There are grim passages in our lives when each day starts and ends with dread, when endurance is a form of victory. Such times as when a project deadline is in the offing and you are nowhere close to completing it and above all, your boss is the type that tolerates none of it. The dreariest of them all is when life is sending you to the brink of hopelessness for example joblessness or even for self-preservation’s sake, the pressure to make it in life. Self-discovery is one of the hardest things to come across in our youth. I feel this is the least talked and researched about passage, in all the walks of life. In my own opinion, it is the gravest, arduous and life-changing concept in itself. Coping with the grimness of such times comes in many forms, to different people. Such times, I turn to reading for solace. When days and nights are kaleidoscopes of constant reminder of failures: weeks long self-beating, middle-of-the-night startles, daylong upbeat email checks, same old, same old.
Though reading voraciously in good or bad times may work, it soon settles that not just any book would do. Barely getting through a new book; as hard as it is to summon the energy to concentrate. There is the need for the comfort and relative ease of familiarity, the literary equivalent of a warm bath.
One book stands out though, in times of tides and storms, “Pride and Prejudice.” A distant birthday present when I turned 11. I was too young to appreciate much of the efficacy of literature, and ooh boy, what a struggle.
But as time turned the pages of my life, and the belittling challenges grew, a settling enduring delight of this novel seduced me to flip the pages, not because of attraction, but of necessity: the spirit and wit that drives the main character (Elizabeth Bennet), to defy known norms by spurning the hand of the wealthy, conceited Mr. Darcy; the self-importance of Mr. Collins; the uncouthness of Mrs. Bennet; and the measured journey toward self-knowledge that finally unites the lovers.
In “Pride and Prejudice,” tragedy is held at bay. The suspense revolves around love or the impact of inferior social standing, or the embarrassment that lies in wait with every flip of the page. Rereading it through the times, I found peace in not racing through the book wondering what would happen next. With time, I could recite some of the best lines by heart making the predictability a constant dose for a perfect escape from a regime of stressing over the constant solicits for jobs, or the panic of waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat or the ever-present taste of fear. With the gentle scribbles and the ever un-doubted outcome of the novel, I could savor the semantics, satire and repartee, the cutting observations cloaked in seemingly innocuous remarks. Humor is for sure a balm; one that I needed badly to smile and still do when the times are tough.
I agree forthwith, that a dose of aggression, too, seems essential for reading that’s done in search of solace. Anger and anguish, after all, go hand in hand. The author of the book (“Austen”) is celebrated, world over as the quintessential novelist of manners, cleanly driving her wit with cruelty and her portraits with unsparing brutality. Everyone would agree, especially most of my closest of friends that there is a guilty pleasure in savoring the moments of mockery, since they typically puncture hypocrisy, obsequiousness or arrogance.
When something terrible and appalling hits you unexpectedly, the universe seems to go out of sync and balance. For such, it’s cruel, and it’s random, and to many, it feels anarchic. There are no certainties. At that time, Evil could just as easily triumph as good, or either clothed in disguise as the other. Jane Austen’s self-enclosed twists and turns around her world of epic literature enveloped me, soothing my soul in its contours and assumptions. Not knowing the end of my own story, my mind inclined mostly toward horror.
… To be continued, in part 2 …