Gentle readers: We are happy to add the story of another conversion to Jane to our monthly column, Reading Austen. Today’s guest blog is by Dara Schnuelle, who shares her personal story of how she discovered Jane Austen and why reading her novels is so special for her.
Ask almost any high school student his or her experience with the dreaded book report and the generally expected response is either a look of horror or an agonizing groan. With my penchant for dramatic flair, I chose the groan when given my first assigned book report of my freshman year of high school. However, I was in honors English and knew I could handle any book thrown my way. The book list of classic novels was grasped firmly in my hand. My eyes skimmed the list. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The title seemed alluring enough. It had a nice alliteration. How bad could it be? I soon discovered just how bad I would have it—in multiple ways.
“It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”
Luckily, my mother had a copy of the novel at home. I picked up her weather-beaten copy and was quickly drawn to the pictures in the middle of the novel. Flooded with images of the 1940 version of the movie, my own prejudices against the novel began. Why, oh why, did I agree to read this horrid novel? Despite my reservations, I opened to chapter one. I knew the heroine was Elizabeth Bennet and I knew it was some sort of romantic comedy, but that was as far as my knowledge went. In my infinite teenage wisdom, I connected Elizabeth with the first male name I saw: Mr. Bingley. Ah, of course! Elizabeth and Bingley would be together. It had to be love at first sight. I had just read Romeo and Juliet in class. I knew the literary pattern. I already had this whole plot thing down. In my mind, I didn’t even need to read the rest. I found the novel to be increasingly tedious. I had already figured out the plot, why continue? I needed a quick way out of this nightmare. My escape was clear: who needs to read a book when there are movie versions available? Luckily I had encountered in my mother’s VHS collection a video labeled “A&E Pride and Prejudice.” BINGO!
“I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”
I popped the video in and began watching. After about thirty minutes I had to admit I was wrong about Elizabeth and Bingley. How had my fine understanding of plot failed me? No matter, I didn’t care about his novel, anyway. Or did I? I had to begrudgingly admit, this Mr. Darcy fellow seemed slightly intriguing. And Elizabeth Bennet sounded like someone I would have been BFFs with if we ran into each other. I guess (insert enormous sigh) I could keep watching. Time began to pass without my desperate need to glance at the clock. I was drawn in. Vividly, I recall yelling at Darcy to “spit it out already” during that awkward silence before his disastrous proposal at Hunsford. Like Darcy, I hadn’t even realized by the end of the series how badly, against my will, I had fallen for these characters. To quote Elizabeth, “I, who [had] prided myself on my discernment! – I, who [had] valued myself on my abilities” had grossly misjudged them. Once the joyous five hours were over, I greedily grabbed the tattered novel laying on my nightstand and hungrily devoured every word. Life and what I wanted to do with mine had a whole new meaning.
How very like Elizabeth and Darcy I was! I was blinded by prejudice and could not see the value of what was before me. Today, as a secondary English teacher, I cringe to look back at how quickly I disregarded a piece of literature for its film counterpart. I learned to appreciate Austen’s wit and irony, so I have to appreciate the irony that brought me to my profession as an English teacher and a lover of history and literature. I broke the English teacher taboo in order to bring me to that very role. To once again steal words from Elizabeth, “till [that] moment I never knew myself”.
Dara Schnuelle is the newest teacher in her wonderful family of educators. She has taught both junior high and high school English and aspires to one day be a writer. However, the time constraints of being a teacher and a newlywed tend to get in the way.
Contrary to the belief of her students, Dara does not live in her classroom and does venture out into “the real world” on occasion. When outside of the classroom, Dara is a self-proclaimed Anglophile and constantly dreams of her next trip to England. When not plotting her return to English soil or grading papers, she can be found reading, watching too many television shows, and spending time with her family and two adorable miniature dachshunds. Dara lives, quite happily, in Arizona.
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 – 2012 Dara Schnuelle, Austenprose
It was fascinating to read an English teacher’s take on P & P, and find her impression matched mine when I first read it in school.
About the aspire to be a writer, I’d rec. you start NOW. There will never be enough time for it. You got to incorporate that into your life now, before the children come.
Thanks for the advice! I’m glad you took the time to read my humble blog. I also want to let you know how much I enjoyed Compulsively Mr. Darcy. I devoured the book in less than a day. I can’t wait to read more from you! :)
Thank you! Wow, I’m honored whenever an English teacher likes my book.
I’m really serious about finding the time to write… you have to make the time. I just blogged about writing life as a mother on another blog today so it was on my mind.
this is wondeful. excellent.
Dara: Good for you! I loved your admonition to Darcy to “Spit it out” and I find myself occasionally verbalizing along with the principals in Jane Austen’s stories. What a great story and I have to pinch myself to realize how many lives JA has enriched! You write like a natural-born writer. Give it all you have.
It’s nice to know I’m not the only one talking to my television. I find that I talk to myself on a regular basis. My students find it amusing. I also want to let you know how much I enjoyed your essay last month. It is so refreshing to know that men are started to become more enchanted with Jane Austen. I have tried to get my husband to enjoy Austen, but not too much luck so far. He did watch the mini-series though! I will give him credit for doing that much. :)
Dara – i’m glad you could remember so vividly how your pride and prejudice influenced your reading of the book. I’m also pleased that the fine televised version of the book led you to appreciate READING the book even more. You might even find it a joy to listen to the books being read, as I have. There are some fine recordings out there, but be sure to get the unabridged versions!
I am surprised at how little I understood of the books I read in high school, except perhaps for Crime & Punishment which somehow made sense (weird, I know). It’s a great joy to re-read books throughout one’s adult life. I hope as a teacher you can transmit the joy of discovery to your students! Somehow I think you are doing so! Melinda
Ha! Thank you for sharing, and great bio too :) I am one of those television talkers as well, and am glad to see more of them here. I would love to see a picture of that original copy you read- it sounds like one I’ve never seen (I collect copies of P&P and Persuasion). Thanks Dara!
Wonderful story, thanks for sharing.
Thanks for sharing.That was a fun way to hear how you were dragged to it and then can’t let it out of your sight. My story is different but so very much the same in some ways. I enjoyed reading your story. Try to pass that passion for our dear Jane to somebody in your class that looks like they’re unlikely to fall for Jane.
Lovely testimonial — and so cleverly written!
Dear Dara, your essay is lovely and really interesting. I enjoyed reading it.
one day I saw the movie of the book of Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice and I thought it interesting to find books on film with a good story, which I saw many times, and often do not know what we miss by not wanting to read, I’m glad Dara to share your experience because you know we all have an experience, but rarely share them, you know I love to have the collection of these books but here in my country is hard to find, but might one day to the finding…
not forgotten the Lord darcy pride always was present, and as elizabeth so hated…, often finds love where it is but one imagines…
I really liked your story and how you used quotes from P&P in it. Thanks!