Getting to Pride and Prejudice, Silas Marner and the rest of the classics without tears…

Last year, I was faced with a fourteen year old daughter (whose most ambitious reading to date had been the lengthy and complex Harry Potter series and one of Shakespeare’s plays, which she had to dissect word by word) and a copy of Emma, chosen by me from her summer reading list as the most accessible classic for her. I was ready to tear my hair out trying to help. The trouble wasn’t just that the words were hard. It was that she’d never encountered anything like the society inhabited by the Bennet sisters.

While the magic of Harry Potter was accessible to my daughter, the formal language, manners and mores of Jane Austen created a different world. My daughter could read the opening chapters, and have no idea why the Bennet girls were dependent on their father to meet the new neighbors. She’d read the next chapters, and have forgotten what happened in the first few pages. 

In an effort to make the setting more alive, we started looking at the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Then we discussed the story in terms that related to modern books. For example, we compared the Bingley sisters to the “mean girls” who inhabit so many teen novels and movies. We might watch 5 minutes and talk about those few minutes for half an hour, yet bit by bit the constraints and expectations in which Eliza Bennet lived became clearer. Once we’d watched the series in slow motion, we moved to listening to the audio book together, and tackled the language. After a few chapters, my daughter had developed an ear for Austen’s language and cadence, and was able to read Pride and Prejudice in print with little trouble.

I recommended this method to a friend whose daughter read nothing but teen series, and had to read Silas Marner over the summer. My friend described the result as the sort of bonding experience one has in the trenches, but reported that her daughter read the book and produced a decent essay on the Silas Marner.  I hope you have a more pleasant experience, but equal success with this method.

- Mary Elizabeth A.


Popular posts from this blog

Ocean-in-a-Bottle Craft for Kids

Neil Gaiman Ruined My Life

The Discipline of Gratitude