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
What a delightful post! You can’t believe how encouraged I am by Anthony Garcia’s article. Thank you for putting this on your blog, Laurel.
Very funny and insightful. When you say that you did not want to be the only HS boy reading Austen you reminded me of one of the stories in Jane Austen Made Me Do It about a boy starting high school who winds up reading Austen by accident – What Would Austen Do. Made me LOL. Sometimes i wonder if too many Austenites were created by the Pride and Prejudice movie and too often the new Austen fiction seems to back that up (with exceptions like Ward and Rubino-Bradway) – so nice to hear from someone whose love came out of the books!
Anthony: Thank you for capturing both the joys of Austen and the pitfalls of traditional graduate study. As my passion for Austen has grown in the past 10 years, I have resisted the urge to join a graduate study and instead enjoy the essence of Regency life — the freedom of dilettantism!
Excellent post. Thanks for sharing. :-)
Anthony: Greetings from a fellow Jane Austen “man-fan” and thank you for sharing your remarkable story. You make me feel like not-so-much of a “Lone Ranger” around here. Honestly, lurking around some of these historical romance fiction blog sites often makes me feel like I’ve accidently blundered into the sancitity of a ladies’ restroom! I admire anyone who tackles the daunting task of writing a first novel. Give it all you have! And Laurel Ann: BEWARE, because you will soon find my 750 word manuscript on my totally unique discovery and entrance into the Regency world of Jane Austen.
Thanks for sharing this with us, Anthony. I always love hearing about how someone discovers Jane Austen and there are not nearly enough male perspectives out there. I also appreciated your thoughts on reading for pleasure versus reading for work/school.
I love the idea for this column. Everyone comes to Jane Austen in their own way and it is fascinating to me. Thank you for introducing it Laurel Ann.
Anthony, thank you for telling your story and sharing your grad school experience. You were wise in choosing not to study Austen if it would make you even the slightest bit cynical toward her work.
Thanks for sharing, Anthony. Terrific idea, LaurelAnn! This is going to be a fun column to follow.
Jeffrey and now Anthony! And now a monthly Reading Austen column. Just when I thought nothing could improve the already perfect Austenprose.
Thank you everyone.