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Marriage Has Many Pains

By Maralise Petersen

but celibacy has no pleasures.

—-Dr. Johnson, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759), ch. 26

Fanny Price in Austen’s Mansfield Park revises this statement to complain about the temporary situation of residing with her birth family at Portsmouth. They are loud, disorderly, and generally not respectable. In contrast, the family who raised her at Mansfield Park is wealthy and courteous, but often held her in low esteem (mostly because of the “low” circumstances of her birth). She says, “…that though Mansfield Park might have some pains, Portsmouth could have no pleasures. (364, Penguin Classics Edition, 2003).

Sharing information about the books that I read with others can often be disappointing. For what happens between me and the page is sometimes intimate, sometimes awkward, always enlightening . At times, my recommendations are received with a boring and warm bath of “me toos!” (to borrow a line from a friend). Other times, I get a blank stare or a response like, “That subject is too depressing to read about.” To me, the most irritating response is when someone says, “I don’t read that kind of book” as if they know what “kind” of book it is without reading it.

However, to take the liberty of revising Dr. Johnson’s quote myself I might have to say that, “Though reading might have some pains, not reading has few pleasures.”

Dr. Azar Nafisi summarized her beliefs about life and literature as a part of the “This I Believe” series on NPR when she said, “I believe in empathy.”

Yes. I believe in empathy too. I think that’s why I read. I think that’s why I raise children (despite my failings and insufficiencies). I think that’s why I go to church. I think that’s why I’m here.


About Maralise Petersen

(Emerita)

12 thoughts on “Marriage Has Many Pains”

  1. I just finished reading Slaughterhouse Five — the summer reading for my incoming 11th graders — and I've been dreaming about soldiers in Dresden. I suppose part of the joy of being an English teacher is leading students through hard passages, finding our own humanity in the text.

    When I was an 11th grader in Utah, the irreplaceable Mrs. O took me through Grapes of Wrath; that book was midwife to my social conscience. At least two students my year "opted out" of reading it because of the language and sexual references, completing an independent study instead. I haven't encountered any resistance to my book choices in ten years of teaching (find wood, knock vigourously).

    But sometimes being an English teacher is a handicap when it comes to recommending books for my Relief Society book club. When I become devoted to a book, I forget that others may have a different measure of personal acceptability. And I've become more accepting of that, most days.

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  2. How interesting. I have had similar challenges… sometimes it's hard for me to remember if a book has objectionable content, and what seems bad to me may seem worse or nothing to someone else. And then I also really hate sappy writing, even if it's clean sappy writing. But I'm also growing more easily put off by objectionable content than I used to be. So I'm mostly just verrry careful in recommending books; it's easiest when I know someone has similar tastes. Or when I know that we will not judge each other for our differing points of view.

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  3. Ever since my recommendation of _The Red Tent_ almost sent a few women packing from our book club, I always try to mentally review any parts of a book that anybody would find offensive before I recommend it. Even then, I am still caught by surprise when somebody tells me that I book I adore is absolutely awful (case in point: The Kite Runner).

    I have to admit, too, that sometimes I get inpatient with women who tell me things like, 'I won't read adult fiction anymore, because you just never know what you will come across, and I don't want to be offended'. I feel like that attitude can be limiting. I have, of course, come across some things in adult fiction that I have found distasteful, even to the point where I won't finish the book, but to condemn an entire body of literature seems unduly harsh.

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  4. I also believe in empathy.
    I too have felt the handicap of being an English major when it comes to recommending books to R.S. Bookclubs or even just other people. I was in charge of a bookclub that had previously only read religous books. I changed that right away, but I had to be so careful about what we read that it (almost) took the fun out of it. Hooray for literary moms!

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  5. For me, reading is the actualization of nuance. And in those nuances are where I find complex meaning and a better attempt at understanding. I think that's one of the reasons why I rebel so fiercely against turning books into black and white. It oversimplifies the complicated and adult process of writing and reading into something that a preschooler can accomplish.

    I just simply don't buy into the concept that a good part of authors have a devilish agenda, that they are part of the vast conspiracy to corrupt us. And so my level of "personal accountability" comes from that basic premise.

    Where my empathy needs to widen (and where my essay is admittedly hypocritical) is in learning to accept that others work off different premises.

    Deborah–how do you teach the importance of fiction in your class? What is its importance to you?
    Emily M–Recommending books is so personal to me. I am careful as well and yet I'd like not to have to be.
    Heather O.–Oh boy. My book club objected to "Ender's Game." And therein lies the beginnings of this post.
    Rynell–I have an idea that will hopefully put the fun back in. Keep reading the blog…I'll announce it next week.

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  6. Ender's Game! Aaaagh! I love Ender's Game! My copy is held together with duct tape, I've read it so many times. Okay, that's a little pathetic, but it's true.

    So sad. They missed out.

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  7. Funny that Ender's Game is such a bugger (no pun intended!). I chose Speaker for the Dead for our old group and there were major objections. The sad thing was that they were objections that arose before people had even read the book; they were based on what they had heard or the genre. It really hurt that people thought I would read the kind of book they assumed I was recommending.

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  8. I had someone object to Ender's Game on the basis that she KNEW the O. S. Card was an anti mormon. She refused to believe anything about him because she had read one of his books and was convinced he was evil. Really. Where do people come up with this stuff? Same book club also refused to read Pride and Prejudice because someone said it was full of "thee's" and "thou's" and therefore to hard to understand. Oh well.

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  9. I just found this blog. You all are my kindred spirits. Several months ago I had a book rejected for the RS book club because it dealt with the subject of rape (it was Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson). I was devastated, but I chose a different book, and in the end no one read that book or bothered to show up at the book club meeting anyway.

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