Gentle readers: We are happy to share our first contribution to a new monthly column, Reading Austen. Today guest blogger Anthony Garcia shares his personal story of how he discovered Jane Austen and why reading her novels is so special for him.
Growing up, if you would’ve asked me who Jane Austen was, I probably wouldn’t have even known the answer. I wasn’t what you would call a reader back then, and nobody who knew me would have ever thought that I would eventually go to a graduateprogram in literature. I actually didn’t read my first novel until I was about 14. It was Lord of the Flies, a far cry from Austen. Eventually I did become an avid reader, but it took a lot of coaxing from teachers and friends who were readers. Even when I found out who Jane Austen was, probably around junior year of high school, there was no way I was going to read her. Why would I? The only people I ever heard talking about her were female, and I certainly didn’t want to be the only guy reading Jane Austen.
So, you can imagine my chagrin when I got to college and one of the first assignments for our English class was reading Persuasion. I was very skeptical, but soon discovered Jane Austen’s magnificence as a writer. After that introduction, I was hooked forever. I read Pride and Prejudice next, followed by Northanger Abbey, and all the rest. Then came the re-readings. Through this process, I became an avid Austen fanatic and started to rent and watch all of the film adaptations. I eventually decided that Austen was my passion in life, and went to graduate school to pursue my love of a female writer from Regency England.
I found that dream more difficult to realize than I had anticipated for a couple of different reasons. First, my gender worked against me. Most people at orientation had read Austen, sure, but they were certainly not men, and they were not making Austen their primary focus. I got a lot of questions about that choice, especially from the other men in the program. I realize now that there are othermenwhoreadAusten, but back then I felt like a weirdo. The second problem that came up in graduate school was the stigma about studying anything that is considered “popular” or that “everybody reads” because it is enjoyable. If you study something that people actually enjoy reading you are punished a bit for it. One of the reasons this stigma exists is practical: for research, many interesting thongs I could point out about a popular novel may have already been said before by other scholars thirty years before me.
After the first semester of graduate school, I realized that my passion, reading Austen, would not be an avenue I could pursue as a career. But, you know what? I am almost glad that was the case. I did still read Austen in school, but I read her for my own pleasure. In between Mary Rowlandson and the Wicazo SA Review, my thesis on Native American literature left little time for recreational reading, but what time there was, I filled with Austen.
I am glad that I never had to associate her with my work. I had a love-hate relationship with the texts I worked most with in grad school, and I am not sure I would want my joy dampened in my readings of Austen’s texts. Reading Austen is not an activity I would not want to enjoy anymore, and the chance of that happening to her through the cynicism rampant in graduate studies was one of the reasons I chose not to study her in school. I was worried that examining her texts too thoroughly may have ruined the magic of reading her stories.
If I was not able to have Jane Austen’s novels to read for respite from the onslaught of literary theory on Native American literature from the 1700s, and hundreds of pages a week of assigned texts, (which were interesting, don’t get me wrong), as well as poorly crafted student papers, I could have gotten so lost in the minutiae of my education that I may have never graduated.
In graduate school for literature, it is really important to remain close to the text that remind you why you went in the first place. This is due to the fact that each day becomes like a test of reading endurance; reading can begin to seem as mundane as drinking a cup of coffee, and it is very easy to lose the joy that you had when going in. Reading Austen for pleasure in my spare time saved me from that fate. In other words, I have Jane Austen to thank for both inspiring me to go to graduate school, and for getting through it with my love of literature intact. I know work, following her footsteps, as a writer, and am working on my first novel. Thank you, Ms. Austen.
Anthony Garcia recently completed his graduate education in English Literature, and is working as a freelance writer. He writes primarily about education, travel, literature, and American culture, and is an avid fan of literature blogs, especially Austenprose.
In his spare time, he reads as much as possible, and works on his list of life goals, which include currently includes publishing a novel, visiting Spain, climbing Mt. Rainier, and solving a Rubix cube. A New Mexico native, he currently resides and writes in Seattle, Washington.
Would you like to share your personal story of reading Austen here with fellow Janeites? Submit your essay of approximately 750 words revealing how you discovered Jane Austen’s novels and why they are so special to you to Austenprose. It just might be included in our monthly column, Reading Austen, that will be published on the first Friday of every month.
© 2007 – 2011 Anthony Garcia, Austenprose