The Literate Kitten has posted the following:
Just for fun, I decided to get a little dialogue going over the Powers of Austen … Which one is your favorite and why? Which haven’t you read? Are you not as in love with Austen as most readers — why? How has Jane influenced your reading or writing? Let’s get plain about Jane!
Okay, I’ll play. I’m curious to see if the Slaves of Golconda will choose Austen’s Lady Susan or one of my other choices (vote in the comments to the post below! Right now Lady Susan is tied with Johnson’s Rasselas) because I feel conflicted about reading it. On the one hand I’d love to because it’s Jane Austen and she’s one of my favorite writers ever in the whole entire world. But on the other hand, there’s something wonderful about there being a Jane Austen novel out there I haven’t yet read. Isn’t there something to be said for not reading a novel in order to keep the pleasure of anticipation always before me? Once I’ve read Lady Susan, there will be no more Austen novels for me to read, except for the unfinished ones and the short fictions. But since I love Austen so much, how can I refrain from reading more?
I’m surprised it took me so long to figure out Lady Susan exists. Somehow it took me forever to figure out that there are more than the big six novels.
Anyway, I’ve read the six main novels, and of those, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite, with Emma, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility coming in somewhere after that, and Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey last, although I believe I’ve read Northanger Abbey only once, so I haven’t given it enough time to really grow on me. I have no idea how many times I’ve read the other novels besides Northanger Abbey. Mansfield Park I may have read only twice, but the others I’ve probably read something like 3 – 8 times each. Some of them I’ve studied in class, some of them multiple times. So at this point I can’t keep count of my readings, and I can’t keep the reading experiences separate. It all blurs together. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite because it’s just so much fun — Elizabeth is the best heroine ever and Darcy is an irresistable hero. Mansfield Park is at the bottom of my list because it’s a bit slow, but I still find it fascinating — the pleasure of that book is probably more intellectual than emotional. I like the sharp, biting narrator of Sense and Sensibility and also the way Elinor and Marianne play against each other, I like the quieter tone of Persuasion and find Anne utterly sympathetic, and I like the richness of Austen’s characterization of Emma.
And how has she influenced my reading? I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that she pretty much defines what a novel is for me. A novel should provide a long, satisfying reading experience, it should have deep, complex characters, it should have a satisfying plot, it should have an interesting narrator (one who perhaps becomes a kind of character him/herself), and it should be about at least some of the following: family, love, sex, money, class, social interaction, and the experience of living in one’s mind. I’ve read and enjoyed novels that don’t do these things, but still, this understanding of the genre is what comes to me most naturally, and that’s because I’ve absorbed so much Austen.
I’m sure I’ve written before about how I would find it hard to write anything critical about Austen — I don’t mean critical as in negative, but critical as in literary criticism — because everything she does seems natural to me. I would find it hard to try to look at how she does what she does; actually, I’m happy to have other people point these things out to me, but I wouldn’t want to have to figure it out myself. She’s someone I prefer to experience in a more elemental way, if that makes any sense.