While it is true that a book, or whatever object that metaphor is applied to, ought not to be judged by it’s cover, never let it be said the cover isn’t yet significant. At thirteen years old I had read very little 18th century literature, and though I read incessantly, my exposure to books that weren’t Enid Blyton or on the school list and/or didn’t involve vampires, preferably, or adventures on the other side of wardrobes or looking glasses, was minimal.
But I was however very into black and white movies and spent most of my early teenage years absorbed in old movies, reading books and devoting much time and energy to clandestine smoking. Clearly, I did little homework. It was through one of these black and white movies that I first came across Jane Austen, thanks to the Laurence Olivier phase I was in and the 1940 Pride and Prejudice adaptation he was in. Incidentally, that phase started with a viewing of That Hamilton Woman, also less sensationally billed as Lady Hamilton outside of the US. The same movie also was the first small grain in my interest in all things Georgian (era not country – sorry Republic of Georgia, no offence!) including of course, literature.
Although the Pride and Prejudice film was really quite terrible, there was something about the dialogue and the characters that intrigued me. I found the novel in my school library, checked it out, and didn’t read it. Probably too busy reading vampire novels and smoking and watching movies, habits which contributed no doubt to my leaving high school shortly thereafter at 15 and getting a couple of jobs. Suddenly I had money. Not much but enough for a trip to blessedly air conditioned shops in the city on Fridays to buy a book, see a movie and drink coffee (from an espresso machine! Crazy). In a bookstore there where I was probably looking for a new vampire novel, there was a table loaded up with Wordsworth Classics going for three or four dollars. I perused them enthusiastically but didn’t recognise any names or titles except for Dracula and Frankenstein, which, being bent toward the fantastical at that age, I’d naturally already read, until I came across Persuasion by Jane Austen. The volume was slim and neat, and the book’s showery, billowy cover caught my imagination so I bought it, hardly knowing that I was taking a first step into my adulthood and my future.
It might seem excessive to say that a three dollar copy of Persuasion I bought when I was 15 influenced my life, but it did. I stumbled into what would become my passion and my career, 18th century literature and the study of history. A whole new world opened up to me then, of things I knew very little of at the time.. literature, art and music, history, geography and politics. I found too than an interest in history lead to a keener interest in the present, in seeing the ways in which the past is reverberating in the present, and how it will effect the future.
More than ten years on, Persuasion is still a favourite and it will always be the first really adult book I bought with my own money, for myself. And thanks to my much indulged pursuit, when I inevitably went back to school, it was with the realization that it is in mediums like literature, music and art that ideas are first expressed that go on to influence politics, economics, religion, and ultimately, history.
Gems of Dubious Wisdom http://twitter.com/#!/beckinghamshire
Location downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Hometown Rockingham, Perth, Western Australia
Occupation Undergraduate, Classics and Near Eastern Studies, University of British Columbia