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Some guys would rather have jaw surgery than to read JA.  Steve Chandler could well have been one of them.  As an English major in college, now a successful writer in his sixties, Steve has miraculously managed to avoid reading JA all his life, until now.  On the other hand, his co-author Terrence N. Hill, an award-winning playwright and author, has read Pride and Prejudice three times, good man.  Prompted by their wives, Steve and Terry embarked on this new project in their “Two Guys” series, taking the risk of treading no man’s land.  However, considering their previous “Two Guys” titles, Two Guys Read Moby Dick and Two Guys Read the Obituaries, they are well-primed for this venture.

Thanks to blog reader Julie for sending me a copy of this book,  I’ve been thoroughly entertained.  Attaining to true Austenesque style, the two lifelong friends read two JA novels and wrote letters to each other about their thoughts over a six-month period. I must admit I’m surprised (sorry guys) at the incisive look and the fresh perspective they bring to the forefront.  Their sharp observations, humorous takes on many issues, their LOL commentaries on popular culture, and intelligent analysis on various topics make this a most gratifying read for both men and women, Janeites or would be’s.

Many do not want to read JA because they think she was just a 19th Century rural spinster awashed in naiveté, who had never heard of Napoleon or the war he was raging, ignorant about the slave trade from which England was benefiting, or couldn’t tell the difference between a country and a continent.  The most they might think of her is the mother of all modern day chick lit or the romance novel.  Well, these myths are all dispelled by two guys that have experienced Jane Austen first-hand, and lived to tell their discovery.

Here are some of their insights and words of wisdom as they read Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park.  I’m quoting directly from their letters to each other:

  • Jane’s got more adoring female fans than Brad Pitt, and my guess is they’re more intelligent too.
  • JA (through Elizabeth) is a witty, rebellious voice for intelligence and passion in the face of those stuffy British strictures.  I love this.  I love a woman (or a man, for that matter) who has no need to win anyone over.
  • Wasn’t Elizabeth Bennet heroic because she was such a totally self-responsible, proudly independent person?  Wasn’t Darcy the same?
  • I really enjoy how much you like Jane Austen, that you cry when reading her books, and that you can still be a man… A man not afraid of the feminine principle becomes even more of a man.
  • …elegantly cerebral.  But once you acclimate yourself to the flow of the language, it is addictive.  JA’s writing becomes more captivating with each new chapter because of how many layers of psychological posturing she strips away.
  • Men are often accused of putting their wives on a pedestal. Women build a pedestal and then spend their time trying to create something worthy of going on it.
  • I don’t think Austen ever gets proper credit for her role in the development of the comic novel.
  • Jane never attended school after the age of 11.  After that she was entirely self-taught…  S&S, P&P, NA, three of the greatest novels of all time–all written by 25.  Thinking of myself at that age.  If I had had time on my hands I could well imagine having written three novels… What I can’t imagine is that they would have been any good.  Ah, but then I had the disadvantage of an education.
  • The true measure of her characters is their hearts and minds.  What the movies cannot get to – or do justice to – is the intelligence.
  • What has excited Henry Crawford the most is Fanny’s inner strength.  On the surface she is delicate and demure.  But underneath she is power itself.  That’s what makes JA so great and so endearing.
  • Jane is all about principle.  Living true to your highest ideals, your highest self… she shows us there is a beauty to morality… there’s beauty in integrity!

Need I say more?

Two Guys Read Jane Austen by Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill, Robert D. Reed Publishers, Bandon OR.  2008, 126 pages.

*****

This article has been published in the Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine, where you can read more about Jane and the Regency Period.

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