Friday, September 23, 2011
Skip This Book
Pride and Prejudice recently rose to the top of my DVD queue. While I was watching it (and swooning over Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy), I became interested in reading about Jane Austen. Why not? She was an old maid who liked to write; I'm an old maid who likes to write. Leaving aside her literary genius and shocking lack of cats, and ignoring my obscurity and occasional F-bomb, we are practically twins.
Out of a fairly hefty shelf devoted to Jane at my local library, I selected Jane Austen: Obstinate Heart by Valerie Grosvenor Myer. It promised to tell me about the woman behind the novels. All it did was confuse me.
The book starts with a chapter on Jane's early life, which contains the names of every person remotely related to Jane who was alive during her lifetime. While it represents an impressive amount of posthumous Janestalking, it only serves to confuse the reader -- partly because many of the people named are not very important to the story at hand, and partly because every other woman in the extended Austen family was named Jane or Cassandra, and every other man was named James, Edward, James-Edward, or Edward-James.
The following chapter is a quick trot through the Possible Loves of Jane. We get Jane's entire romantic history in almost a bullet-point format. Does the author think we are that uninterested in why Jane never married at a time when marriage was the ticket to financial security? Apparently she does.
The book then settles down to a more or less linear format, beginning with Jane's move in her early twenties to Bath with her family. And then, I don't know, a bunch of stuff happens and Jane is annoyed by most of it (I feel her pain). It's all places and dates and lists of relatives Jane visits. I lost interest in the book around the time the author tells us that at a certain point, Jane had two novels finished but unpublished. I wondered when did that happen and why wasn't I told? When did she start the novels and why? What were her days like? Did she set the novels wherever she happened to be living? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME, MS. MYERS?
At which point, I gave it up and returned the book to the library. My blood pressure couldn't take any more. It was all too confusing -- although I'll admit it's possible that the source of my confusion has its roots in my intemperate youth. But based on the reviews I read at Amazon.com, though, I think the blame lies squarely with the author.