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Category Archives: A Few of My Favourite Things

The Perks of the “Understanding English Teacher”

As always, I stayed in on Saturday night. I ended up watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower. With my parents. I can’t decide whether this is fitting or ironic.

Credit: IMBD

Charlie, our young hero, played by Logan Lerman is a psychologically damaged loner (aren’t we all?) who finally makes friends when he gets to high school, and drama ensues. Wow, that makes it sound like an awful movie. I should probably make a note to self along the lines of, “Self, avoid doing movie reviews”.

Pathetic synopsis aside, I adored it.

It had so many shadows of clichés, and yet, somehow, it seemed fresh. There’s the shy, quiet freshman, eating lunch alone at a big table. The understanding English teacher who’s book recommendations and pieces of wisdom help guide our young freshman. The friends who magically appear and are made with little effort. The gay best friend. The lunchroom fight. The drunken parties, the secretive displays of affection, the drugs. The satisfying ending.

Actually, all written out, that sounds kind of like Mean Girls. Except that Mean Girls is a comedy — of which I can recite almost every line — while this is a drama. And in Mean Girls the displays of affection are rather public and nonchalant. During the final scene of Wallflower, I swear I could hear Cady Heron narrating: “Finally, girl world was at peace.” Not that the line makes any sense in the context of the movie, but more that it made sense in the context of the nice, clean, for-now-everything’s-looking-pretty-good dénouement.

And yet, as I wrote, it felt very fresh. Though looking at what I wrote after that, I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s because it isn’t what happens, but how it happens and why it happens. It’s a lot like Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, a concept I also learned back in grade nine, with my very own “understanding English teacher”. Campbell has this theory that most “hero’s journey’s” in most stories (from Greek myths to contemporary films) will follow the same basic pattern.

But you can make all kinds of cookies using the same cookie cutter, and they’ll all taste different, regardless of their shape. Furthermore, two bakers can use the same recipe and the same cookie cutters and the cookies will likely come out different. (Don’t believe me? Ask your mom to get the recipe for the cookies your friend’s mom makes and tell me your mom’s taste exactly the same.)

Also, clichés occasionally become clichéd for a reason. A lot of them are pretty true. So you can take that clichéd kernel expand it into something new and meaningful. But then some idiot (such as myself) goes to summarize it, and it gets crunched back into a cliché.

Take the “understanding English teacher”. That’s probably the fastest growing cliché in movies about high school. From Dead Poet’s Society to Freedom Writers to Easy A you’ll find one such character playing a pretty major role. In Mean Girls it’s a math teacher, but even then, English class plays a huge role: that’s where Glen Coco gets his four candy canes, that’s where Gretchen Wieners snaps after deciding that WE SHOULD TOTALLY JUST STAB CAESAR.

You GO Glen Coco! Credit: lolsnaps.com

And why? Because English teachers understand people. Because they read a lot so they must be pretty smart. Because they teach us about life, about ourselves. Which is kind of exactly what (the good) screenwriters are trying to do. And is there an easier way for screenwriters to convey messages, both to us and to the characters themselves, than to have English teachers convey those messages for them? Probably not.

Why else are these characters popping up more and more? Because they’re true. English teachers do change lives. At least the good ones do. They encourage you to read. To write. To explore your passions. To be yourself. To figure out who you even are. I know from personal experience. An English teacher once managed to change my life. Or something like that.

Charlie, while arguably a slight cliché, is true. Despite our entirely different experiences of life, he’s me, and yet, he’s his own person enough to be nothing like me. I want to be more like him, I’m glad I’m not more like him.

I don’t know if this movie was good or bad. I don’t know if it’s fresh or clichéd — sometimes I think life itself is kind of clichéd. But I do know that I adored it. It made me feel — and not just in a superficial way. I didn’t cry — movies rarely elicit such a reaction from me. But I had a lump in my throat the whole time, and puddles of tears that sat in my eyes without streaming over to my cheeks. It meant something to me, and to a lot of other kids my age. And that’s gotta be worth something.

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A Book- and Blog-iversary

On January 28th, 1813 Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s second novel, was published. On January 29, 2012, Welcome to My Shiny New Blog, the first post here on A Solitary Ramble, was published.

Coincidence? Yes. Yes it was. However, I don’t believe in coincidences, and I’m sure that this happened to happen for a reason. Probably so that I could conveniently celebrate P&P’s 200th book-iversary and my first blog-iversary in single post.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.com

Time to pop out the tea! Dust off the teacups! And throw ourselves another tea party? Well, maybe not. Mostly because I’m home for a few days. Which is an excellent thing, except for the fact that we don’t have fancy china here. And I’ve been so busy seeing friends and family and doing homey stuff that I kind of TOTALLY MISSED BOTH OF THESE -VERSARIES AND THIS POST IS SEVERAL DAYS LATEThere. Okay. It is so relieving to have gotten that out. I hope you can forgive me for being so remiss.

It’s actually quite fitting to have both of these dates so close on the calendar and bound eternally to one another in this post. I mostly started this blog to drool over Mr. Darcy in a public manner. I guess that didn’t happen much… Except for here. Oh, and here. And probably a little bit here.

My blog’s name, in fact, is lifted straight from a scene in Pride and Prejudice:

Elizabeth’s sister Lydia and her new husband, Mr. Wickham are paying a visit to the Bennets. Elizabeth is sitting outside, reading a letter from her aunt (which explains the exact conditions under which Lydia’s wedding came to be), when Mr. Wickham intrudes on her reverie. “I am afraid I interrupt your solitary ramble,” he says, as he joins her.

Aside from the Austenticity of the phrase, I thought it was quite fitting for my brand new blog. It represents me, because (like Lizzy who will walk three miles in the mud, getting her petticoats six inches deep in mud) I’m rather fond of taking walks through the countryside in solitude. Of course, by the countryside I mean the side-walked, suburban streets. And, unlike Lizzy’s, my petticoats aren’t quite long enough to reach the ground.

Also, I figured that these posts would mostly be solitary rambles — sitting by myself at the keyboard, ranting and raving to myself.

Joking aside (just kidding, I don’t know how to shove joking to the side) I think we should take a moment to admire and love Miss Elizabeth Bennet as much as Mr. Darcy does. Because, really, the girl’s amazing. And I don’t think we expend enough energy on adoring her.

Besides inspiring me to get off the couch and get some eye-brightening exercise (if you catch my reference), she literally changed who I am as a person. In far too many ways for me to count.

Credit: allystruth.tumblr.com

From what I hazily recall of the dark ages before Lizzy and I met, I used to be really into following the rules (at or at least appearing to do so). I used to literally tremble in the face of authority (mostly in the form of school principals). Thanks to Lizzy, I managed to stand up to my high school principal last year — in a witty, impertinent manner, no less — on an important matter. And then I stormed out of the man’s office in a huff. Kind of like that time Lizzy stood up to Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

I’m not really sure that this was quite what Jane wanted me to get out of her sparkling novel.

And while Lady C had no real power over Lizzy and her choices, this principal’s “yes” had the power to change my entire year last year (and, you know, probably the entire course of my life, if we’re going to be melodramatic about it).

Besides, I knew I’d be getting a big, fat, ugly NO from said principal anyways — this was not our first meeting on the matter — so I figured I might as well finish the ordeal with a clang.

Among other things, Lizzy has turned me into quite the impertinent  sharp-tongued young lady. (“No, she has not. It was ONE time,” the voice of reason in my head wants you to know.) And I love her for it.

“I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know,” wrote Miss Austen of her heroine one day.

I couldn’t agree more. 

A Birthday Party for Miss Austen

If you aren’t already aware that Jane Austen was born two-hundred-and-thirty-seven years ago today, you’re obviously not as devout an Austen Addict as I am. Ordinarily I’d suggest that if this is the case you can just leave my blog, right now, but today I’m feeling generous — it is a day of celebration after all — and I realize that few people can possibly be as obsessed as I am.

I don’t know about THE world, but Jane certainly changed MY world. And clearly other people’s worlds as well. When I met new people at school this year, Jane often found her way into our conversation at some one point or another. My new acquaintance would then either nod in slight recognition of the somewhat ubiquitous name, or begin gushing about how absolutely delightful Pride and Prejudice is. The latter is what happened with one of my teachers and her daughters when we met a few months ago.

And so, in honour of this auspicious day, these lovely ladies baked a cake and we all got dressed up and had a tea party this afternoon. And let me say, I have never attended such a lovely tea party in all my life. Actually, compared with our afternoon tea, I don’t think anything I’ve ever attended or hosted could even be considered a tea party.

They took out their fancy china for the occasion and we drank from the dainty floral tea cups with our pinky fingers in the air. We put on classical music. We lit candles. We placed flowers on the table.

Tea Time!

We all dressed up — though none of us really got the period quite right. There were shawls and big, floppy hats that were more to the stylings of Anne Shirley than Elizabeth Bennet and we had a southern belle join us in a long, poufy gown. I attempted an empire waist look, placing a thin belt high on my waistline over a purple dress. Nonetheless, we all looked charming in our outfits of choice.

And then there was the food. Chocolate cake dusted with powdered sugar. Lemon pie. Cucumber sandwiches. And you can’t forget the tea. And the china sugar bowl. My family, for some reason or another, doesn’t have good china or sugar bowls or fancy tea sets, so that their family has such things, and that we used them, was very exciting for me.

The Food

The Food

And then we looked at my pictures from my pilgrimages to England where I visited Miss Austen’s house in Chawton and the filming locations for Pemberley used in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. We had a marvellous afternoon. And then, to finish off our day we went to Anthropologie, were I got myself a present in honour of Jane’s birthday. The belt I bought was, after all, called the Pierced Floral Corset Belt so I think it was quite fitting.

Thank you Jane, for writing some of the greatest novels ever. You’ve played a huge role in shaping who I am over the past few years since we met when I was fifteen. You’re the reason I started reading Literature. You’re partly responsible for my decision to major in English when I get to university next year. You inspired me to begin writing.You inspired two incredible, bonding-filled trips to England with my daddy. Your novels have taught me so much about life, myself and those around me. And you gave me a great opportunity to have a really fun tea party today in your honour. Happy birthday, Jane. And thanks for everything.

Did you do anything special to celebrate Jane’s birthday? Have you ever? Do share!

Some other posts wherein I gush about Jane and her novels:

My Favourite Books

P&P&ME

Fictitious Crushes

Happy Birth(and Death)day to The Bard (wherein I discuss my visit to Miss Austen’s former home in England)

My Life in Books

The Jane Austen Book Club

For the Love of Jane 

“He Have His Goodness Now”

The other day I went to see Arthur Miller’s The Crucible put on by Soulpepper in Toronto’s Distillery District. It was phenomenal, incredible, stupendous. The sets were perfect in that they were subtle and fitting, the costumes seemed just right and the acting was amazing. There isn’t much more than that to say. When something is subpar, I can wax on forever about its flaws, but when I truly enjoy something, I find it hard to say anything. Not, I imagine, because there isn’t anything to be said, but because it just doesn’t seem to need saying. When something is done well, that generally appears seamless; you don’t sit pondering what makes it so good, you just take it for granted and become engrossed. Which is probably why it’s easier to criticize than to compliment. When something is done well, it is less noticeable, it’s simply as it should be; however, when it is done poorly, that’s what sticks out. This is probably why we’re quicker to notice (and punish) children when they misbehave, than to notice (and reward) children who behave properly.

But, life is more complicated than just good and bad, approval and disapproval. Not everything is all good and must be put on a pedestal, or all bad and to be put to shame. At least according to The Crucible. If something (or someone) is completely good or completely bad, that’s boring. It doesn’t seem worth talking about. It’s the tension between good and bad and the capacity for good and bad that make life (and people) interesting.

So, overall, the play was incredible, but there was one flaw that stuck out for me. I really didn’t like Abigail Williams. I understand that the character herself is not a likable person — we’re not supposed to like her. But I can’t figure out if I disliked her because the actress did such a good job playing her and I didn’t like her because I wasn’t supposed to or if it was because she really didn’t do a good job and that bothered me. I’m inclined to think the latter.

Abigail isn’t a nice person. She had an affair with John Proctor before the play began, and while he’s seen that it was wrong and put an end to it, she refuses to move on. She’s jealous of Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, and wants her dead, with hopes of taking her place. She uses the witch trials as an opportunity to have Elizabeth accused and hanged for her own corrupt, selfish purposes. She’s a controlling, manipulative liar who gains power through the messed up system created by the trials and leads all the other (previously powerless) teenage girls in accusing many innocent people of “consorting with the devil”. The thing about her, though, is that she’s a really awful character who I just love to hate. She’s deliciously bad and has few to no redeeming qualities.

But I didn’t really get that from the girl who played her. She didn’t really seem so conniving and cruel and malicious. She was just kind of annoying. And her affected innocence didn’t feel enough like affectation. Maybe she didn’t do such a bad job. Maybe the actress or the director had a different interpretation of Abigail’s character than I did. But, because the rest of the play was so good, this one flaw was not only more noticeable, but it also bothered me more and made more of an impact.

Abigail Williams annoyingly portrayed by Hannah Miller.
Photo credit: Soulpepper.ca

The opposite applies as well, goodness has more value when it’s put next to badness. This is illustrated with John Proctor’s character. The play ends with *spoiler alert* his hanging. He chooses to be hanged rather than sign his name to lies and perpetuate the brutal witch trials, which he knows to be senseless, unjust and unfounded in real factual evidence. If he was just a perfect person, if he were a noble, just, well-behaved man from the start of the play, his self-sacrifice in the end wouldn’t be all that spectacular. What else would he do? Rebecca Nurse, an extremely calm, sensible, moral character shares the same fate. But no one really notices. It’s expected of her.

What’s so outstanding about Proctor is that he isn’t perfect from the start but still does the right thing in the end. He’s a good person, but he’s done wrong. He has an incredible reputation, and is respected in his community (which is why his final decision to die honourably rather than live because of a self-preserving falsehood actually matters and helps his society). But seven months before the play even began, he had that affair with Abigail. As far as he’s concerned, that one mistake makes him a terrible person and it was an error in judgment from which he can never recover. He does the right thing in the end, but literally up until the moment that he does, he isn’t sure if he’s going to — partly because he feels that since he’s already done one wrong thing, there’s no point in losing his life to do the right thing. But then he realizes that goodness and badness don’t have to be mutually exclusive. He sees that he does have some goodness in him and he chooses to do the right thing, because having done wrong previously is no excuse to do wrong again.

Patricia Fagan and Stuart Hughes as Elizabeth and John Proctor

The thing that makes him heroic, is that he has done bad but changes and does something good. That’s why he matters. That’s why he’s interesting. That’s why we love him. When something is all good or all bad, it’s boring — or at least boring to talk about. There isn’t necessarily much to say about a play that’s done perfectly or a man who behaves perfectly. But what really sticks out — whether in a bad way or in a good way — is when a play that’s superb has a flaw or when a not so ideal person does something truly noble. Because it’s the inconsistencies in life that are interesting and that really get people talking.

Of course, I’d rather a play that’s executed perfectly or a person who’s always good, but life’s more complicated than that and there’s good and bad in everything. And “there is nothing,” as Hamlet says (in Hamlet, act 2, scene II) “either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. So maybe what I’m really getting at with this, is what do you focus on? The awesomeness of the rest of the play or the less-than-awesomeness of how Abigail was portrayed? The fact that John Proctor cheated on his wife or that fact that he was able to repent, move past that and do good in the end?

I’d say, learn from Proctor and choose goodness. There’s badness in each of us and there’s badness in the world around us. But maybe we shouldn’t focus on that. Maybe we should focus on the good and — despite our own or other people’s bad choices — try to do the right thing.

Books, Books, and More Books (But Not eBooks)

I like books. Obviously. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t talk (write) about them so much. But I’m also really picky about my books. I REFUSE to read eBooks. I hate them. They’re awful. End of discussion. The other day took this online survey about teenagers’ reading habits. It wanted to know if I read eBooks. Then it wanted to know why not. I was allowed to click as many options as I wanted. In addition to “I don’t think I would like it” and “I prefer physical books”, I selected “other” and wrote “I don’t read eBooks because doing so is heresy”. This is something I stand by. I love technology (when I know how to use it) and I, like most teenagers, spend way too much time on my iPhone and Laptop. But when it  comes to reading, I like books. Real, live, honest to goodness books.

Cartoon Credit: cartoonstock.com

If I’m not reading a book in actual book format, it just doesn’t feel like reading. I love the feeling of accomplishment every time I turn a physical page. I love being able to see how close or far I am from the end. I love being able to highlight a good line and write all over the margins. I like the way books feel. I like the way books smell. I like the way books look.

But that brings me to another point. Not only am I picky in that I won’t read a book that isn’t in book format, but I kind of judge books by their covers. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d rather read Pride and Prejudice with an ugly cover than Wuthering Heights with a beautiful cover, any hour of the day. Heck, I’d even read P&P on my iPhone, if Wuthering Heights was my only other option. But I’d really rather a physical book, with a pretty cover. 

And obviously what I’m reading matters. A lot. Because I’m also very picky (and probably a little snobby) about what I read. Which leads me to a confession. I, lover of books, a self-professed book nerd (or so my tagline says), do not own very many books. Oh, sure, I have plenty of books. Probably more than some people. And my relatively small collection is probably made up of “more quality than quantity”. But, still. At least a have a good excuse for it. Or at least a couple of not so great excuses.

Excuse Number One: The Literarily Deprived Childhood

Cartoon Credit: The New Yorker

Whenever I complain about anything, especially about to my perfect, easy childhood, my mother always apologizes with oodles of sarcasm. “I’m an awful mother,” she’ll say. “You are/were such a deprived child.” I really did read a lot when I was a kid. I loved going to the library. In fact, one of my favourite early childhood memories involves reading picture books at the library with my daddy, surrounded by piles and piles of books. It was awesome. And my parents totally encouraged me in reading. They loved reading. Reading was a very noble and smart activity. But while I read a lot, it was quantity over quality. I read loads of very forgettable books. And I read them somewhat quickly. So my Mom didn’t want to “waste money” on “mere books” that I breezed through and would likely never read again. And, I mean, she was probably right. Most of those books probably weren’t really worth buying. (Because my mother, awfully negligent as she was, never introduced me to incredibly, awesome classics or anything such. I didn’t even read Anne of Green Gables until I was 16. It had to be recommended by a teacher — although, at least it was a teacher who’s attained like-a-mother status. That recommendation is probably why.) So then I got into this habit of not buying books. Books were to be taken out of the library — why on earth would anyone do otherwise?

But then I read Pride and Prejudice (recommended by the same teacher — obviously). And that changed everything. Other than a handful of totally random books, it was the first book I ever actually owned.  I didn’t even buy it at first and when I did, I wasn’t even the one who purchased it. I took it out of the library, as I always did. What else would I have done? But, as I talk about in this post, I didn’t really understand it. I complained about this to my father, and he did something absurd. He went to the bookstore. And he bought me– Oh God. I can’t even say this. It feels so dirty. He bought me… SparkNotes. SparkNotes, for those of you who are lucky (or smart) enough to have never heard of such an atrocity, are study guides that summarize and analyze books so that (idiotic) students don’t have to bother reading the books they’re supposed to read for school. All I said to my dad was that I wished I could be learning the book in school, so I could understand it. I’ve never condescended to use a study guide for a book we’re learning in school (even before I decided that I was “passionate” about English) and I wasn’t about to start then — especially with a book that I was reading for pleasure. Then my dad did something smart. He bought me The Annotated P&P which I’ve mentioned a few times before. I really owe a lot of my understanding of Jane’s works to that book. But I was a little bit concerned. It wasn’t like I adored the book, based on the few chapters I’d already read — far from it. How did I know I’d even like it by the end? It’s not as though I’d ever reread it or anything. It would just sit around taking up space for all eternity. Or so I thought… (By now I’ve read it at least five times. In the past two years.)

Excuse Number Two: I Screen Books Before Buying Them

So Pride and Prejudice turned out to be a good buy. And, like I said, aside from books for English class, it was one of the first books I actually owned. (Also aside from picture books when I was little, I guess.) After that, I loved owning books. I also fell in love with rereading books. But, the problem remains that I’m very picky. And very skeptical of what I will or won’t like. So, a lot of the time, I still get a new book from the library, and then only after I’ve finished reading it will I actually purchase it, to showcase on my bookshelf (which is pretty much a shrine to awesome books). Because I don’t like having books I haven’t read sitting around. It makes me nervous.  And buying a book I’ve yet to read and don’t yet know I’ll like makes me nervous too. Because books take up valuable space and it’s not as though you can just  get rid of a book you don’t like. If you bought it, it’s yours forever.

Also, books are seductive. If I don’t exercise some form of self-control, I could seriously find five books to buy every time I step into a book store. And then I’d just have a panic attack from all the unread books. I wouldn’t know where to start, so I’d start them all. All at the same time. And then my brain would explode and I’d never make any progress through any of them. And then I’d probably deal with this situation by buying even more books.

So I try to test drive books from the library and I try to only buy a books when I’ve declared it to be my new favouritest book in the whole wide world.

Excuse Number 3: Back to Judging Books by Their Covers

I don’t like having ugly books on my shelf. And even more than that, I do like having pretty books on my shelves. Returning to my first encounter with (and purchasing of) Jane Austen, I made a mistake when I bought all of Jane’s works. I was still a very amateur book buyer. I had no clue what I was doing. I had my Annotated P&P, which had a lovely cover, but the next two books I read came from the library. I already knew that Jane was the most brilliant writer of all time, so I decided I needed to buy all six of her books. This wasn’t my mistake. My mistake was going to the bookstore with Daddy, deciding I needed to buy all her books at once, and letting him help me pick. I had NO clue what I was doing. The editions we got were hideous. Some of them were paperback Modern Library editions and the rest were paperback Penguin Classics. And not nice Penguin Classics, we’re talking about the ugliest, cheapest Penguin Classics you’ve ever seen. 

My bookshelf.

And then, later in life (about a year later) I discovered pretty books. Then I discovered hardcover books. Then I discovered Clothbound Penguin Classics. Books that I would be proud to house on my sacred bookshelf. Since then my collection has been growing considerably. And then when I was in England I went kind of crazy and bought a whole ton of books — most of which I had never read before. Of course, they were mostly poetry collections, which is my exception to the screening rule. Here’s a snapshot of my bookshelf on the left. I use the word snapshot because it is a picture of a fleeting moment in time — my bookshelf is constantly being added to and reorganized. I’m very proud of it. I recently reorganized it, which was the inspiration for this post. The top shelf is mostly poetry and/or new stuff from England. The second from the top is my shrine to Jane Austen — it’s overflowing, which is pretty strange as the woman only wrote six novels… It may have something to do with my three copies of Pride and Prejudice… The third from the top is mostly classics. The bottom shelf is mostly stuff I’ve read for school.

So, what’s on your bookshelf? A lot of so-so books? A few really great books? A lot of really great books? And where do you stand on eBooks? Am I the only one who refuses to move into the 21st century?

For the Love of Jane

I first got acquainted with Jane Austen when I was in grade ten. It changed my life. Obviously. It was also the start of a delightful little obsession. An addiction you might even say. And then I kind of got over that. I really thought I was cured. Turns out I was just in remission, ’cause the sickness is back. Will it ever be gone for good? I sure hope not.

A modern imagination of Jane. Probably more accurate (and pretty) than the other “fake” pics floating around. If you’re as ardent (crazy) a fan as me, you know what I mean. If not, google it. There is more out in Jane’s corner of the web than you would ever care to know. Photo credit: pemberley.com

With the start of the summer (during which I planned on reading lots of new books) I find myself going back to Jane. Maybe it’s because with high school ending and The Rest of My Life starting (as if), it’s nice to have something consistent and familiar to go back to. To borrow a metaphor (actually a simile, but whatever) used a lot with regards to rereading, going back to Jane is like being re-acquainted with a dear old friend. Except, while the old familiarity, shared memories and old jokes are still around, when you meet up with someone from your past, you can’t expect that they’ll be exactly the same as they were when you were close. Which is okay, because you’ve also changed. While Jane’s words have remained the same since the last time I read them (and for the past two hundred years) I’ve certainly changed, so my reading and understanding of those words has too. We (the book and I — just in case I lost anyone there) have a different relationship now. It can’t be the same as it was before, but you know what? That’s okay.

Photo credit: goodreads.com

My very first impression of Jane Austen was (appropriately) based on Pride and Prejudice. For the first several pages, that impression was not a wholly positive one. A teacher (The English Teacher) recommended I read it and I was really excited to do so. Then I did and I thought that teacher was insane for suggesting it. It was just so prim and proper and old-fashioned-y. Although, I do have to admit that I didn’t really understand it at first. That’s probably an understatement. I thought Lady Catherine De Bourgh was Mr. Collins’ wife. That was not fabricated for your amusement, I could not make such ignorance up. And in my defence, how was I supposed to know WTF a “patroness” was? Why else he would need some woman’s permission to come visit his relatives, unless they were married? It’s a good thing I switched to The Annotated Pride and Prejudice before he started courting and proposing to half the girls in Hertfordshire, all because Lady C wants him ‘settled’. Then it would have gotten really confusing. And weird. And Mr. Collins is weird enough without my misunderstanding his relationship status with Lady C.

Once I actually understood P&P (or at the very least understood what was going on in it) I fell ardently in love with it for the same reasons I had initially disliked and misunderstood it. The primness. The propriety. The old-fashioned-y-ness. It also may have had something to do with Colin Firth in a wet shirt, but you know, whatever. Anyway, as the cliche goes, high school kind of sucks, and Jane was my escape. I could float away into the world she created with her well-chosen, beautiful worlds and forget about everything else. I’d live in ravishing country estates with my new best friends Lizzy, Emma, Catherine and Marianne; I would swoon over Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley and Henry Tilney, doodling their names all over my Science notebook, in my best, most Jane Austen-y cursive. I was more “well-adjusted” by the time I got to grade eleven and twelve, finally finding my place with a steady group of friends, but until then, I had Jane. She helped me so much during that awkward year and to her and her heroines (and we can’t forget those heros) I will always be grateful.

There is NO screenshot that can possibly do justice to this moment. Also, posting pictures such as this one is half the reason I started this blog. I’m being serious.

I read P&P literally about three or four consecutive times upon first meeting it (in addition to at least as many viewings of the five and half hour movie), so since then I’ve tried (at times in vain) to stay away from it. That’s because Jane’s words have become so engrained in my mind that they’ve begun to (dare I say) lose their power to excite and instil new ideas. I thought it would be best to wait for a little to reread it, so I can take new and more profound meaning from those beautiful words and see them with fresh eyes rather than just looking at them on a page and doing little more than skimming due to my over-familiarity. Actually, keeping with the friend metaphor, it’s much like the way we can’t (and often just don’t) always judge and assess our close friends  objectively (or always notice all their merits) because we’re so used to them and all their idiosyncrasies. I’ve also been keeping carefully away from Emma because I really adore that one and wouldn’t want this to happen with that.

Now I’m re-assessing Jane with my reread of Northanger Abbey and it’s a very interesting experience. For some reason, I thought that despite my love for Catherine and Henry Tilney, I never really read this book that much, so it was immune to this phenomenon. It became my go-to for when I needed a jolt of Jane’s humour. Or was just between books and needed something to fall back on. But it now occurs to me that I’ve read the book at least three, (but potentially closer to five) times, in addition to watching the movie just as much, in the past two years since I first read it. So it’s more familiar than I thought. Kind of like a friend you like, but only hang out with a lot because you have a bunch of mutual friends, and then you’re suddenly struck by how close the two of you have gotten. It’s sort of like that. Let’s say. (It’s really not like that. I love Northanger Abbey and always have. It would have been a more appropriate simile if I had been talking about Mansfield Park — we’re only friends because it happens to be written by Jane — but that would never happen. Neither Fanny or Edmund are people who I can relate to, be entertained by, aspire to be like or swoon over.)

But despite my newfound familiarity with Northanger Abbey, and every single exchange between Catherine and Henry, I’ve changed and learned and grown since last reading it (or any novel by Jane). So there’s this weird disparity. On the one side, I feel overly familiar with the plot and dialogues and phrasing but at the same time I am continually shocked by how much I seem to have missed or misinterpreted the first few times I read it. Despite all my ardent love and admiration (as well as how many times I have read and reread each of Jane’s novels) I’m beginning to realize that I didn’t understand her works as thoroughly as I thought I originally did. Yes, Jane’s novels are set in fancy country estates, where her characters’ interactions are ruled by a very official laws of etiquette, but it turns out that this by no means implies that her novels are prim, proper or flowery. It turns out (and I say this as the biggest complement I can think to bestow) that Jane Austen was an ironic, sarcastic, satirical bitch. There are lines in Northanger that I cannot believe are written before my eyes and I wonder how they could possibly escaped me the first several times I read the book.

A lot of the new insight I’m seeing comes from my deeper understanding of and appreciation for satire and irony. I’ve (almost) always understood that you can’t take everything Jane says or all of her character’s words and actions at face value. I seem to be one of the few people who truly understands that when Jane coined the phrase “a truth universally acknowledged”, she intended for the phrase to imply that the clause following it isn’t really a cold, hard fact, people just think it’s the truth. For example, it is a truth universally acknowledged that universally acknowledged truths are true — i.e., a lot of people think that universally acknowledged truths are true, but they’re not. But, I don’t think I really understood the extent to which you really can’t trust a single word that flowed from Jane’s pen. I have made some pretty major life decisions based on lines in Northanger Abbey only to realize later that the line I was basing my life around was meant ironically. (I can’t share what those “major life decisions” are or what lines they are based on, because these decisions will seem fairly minor to you. Also, my misinterpretations and consequent decisions make me feel — and would make me look — like quite a silly, ignorant, little teenager.)

But the really interesting thing that I’ve been wondering lately is about the nature of this growth and deeper understanding. I can obviously understand Jane’s works differently now that I’ve grown and internalized the idea of irony a little more. The question is, was that learning and growth independent of Jane and her works, or was it Jane who taught me about irony and satire, and now I’m finally able to (consciously) apply it back to the works that taught it to me in the first place? It’s kind of a circular argument and it’s probably a bit of both.

Have you been rereading much lately? Are you gaining new insight or is it more of just a trip down memory lane? What’s on your summer reading list?

The Blue Castle

In between all the sleeping in, paddle-boating and swimming with my friend up at the cottage last week, I found some time for reading material beyond our million or so back issues of Seventeen, People and Vogue. I brought up The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery, who’s also the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, (which is the best series in the entire world, just by the way) and it was the most perfect book for reading by the beach and pool.

Firstly, it’s by LMM, so obviously it was predetermined to be awesome: nice, cozy writing style; fulfilled expectation of a happily-ever-after ending; lovable heroine and quaint, early twentieth century, rural Canadian setting. Okay, fine, depending on the kind of person you are, that might not appeal to you and even if you’d like this book, that description probably makes it sound very lame. But it was awesome and those are the qualities that I loved about it, so if you have a problem with that, it’s your problem, not mine.

Photo credit: Goodreads.com

The difference between this book and the other books I’ve read by LMM, is that (as you probably know) her other books are geared towards a younger, more child based audience (which of course doesn’t get in the way of my enjoyment in the least) whereas this is one of LMM’s only books for grownups. This means that there is drinking and drunks and even *gasp* an illegitimate baby. While nothing in the book is quite so shocking or even unusual to a twenty-first century reader, it felt just a little bit scandalous to read about such things in an L. M. Montgomery novel. I say this because, (for the uninitiated or the grownups who haven’t hung out with Anne Shirley lately), in one of the later Anne books (I believe it’s Anne’s House of Dreams, but don’t quote me on that one) she has a baby and the narrator describes the baby as being brought by a stork. Yes, you did read that correctly, a stork. This grownup book also tiptoes around such subjects, but much less so, and you have to bear in mind that these books were written in a different time and the woman writing them was married to a minister, so I’m sure she felt restricted in what she could write.

That being said, part of LMM’s charm is the classic, from-a-completely-different-world-but-the-people-are-still-the-same-as-they-are-now feel. And after studying and annotating serious (although still enjoyable) books for my Literature exam for days on end, this was just the right break I needing before coming home and doing the same with different books for my English exam.

And now that my English exam is over (as of yesterday at noon!!) I get to move on to new books over the summer. I already have a somewhat substantial to-read list, including Romeo and Juliet (although I may just watch the movie, if that isn’t absolute heresy), anything by Alice Munro, something by Willa Cather (who was recently recommended by the best English teacher in the world), perhaps The Great Gatsby, more by LMM and more of Louisa May Alcott’s easily-read, happily-ending classics and so on.

Any audience suggestions? I want a nice mix between cozy, happy endings to be read by the pool or beach and brilliant literature that you cannot be a complete human being without having read.

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