Reviews

‘This is splendidly written fare from the reliable Poulson, written with keen psychological insight.’ [Invisible]

- CRIMETIME

Not reading the same novel twice

Just as you never step into the same river twice, you can never read the same book twice. You always bring something new to it. I recently listened to the divine Juliet Stevenson reading Sense and Sensibility. I first read Jane Austen when I was around the same age as the young women in her novels, and I find that these days, when I’m . . . well, let’s say a woman of a certain age, I see some aspects in a very different light. This time I felt unsatisfied by the ending of Sense and Sensibility. To summarise – I feel that in the case of such well-known novels, it’s not necessary to avoid spoilers – it is pretty clear early on that the recklessly romantic Marianne is going to come a cropper when she falls in love with the dashing Willoughby. Austen does make it clear that Mrs Dashwood failed in her duty to her daughter by allowing the seventeen year old Marianne full rein. But did Austen (and Mrs Dashwood) really have to go to the other extreme by marrying Marianne to Colonel Brandon, who is nearly twenty years older and decent but dull? Certainly not what I would have wanted for Marianne had I been her mother.

And there is the rub. Now that I am a parent myself, I find myself casting a critical eye over fictional parents (not that I am perfect myself, I freely admit). What about Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, who is presented as amusingly wry and ironic in contrast with his wife, who is foolish and vulgar. Yes, she IS foolish and vulgar and often misguided, but she is also right to be anxious to get her daughters settled with good husbands. The estate is entailed and they will lose most of their income when Mr Bennet dies. Not other career but marriage is open to them. The novels are in fact full of terrible parents – Mrs Price in Mansfield Park, Sir Walter in Persuasion, to name only two more.

Of course it’s not just Jane Austen. It wasn’t until I had children myself that I really understood what it meant for Anna Karenina to leave her son behind when she elopes with Vronsky.

This revisiting of old friends and seeing them in a new light is one of the pleasures of getting older and I’m interested in what other people feel about this.

While I am here, I’ll just mention that my first newsletter comes out tomorrow. You can subscribe here: http://www.christinepoulson.co.uk/newsletter/

8 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    April 30, 2020

    You’re so right, Christine. You really never do read the same book twice. There are subtle differences every time. Part of those come from age and experience and different perspectives, as you say. But I also think we notice different things when we read a book again – especially a well written book.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      April 30, 2020

      I agree, Margot. The first time round we are concentrating on the journey, but when we read the book again, we have more time to look around.

      Reply
  2. tracybham
    April 30, 2020

    I did not read every word of your post because I plan to read Sense and Sensabilty soon and I am not sure whether I have read it before and don’t remember the story that well from the film adaptation I watched years ago. But I agree with you about rereading books… it is a new experience each time. I read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was younger but I am reading her books again now and I know I get an entirely new experience now. And the same for Margery Allingham’s books.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 1, 2020

      Forgive me, Tracy, I didn’t mean to spoil your reading experience. In spite of my comments, it is still a good read – Mrs Jennings is a wonderful character – just not my favourite Austen. I am listening to Pride and Prejudice at the moment and much enjoying it.

      Reply
  3. Susan D
    May 5, 2020

    S&S spoiler here…

    When I first read Sense and Sensibility, I had every expectation, right up to almost the end, that Elinor would end up with Col Brandon. Of course. Because Edward Ferrars, from start to finish, I find a complete waste of skin. And a later reading didn’t change that opinion. I was hoping I’d misremembered the ending, and that this time I’d find Elinor with the right man. Nope.

    Yes, I think as young readers, we all wanted Jo to end up with Laurie. But later, well, maybe not so much.

    And you’re right about Mrs. Bennet. She gets such a bad rap. What else could she do, in a world where woman were disinherited right left and centre, but try her damndest to find husbands for those FIVE girls. And Mr B was of no help whatsoever. He constantly absconded to his study to avoid anything like responsibility. He even admits he won’t feel chastened for very long.

    And so on and so forth.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 5, 2020

      You are spot on with all this, including Little Women. Absolutely agree about Edward – what a wimp, allowing himself to be manipulated like that by Lucy Steele. And I have now got to the end of Pride and Prejudice and was taken aback to learn that Mr Bennet has saved nothing for those girls out of his income and yet they have all those servants, including a butler, it transpires. He is so selfish and self-indulgent.

      Reply
  4. Moira@Clothes in Books
    May 17, 2020

    You know how much I enjoy this kind of discussion Chrissie!
    I think we have grounds to be suspicious about Jane A’s own parents – her father just moving the family around without consultation, the mother sounds self-centred, they both sound perhaps improvident. I guess Jane’s future if she hadn’t died young wasn’t very promising. Though I guess she would have made SOME money from the books?

    One of my all-time favourite books is I Capture the Castle – when I first read it I was younger than Cassandra, and she seemed like the ideal heroine. (Still does actually). But then I got older and I STILL love the book, but a shocker to realize that Topaz, the ‘old’ stepmother, was only 29 I think, and I have carried on reading it even though I am now more than twice Topaz’s age. And like Mrs Bennet, Topaz can seem silly, but she is really looking out for her stepdaughters, in a most generous way.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 17, 2020

      Yes, so fascinating, re-reading as one moves though the years. I am now listening to Juliet Stevenson reading Emma and she is so brilliant in bringing out what a howling snob Emma is – she doesn’t deserve Mr Knightley! I am more shocked by that now I have had – and still have – a daughter around Emma’s age.Of course Emma doesn’t have a mother, only a spineless governess who has let Emma have all her own way. Oh, yes, could talk about this for hours . . .
      Just will add one thing. When re-reading Anne of Green Gables, I saw that it just as much – if not more – about Martha and found that very touching. I first read it when I was Anne’s age and of course that completely passed me by.

      Reply

Leave a Reply