I've been a Jane Austen fan since the eighth grade, when I was required to read Pride and Prejudice. But unlike my girlfriends who adored the dashing Mr. Darcy, I loved the book for Austen's wry observations, veiled sarcasm, and witty dialogue. So while I eagerly read all of Austen's novels, it wasn't for the longing glances and romantic endings. Similarly, while I loved Jane Eyre, the selfish and brooding Mr. Rochester could have been snipped out of the story and I wouldn't have missed him. And the too-tragic Heathcliff's mooning over Cathy wasn't romantic, but just plain silly. What a sap! No wonder the girl teased him mercilessly, even from the grave.
No, I wasn't a romance lover. I didn't begin reading modern romances until I began writing them (see the explanation on this page of my website). But I now read quite a lot of romance, and now we're getting to the point of this post.
Yesterday I paged through Barbara Pym's No Fond Return of Love, which I first read more than twenty years ago, along with three or four of her other novels. Back then, I loved the book. But yesterday...not so much.
Not at all, in fact.
I was bored silly. I would have put the book down, life's too short to read dull novels, but I was so amazed at how much my literary tastes have changed that I kept turning the pages in a kind of stupor. What I had once thought a charming novel is now pedantic. The dialogue does not sparkle. But what really startled me was the lack of well developed characters in the book. Again, I've spent the past five years reading modern romance novels, and in those books characterization is everything. For a romance novel to work, readers must deeply admire the heroine and they must fall in love with the hero. In No Fond Return, I pitied Dulcie but thought her quite foolish. And I longed to slap the middle-aged Aylwin and tell him to grow up. Yes, I'm aware that the book isn't a classic romance, but it does have very strong romantic elements, and this time around, they did not work for me.
Barbara Pym, who died in 1980, is still fairly well regarded in literary circles, but I'm finished with her. Now I'm trying to understand whether reading romance novels has refined my taste or corrputed it --although I suppose there's a third possibility. Perhaps this change in my reading tastes is on a par with growing tired of minty mouthwash and switching to a cinnamony one.
What say you, dear readers? Have you had similar experiences?
Technorati Tags: books, literature, Barbara+Pym