Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reading Jane Austen in Turkey

After a class discussion today regarding marriage from the view points of several different characters in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and a discussion of Jane Austen herself and whether or not she was criticizing the cultural attitudes towards marriage during the 18th century, one students whose unwitting role is to disrupt the class and change discussion topics to something more of interest to her, piped up and asked,  "Mrs. Jansen, what was your "courtship" like?" ("Courtship" is one of the words that will be on their next exam.)

I briefly explained that I met my husband skiing and then we had a fairly unconventional-for-the-21st-century"courtship" where we wrote letters for the next few years without actually seeing each other face-to-face.

Another girl asked,"Is he a romantic?" (notice the use of a noun instead of an adjective.)

I could name many "romantic" things that he has done, (the usual like flowers, chocolates, cards, and the unusual like fixing my bike, organizing a toilet installation in Malatya, setting up my internet) but I wouldn't necessarily call him a "romantic." I started to say something about women focusing more on the word "romantic" than men. (What was I thinking?!)

A male student who seldom speaks queried like a lawyer cross-examining a witness, "Do you know any female poets?" (Well, yes, a couple but under his intense scrutiny I could only remember Emily Dickinson (love for nature poems) so he got me there. I could, however,  think of lots of old men: Byron, Yeats, Donne, Browning, Kipling  etc.) So I had to concede that he made his point about who is more "romantic."

By now the same girl who directed the conversation away from the book exclaimed, "Let's just skip the courtship. How did he [your husband] propose?"

So I explained hiking, the Rocky Mountains, the wildflowers.....

Same girl replied, "That could never happen to me. I hate exercise."

A different boy asked, "How tall was the mountain?" (Now that's an important question! Does a taller mountain mean more "romantic?")

...Luckily I was saved by the bell.

However, after class a quiet, serious female, "Is marriage always good and happy?"

Her question reflects the difficulty of achieving a fairly proficient level of  English (or any language for that matter)but not having the depth of vocabulary to convey all types of emotions and sentiments. Using that limited knowledge to make judgments and generalizations about other people or cultures can be unrealistic. To further complicate matters, when I tell stories or anecdotes they are generally upbeat. So my students only hear my happy-to-be-married-to-a-nice-husband anecdotes. Therefore, I can understand where she might get the idea that marriage is always good and happy. With that careful reflection, I gently launched into my reply.

"Of course marriage is not always good and happy. You have to work at it. You have to choose what is important and what you can ignore. And knowing the difference is sometimes difficult. There are always good days and bad days. Like my mom always says, 'Remember the good times and not the bad.'"

She smiled and turned to leave. "Thanks. I thought so" and headed to lunch.

1 comment:

  1. Love this story! And I especially love your answer to the good and happy question?