As one born at the end of the Baby Boomer-era, I grew up in a time when women everywhere espoused Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique, Ms Magazine, and the ERA. For those young readers, I’m not talking about the laundry detergent – I mean the Equal Rights Amendment. We saw Title IX implemented even before we really understood the inequality of the situation. We were surrounded by strong, independent, non-bra wearing women who were strong-minded and sassy. We even had Burt Reynolds as a centerfold in "Cosmopolitan"!
Not that I had a subscription to Cosmo – heaven forbid – I was reading "Teen" or "Seventeen" (remember how huge the magazines used to be?) and "Young Miss". There were, however, some books that were de rigueur. We read Nancy Drew, I collected all of her books – and still have them; there were some girls who preferred The Hardy Boys, but I wasn’t one of them. We adored Louisa May Alcott and devoured Little Women again and again. We embraced these female protagonists, even those who weren’t quite so modern, like Jo, but also looked to our contemporary protagonists and envisioned them as being our own personal role models. I also loved Trixie Belden and Meg – both stories with young girls who were friends with boys and other girls – and they solved mysteries – just like the Hardy Boys! We were told about the other strong heroines in literature; unfortunately I never got around to reading them.
I used to have this idea that I would join the Jane Austen Society in Fredericksburg and attend her birthday celebration and annual meetings. I bought the Jane Austen mystery series in order to read them and gain insight into what some thought might be in Jane’s head. I still have them, but I haven’t read them. I’ve seen the BBC versions of her books, I’ve watched Colin Firth light up the screen in the A&E version (who doesn’t love Colin Firth), and I’ve seen Gwyneth Paltrow do justice to "Emma". I even watched the latest version that my friend has seen so many times that she’s been able to get her money’s worth out of the rental cost. Even still, I never read Jane Austen.
Then, at the ripe old age of…well older than an adolescent, I finally read Pride and Prejudice for the first time. You know what? I didn’t like it. I read it again (both times for classes). I still didn’t like it, and it has nothing to do with it being assigned reading. I just plain can't see what all the fuss is about. What is unfortunate is this: Do you think that I can ever be open and honest with people about this fact? No. Because women are rabid about Jane Austen. It is almost as if we must cherish her because she is a strong, seemingly independent-minded female from the Regency period.
Sorry, I just can’t do it. I just can’t read Jane Austen. I want to – oh how I want to fit in with my “sisters” and cherish this author as others do. But I can’t. I just can’t. Her heroines are all the same; it is as if Jane Austen said to herself whilst writing these books, "Oh how I wish that I could escape from this humdrum spinsterly life; alas, I can't, so I will create a world in which I will be the heroine of every book I write!" And then no book is really very different, because Jane is the lead in each book! Talk about a cookie cutter heroine! (And a lot of exclamation points!!!)
Alas, I wonder if I will ever have the courage to ever admit this deep dark secret to anyone. Not likely, and that, my friends, is the shame with which I have to live the rest of my life. And I don't feel better for having admitted it.