that doesn’t stop me from reading classics. Mr. Deresiewicz goes on to talk about when his class met to talk about the book, and he realized that women were much more versatile than men when it came to books.
Let’s take a moment to look at the history of literature, shall we? For hundreds of years men wrote books. Women did not, unless they were EXTRAORDINARY until around the 1800s when they had had enough and started getting published. So for hundreds of years readers only read men, including women. We read works by men all the time and, while it may seem that we have little trouble relating, we do (I should say, I do. Hemingway? REALLY?!) But we read classic upon classic written by men and yet, men can’t read a classic by a woman? By Jane Austen? We live in a man’s world. It’s a world that is becoming more equal, between women and men, but I would bet that most of my guy friends haven’t read many classics by women. But how many have read Hemingway? Dickens? Shakespeare? Those authors are just as difficult to read as Austen, but somehow they manage. Is it really a stretch to decide to read Austen or Charlotte Bronte (or Anne Bronte)? They are just as rich (if not MORE SO). Being educated is about being well-rounded. You should read more than books you understand easily; you should pick up books that stretch you. I’m coming to realize, more and more, that if I start a book and struggle to be interested, I should continue because I might learn something I never would have encountered while reading something I’m comfortable with.
I know that my little rant won’t make much difference. In fact, I suspect that people might become more annoyed at me. But I think that guys, specifically my friends, should know that it’s kind of ridiculous for them to refuse to read Jane Austen because she’s “girly”. That’s like me refusing to read Cormac McCarthy because he’s a guy, or Ray Bradbury because I couldn’t follow well. I respect all literature and try hard to read a wide variety. Granted, not everyone is as passionate as I am. However, I hope, that if you are a guy (or girl!) that refused to read 1800s “chick-lit”*, that you’ll reconsider, because it has so much more to offer you. You never know, it might change your life.