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I just don't get Jane Austen

(79 Posts)
kiery Mon 05-Sep-11 12:01:19

Oh, how I've tried and I've really, really, wanted to like them: I just can't!

I fell asleep with Northanger Abbey, was bored and confused with Sense and Sensiblility (I couldn't even finish the graphic novel); the list can go on............

I think they represent a small proportion of women who led a very priviledged life at that time. The game play and social intercourse is completely alien and dull, dull, dull. I can't care for these characters at all.

What am I missing? Please help me....should I try the Zombie Jane Austens?

bamboobutton Mon 05-Sep-11 12:04:10

i find them tedious too, very hard to read ime.

i love the tv adaptations though, love a good floaty dress i do.

TrillianAstra Mon 05-Sep-11 12:06:03

Don't read/watch then. It's not compulsory.

Northanger Abbey is not one of her best.

I think Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would only really be entertaining if you have read the original to compare.

TeamDamon Mon 05-Sep-11 12:07:38

Have you tried the films? I say this as an English teacher trying to get reluctant teenagers through all sorts of texts - the films can be a great 'ice-breaker'. With my GCSE set, for example, we didn't open Much Ado About Nothing until they'd watched Ken n' Em in the film version, loved the fact that it had Denzel and Keanu in, fancied Kate Beckinsale, laughed at the funny bits (because they are funny on screen, less so on the page) and understood the story. Then studying the text became much more accessible and rewarding.

There are some great film and TV adaptations of Austen which might pave the way for reading them - the Ang Lee Sense and Sensibility is particularly beautiful.

Katisha Mon 05-Sep-11 12:31:39

Jane Austen made some famous comment about how her writing was like doing tiny carving on a small piece of ivory or somesuch. So she was aware that she was writing about a very small section of society.

I think if you scale down to that rather claustrophobic world then the tensions and expectations, assumptions and worries take on their proper place - no they are not dramatic like the Brontes, but for me, there is a lot of real pain and worry for these women, who are wholly dependent on making a good marriage to make their lives secure. Some of them can barely tolerate their men - like Charlotte Lucas in P&P, but she knows it is her best option.

And the petty snobbery, comedy of manners etc is all interesting to me. I see a lot of it reflected on here, in a 21st century guise - perceived problems, snubs, relationship issues, worries about how to live with/without a man...

mixedmamameansbusiness Mon 05-Sep-11 13:06:08

I really love them particularly Persuasin and P&P (in that order), however there are so many authors out there, if you dont like her then just move on. Too many books to read to waste time when you clearly dont like and author.

mixedmamameansbusiness Mon 05-Sep-11 13:06:47

Obviously I can actually spell "Persuasion"

CamillaSalander Mon 05-Sep-11 13:10:03

Yes, I can't stand any of her books either. It's the fact that they are all about a microcosm which bores me to death. The total, total lack of politics, IMO (except insofar as the tiny little worlds are futile in the extreme, so I suppose that in itself is some kind of political comment).

iklboo Mon 05-Sep-11 13:13:02

I really don't like Jane Austen. I've even tried the films. No, thanks.

kiery Mon 05-Sep-11 13:14:49

Thank you for the advice.

I know TrillianAstra that I don't have to read them, but i think sometimes perserverence and a new perspective (nod to TeamDamon and Katisha) can make it all worth it in the end.

In the past I have struggled with books, prose or poems but once finished I am really glad I made the effort.

If everything was easy and entertaining to me to read or watch then I think I would miss the value and intricated tapestries that these authors are trying to weave......

Right enough with the waffle, I think that I will try Pride and Predjudice

TeamDamon Mon 05-Sep-11 13:24:00

Katisha - that bit in P&P (the Joe Wright film, not the BBC version) where Charlotte Lucas explains to Lizzie why she is marrying Mr. Collins is SO well acted by Claudie Blakley. She nails the helplessness and desperation of a single woman in her situation.

Tried to find it on YouTube but couldn't. It's one of the best acted scenes in the film.

mummytime Mon 05-Sep-11 13:26:45

I like them but hated them at 18. I think maturity helps you to see her hidden jokes and the fact she is not taking herself seriously. Actually I think the films tend to gloss over this.
EG. my most hated section when I was 18 was in Emma when they spend pages debating on whether someone should have gone to the Post office in the drizzle. However I strongly believe JA was just gently making fun of women who did just that.
It does help I think to realise she was writing the books at the time of the Napoleonic wars.
In Northanger Abbey she is making fun of Gothic novels.

But if you don't enjoy them then try reading something else (unless its part of some literature course). You might like them later in life.

Katisha Mon 05-Sep-11 13:46:06

TeamDamon I had enormous difficulty with that film because I was blinded throughout by the startlingly white teeth of Keira Knightly and Donald Sutherland. I remain a fan of the BBC one, felt they'd tried too hard to Heathcliff-ise it all in the Knightley one.

flooziesusie Mon 05-Sep-11 13:51:41

I'm reading Wuthering Heights same period I think?

I want to kick all the characters in the front.

Hullygully Mon 05-Sep-11 13:55:31

<faints with horror>

Katisha Mon 05-Sep-11 13:58:19

I dont think its a period thing - I love Austen but can barely read the Brontes, and only just made it to end of Wuthering Heights. Jane Eyre marginally better but I much prefer the simmering beneath the surface world of Austen.

Deliaskis Mon 05-Sep-11 13:59:33

mummytime Agree re appreciating them the more you know them and JA's work in general. That bit in Emma is on the face of it, tedious, but you're right JA was mocking that kind of dull drawing room conversation, and it completely reflects the claustrophobia and inertia that those women must have felt. I know that it is a popular notion to dismiss the worries of the priveleged, because they are priveleged, but it doesn't make their lives perfectly happy. They lead a very restricted existence in a lot of cases.

I think also you have to think through the characters a bit more. Mrs Bennett is obviously not very bright, and irritating, but perhaps she has been driven to her nervous complaint by worrying about what will happen to her daughters whilst constantly attempting to bear a son, with a somewhat unsupportive husband who is not saving for the future of the girls. I'm not saying she's a great character, but there's more to her than just being irritating.

Of course not everybody is going to like them, but I do think I get more out of them if I try and get my head around the broader context.

Northanger Abbey is my least favourite TBH, try P&P, then Persuasion.


flooziesusie Mon 05-Sep-11 14:30:25

katisha I'm on to Austen next...

Slowly but surely getting through my list of 'you should read this'. Whenever I get a bit meh with whats on offer, I have a go at the list.

Brams Dracula was before Wuthering...

TrillianAstra Mon 05-Sep-11 14:32:57

I didn't mean it in a snippy don't bother then kind of way, but I don't believe there is any book at all that everyone will like. Just because something is a classic or a bestseller or lots of people tell you it's amazing doesn't mean it will be to your taste.

mummytime Mon 05-Sep-11 14:46:44

I have never even felt tempted to read Wuthering Heights, much later BTW. I love most of the other Bronte works, so guess its just Emily. But I'm not great on that kind of histrionics in general.

kickassangel Mon 05-Sep-11 14:47:06

yes, you have to read austen knowing that it was firmly tongue in cheek. she got engaged once, but broke it off the next morning, no-one quite knows why, but in a time when women were viewed as immature, like a child, until they married & had their own place, it was quite a daunting prospect to face spinsterhood.

she frequently mocks the social expectations of her time, and her female characters were deliberately written to be 'different' from the expectation. there's often a '2nd' female character that contrasts with the main one - a character who does conform to the expected pattern of behaviour, and it is interesting to see how this contrasts with what the main characters do.

yes, they all end up married, but often on their terms, or after reaching a better self-knowledge - ie, they mature as people, then seek a partner, rather than being blindly led into marriage. the men they end up with also have to go through a moment of self-knowledge before being worthy of marriage. And there is definitely the idea that men do have to experience that before they are worthy of marriage. The heroines don't just passively go off, grateful that someone with twenty thousand pounds a year has looked at them.

(btw, austen died in 1817, brontes wrote in the second half of the 1850s)

TrillianAstra Mon 05-Sep-11 14:51:05

I found the dialecty bits of Wuthering Heights really difficult to read.

DilysPrice Mon 05-Sep-11 14:57:57

Wuthering Heights gets worse and worse the further you get from your teenaged years. Austen gets better and better - but if you don't like the Emma Thompson Sense & Sensibility then Austen may just not be for you.

Readers who are simply struggling to see past the language in Austen might like to break themselves in gently with enormous quantities of Georgette Heyer.

witchwithallthetrimmings Mon 05-Sep-11 14:59:58

jane austen is excellent chick lit with added irony; she would also be a marvelous poster

AIBU not to want to marry a vicar?

CalatalieSisters Mon 05-Sep-11 15:08:24

I can also imagine Mr Darcy posting in a moment of desperation to try and get a woman's view on why the hell this little shabby gentlewoman didn't fall gratefully at his handsome wealthy feet when he proposed.

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