Ire and Irritability

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I am having another stab at Jane Austen.

Friends beg me to keep trying, anxious for me not to miss what they tell me is an unrivalled view of a luminous literary landscape. I have made efforts on and off over the years and never found her to my taste. Somewhere along the line at school I passed through Northanger Abbey without retaining much impression of it. But now I have made a pledge with a friend who works at the Royal Society of Literature. I must endeavour to read some Austen and my friend will attempt to read Wuthering Heights, a book she has heretofore avoided. She suggested I start with Sense and Sensibility, so I did.

Well, there are certainly notable descriptions of handsome houses, mansions set in parkland and snug but sensible cottages. By chapter five of Sense and Sensibility I am wondering whether or not Austen should have been an estate agent. The division of an estate, the properties, the provisions of a will, its legal intricacies, the inheritance – all of which Austen understood well – the landed gentry, all these are hitting a nerve. Images of precise but insipid watercolours float across my mind alongside scenes costumed by Laura Ashley.

The truth is I am already trying to suppress a mounting fury, the source of which I cannot fathom. However, I do appreciate the brevity of the chapters. I must remember that as a useful technique for encouraging a reader to continue.

Why the fury? I start to examine my extreme and visceral reaction to various kinds of literature and am surprised to realize how far back it goes. I could not have been more than 5 when I took an intense dislike to the nursery rhyme ‘A frog he would a-wooing go’. We sang it regularly at school. I try to remember now why I disliked it so much. After all, I liked the song about the old woman who swallowed a fly. I enjoyed the satisfying menace of the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. But I hated the amorous frog. I took a vio

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About the contributor

Having failed to pursue a career as a trapeze artist and having turned down the opportunity to tour with Bertram Mills Circus in favour of joining the National Theatre, Pauline Melville now confines herself to flights of fiction, short stories and novels, some award-winning and some not.

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