I came to Austen later in my reading life. I read Georgette Heyer (which was just autocorrected as Heyerdahl – and that makes perfect sense, but only later) and all kinds of modern Regency romances in high school in the early 70s, but I didn’t embrace Austen. It wasn’t until I took a course on Austen to fulfill a distribution requirement for my English major when I was doing baccalaureate work that I fell in love with Jane. She was so delightfully mean to her contemporaries. After all, In P&P Mr. Bennet remarks to Elizabeth, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
So I was pleased to be able to take part in the live reading, cover to cover, of the book here in Chicago at Block 37 organized by the Greater Chicago Region of the Jane Austen Society of North America. I was asked to read at the end of the book, the happy ending, with three other readers, Jennifer, Karen, and Thor (now you understand the Heyerdahl reference). The readers had been diligently reading and changing at the appointed time, but we were a bit off the road rally time, and we had more of the book to read at the end than we anticipated. This was not a BAD thing in any way. My three co-readers were excellent and our selection now included the hilarious exchange between Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Elizabeth. Win!
I had the green binder, so I got to have fun with the spinelessly twittish Mr. Collins and his correspondence with Mr. Bennet as well as the marvelous hyperventilating of Mrs. Bennet. Of course, Elizabeth and Darcy would seem to be the romantic binders of choice, but for sheer fun and range of reading, these were wonderful sections to read. Both Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet are so shamelessly self serving. Their lack of self awareness makes them easy to laugh at, but today I got to laugh with them.
My compatriots and I read for 90 minutes, and it could have been more, but we realized that we had pages before us and set a brisk and lively pace. We didn’t rush, but we had great energy – and the three other readers were a real treat to read with. According to the organizer, we “rocked the house.” And we had the most wonderful time. We were, in the words of Austen and one of the other readers, “excessively diverted.”
I don’t love Mansfield Park, but I might just have to do this again next year.