by Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill
Robert D. Reed Publishers, 2008
As Matt said recently, the book blogging community seems to be on a Jane Austen binge. I think he's right... and Stephanie, our host of the Everything Austen Challenge, is the one behind it all!
My personal challenge continues with Two Guys Read Jane Austen. Two sixty-ish guys, friends since childhood, decide to read a couple of Jane's novels. This book consists of letters exchanged as they make their way through Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. The format that has worked well for these two guys, as they have previously tackled both Moby Dick and the obituaries.
Steve is reading Austen for the first time, while Terry is a veteran. The two share insights and observations, but the conversation also veers (entertainingly) into the personal, political, and even athletic realms.
Terry tells us:
Truman Capote once said, "All literature is gossip." ... To my mind the great gossip novel had already been published 150 years before Truman started his. And we're reading it with delight right now... But I do draw a big distinction between Capote's and Austen's gossip. When Capote's characters gossip, the reader is meant to be following the stories of those being gossiped about. The gossipers are merely a delivery system. Whereas in Austen, the gossip scenes are deigned to reveal as much about the feelings and character of the gossiper as they are about the subjects of the gossiper. (page 26 - 27)
Steve (the Austen virgin) notes:
It was great seeing you in New York last week and actually seeing the two different versions of Pride and Prejudice you are reading from (one annotated, one not.) You inspired me to get a new second version not annotated and my reading is much swifter and happier now. Amazing how notations cause you to lose the whole rhythm of Jane Austen's wit. (page 33)
Steve - on Fanny's late blooming in Mansfield Park:
Turning to Fanny's new Babe status, I must say from a purely personal viewpoint that I am glad Fanny has just come to bloom at the age of 18. I find I almost never like a woman who was beautiful when she was a girl. For if they are beautiful in their early teens, they are almost invariably ruined for life. They develop the attitude of the Beauty and it stays with them for the rest of their lives. (page 103)
Steve - on Jane's heroines:
Jane Austen allows male readers a secret look into the minds of brilliant, creative, virtuous women. One heroine (Elizabeth Bennet) outgoing, another (Fanny) introspective. But Austen's heroines are each true to themselves and win in the end. Classy women who combine high intelligence with inner strength and virtue. (page 123)
There are countless more passages worth quoting (Terry is very Pro-Charlotte...even Jane herself may not like her as much as he does), but I'll stop here. Reading this book has made me want to revisit Mansfield Park, my least favorite Austen. Steve and Terry's letters make me think I may have missed some of the finer points. The Annotated Pride and Prejudice is also on my challenge reading list.
Two Guys Read Jane Austen was both off-beat fun and informative. It was like eavesdropping on a private book club meeting... and I enjoyed every minute. This book wouldn't be nearly as entertaining if you were not familiar with Austen's novels. But then, why read it if you weren't?
I'll end this just as the book ends. Terry, pointing to Lydia's continued use of the word 'fun' and noting it was very much a slang word at the time, never used by ladies of quality asks:
But here's my question, how many other period-specific clues like this lie in the text never to be discovered by us simply because we're reading her 200 years after the fact?
So the stunning though is this: as much as we've admired Jane's brilliance as a writer - how much are we missing? The point is Jane is an even more brilliant writer than we can realize. And that, I think, should be the final word. (page 126)
*** Note: I've decided to give away my gently read copy. Go here to enter.***