Proud to get over Austen prejudice

IT is a truth universally acknowledged that a 16-year-old boy in possession of his own motorbike is not going to be best pleased at having Pride and Prejudice foisted on him for his Higher English. Gordon Bennett!

I swear that I read every word as if each was a tin of beans I had to check for defects as part of a stiflingly boring factory job. Past my eyes they rolled. I missed nothing. I missed everything.

"It's so funny!" a studious girl in my class exclaimed. I reasoned that she must have been trying to impress someone by pretending to find the book amusing. Not for the first time I was wrongly attributing a base motive to someone because such a motive was the only one I could conceive of having myself.

In a rare act of rebellion, I wrote a bitterly sarcastic critical evaluation of the novel. My English teacher - fully entitled to beat me about the head with the complete works of Jane Austen - nevertheless chose to respect my opinion. He commented that I should put P amp; P aside for a few years but return to it at some point. It was not something I anticipated doing, despite feeling that I owed him as much.

Now, to get in the mood for the rest of this piece, you could perhaps stick "Eye of the Tiger" on the stereo, because the rematch - Steele versus Austen - occurred this summer. I did not expect to enjoy the experience, viewing it like a tough hill walk with visibility occluded by persistent drizzle. The best I hoped for at the end was a dull ache that would prove that the exercise had been in some way beneficial. Maybe this time I would at least be able to feel some sympathy for Elizabeth's father. Anyone subject to a sixfold dose of synchronised PMT was bound to arouse some emotion in me.

Such was the downbeat air with which I approached my task. But I liked it. Damn it, I almost laughed out loud a few times. The relevance to life that I had, so cleverly I thought at the time, dismissed as a youth was there for anyone with a modicum of maturity to savour. My English teacher was right.

It has become important to me that he should know that I now appreciate his wisdom. His name was Mr Jimmy Anderson, PT English at Lanark Grammar in the Seventies and, I believe, an assistant head on Islay thereafter. If you know him, pass on my regards, though the hope that he should remember me is doubtless a vain one - in both senses of the word.

Gregor Steele had little Sense and even less Sensibility at the age of 16.

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