The Atlantic

On Teaching, but Not Loving, Jane Austen

I used to adore the Pride and Prejudice author. But over the years I’ve grown more ambivalent toward her and the fervor for her work.
Source: Hugh Thompson / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

I once confessed to an audience gathered for a pre-show talk about Pride and Prejudice that I felt a bit salty to see so many of them in attendance. A few months earlier, I explained, I’d given an absolutely fascinating lecture on Mary Shelley to maybe five people, one of whom was my Aunt Carmen. The crowd for Jane Austen—and it was a crowd—laughed. A mix of students, folks from the surrounding towns, and my colleagues were there to see a stage adaptation of what is arguably the author’s most popular novel. It was my job to introduce the performance, and I was terrified. It’s no small thing to talk about Austen in public. There’s always a cluster of people who have been reading her since before they could walk, and they not only have strong opinions but also know her and her writing like my mother knew the Bible.

Really the only reason I was giving that talk is because almost of But the passion that people expect me to have about her and her novels isn’t there. What’s more, I’ve felt some perverse need to perform my ambivalence over the years.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min readPolitics
It’s Time to Hold American Elites Accountable for Their Abuses
Normally, a scandal centered on how rich parents used bribes to win their children’s admittance into elite colleges wouldn’t play so heavily in the national news. No one much cared when Donald Trump promised large donations as his children enrolled a
The Atlantic5 min readPolitics
A Russia Scandal Even Populists Couldn’t Stomach
In a sting video, the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party is seen soliciting illegal donations from a Russian billionaire.
The Atlantic5 min readPsychology
Why Celebrities Are So Susceptible to Grifters
Human history is riddled with people whose limited credentials have not stopped them from successfully hawking miracle cures and religious salvation, but Grigori Rasputin stands out as a talented wellness grifter even now. After arriving in St. Peter