But so far I can’t do it. She does nothing for me. There’s no connection.
Mark Twain has described pretty much the same struggle:
Whenever I take up ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘Sense and Sensibility’, I feel like a barkeeper entering the Kingdom of Heaven. I mean, I feel as he would probably feel, would almost certainly feel… He would be certain to curl his lip, as those ultra-good Presbyterians went self-complacently along. Because he considered himself better than they? Not at all. They would not be to his taste—that is all.
He would not want to associate with them; he would not like their gait, their style, their ways…yet he would be secretly ashamed of himself, secretly angry that this was so. Why? Because barkeepers are like everybody else—it humiliates them that there are fine things, great things, admirable things, which others perceive and they can’t.
Throughout college I was given to acknowledge the sanctity of Jane Austen by so many female English majors (particularly the one to whom I’m now engaged). What exactly are they perceiving that I’m not? Is it in fact a matter of taste?
It could be: in high school I disliked Pride and Prejudice and was happy to leave it at that. Two readings later by a hopefully more well-rounded me, and not much has changed.
This is the point where someone says to me, “Well, you’re just a guy.”
And see, I’m not satisfied with that explanation.
It’s not my disinterest in the subject matter. Granted, an author has to pull off a stupendous feat to make me care about wealthy English girls who have little to do besides sit in drawing rooms and get themselves married. But I’m even less excited at the thought of reading about prairie girls. In turn-of-the-century Nebraska. Yet I love Willa Cather’s novels like you don’t even know. I have no brief explanation for this except to say that she’s just a wonderful writer.
Still, Jane Austen could be one of those things of apparent merit that almost no male actually enjoys, like Dexter. But, more than merit, it could just has no-miss appeal toward a particular audience.
So is it a gender thing? In some respects, maybe. A dude who says he likes Austen is most likely trying to get into your English-major pants, ladies, but exceptions exist.
The girl who seriously enjoys Hemingway is likewise a unicorn—one that you may find on a certain midnight of the pagan year if you wait in a thicket, where you might discover her cantering to a moonlit pond and then craning her neck to drink from it, saying, “Give us this nada our daily nada.”
(In fact, I’d hold up Austen-Hemingway comparison as a fairly airtight one if you want to discuss apparent gender appeal among authors.)
Anyway, I ought to stop here. Kiersten said if I want to have a valid opinion on an author I’m going to have to read more than just one of her works (and reading the same work multiple times doesn’t count). I guess she’s right. So I’ve agreed to take up Emma–Kiersten’s favorite Austen–in the near future.
But some time before they come out with “Emma and Extra-Terrestrials.”