Motivations, or why I started this blog (Part II)
So, to continue where I left off in my first post, I finished reading Emma with a sense of satisfaction which no other novel had given me. (I note here that I can honestly say that, until about a couple of months ago, I had not been aware of the current fascination with Austen in the popular culture.) Months after Emma, I found myself at the same indie bookstore grabbing every Penguin edition Austen novel that they had on the shelves—they had all that I needed except Mansfield Park. Do you sometimes envy people who are about to read for the first time your favorite books, knowing the hours of pleasure that were ahead of them in reading those books? I now had in my possession four additional Austen novels, none of which I knew anything about, except what was written on the back covers which, thankfully, didn’t give anything away. I didn’t know then what I was in for.
I started with Pride and Prejudice. The thing had me rolling on the floor laughing. Emma notwithstanding, I was surprised, I really was. At the sharp wit, the beautiful writing, the humor, the delicacy, the storytelling, the vividness of the characters, the truths that were told. Everything. I couldn’t believe that here was a writer from the early 19th century who connected at different levels with a 21st-century, hard-to-impress scientist who used to think that reading fiction was a complete waste of time. I find that utterly amazing. At around this time, it also became clear to me that Austen was a literary genius. And the fact need not be diluted. Austen was a genius like Einstein was a genius.
After Pride and Prejudice, I was under Austen’s spell. I had no sooner finished Pride and Prejudice than I was reaching for the next novel. In quick succession, I read Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and Sense and Sensibility, each becoming a favorite as I read it. As I read, it also became clear that Austen was a very well-read person. I also convinced myself that she was, in today’s jargon, a sort of feminist. I was very, very impressed, to say the least. I was hooked. I wanted to learn more about this genius. I started reading her letters. But that’s another story.
That’s how I found myself at this point, wanting to spend the rest of my life reading. By reading Austen, I have been inspired to read again, to strive to be literate. To read not just prose, but also poetry. Before Austen, I didn’t care a hoot about poetry. Now I even manage to memorize them, and seek them. And, yes, I was wrong. Reading fiction, very good fiction, is not a waste of time. I do learn something—not all new—about myself, about others, about the human condition, about possibilities. And, dare I say, universal truths? 😉
I sometimes wonder if my experience is strange. But, perhaps, it is just another measure of Austen’s genius and, perhaps, I am not alone.
Those who have read Northanger Abbey will recognize the title I have chosen for this nascent blog and, after reading this and my first post, will perhaps understand why I chose it. I’ll end by quoting the relevant text from the novel:
“I am no novel reader—I seldom look into novels—Do not imagine that I often read novels—It is really very well for a novel.”—Such is the common cant.— “And what are you reading, Miss —?” “Oh! it is only a novel!” replies the young lady; while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame.— “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda;” or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.
(The illustration in this post is by H. M. Brock, for Pride and Prejudice.)
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