Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Dangers of Novel-Reading

I'm having a dismal morning - absolutely nothing going wrong, all ducks in a row, all is dandy... but I feel lousy! I can't tell if I'm ill, depressed, or stressed. Could be all three. I should be absolutely delighted - I have three jobs lined up for this afternoon, and yet I feel tired and just... off. Soured.

I'm inclined to blame it on novel-reading. It's funny, I could never understand why when novels first became part of popular culture in the 18th century, novel-reading was considered unwise, especially for young women. The romantic, gothic-influenced fiction of the time was pretty innocuous if you ask me, but it apparently had a demoralizing effect. All these young ladies who had been reasonably well-behaved and obedient to parental direction and arranged marriages started rebelling, I suppose. When you read about a heroine being swept off her feet and rescued from dire peril by a handsome, dangerous nobleman, it does tend to make you a trifle dissatisfied with a marriage proposal from the balding local cleric or sitting around mending torn hems.

When I was younger, I read novels incessantly. And I was miserable. At the time, I thought it was because of my home life and hating school and loneliness. But when I stopped reading 7-10 books a week after college and started watching more TV, and having more of a social life and getting a job, I became much happier. I thought it was just because of improved circumstances. In addition, I lost interest in novels because it became more difficult to find stories I really liked. I did discover audiobooks and have been checking them out pretty steadily for the last 7-10 years, but the majority of them have been nonfiction; biographies, history, memoir, travel.

Well, recently I re-discovered a novelist that I had once thought rather tepid when I was younger named Georgette Heyer. Jane Austen will always be on the top of my novel list, but for books of a similar nature in a similar style, Georgette Heyer is as good as it gets. Plus, she wrote about 33 of them, so you can re-read them on a regular schedule and it will take years before you have to repeat one. Well, as I mentioned a month or so back, I gave up almost all TV for Lent and so I had to find something to fill the time, and so Georgette Heyer came to my rescue.

Or so I thought. There's a negative kickback to romance fiction; It makes you dissatisfied with your life. It makes you long for an unrealistic relationship. And if it's historical, it makes you pine for the clothes and the lifestyle and the idealized vision of how life used to be for a woman, where you could be weaker and not be despised for it. I forgot how I used to feel about previous eras - that I used to think I would be so much better off in the 18th century.

I know better now, of course - I appreciate the independence and the advantages of modern life. But the sense of dissatisfaction that has grown in me over the last few weeks is going to take a while to dispel. And my goal to collect all of Georgette Heyer's novels... well, I think I'll let that go for now.

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