So you know how a few weeks ago everyone was losing their minds over the new Persuasion adaptation on Netflix? The one that is in period costume but where no one speaks in a period way? I never watched it so I don't have much of an opinion but it got everyone talking about Persuasion and how good or not good it is and I was thinking maybe it would be nice to read it. It was a short Austen, I realized I hadn't read any Austen in at least a decade. My memories of it were fuzzy. I thought maybe I liked it?
I found my notes from when I read it at 23 and found poor old destined-for-spinsterhood Anne too relatable. (In my defense I was at BYU at the time and everyone was married already.) I have been a bit slumpy this summer so maybe this was just the thing to change it up? I have found some things I loved to not age well and others to get better and I was curious where Austen would fall. When I found an audio version read by the great Juliet Stevenson that clinched it.
Then something strange happened. It was... fine. Anne was just so boring. She was so good, it was her only quality. She was always good, always did the right thing, tolerated everyone, was kind to everyone. Which is nice and all but let's be clear that everyone else fucking sucks so this is not what you want for Anne. I also found all the class and society stuff hard to stomach. And this is definitely part of growing older. I am getting quite radical in my middle age and the idea that you wouldn't visit someone because they were the wrong class is horrific to me, that your entire life and comfort depends entirely on who your father is. I am sure Austen wants to present much of this to us to criticize it, but it's just so immersed in it that it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Austen is still a master at creating all these recognizable people that you want to never be stuck in a room with. But it was a strange experience.
Was it me? Was it Austen? Or was Persausion just a lesser Austen as some others believe?
It was time to experiment. The obvious candidate was Sense & Sensibility, which I haven't read since senior year of high school but which has lots of warm feelings because I associate it with Emma Thompson and getting a 5 on the AP English test. (I was just so ready for that essay question about parties, I knew I had it in the bag. No I am not too old to still brag about this! And even if I am I don't care if you think so for reasons I am getting to!) I don't know it as well as P&P or Emma, also a point in its favor. Once again I found a Juliet Stevenson version (bless her, truly, it's amazing anyone else dares to go near Austen because she is so good at it) and got started.
This time, happily, I enjoyed myself much more. Though I still had some notes. Several, actually. (Edward hardly even exists on the page. The last thing I am looking for in my life is a Willoughby redemption arc, I would prefer a gruesome murder, thanks.)
But it didn't really matter all that much because I had one of those almost sublime experiences where a book hits you in your tenderest places and it feels like it is just for you or maybe it is hitting you so deeply it is actually therapy. Which is probably a very silly thing to say about Austen. But oh boy, Marianne and Elinor were just DOING IT to me.
Let me explain. I spent most of my life being Elinor. I was very proper and a rule follower and desperate to keep a sense of decorum and procedure and just be nice to everyone. I didn't like things to get messy. I didn't like rudeness. I tolerated many bad things for the sake of not making a fuss. I have lived her life. It is rough. I remember it well and I still have a lot of those Elinor instincts still living inside me. They come in handy when you navigate the world.
So I related to her just so deeply and I remembered relating to her when I was 17 and meeting her for the first time. It was so easy to look at things from her point of view, to see Marianne be foolhardy and rash and throw herself at things and just want to help her understand why she is so very wrong.
But it's that whole getting older thing. And one thing that has happened to me as I've gotten older is I've become much more of a Marianne. Not a practical, marrying-Colonel-Brandon-who-could-practically-be-your-father Marianne. And not exactly a being-very-stupid-about-Willoughby Marianne. But certainly a saying-inappropriate-things-in-company Marianne. I am becoming more and more of a person who must say the thing, who must show my feelings, who will not just sit and be the Elinor I've always been and keep it to myself and suffer in silence. I am not quite enough of a Marianne to lock myself away from the world for months because I am very sad, but who knows, maybe next time I am very sad that is exactly what I will do.
It has been a very strange journey to go from holding my feelings very tight like my heart is a pressure cooker, to showing them to people like that is an okay thing to do. Saying them and not immediately downplaying them or trying to soften them but learning to say them. I am still working on it but I have to say it is very nice not to be such an Elinor anymore. And the whole time I was listening to this book I was not thinking about romance and sisterly love, I was just thinking about how nice Elinor would feel once she loosened the hell up and I wanted that for her very much.
So yes, there are some not-the-same-old feelings about Austen for you. Hope that was enjoyable. This newsletter continues to be sporadic and not at all what I thought it would be but actually that part of it is growing on me.
Here, for a treat, have a bunch of my favorite books from July and August.