Monday, 26 August 2013

Warning: reading may seriously damage your prospects in love

One of my favourite ways to pass the time is listening to books while I cook. I am a great believer in reading aloud (itself a subject currently receiving some long overdue and interesting scholarly attention by historians) and love being read to whatever the circumstances. This month I was particularly pleased that Radio 4 dramatised "Sense and Sensibility" because for the forthcoming Reading Fictions conference I have been been mulling over how books present the relationship between reading and falling in love. Having an unexpectedly large number of cooking duties, I managed to hear the whole book. I hadn't re-read it for several years and was struck afresh by how, for much of modern history, women like Marianne Dashwood who read novels are regarded as unworthy objects of affection.
But perhaps it isn't quite as bad as that? Isn't it more the case that reading fiction is seen as juvenile, and growing up means leaving stories behind for more serious fare - but the effects of having read them make a woman more resourceful and better company in the long run? Think of Anne of Green Gables and the fine woman she becomes. And what of men? Marianne's romantic sensibilities are matched by Willoughby's who, like her, turns out to have more depths than at first seems possible.
My musings need to move into the twenty-first century, however, so I hope Radio 4 finds something suitable... Meanwhile,  I am going to test out the idea that early children's books that appear to disapprove of the effects of reading fiction on the formation of character and ideas about love in particular are less critical than they at first appear, and that these ideas are revolutionized in the twentieth century, when for a select group, at least, being an avid reader makes someone a prime contender in romantic contests.  

1 comment:

  1. It makes sense of course. Shakespeare's cleverest romantic couples signal romantic intent to one another by sophisticated wordplay. (Only Helena and Bertram seem verbally mismatched, but then Helena has enough language for both of them.) Since most of these romantic characters are young, that is, inexperienced, how else could they have developed an understanding of the polysemous nature of words other than by reading a variety of texts? Thus signaling romantic interest reflects a commitment to an existence heightened by literature, even suggesting that only someone possessing the qualities necessary to connect with literature, e.g. empathy, playfulness, role-playingfulness, could possess the right stuff for intimate understanding.