Like many romances, my passion for Jane Austen had a rough beginning. From third grade or so, I’d been reading my mother’s Georgette Heyer novels and selected traditional Regencies, so you might think I was prepared for Jane, but it didn’t actually work out that way. I read PRIDE & PREJUDICE sometime around age 11 or so after having seen “in the tradition of Jane Austen” on many Regency covers. But I found it hard going.

Perhaps as a pre-teen, I was more able to appreciate the glitz of Regencies featuring members of the haut ton and including exciting events such as duels and elopements. Maybe I needed to mature to properly appreciate Austen’s brilliant characterizations and what she could do with “three or four families in a country village.”

But I also think the period language itself was a stumbling block, between the occasional long, convoluted sentence structures and some of the vocabulary. Of course, I’d already learned many new words from Georgette Heyer, yet with Jane they mattered more. I realized why this past summer, when I read P&P with my own 11 year old. In Heyer’s books, context could help one understand the longer words (e.g. the “diaphanous gown” or the “ubiquitous footman”). However, in Jane Austen, the difficult words are often central to the meaning.

Consider this bit of Darcy dialogue:

“When you told Mrs. Bennet this morning that if you ever resolved on quitting Netherfield you should be gone in five minutes, you meant it to be a sort of panegyric, of compliment to yourself — and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or any one else?”

To make sense of it for my daughter, I had to explain “panegyric”, “laudable” and “precipitance”. I also found it helped when I read to her aloud with loads of expression.

But she hung in there with me, enjoyed it very much and laughed in all the right places. Now we’re planning some Austen activities over the holidays. We’re going to watch the 1995 P&P together and start reading NORTHANGER ABBEY. I am now looking forward to years of shared Austen obsession. I expect she’ll soon want a Regency gown of her own. : )

Has anyone else tried introducing Jane Austen to friends, family or offspring? How did it work out? Have you ever tried reading Jane aloud?

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