When I was in the 6th grade I had a friend (fittingly named Eugenia) who introduced me to romance (mostly gothic) novels. I began with Phyllis A. Whitney who, I just discovered, passed away earlier this year. I then moved on to Victoria Holt and all of her pseudonyms. Eventually I read some of the Brontës’ work. I never read Jane Austen.
One trait most of the women in these novels possesses is a sharp tongue and the habit of provoking bantering conversation with all men, but mostly the men they were interested in romantically. Being relatively sheltered and shy, I didn’t have much opportunity to converse with males other than my relatives, so I didn’t really know how to talk to them, especially guys I was interested in. So I took a cue from the romance novels I read and, in my imaginary conversations with guys, carried on sharp-witted banter with them in my head. Oh, I was witty. My fictitious retorts to imagined flirtations were brilliant.
My real conversations with guys wasn’t so successful. Either I’d blush and look down and stammer something unintelligible until they walked away, laughing; or I tried to be witty and the guys would look at me like I was insane. They never bantered back.
I didn’t realize that “normal” people didn’t talk like that. That it was just fiction. In fact, it wasn’t until the past ten years or so that I finally really understood that I was not going to find my perfect verbal sparring partner and that the banter I’d expected to experience just wasn’t going to be a reality in my life and, in fact, was a pretty annoying thing to listen to.
Clare and I started watching Becoming Jane last week. We got about a quarter of the way through it and couldn’t’ deal with the banter. Perhaps Jane Austen did talk like that. Perhaps men and women of the late 1700’s and early 1800’s bantered. Perhaps to be the ones bantering was exhilarating. But to listen to consistent banter? It’s downright irritating.