She Hates Jane Austen, and I Don't Care
The blogger bylaws state, “To be a Big-Time Blogger (BTB), one must occasionally host a guest writer.” Today, I am proud to introduce to you one of my All-Time Favorite Writers (ATFWs), Abby Conner. It is merely coincidence that she shares my last name and 50% of my DNA.
When Abby was a senior in high school, her English teacher told her students about a writing competition. She promised 50 bonus points for any student who submitted an essay. It was 2nd semester, and Abby wanted to ensure she held on to her A (and she rarely, if ever, turns down an opportunity for extra points, however unnecessary). The contest rubric required a 1000-word persuasive paper. There were many constraints to grammar, yada, yada, but no subject rules. Words like argument, original, and passion were used.
Abby was considering writing about why digital textbooks should replace hard copies. I yawned and told her that was boring. I said something to the effect of, “Anybody can write about that, and lots of people will. Why don’t you give the judges a break from the monotony and ‘Abby-it-up?’ What is something that you are truly passionate about?”
“How much I hate Jane Austen.”
Well, I love curling up with a Jane Austen book. I delight in every delicious detail in her dialogue. I adore every quirky character she has created. Abby had met Miss Austen through a few movies and didn’t hate her at first. She watched the A&E Pride and Prejudice miniseries, and she appreciated my sincere devotion to Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. She didn’t mind Persuasion, if only because the actor who portrayed Captain Wentworth was also Alberforth Dumbledore in HP and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. And she can still be made to belly laugh if you yell, “PORK!” at her, like Miss Bates yells at her mother, Mrs. Bates, in Emma.
To Abby (a voracious reader), studying Jane Austen in school was particularly tedious and painfully insipid and made her want to poke her own eye out with a pencil.
I responded, “GREAT IDEA! You can be persuasive, funny, and perhaps a tad tongue-in-check, like Miss Austen. Even Miss Austen would appreciate those qualities."
So, Abby wrote the paper. She worked all weekend on the paper. She turned the paper into the teacher. The teacher handed the paper back to Abby and informed her that she could not enter it into the contest, because her arguments were “misguided” and “illogical.” The teacher told her the paper looked like she had spent 30 minutes on it. She denied Abby the bonus points that she awarded to everyone else (except to the student who turned his essay in late), and she would not accept corrections from Abby, while encouraging the other students to make them.
That is where Mama told Abby, “Most of your battles, I will not fight for you. But this one is mine.”
I appealed to the teacher:
Abby spent hours on this paper, not merely 30 minutes. She spent the entire Saturday before it was due writing and rewriting it. To do something halfhearted is against Abby’s nature. If she was not going to attempt to do a good job, she would not have attempted the paper at all. (As Yoda says, “There is no try. There is do or do not.”) Regardless, the requirement was for 750 to 1200 words. Time was not a requirement.
Abby is more than welcome to submit what she wrote to the essay contest through another teacher. No problem. However, she did not fulfill the assignment and I do not want my name on such a paper. The extra credit that I offer is at my discretion.
Abby was out of class taking the AP Biology mock exam on the day the rough drafts were returned. Without naming Abby’s name, the teacher talked about her paper in front of the class. A friend in the class tattled to the Twin Sister.
For only the second time in my then-cumulative 34-year career as a mom of a student, I protested to the principal. He wrote in an email to me, This is not a decision that I would consider administratively changing, but he did find another teacher to help Abby edit her paper.
By this time, Abby was physically sick from the stress. She asked me to drop it. And I did. For a season. But now I have a blog. And I want to post the paper.
The Troublesome Paper
The Agony of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
When I came home and told my mother that the next required reading for school was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, she became giddy and exclaimed that she loves Jane Austen. She squealed that she owns the A & E mini-series starring Colin Firth. She excitedly popped the corn. The ensuing six hours were the worst of my life. I have now watched the movie and read the book. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen should not be required school reading, because the morals portrayed in the book are not in accordance with the standard of today’s society and the book contains no real substance
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the main occupation of women is husband hunting, and according to the book, they began hunting around sixteen years old and were considered old maids if they were not married by mid-twenties. This gives the wrong idea to both genders. Young men get the idea that all young women do is look for a spouse. Young women get the idea that if they are not seeking a husband, then they will have failed in their duty to their family. Their mothers throw them in the way of every bachelor who takes notice of them.
This out-of-balance relationship is critical in today’s society, because far too many young women find their security in a relationship with a male. Ideally, this security would come first with the young woman’s father and then with her relationship with God and herself. However, when the foundation is not there, young women often turn to young men for the stability they crave, whereas the men often struggle to grasp this need. Requiring young women to read Pride and Prejudice further reinforces the idea that they need a husband to be complete.
The idea of marriage for money is also a moral issue that is poisoning the minds of those who are forced to read Pride and Prejudice for school. If a man was proposing to a woman today and said, “I have good connections and money, so you should marry me,” the woman could out-earn him and make him regret his words. By placing Pride and Prejudice in front of students and saying “read it,” the school could be perceived as endorsing the idea that the only thing that is important in life is money and the most respectable way to get it is through marriage. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the characters are “imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. . . . All that interests any character: has he (or she) the money to marry with? . . . Suicide is more respectable.”
In today’s society, hard work is respected and a good job is desired. Marrying for money in the 21st century would seem desperate and foolish and an admirable man or woman would feel cheated and used. A point could be made that women had few other choices in the 19th century. However, the more money the man inherited, the more attractive he seemed and the more the mothers sought him out for their daughters, oftentimes regardless of his character.
Pride and Prejudice should not be required reading, because it is a book without substance. The book tells the story of the five Bennet sisters who exist to attend balls and drown in drama, while their mother desperately seeks husbands for them. The story contains no obstacles to overcome, no lessons to be learned, no revelation at the end of the book. The only noteworthy situations are the proposals to Elizabeth by both Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy. The long-winded and irksome Mr. Collins’s proposal is more of a business transaction. Elizabeth’s rejection stuns him. He proposes to Elizabeth’s best friend a few days later, and his proposal to Elizabeth is quickly forgotten. In Mr. Darcy’s disrespectful and disgraceful proposal, he insults Elizabeth and then asks for her hand in marriage. When Elizabeth refuses, he, likewise, is stunned and resolves to himself to make her see him for who he is. He hopes that she will one day find him favorable. Although this might seem eventful in one paragraph, spread over three volumes and sixty-one chapters, Pride and Prejudice is mind-numbing. Mark Twain agrees. He said, “[Austen’s] books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”
An argument could be made that Pride and Prejudice is a perfect picture of 19th-century society and that the book should be required reading for all seniors, because it teaches the students about how life was two centuries ago. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre was published thirty-four years after Pride and Prejudice. She wrote about the original crazy woman in the attic. Jane Eyre is exciting and mysterious. Bronte said that Pride and Prejudice is “An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck.” Bronte basically said that Pride and Prejudice is boring.
One of the reasons Pride and Prejudice is revered by many is because of Austen’s satirization of the 19th century lifestyle. Satire is the use of irony or sarcasm in writing to ridicule human folly. Austen’s work is satirical to the citizens of the 19th century because, in the 19th century, it was significant to life. The satire is lost on those born and raised in the 21st century. If Austen were taken out of the 19th century and placed into this one, she could not understand a political cartoon about abortion or legalization of gay marriages. Twenty-first century residents can laugh at the humor because it relates to the struggles the world is facing every day, right here, right now. Austen would look at the cartoon, scratch her head, give up trying to understand it, and walk away. Students are not able to walk away; their grade depends on satire that they cannot grasp, no matter how hard they try.
Pride and Prejudice is a tedious book that has no relevance to our 21st century lives. It does not make us wiser; it does not make us kinder. The imposed requirement of the book usurps the escape from reality that one should experience when reading. My mother read the book of her own free will, and she loves it; I was forced to read it, and I despise it. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice should not be required school reading, because nothing happens and the morals portrayed are bad influences on today’s society, and today’s society has enough of those.
Abby was denied the 50 bonus points that she worked for. If you have stayed with me this far, will you please “like” this on Facebook, "favorite" it on Twitter, or offer a positive comment on the blog? I want her to get 50 genuine thumbs ups. That’s way better than 50 begrudged points.
Oh, and she made an A in the class anyway.