Sunday, August 16, 2009

TSS - Two Guys Read Jane Austen

Two Guys Read Jane Austen
by Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill
Robert D. Reed Publishers, 2008
126 pages

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.***

13 comments:

  1. I think this is a very valuable point you're making. I was writing yesterday about the Masters Programme in Shakespeare Studies that I will be taking this September and commenting on how much our approach towards studying Shakespeare has changed over the past twenty or so years. Many of the courses are now taught in conjunction with the History Department precisely so that important details such as these aren't missed.

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  2. I have to admit I am not a big fan of Austen (it is probably not fair to base my feelings on one book and I know I should try another) but this sounds fascinating. It is an interesting point about the annotated versions. I have to read Shakespeare that way or I would never get understand what is going on. Even though it might slow up my reading, I am wondering if it would help me get Austen.

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  3. I have been anticipating this great review! I think I will very much like this book as I have never been a part of a book club and I would love to hear how old friends actually discuss literature.

    I have read the Annotated Pride and Prejudice and I greatly enjoyed the historical facts that helped me appreciate the time period in which the book was written.

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  4. This looks like a great little book!

    Lezlie

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  5. I've never heard of this book before! There are so many Austen-ish books out there that it blows my mind!!

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  6. This sounds so much fun! You chose great quotes, which lured me in but unfortunately by library doesn't have a copy :(.

    One of these days I'll need to revisit MP too, even though it is also my least favourite Austen.

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  7. I'm loving the image of these two gentleman discussing Austen! I would have to say that at least once a month, usually while vacuuming, I ponder Austen's brilliance as an author. So young, living a fairly quiet life, she wrote these stories that entertain us still. Fabulous review JoAnn, I will be keeping an eye out for this book.

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  8. Ann - There must be many other things we miss all these years later. I see so much benefit to that interdisciplinary approach you mentioned.

    Book Psmith - Oh well, Austen isn't for everybody. Maybe the annotated approach will work. When I started my first Jane Austen novel, reading aloud really helped...at least until I got into the rhythm her language.

    Molly - This book was definitely fun, but it also gave me a few things to think about. I'd hoped to get to the annotated P&P this summer, but time is rapidly running out. It may have to wait until fall.

    Lezlie - It was!

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  9. Stephanie - There is a whole Austen industry out there! It's been fun following all the reviews for the challenge.

    Paperback Reader - This was a hard book for me to locate. It wasn't in the library or local bookstores...had to go to amazon.

    Darlene - It is a fun image...two guys discussing Jane Austen! Hope you have it in your library. None of the Two Guys books are carried in ours :-(

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  10. This looks like a great book...it's on my TBR list.

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  11. I was patiently waiting for your review of this one and it's great. I really think this would be a good one to read. I think it's great to have guys discussing Austen instead of women.

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  12. I love the idea of Austen through the eyes of two older men! That would sooooooo shift my perspective on her books. I must read this.

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  13. Hmsgofita - Two guys sure give Jane a different perspective, lol!

    Dar - Guys do approach things from a slightly different angle.

    Rose City Reader - Both guys were very favorably impressed with Jane!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

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