Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Naked Emperors Book Club

This week's question: What classic novels have struck you as naked emperors? (Dead authors only, so as not to upset any living colleagues.)

My answer: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. I read it expecting a thrilling old English love story. But with each page I flipped, I could never figure out why the hype.

The characters showed hints of being interesting, and there were some great lines with astute social commentary. The plot was static, but I kept reading because I thought there must be something more—something big about to happen to make all the boring parts make sense. It's a classic, after all. And SO many people love Jane Austen—love her, like modern day Twilight fans.

But I never felt the book or its characters get real. I closed the last page with a thud of disappointment. The characters stayed flat, I couldn't get emotionally invested in either protagonist's love story. The plot did nothing interesting. The book just never delivered for me.

BUT it was Austen's first novel. I've grown a lot since writing my first novel, and I was intrigued enough by the introspection in this book to think that maybe as she went along, she honed her craft and got better too. I loved the movies Pride and Prejudice and Clueless (which was based on Austen's Emma).

So while I won't recommend Sense and Sensibility, not at all, I've just talked myself into giving Jane Austen another chance.

I think I'll start with Persuasion, her last novel. The end of her writerly growth arc.


Catriona McPherson said...

So true, Robin. I always feel like a Philistine saying it but Emma Thompson did a wonderful job turning that book into a film. But a word of warning about Persuasion: she was dying and she didn't finish all the rewrites!

BWKnister said...

You're entitled to your opinion, of course, but it takes me back to a moment many years ago. I'd signed up to watch a series of films Kenneth Clark had made, based on his wonderful book, Civilization. Each of the 13 films was followed by a lecture on that film's period and art. In one devoted to the Middle Ages, Clark talked about Vikings, illuminated manuscripts, etc. When the lights came on, an academic from the University of Michigan--an economist--stepped to the podium. He said of Clark's film that it was all well and good to talk about art, but that what REALLY mattered in the Middle Ages was the invention of the deep-furrow plow. What's my point? Like the economist who could think of the Middle Ages only in terms of economics, you seem to have read Austen's book strictly in terms of our time, and for the sole purpose of being entertained. If you do try Austen again, I hope you'll go straight to her undisputed masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice. A disclaimer: I am not an academic who specializes in Jane Austen. I'm just a fan.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I enjoy Austen although I haven't read her in a long time. It transports me to another time, but you do have to remember the time period of the writing. Next to todays fast action, glib dialogue, it can seem rather dull and boring. I feel the same way about Hammet. Once I shed the here and now part of my brain, I can get lost in those books.

Robin Spano said...

Catriona: Oh wow, so Persuasion is like an olden day Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (author dies before edits done).

BW & Sue Ann: Interesting point re: reading from today's perspective. I do generally prefer the pace of the present day (I think I would have felt like a fish out of water if I'd been alive in Austen's time) but when I read her again I'll keep your perspective in mind and give mental time traveling a chance.