(look at my face...how good am I at pretending? failed! )
Since last Saturday afternoon I have been in a very strange mood. Blue? I didn't want to write about it. It hurt. BuI kept on wondering : "how would Jane (Austen) react to such an unpleasant situation"? Writing, of course. Wit, irony and satire. She would brilliantly made it laughable. But I'm not Jane. I haven't got her stingy wit and her genius for writing. But I think that to tell about it can help me.
So, to the point.
The meeting of the reading club to discuss Emma. Can you believe it? What I feared most last time for Mansfield Park (do you remember the Vicar of Dibley video I used as warm-up?) came true this time for " my beloved Emma". None of the present had read or re-read the book. Precisely:
some had read the book long before
some had watched the 1996 film long before and never read the book
2 never read the book, nor watched any adaptation or didn't even know what the story was about
(watching fragments from BBC Emma 2009)
Everything was so strange, but I didn't understand at first. I asked how they had enjoyed Emma and ... nobody dared answer. The first to say something ( more than something ) was Sig.ra Letizia (do you remember Miss Bates?) : she had read the book long ago and never liked it. "That Emma is insufferable!" And she started reciting , almost by heart, the introduction to her Italian edition of the book, the only pages from that book she had read for the meeting . The girls started chatting and laughing but none of them, invited, wanted to join the conversation. They didn't know what to say, they remembered very little or just didn't know what we were talking about!
I was puzzled, disoriented and could hardly count on my usual patience in these situations. I 'm pretty much used to that at school where students are very often not motivated to read or analyse what I propose but ... from the members of a reading club, who joined it willingly and voluntarily, I just didn't expect such behaviour!
So darling ladies and girls, what are you supposed to be in a reading club for?
To meet new people ? To socialize and have an excuse to leave home and escape routines?
To spend time in a beautiful library pleasantly chatting? To see fragments of my several Austen adaptations at the end of our meetings? All of them very good reasons but ... what about reading?
( At the end of the meeting, watching Mr Knightley's proposal )
So... there I am ... I can just imagine my face, trying to pretend smiling and to disguise my disappointment. Suffering deeply inside, but going on asking and answering.
The worst had yet to come. It was with a question, a simple freezing one, from one of the youngest readers, Valentina (16): "But why do we have to read Jane Austen? Can't we read anything else?" And there I was , worse than before, gasping speechless at the most incredible question. Why do we read Jane Austen in a JA Book Club? What did she believe we would read in a JA Book Club? I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Instead, I started asking about what she liked reading and an interesting discussion about books, reading for learning or for entertainment, reading contemporary writers or the classics came out.
(Thanks goodness, it was over ...)
Then, again Valentina asked me: "Why do you like Jane Austen so much? She only wrote six novels and they are all alike: balls, courtship, marriage. Once you've read one, you've read them all! Please, tell us why you like them so much" . I felt as if I were on a trial , I was the accused. I had to defend myself but from what? From my love for Jane Austen and Regency stuff or Victorian literature? I actually read and have read lots of very different books in my life but Jane Austen and Victorian novels are what I love reading most. That is what I tried to tell them , about reading books for fun or as a duty, to learn or to escape. Reading the books I really love is for me, as I already wrote quoting Tolkien, "recovery, escape and consolation". We mentioned Pavese, Pirandello, Kundera, Dante and many others. You can learn a lot from their books but you can't escape reality, you have to dive into it, and , often, you find no consolation, no positiveness, no hope.
After this animated discussion, I asked whether they wanted to see the fragments I had prepared from BBC Emma 2009 (with Italian subs) and they agreed. They seemed to like them but I went home feeling so confused and uneasy that ... I wondered: "Do I want to read and discuss my favourite Austen, Persuasion, with these reading group? Does it have any sense?
So dear friends, all of you Janeites I met online, I'm so happy you exist and I can share with you. Thanks for being there! Before leaving you I just wanted to ask you:
- How would you answer Valentina ? (By the way she is one of my students, she's in the third year, she came to the club invited by other girls) Why do we so much love Jane Austen?
- Do you think I was wrong ? And in what was I wrong? (Because, you know, I go on feeling a bit guilty)