11 Year Olds and Austen

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?

Comment for a chance to win assorted Austen-related prizes!


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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