A Reason to Begin

My original blog post from June 17, 2011.

I wanted to start this blog in order to keep in touch with everyone next semester when I’m at Hertford College, Oxford University to study Victorian Literature.  It’s an English major’s dream come true so I’m impatiently waiting for the summer to be over.  And even though I’ll be leaving two weeks early to do a bit of pre-semester traveling, my summer will actually be longer than normal.  Oxford, you better be worth this wait because you are taunting me horribly.  So in the mean time, I’ll be working at the local Panera, writing, taking a family vacation, and reading great British literature to prepare for my fall semester.

I have an important study abroad list for this summer.  For our family vacation, we are traveling to Amsterdam, Munich, Berlin, and Prague. The problem is, I’ve never read any Kafka and from what I’ve heard from my dad and other people who have traveled there, pictures of Kafka can be found in every window on every street of Prague.  Yes, I hope I’m exaggerating a little, but to me this means I have major homework to do before July.  Next on my list is Jonathan Swift.  When I received my acceptance to Oxford and learned that I would be attending Hertford College, I immediately looked up their list of previous graduates.  Two extremely important British literati showed up: John Donne and Jonathan Swift.  And I decided that I wouldn’t be worthy of attending such a prestigious institution and studying across the street from the Bodleian Library if I didn’t have some idea of these authors and their work.  After slogging through a poetry project my senior year of high school and taking Love, Sex, and Death in the Renaissance last semester at Rice (awesome title, I know), I had read enough Donne.  So despite hearing less-than-stellar reviews, I’ve also added Gulliver’s Travels to the list.

So to start, I’ll be reading the last major Jane Austen novel that I haven’t read yet: Emma.

Okay, so it’s not at the top of my summer reading list, but I couldn’t resist.  At the end of the semester, I had to research a lot about the costuming and style of the Regency Period and so I had Austen on the brain.  I will get around to the other books very soon; in fact I’ve already checked The Trial out from the Austin Public Library (which has a much better selection than the Bee Cave Public Library, yet surprisingly did not carry a copy of Emma, which, even more surprisingly, the Bee Cave Library did carry).  But since I am hoping to visit Bath during my first week in England and it does tie in to the title of my blog, I’m guiltlessly reading.

I read Pride and Prejudice, my first Jane Austen novel, in tenth grade. I’d already seen the BBC miniseries version (the good one with Colin Firth) and I vaguely remember my mom reading me an abridged version of the novel when I was in elementary school.  Actually, my mom has been a big Pride and Prejudice fan for a long time.  She and her best friend even went on a trip to London and Bath to visit all the important Austen-related tourist spots.  So when I finished the novel, I was incredibly excited to share my observations with her.  Instead, she asked to borrow it next!  As it turns out, my mom became an Austen fan from watching that BBC miniseries and had never actually read the book.  Thankfully, I inspired her to read it and we can now share a passion for Jane Austen films and the novels themselves.  And I’ve been steadily reading through the novels whenever I have free time.

And now, after reading Northanger Abbey last summer, I’m finally reading Emma.  My mom, BBC miniseries lover that she is, showed me the latest adaptation (the one pictured above) over the winter break.  I loved it, which made me even more excited to read the novel that inspired it.  I know it’s sort of like cheating, but I like watching Jane Austen adaptations before reading the book sometimes.  Jane Austen’s prose is beautiful and incredibly descriptive, but I find it difficult to pay attention to the action at times.  When I know the plot from the film version then I can really appreciate her prose without losing track of the story she tells through it.  As I’ve been reading, it has been fun to come across incidents that I recognize from the miniseries, like the portrait of Harriet Smith that Emma sketches for Mr. Elton and Mr. Martin’s proposal.  At this point, Mr. Woodhouse’s character intrigues me the most.  He’s so funny as this old man who is completely stuck in his ways.  He can’t stand the thought of a young couple having a wedding cake at their reception because it makes him feel ill, and if it makes him sick, then it must be unhealthy for all the other guests.  The best part of Mr. Woodhouse is that with all his quirks, he still strikes me as a real person.  His actions may seem odd, but they make perfect sense considering his living situation, history, and age.  I can’t wait to see how Austen develops him and the other characters throughout the rest of the novel.

And how does this lead back to my title?  When I was 8, my family moved to Naperville, Illinois.  It took us a long time to find the right house, but finally we found one on Austin St.  Now in this neighborhood, all the streets were named for famous people and authors.  “Austin St.” was supposed to be spelled “Austen St.” as in Jane Austen.  My mom took this as a sign.  Sure enough, my dad found his next job in Austin, Texas and exactly a year after we moved in, we moved out of our house in Austin St.  And now, after living in Austin, TX for over half of my life, I’m traveling overseas to study British authors like Jane Austen.  See?  It wasn’t just a silly pun.


About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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