How Pride And Prejudice Saved My Goddamned Life (And Got Me A Literature Degree)

On the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice – 28th January, 2013.

One upon a time, there was a time before the internet was invented.

I was doing a degree in Agriculture, in some part of Australia that you have probably never heard of (just think generic empty land filled with brightly-coloured obnoxious parrots, the occasional sagging wooden fence and oh, just the world’s most rock-chunked field which apparently requires undergrads to chug along in a tractor that you have to slam from first-to-third-gear as the second was missing, while picking up every piece of pegmatite ever as a part of “experiencing the reality of farming”) and quietly suffering through one of those Top Five Miserable Years that usually result in a Grammy winning in mud

But I had no such musical award on my horizon. I just had two more miserable years to look forward to, where I’d move from a remote farm to studying full time on a college campus whose only claims to fame involved more stinky roustabouting and institutionalised underage alcohol poisoning. Did I mention that I don’t drink?

I had pen-friends and a phone, but everyone I knew from high school was attending a much-vaunted inner-city college and discovering their sexual identity, sexual hangups, hangovers, harlotry and slowly dropping out of the inner-city college to eventually work in Correctional Services. I didn’t see why I should inflict them with tales of having to kill animals for a living and so I didn’t bother.

To make matters even worse (huh?) – there was no radio.


This was a time before “youth station” Triple J commenced expansion to more regional areas of Australia and I was suffering. I spent a day standing in a field, frantically waving around an antenna in a desperate attempt to hear ANYTHING besides “Australia All Over”. Even now the sounds of country guitar risk involuntarily retching (it took about three years to get back to loving Dolly, which just goes to show).

I can throw a real inter-planetary mopedown when I feel like it.

I rarely watched TV (and no, it hasn’t improved since those days); I’d stupidly focused on packing resilient boots and flannel shirts rather than science fiction novels for the trip to nowhere-ville and the closest library was a solid one-and-a-half hour drive in a car (a car held together with bumperstickers hailing the now-gone Planet Video and “Got Logic?”).

A hopeful drive to that distant library revealed it was mostly stacked with Large Print Virginia Andrews and Phillip Roth. Oh, and one Anne McCaffrey that I’d already read.

Reading material at the place I was staying at? Mills And Boon and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Supposedly the owners once ran a (failed) boarding house and threw some random copies onto the shelves to add some ambiance to the rooms (even though their customers mostly fled the establishment at some early hour to avoid paying the bill and wouldn’t have even glanced at Hilda And Her Hot Husband Prospect).

…And one Collected Works of Jane Austen.

I’d previously skipped the opportunity to study Emma as a high school student (I attended the workshops on Bleak House instead, not that getting Gradgrind helped my grade much) and after hearing whinges about Box Hill picnics, I thought I was well shot of any such bonneted-nonsense.

It is a truth universally acknowledged.

I read it in one day, a Sunday. I remember that much.  Then I promptly read it again. And then the others in the collection. And then Pride and Prejudice again. And probably a lot more after that.

For the next three months, before I eventually left the farm – I walked. A lot.  I merrily got the hems of my jeans six inches in mud.

I found a History of Regency England in the previously ignored non-fiction section of the library that was $20 of petrol distance away and earned the library $5 in overdue fees.

I wondered if I should start studying piano, just so I could deny doing it well at non-existent parties that I wasn’t invited to by socialites in the city.

If the internet and Ebay existed, I would have brought a parasol.

And three years later, when I fell in love for the first time, I understood what Darcy went through. Not Elizabeth. But Darcy.

The next year, I signed on to study English Literature at a different university and never missed a single tutorial during my years there. I even wrote one of my final year essays on postmodernism and the Andrew Davies’s 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

These days? I catch every adaptation that’s shown or written. I even I watch this series:

And today?  I’m going to head into the sunshine on a deckchair and read the book again.

And thank holy hades there are no sodding sheep in the garden.

There’s a number of news items about today:

Magic of Austen continues, 200 years on
Janeites: The curious American cult of Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen fans celebrate novel’s 200th anniversary
Women Will Buy Basically Anything Related to Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice at 200: looking afresh at Austen’s classic

“I am an English professor. By night, I skate on the local roller derby team as my alter ego, Stone Cold Jane Austen.”

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