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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