Jane Austen. Charles Dickens. Two authors I hadn’t ever really read before– half of Pride and Prejudice and a bad run at Great Expectations in high school don’t really count. Neither does, I think, A Christmas Carol, the only Dickens I’ve ever fully read. It’s so different from his other books that it’s not a “proper” Dickens experience, at least in my mind. So! I looked forward to finally finishing a book by each author.
Well, er, that didn’t exactly work out. I finished my Austen book, Northanger Abbey, but I’m only 7% into my Dickens book, The Pickwick Papers. I guess I should have checked lengths of the books before I picked them– I went with Northanger because people said it was funny, and I picked Pickwick for the same reason. But Northanger is WAY shorter than Pickwick, and Pickwick is so large it’s actually a chunkster! And here I was thinking I could finish it in two days. Yeah, er, no.
That was a boo-boo. But don’t despair! I’ve still got Northanger done and I can at least talk about the first 7% of Pickwick, and so here’s my post.
Okay, so I don’t know what was up with me not finishing P&P, but I just wasn’t into it back then (like over a year ago, I think). Northanger, though: I was totally into Northanger. I love it when authors get all snarky and sarcastic and make fun of each other, and I especially love it when they manage to do all that and yet still have likable characters and a coherent plot. Northanger is fun because it’s Austen being smart-alecky and because the characters are all so adorable.
Catherine and Mr Tilney? omg, so cute. Mr. and Mrs Allen? Adorable old(er) people! Captain Tilney and Isabella Thorpe? …okay, less cute. But basically everyone else, even General Tilney (who desperately needs to get remarried, by the way), were lovable in some way, which made reading Northanger Abbey an extremely enjoyable experience.
Also, the snark. I love the snark. I love how Austen deliberately made Catherine almost the exact opposite of the then-conventional romantic heroines. It made things so much more interesting! I mean, Catherine loved DIRT when she was younger! When was the last time you read about a heroine rolling around in the mud, even during her childhood?
I also love how Austen would set up events that, in a conventional romance, would mean heartbreak and tears for hero and heroine for at least three chapters– and then she’d cut it off at the knees. “Oh, you think it’s going to happen like this, do you?” she’d sneer. “Well, it’s really going to happen like THIS!” And then I’d laugh so hard that breathing became difficult for a while afterwards.
One of the more interesting rants Austen went on in Northanger was about the fact that the literati didn’t like “novels,” that they thought “novels” were trashy and if they read them they immediately disparaged them afterwards. Saying “oh it’s only a novel,” and the like. (“Written by some WOMAN.” Jane Austen, please marry me.) I equated that to how the literati think of what we call “genre novels,” where anything but straight up fiction is uncouth and only losers read vampire novels (or novels by women about “womanish things”). Interesting how things haven’t changed much from Austen’s time, eh?
So basically, in conclusion, I love Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey rocks, and I really want to read The Mysteries of Udolpho now.
The Pickwick Papers
We got off to a rocky start, Pickwick and I. I’ll admit to being prejudiced against Dickens from unhappy English class experiences in high school, and I’ll admit to even being somewhat afraid of actually trying to finish one of his books. They’re normally depressing, his books, and I don’t like being depressed while I read, usually. But he also deliberately provokes me with his writing style. Compared to, say, Jane Austen’s writing, Dickens’ is a much tougher steak to chew. While I don’t entirely mind working to understand a book (looking at you, Mr Joyce), I do mind not understanding what the hell just happened in a scene because I couldn’t parse the sentences.
Turns out that, like Joyce, I just had to stick with it to be able to understand it. (Thanks for that tip, Jo M.!) By the time I reached chapter two I was going strong and really getting into the story. I even laughed out loud at one point in chapter three! Charles Dickens! Made me laugh out loud! Never thought I’d ever type those words, to be honest.
While I’m only 7% (somewhere in chapter four, I think) into what is, for me, a very long book, I think as long as I keep a steady pace I can make it through to the end. I’m interested in seeing what’s going to happen with the Pickwicks’ stranger (who is definitely a rascal), and more of the Pickwicks’ adventures. I just hope I have the stamina.