It may surprise you to hear that, before a few months ago, I had never read any Jane Austen. This fact may surprise you as I am 26 years old, and an English major who focused on early modern literature. I had even taken a course on women in the early modern period (aptly titled Early Modern Women’s Writing). Now knowing this, the obvious question to ask is: “How could I have not read a lick of either Bronte or Austen?” Easy. My professors all professed that seeing as Bronte and Austen were such popular subjects, we must have already read them. But in my case, they were wrong.

Jane Austen

And so my women writer’s class focused on other women writers, Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Wroth, Anne Clifford, Aphra Behn, Kathrine Philips, and Margaret Cavendish. Those women were my scholars. And while my college literary career was filled with the likes of Shakespeare, Whitman, Marlowe, and Doyle, who were popular male authors, not once did I read Bronte or Austen.1 And so I graduated college, having not read two of the most influential female writers of the time.

When I told my friends of my feat, they gasped and guffawed. I felt an outcast among my peers. Okay, I may be exaggerating a teensy bit: there had been some gasping, no guffawing, and no shunning. But I did feel a wee bit foolish. Feeling foolish is part of what spurred me to finally read these novels now, even though in all honesty I don’t think I could accurately describe what made me think, “read this now.” There were no voices saying that ‘If I read them, they would come,’ or anything like that, but I did feel like it was time I read them. What also encouraged me to start reading these classics now, is that I finally finished the book I never thought I’d finish (the aforementioned Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell). And so I thought to myself that I should start reading the books I should have read ages ago.

And so I read Austen and Bronte and fell in love with the characters (particularly Mr. Darcy). And finally realized why so many lauded these novels. I grew so enamoured with these characters, that after reading these great works, I started watching them on screen. Period dramas were suddenly the norm on our tv and our choices on the silver screen. This is not to say I wasn’t a fan of the period drama before, far from it, it was just that on reading these great works, I rekindled my love of them. I’d finally realized what I had missed out on all these years. Now if I watch a modern day romantic comedy, I can’t help but notice how much these have been influenced from the books of the past.

In the end, what did I learn from this experience? Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing. Shh. Don’t tell any parents I said that.

1Some may argue whether Bronte was a writer of the Early Modern period, but as her reign was on the cusp of that period, I would give it to her. Austen however, was most certainly in the period and so she should have been covered.

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