Monday 31 May 2010

Journal of the 5th meeting or ... on disappointment

(look at my 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)


Phylly3 said...

Poor, poor Maria! You are so patient with people, but I can see you would be so disappointed. I would be exasperated with a question like that! I can understand someone not being completely prepared, but questioning why they should read Austen when they willingly signed up for a JA book club is so ridiculous! Maybe you should have just laughed!?
I like how you handled it though -- asking about what they liked to read. You shouldn't have felt that you had to defend yourself -- though I am sure I would feel the same.
I am wondering though -- do you read Austen in English or Italian? I wonder if that might make a difference to the enjoyment of it?

Maria Grazia said...

I read Austen in English, Phylly, while all the others read in Italian, of course. Then we discuss in our mother toungue, Italian. It's an absurd situation, I know. I was asked to moderate the discussions in this club after they had already signed up ...I really couldn't imagine to find myself in such a situation. But, yes, better to laugh at it!
Thank you!

lunarossa said...

So sorry about this, MG! I thought it was going so well...If they didn't even read the book they should have excused themselves and not turned up. What a cheek! And all the work you've put into it! I'm not sure if this is the real reason but maybe translated into Italian JA does have the same appeal? I've never read JA in Italian so unfortunately I cannot judge it. Maybe you should tell the young Valentina to read Twilight instead! I don't think you did anything wrong at all! If they didn't want to read JA they should have joined another book club. Didn't they not the theme of the book club from the beginning? I wouldn't be too upset though, give it a try again with Persuasion. Maybe Emma is not everybody's cup of tea after all. Strangely enough, it is my favourite JA's book!!! Chin up! Hugs. A.

Meredith said...

Oh Maria! I am so sorry! You must have been so disappointed and caught off guard! Who would have thought that more people would read Mansfield Park than Emma?!?

For me, I cannot imagine showing up to a book club meeting without reading the book?!? Is that

I think you handled it beautifully, in such a Anne Elliot/Elinor Dashwood way. I would have definitely lost my temper and cool and become way too passionate and defensive. (More like Marianne Dashwood which would not have been good in this situation!)

I dearly hope that your last meeting goes much better and that you will be far from disappoited!

Maria Grazia said...

@lunarossa & Meredith
Thanks for your support and sympathy. It is not a question of language or style once you translated Jane Austen into Italian. That's something that can matter to me. It is that they are not at all interested in the things she writes about, they say: "Once you've read one, you've read them all".
What I still don't understand is why they go on coming?"
Very few had actually read Mansfield Park too. In fact if you read the 4th journal , the only ones to take part in the discussion were the ladies, sig.ra Letizia and sig.ra Pina. I still hoped Emma would do the miracle but ...they are not at all interested. They prefer other genres. So, I still go on wondering, why did they join a JA book club? There are some who seem interested but go on coming just to listen to what the others (who?) have to say (because do not have time to read, they say). Can a reading club be more disappointing?

Anonymous said...

That is very sad indeed! I don't know what I would do, but I probably would lost my tamper like Meredith said. I actually had an argument with a friend because of "P&P", so I'd probably do the same with the girl in the group. But, HELLO, what did the girl think she was going to read on a JA book club? Really? They are not all the same! She cannot go deep in her reading, that's all I can conclude. But it is very strange, if they haven't read why did they go? At uni many of the students don't read what the professor asks, but that's a totally different situation! They were supposed to be in the club because they wanted to read JA's books! I'm very sorry you got upset Maria! I hope with "Persuasion" things will be better!

Maria Grazia said...

Thanks Luciana! It was just a puzzling situation I had to cope with. I've tried to take the heat of it but ... I'm still a bit disappointed. Not only for what V. said but also because most of them go on NOT reading. I feel like my efforts were totally useless!
Do you think it is better to turn it into a film club? ;-)

Great Booker said...


Bravo. Your preparation for the discussions appears impecable.

I am involved in a book club where we read selections from Great Books Authors. We have not gotten to JA as of yet. When we do, I am going to include a link to your blog on ours. Please visit us at

Sometimes, members of our club question our reading of these great books. Members would like to throw in some contemporary selections. We are experimenting with monthly themes. But many of us do not want to wander too far.
Choosing the next month's selection is one of our biggest problems because their is so much.

Your member who questions the reading of JA is especially perplexing. She must be coming because she enjoys the camaraderie. She needs to focus on the big picture - Jane Austen's tremendous impact on literature given her limited body of work.

Rose Wagner
PS - Where will you go next? Charlotte Brontë or Edith Wharton?

Maria Grazia said...

@Great Booker
Hello, Rose! And thanks for your support. Yes, as you said I think the girls are coming because they like being all together, talking, eating the cakes sig.ra Letizia brings each time, they like watching the bits of films I show, they maybe like listening to us discussing (the ones who read or re-read Austen). Where are we going now? I was asked to be the moderator of this group by the public library. I don't know if we are going anyway. Some of us have already read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Maybe they've never read Wharton. I read just 3 of her novels and simply loved them. What I actually suggest , if asked, would be focusing on a theme or a period and read books by different writers. But , meanwhile , we are going to finish with Persuasion our JA Book Club. And now ... directly to your blog!