Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Northanger Abbey

This month my book club read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. I have to join the majority of Austen's fans and say that while it's not her best work, as it's her first novel though she rewrote it a few times as her writing got better, it's a fine read. It's like okay chocolate. It's not the best, but why complain about eating chocolate?

One thing I loved was the essays and extras in the back. This book has a lot of conversation in defense of novels. Nowadays it's hard to imagine that reading novels would be seen as a waste of time (some sure, but all, no). In the back of the book, readers are treated to a few of the rantings against novels. Here's an excerpt from Coleridge:
For as to the devotees of the circulating libraries, I dare not compliment their pass-time, or rather kill-time, with the name of reading. Call it rather a sort of beggarly day-dreaming, during which the mind of the dreamer furnishes for itself nothing but laziness, and a little mawkish sensibility; while the whole material and and imagery of the doze is supplied ab extra (from without) by a sort of mental camera obscura manufactured at the printing office, which pro tempore fixes, reflects, and transmits the moving phantasms of one man's delirium, so as to people the barrenness of a hundred other brains afflicted with the same trance or suspension of all common sense and all definite purpose. We should therefore transfer this species of amusement--(if indeed those can be said to retire a musis, who were never in their company, or relaxation be attributable to those whose bows never bent)--from the genus, reading, to that comprehensive class characterized by the power of reconciling the two contrary yet co-existing propensities of human nature, namely indulgence of sloth, and hatred of vacancy.
What a snob. He continues, but you get the point. Wordsworth also felt novels blunted the mind. They never got to read Proust.

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