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