28 Apr 2011
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Beowulf, strangest combination ever? It works surprisingly. I am reading Beowulf as part of Norton’s anthology of English lit. I enjoyed the intro to Middle ages literature but Beowulf is boring me to tears. Well, it’s not complete rubbish. The parts with action are enjoyable and interesting. But the bits in between, recounting what just happened and the polite, chivalrous chit chat, are putting me to sleep. In fairness, I was in a grouchy tired mood yesterday. Trying to read an 8th century epic poem when you are crotchety is not a good idea. So I let myself off the hook and switched over to Pride and Prejudice at bedtime.
I am almost all the way through Beowulf though. So I will probably finish it up over the weekend. I will say Seamus Heaney’s translation of it is quite beautiful in places. It’s definitely better than the translation in the Barnes and Noble edition I also have. I’ve been reading both translations simultaneously. It is surprising how very different they are. I much prefer Heaney’s in the Norton edition but the B&N version is simpler, helping me pick up on anything I may have missed. When I am finished with the poem, I will go back and read the B&N introduction so I can cross Beowulf completely off my list.
The poem is easier to read than I expected. Granted, I’m not reading the Old English version. Here’s a sample of what that would look like:
HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum,
þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas, syððanærest wearð
Um what? Yeah, I’ll stick to the translation. Despite not loving it, I do think it’s a poem that can be enjoyed by modern readers. I can see teen boys getting into it or anyone who loves medieval or fantasy fiction, like Harry potter or Lord of the rings, etc.
Now a complete 180 into Jane Austen. Austen is the perfect read when you are grumpy, curled up on the couch, and in a mood to ignore the world. Besides Sense and Sensibility, I haven’t read Austen in a very long time. Since I was 15 or so. I remember loving Emma. So much so, that I decided to name my future daughter Emma. Unfortunately shortly after this, Rachel from the tv show Friends named her baby Emma and completely ruined the name. I was so pissed. Anyway! I don’t remember if I read Pride and Prejudice at that time but I don’t recall longing to find my own Mr. Darcy, so maybe not lol.
I started the book at bedtime and am only through 7 chapters. So far I am startled by how….simplified it is compared the Bronte I have been reading. Not that I don’t like Austen but wow, it’s all dialogue. Where are the full page poetic descriptions of the surroundings? Where’s the introspection, the brooding?? It’s all sunshine and unicorns compared to the Brontes lol. Now I do get the snarky social commentary. But I’ll have to shake off the past novel perspective to enjoy Austen for what she is. I’m not sure if I can expect more depth further along or not. I don’t recall many metaphors or hidden meanings in Sense & Sensibility. I may need to do a bit of Austen research to make sure I’m not making assumption about her straight forward writing.