It's a terrible thing to have to admit, as a theater critic, that not only do I not particularly like Shakespeare (which I am called upon so often to review), but I don't like Jane Austen either. "Pride and Prejudice," which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, puts me to sleep. I know there are women who love it and who read it every year to get centered; there are Austen societies (one near here) which discuss this and other books by Jane Austen, but I find it so horrendously boring.
It's not for lack of trying. I've settled in to read the book countless times throughout my life, determined that THIS time I will stick with it, but it doesn't take long before I'm yawning and grabbing something else to read. I've watched several different versions of the movie and have never made it through to the end without falling asleep. I actually have seen the end of a couple of versions, but only because I took my nap through the middle.
What's not to like? The hero is a handsome, aloof Brit, like "Jane Eyre's" Mr. Rochester or "Wuthering Heights" Heathcliff, characters I was so attracted to in my youth. Why do I not give a fig for Mr. Darcy or care whether he ends up with Lizzie or not?
This weekend, a local theatre company was opening "Pride and Prejudice" and we dutifully attended. I know it was a good production, and I gave it a good review, but even though one of my favorite local actors was in it, I nodded off several times. In fact, I was so determined to do well by this production, despite it not being my cup of tea, that I even came home and ordered the 5 episodes of the made-for-TV production to watch streaming from Netflix. I never made it through the first episode.
If there is anything good I can say about "Pride and Prejudice" it's that I know now that if I ever suffer from insomnia, the sure cure is to connect to Netflix and watch "Pride and Prejudice."
As for Shakespeare, I neglected to mention my feelings about his plays when I agreed to come to a meeting of the Woodland Shakespeare Club a few years back. A friend really felt I would enjoy the group...and I did. I did mostly because the group, founded 127 years ago and the second oldest women's literary society in California, long ago stopped focusing on the Bard exclusively. I have been going to the group's "open" meetings for over two years now and have yet to hear a discussion about William Shakespeare (though I was there for the cutting of his birthday cake a couple of Aprils ago).
Last year the group concentrated on humor. I was not permitted to attend any but the open meetings (two a year), so didn't hear what the discussion was like, but I have finally moved to the top of the waiting list and went to an orientation meeting last week. It was prior to the first meeting of the year (they meet 7 months a year, starting in October and ending in April)...and, after I learned that one of the responsibilities of membership is to attend every meeting, I had to tell them that I could not make it to the first meeting, as I wanted to go to the birthday party at Atria with my mother, knowing she would not go by herself (it turned out that was a good decision--and watching her enjoyment of the party was enough to erase any regret at missing my first Shakespeare club meeting).
This year, like last, there will also be no Shakespeare play read (though it is suggested that members read "The Tempest" on their own). This year the emphasis of the club is on California history and the idea of the "California dream." The first book (which I missed) was John Muir's "First Summer in the Sierra." Next month we read "Ramona," by Helen Hunt Jackson, which I remember reading in high school, and remember absolutely nothing about, other than that I think I remember that Ramona is a Native American. But I also remember enjoying the book.
The next month we'll be reading Jack London's "The Valley of the Moon," and then others, representing all sorts of areas of California, including "40 years of Chez Panisse" by Alice Waters (which should be a fun read) and even "Gidget."
So it looks like I slide by my first year, without having to engage in an intellectual discussion about any of the the works of William Shakespeare. We'll see how long I can keep my dirty secret before others realize that I'm in the club for the camaraderie, for the discussion of other books...and for the good food served at the meetings!