There’s a little white lie we English Literature girls keep to ourselves… not everyone loves Austen, Bronte (x3), and Eliot.
Before you yell “Traitor!” and send me to the gallows let me say: I generally like my classic literature. I genuinely adore some of Dickens’ work. Willa Cather and I had a (one-sided) love affair one Christmas vacation. I’ve read or am waiting to read just about anything sold in Barnes & Noble’s paperback classic edition- and I’m in the process of buying up whole collections of special print-editions. The utter truth is that I love stories, and that is because of the groundwork laid by these important and lasting works.
It’s just: Some girls don’t want to be associated with the romance. Some of us don’t want to be associated with the drama. Some of us think our heads might explode if we have to read one more 17th, 18th, or 19th Century Social Drama with too long prose and run on but grammatically correct sentences and antiquated words and oh my God did he just try to sell his daughter? I’m a feminist.. I have most of a Woman’s Study minor (by accident) to prove it!
But there’s another truth. You get a group of us English Literature girls together, and the little white lies fly. It doesn’t matter that you don’t believe in true love, that you work for the Women’s Independence and Killing All Men Society (for the record: I don’t think that particular organization exists). We’re all like:
I loved 19th Century Women’s Literature. Loved it. Where’s my freaking Mr.Darcy???
And then we go home, and look at the dusty Barnes & Noble classic paperback we spent $1.50 for at Powell’s for a class. It remains a relic from a semester past: smashed between some other required reading from that History of African Music class and the Chicken Soup book your mom sent, instead of actual chicken soup when you were for-real sick. This is a book that was never cracked past page 77, because we had 12 others to read, noodles to cook, and couldn’t deal with the weird references to underwear and we feel the tiniest twinge of guilt before reading Twilight before bed.
The truth is these novels were the Twilight of their age (though the fine women of those days kept their male protagonists low to moderate creepy- not the super creepy bedroom window crawlers of today). They weren’t hugely appreciated at the time- they were trashy, and teaching bad manners, making poor marriage material out of impressionable young women. And now we think they are brilliant, because they are compelling- if you can get through the verbose prose and the morality and the laundry.
But that is the truth to it, isn’t it? These stories have lasted and become classics because they are compelling- and nothing is more compelling than getting to watch it.
A YouTube channel called “The Autobiography of Jane Eyre” reminded me of all of this. Jane Eyre is a perpetual resident of my To Be Read shelf. I could own upwards of 5 copies, if all my books were unpacked and in the same place. Adaptation is considered blasphemy in many literary circles- but I’ll tell you this- I had a much bigger reaction Episodes 55 & 56 than I ever did to any Bronte work.
So here’s the little black truth: Some women of the English Literature world have read these classic novels, and loved them, truthfully. I don’t love Austin, or Bronte, or Eliot, but I will sit and watch adaptations to them all day long. Because the truth is, I want to know: Where is my Mr.Rochester??
Tell me your truth: What are your little white lie books?