I am a wolf in sheep’s clothing; a traitor in the midst – I claim to be well read and I claim to love literature however, there is something I have to confess. I loathe nineteenth century literature. I despise the rambling and, seemingly, endless descriptive passages of not very much happening. I am a modernist through and through – give me someone’s interior monologue any day. Stream of Consciousness and I’m there, gripped. Modernist literature explores the very core of the human condition – it strips away the faff and exposes the raw, bloody nerve endings that are relationships, humanity, society etc etc (I could go on with my rant about the merits of modernism but will cease).
Anyway, I am conscious of the fact that I can’t write off a whole movement within the literary canon. I have tried to get on with the Victorians, believe me I have but I failed every time I opened anything containing a corset. Now, this is where it really gets to confession time – I am an English graduate who has never read an Austen. I got part way through Pride and Prejudice and decided that, frankly, life is way too short so I put it down; that lame experience put me off her other books. This is odd considering I like the TV and film adaptations but perhaps that is because they are mental chewing gum and I like to effortlessly watch the condensed versions of the novels where an end is in sight (cue massive backlash from all ye nineteenth century lovers).
There is one exception to my issue with the nineteenth century and it comes in the glorious form of Hardy. I adore Thomas Hardy BUT he is a modernist born before his time so that gets around that issue. Jude the Obscure is a work of sheer, unparalleled genius. Tess of the D’Urbervilles is one of the greatest feminist works that English literature has ever seen – Hardy is truly a modern man. I have read and re-read Tess, my copy is falling apart and I still weep when she tells Angel the truth. Angel betrays her everytime through his boyish ignorance and if you look in the dictionary for the word ‘hypocrite’ his name is EMBLAZONED there. Well, in my copy anyway.
And I enjoy the gothic, so devoured Frankenstein, Dracula, Wuthering Heights (gothic-ish) with relish. So, I can dance around the edges of nineteenth century literature but I can’t seem to plunge in. I tried Eliot, but dear lord does she prattle on. I made it through about seven pages of Adam Bede (dire) and I got a bit further through Middlemarch but it was doomed from the start as my mind slowly started to grasp at the twentieth century and I succumbed to a Rosamund Lehmann.
I am now going to embark upon another attempt to crack the nut that is Austen and the wider nineteenth century offering. So, I have got Jane Eyre in my bag ready and waiting to be opened. I will then (provided I can drag my way through it) tackle Austen. I refuse to let this beat me, I will read Emma all the way through. Even if I have to go and overdose on some Forster or Fitzgerald immediately after. I admit, I am dubious as to this whole enterprise but I am willing to read it from cover to cover and then we shall see if I have been converted.