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 readPsychology
Dear Therapist: My Fiancé Believes Spanking Is Good Parenting
His parents spanked him as a child, and he insists the punishment has shaped him positively.
The Atlantic6 min readSociety
What I Learned About Equal Partnership By Studying Dual-Income Couples
I studied over 100 dual-income couples and found that the ones who managed to create partnerships that felt truly equal had a few things in common.
The Atlantic3 min readPolitics
After Poland, No Democracy Is Safe
Democracy was on the ballot yesterday in Poland. It suffered a stinging defeat that will have consequences far beyond the country’s borders. For decades, political scientists regarded Poland as the great success story of the transition from communism