My first Jane Austen

I’m closing out Jane Austen’s birthday week by offering copies of the Cozy Classics board book editions of Pride and Prejudice and Emma, along with my novella A Dream Defiant in your choice of electronic format. Comment by 9 PM Pacific Standard Time on Sunday (that’s midnight Eastern) for a chance to win!

Emma image

I have a humiliating confession to make:

The first time I read Jane Austen, I got about a chapter in and then quit.

I was 14 or so, and I’d taken to reading my hometown library’s extensive collection of Georgette Heyer, Clare Darcy, and Marion Chesney. They were real, adult love stories I didn’t have to hide from my mom. Which wasn’t the case with historical romance in general. Anything with the lurid “bodice ripper” covers so prevalent in the 1980′s wasn’t quite forbidden to me, but they led to lectures on appropriate entertainment, the importance of waiting till marriage to have sex, etc. I occasionally snuck such books into the house regardless, but for the most part I just found ways to read what I liked that flew under Mom’s radar–e.g. you’d never guess how much sex is in the Earth’s Children series by the covers.

But I digress. Our librarian noticed me working my way through Heyer, Darcy, and Chesney and said I really MUST try this book called Pride and Prejudice.

So I checked it out, took it home, and tried to read it. But I couldn’t quite follow what was going on somehow, and the arch wit of the writing completely went over my earnest, angsty young head. So I gave up and set it aside.

I didn’t try Austen again until just after college, when I was 23 or 24. Again I started with Pride and Prejudice–and this time it instantly clicked. I plowed through all six of her novels one after the other, and I’ve re-read them more times than I can count in the years since.

P&P illustration

I’m still baffled and not a little embarrassed by my adolescent self’s failure to Get It. It’s not like I was a poor reader–I loved Jane Eyre, and I read Romeo and Juliet for fun at 12, albeit an annotated version with footnotes clarifying all the language and references I didn’t yet have the maturity and experience to pick up on my own. Maybe I would’ve done better with an annotated Austen to explain the entail, the relative social positions of the Bennetts, Darcys, and Bingleys, and everything else that baffled me then but made perfect sense a decade later.

Or maybe I just wasn’t for anything that wry and subtle. Those Regencies I was plowing through were by far the least angsty and dramatic fiction I was reading at the time, and even Heyer isn’t quite in the same league as Austen for subtlety, IMHO.

What about you? How old were you when you got your first taste of Austen, and did you immediately connect to her stories? Do you have a favorite book by any author that didn’t work the first time you read it?

This entry was posted in Giveaways, Jane Austen, Reading, Regency and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to My first Jane Austen

  1. HJ says:

    I do think the annotations help. I had an excellent Penguin edition and, partly because I also love history, the detailed notes really helped my enjoyment when I first read Austen aged about 12 or 13. I have a feeling that my first Austen was Sense and Sensibility, and the whole business of entailment was explained so that I could understand how the Dashwoods found themselves so badly off.

    I did connect with the books straight away. But although I’d read some Heyer I wasn’t reading it right beforehand, and I think that it relevant too – it’s like comparing and oil-painting to a miniature, as Jane uses a very light touch compared to Georgette.

  2. Maureen says:

    I didn’t read any Jane Austen books until I started reading romances when my kids were little. I don’t know why I was never introduced to her writings when I was younger because I have always enjoyed romances.

    • I’m surprised she wasn’t part of my senior AP English curriculum, since it was based on British literature–OTOH, as best as I can recall, we didn’t read anything by a woman author. I hope that’s changed in the two decades or so since I graduated high school.

  3. Elena Greene says:

    My experience was much like yours, Susanna! I read Georgette Heyer from an early age but learned to appreciate Jane Austen during my college years.

  4. peggy Quidor says:

    I was already and adult when i read my first Jane Austin book.I did connect with the book .

  5. Oh, very well, Freak Alert, here! I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was nine years old and I was hooked. I lived in England next door to two retired librarians (sisters) and they introduced me to Jane Austen, then the Bronte sisters and then Georgette Heyer. However, you must understand I started reading at 4 and by the time I was in the first grade I was completely bored with anything and everything being taught in the classroom. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing first grade teacher, in an era when gifted programs were non-existent, who saw at once I needed to be challenged rather than reprimanded for being such a pain in the butt in class. I spent an hour a day in the classroom and the rest of the day in the library reading. This was the pattern of my school days from the first grade through the first few months of the fourth grade. By that time I had read most of the books in the K-12 library. Once we transferred to England we discovered base schools DO have gifted programs and I was a fortunate and happy camper.

    However, the first time I read The Sound and the Fury I heartily disliked it in spite of being a Faulkner fan. A year later I read it again and I loved it. I wonder how much of our inclination toward a book is colored by the things going on in our lives when we read said book for the first time.

    • My parents discovered I could read when I was 4–I can’t remember actually learning. My elementary school principal had a Thing about teaching all kids on the same level insofar as possible, though, so when he discovered my first grade teacher was letting me go off by myself with a 4th grade reader during reading time, he put a stop to it, and I had to sit in the circle with the other kids and sound out words. Looking back, I admire his intentions, but not his methodology.

      • On no, Susanna! I kept getting in trouble sitting in the circle sounding out the words with the other kids because I just blurted out the words and never gave the others a chance! Mrs. Chance, my first grade teacher, had me tested and they wanted to put me in the fourth grade. My parents and Mrs. Chance objected and that is how I ended up spending most of the first three years and few months of my fourth year in school in the library. The librarian organized and supervised my reading, but it was for the most part whatever subject I was interested in that day in the mornings and literature in the afternoons. I look back and realize I was so very, very lucky!

  6. bn100 says:

    maybe in school; liked them

  7. Saw the 95 version on TV & fell madly in love with Mr Darcy :D Massive Janeite ever since!! Did help that I wanted to escape the reality of high school & was a daydreamer desperate for romance ;)

  8. Monica says:

    I discovered Austen only a few years ago (well into my adulthood) and am a die hard Janeite now. I’m always learning more about her every day and I don’t think I’d have gotten her wit and personality had I read her at a younger age.

Comments are closed.