Today, we begin with unpacking the very title of this discussion post: I realise that it’s never a simple dichotomy of ‘studying’ a book and ‘reading’ a book simply “for the sake of it”. However, I chose the title for this blog post because I wish to unpack some thoughts I’m having regarding enjoying a book for entertainment’s sake vs. enjoying a book for studying’s sake. There are plenty of books which I didn’t necessarily enjoy on its own merit, as a singular story, but came to enjoy after further study of secondary material or after a lively seminar discussion with people at university. I would probably count Frankenstein, The Moonstone, Dracula, Wuthering Heights, and A Tale of Two Cities among that number.
This topic has come to mind particularly today because I just DNFed Jane Eyre. I have never studied this book (somehow) in all my many years of studying English literature. I picked it up on a whim sometime when I was at secondary school and read it but didn’t love it as I thought I probably should have. I just didn’t get along with Charlotte Bronte’s writing style or pacing even though I enjoyed the concept and overall plot. I decided recently that perhaps I ought to give it a re-read because I am now older and (hopefully) wiser, and with #Victober happening this month, it felt like fate to re-read it now. Reader, I DNFed it.
I didn’t get along with Jane’s narrative view point at all. I’ve read many a review and academic article about how strong of a heroine Jane is, how brilliant this book is, how important this novel is to the canon. But I just don’t get it. For a start, I don’t like Jane – I find her preachy and, to be honest, unrelentingly whiny (even though she does have the right to whine about her tragic childhood, to be fair). I don’t enjoy reading her narrative voice. And if you’re struggling with emphasising with a first-person narrator, then you’re pretty much doomed from the outset.
The beginning section of Jane Eyre is unrelentingly gloomy and depressing. It’s also a lot more bluntly violent that I remembered. But I just can’t abide the amount of moral and religious musing that takes place – I found it so boring and it really drags the pace of the entire story down for me. At the point of my DNFing of this, our eponymous heroine has become governess at Thornfield Hall, her charge is the ward of Mr Rochester, who has just deigned to appear in the narrative. I’m not a fan of his characterisation – I remember all of what happens after this and I can’t say I’m a fan of anyone’s actions in this novel. But the overarching plot and themes? I don’t hate those, it’s just a shame that it’s told in the way it is, and that nowadays I read only for pleasure.
You see, I can’t help but thinking if I was reading Jane Eyre to study it, as part of a syllabus on a literature module, I would probably come to love this as a book to study. Having a discussion about the themes and characters in this novel in a seminar group or attending a lecture on it would be fascinating. I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy the process of reading it, but I would feel like I enjoyed it as a book to study, to learn about, and to discuss with others.
I could very easily help myself along by choosing to not DNF Jane Eyre but instead to utilise the powers of the Internet to do my own little research on it so I could supplement the basic reading of the novel with some secondary material. But I’m highly unlikely to do that, because I’m not in university any more and I’m not as easily surrounded by that kind of academic environment. I could create that academic environment for myself but it would take a lot of effort. And when you have a TBR stack as large as mine, and reading this book is a re-read in a desperate attempt to get what everyone else sees in Jane Eyre, it seems like just a bit too much effort.
Perhaps I’ve become a lazier reader, and I’m okay with that, but I just think it’s intriguing that my opinion of this book is entirely dictated by the fact I never got the chance to study it properly. If I had, I might have even loved it…
I’m curious what examples of this you have – did any of you really dislike a book but then come to love it after you’d studied it in class? Did any of you like a book but then studying it and unpicking its themes actually make you dislike the book in the end? Are there any books that you wish you’d had the chance to study? I’m really curious so please do comment below with any and all thoughts, comments, queries, and/or criticisms!