In high school, I remember the sensation of being the only girl I knew who *did not* like Jane Austen stories. In particular, I remember this time when we were having a vote on which movie we were going to see (it was after the final exam, so the teacher was letting us watch movies for fun). None of the guys in the class voted for Pride and Prejudice. Nor did I. However, every girl in the class aside from myself voted for Pride and Prejudice, so guess which movie won the vote. I ended up groaning with the guys through it. It was all the more weird since I cannot think of any other situation in high school when it was guys vs. girls and I was on the guys’ side.
I have tried to read Pride and Prejudice twice. I think I got as far as page 80. Both times, I found the novel so boring I could not go on. I also have tried to read Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park. I at least managed to get past page 100 in Mansfield Park.
Oh, and I actually managed to read Northanger Abbey all the way through. I even enjoyed it. And to a large extent, that’s because it’s a parody of The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.
I did read The Mysteries of Udolpho in high school, and I loved it. Sure, the first hundred or so pages can be tiresome, but hey, the mysteries start within the first twenty pages, and I am willing to read long descriptions of beautiful landscapes.
I would never argue that the work of Ann Radcliffe has greater literary merit than the work of Jane Austen, but I love Radcliffe fiction in a way I don’t think I would ever love Austen fiction, even if I ever manage to read P&P to the end. It’s got adventure! Mystery! It’s gothic! And yes, The Mysteries of Udolpho is much more romantic, in the sense that it combines the landscapes of poets like William Wordsworth with high human passions.
This is one of those things where I wonder – does it have anything to do with me aromantic? I don’t know. I’m sure there are tons of aromantic people who love Jane Austen stories too. I certainly can love witty romantic comedy myself. And it’s not like the stories of Ann Radcliffe are less romantic.
Of course, there were times when female readers did favor Radcliffe over Austen. Radcliffe was a bestselling writer in her own lifetime; Austen not so much. So maybe women literate in English in the early 19th century were more aligned with my literary tastes than the female readers of the present.