I’m not sure who decided I was a huge Jane Austen fan, but at some point, about ten years ago, various pieces of Austen-related kitsch started showing up in my house. It seemed innocuous enough at the time. And I get it. When gift-giving time comes, my friends and family see a Pemberley-branded tea cozy or a set of Lizzie Bennett cocktail napkins and think, “Alison reads books and knows a weird amount about English history, I’m sure she’d be tickled pink to receive these totes pink Mansfield Park slipper socks!”
I don’t want to be a jerk about it. My friends and family are trying to be thoughtful. And it’s probably not worth it for me to get into the fact that I find most 19th century English novels* just the side of “eh?” Nor is it fair for me to bombard them with lists of my favorite writers on the off chance that one of them might be able to scare up John Milton hand soap or a Flann O’Brien snow globe** or something.
As it happens, I do like Jane Austen. I find her books appealingly darker and meaner than a lot of folks would have you believe and contrary to the general consensus, I’m not sure any of them necessarily end “happily.” She’s not in my Top Ten, but she’s a great deal more appealing than a lot of other writers people assume that I must just love ( eg: Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, JD Salinger, pretty much all of the Beats and Haruki Murakami).
In the meantime, I’ll make do. I’m a pretty clumsy person and my seemingly endless supply of Mr. Darcy band-aids sure do come in handy.
* I like Thackeray and George Eliot quite a bit. I’ve long been a fan (like since adolescence) of the Bronte sisters and their psychotic seriously? the fuck? Gothic potboilers. But in general, I don’t love 19th century novels unless the books explicitly address how miserable it was to be a sexually repressed, psychologically hamstrung hypocrite with terrible neighbors, uncomfortable underwear and weird politics. Which is why I vastly prefer Russian and French novels of the period and I probably like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James better than you do.
**For serious: I want one.