Monday, July 23, 2012

Old School

There exists such a thing - at least, among my group of friends - known as "The Austen Rule": being that the first time you read any given book by Jane Austen, you will absolutely despise it, and it will be a hard slog from start to finish, and at any point in the story you will be sorely tempted to quit it, but if you make it through the first time, upon the second reading, you will find it to be smart, humorous, insightful, and highly entertaining. This Rule is the reason why it took me eight tries to finally finish Emma, and why a decent percentage of those who read Pride and Prejudice this past year for their English classes may not have enjoyed it the way us multi-time Darcy-lovers did.

It is also the reason why my decision to read Northanger Abbey in the middle of the summer may have seemed highly ludicrous.

Summer is the time of reading as many good books as possible, stocking up in preparation for the dry and barren mental material coming with school in the fall. Summer is not the time to read, and reread. Summer is the time for beach reads, road trip silence-fillers, stuff that might cause concern if seen poking out of your messenger bag, but looks perfectly appropriate when read while swinging in a hammock or lounging by the pool. Besides, Summer is for American History and Novels. Save the BritLit, with its Gothics, for the gloomy, foggy Winter.

So why in the world would I actually CHOOSE to read Northanger Abbey, when it is perfectly good weather for jumping on some paranormal teen lit bandwagon? The above video is the guilty culprit.

"Jane Austen is my Homegirl," by the comedic troupe known as Pretty Darn Funny,  is a rap in celebration and honor of those BBC and PBS miniseries I just can't ever get enough of, name-checking the Brontes, Jane Austen, and especially Downton Abbey. Like an Austen book, I didn't enjoy it that much at first: I found it a little too contrived, with more lacking or awkward moments than general fluidity or humor. But then, I read the lyrics. And I soon found it to be 1:00 am, and had watched the video over a dozen times, memorizing bits and pieces of it, which I now recite at a moment's notice.

And that's why I purposefully chose to read something as difficult and time-consuming as an Austen novel, when the weather may be a bit more appropriate for a Dessen. The problem was, I thought it might be... I don't know... different this time. But I assure you, it is just as problematic reading an Austen novel in the summer, as it is during the school year.

However, once you get PAST all of the hard-to-interpret language, and figure out who's actually talking in what section, you can see glimmers of the amazing humor and sarcasm within the words. Northanger Abbey - a parody of the Gothic novels in such popularity at the time of its writing - is an amusing account of a girl, Catherine Morland, who imagines her life to be a little too much like those terrifying and treacherous novels she reads, leading to various difficulties as she realizes, that no, she is no great heroine, but that she might still have her own triumphant ending. This book is a prime example of Austen's wit and sarcasm, her humor, and her talent in creating believable characters, but also provides, within the story, a solid defense against all who claim the lack of literary merit in the novel form.

However, again, I didn't really get the chance to fully appreciate those characteristics of the book, because it took me more than two weeks to actually finish it.

Hopefully, someday, I'll return to Northanger Abbey, and find it to be wildly humorous, incredibly insightful, and as brilliant as I find Austen's works to always be. For right now, though, I'm ditching the dust for something a little more current, and not-so-wordy. :)

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