Happy Hunting Grounds
AA Meetings. Home Depot. The Episcopalian Church. Good God, where else?
During times of great scarcity, want, and desperation I have found myself turning to the most unusual places to pick up members of the opposite sex. Never, though, have I had the slightest inkling to join a book group. And after reading this story from a good friend and former colleague of mine, I don’t plan to do so anytime soon.
Single women looking for a man read Jane Austen novels. That’s why I joined Jane Austen book groups. I thought they would be a happy hunting ground.
Having recently gone through a particularly traumatic and heartbreaking separation from a woman who, at the time, I thought was my one and only true love, I signed on to Austen mania. And it worked. I met Janine at one discussion group. She had long, raven hair, and I was immediately attracted to her when I discovered “Mansfield Park” was her favorite novel. She had a sharp, sarcastic wit, and, like Miss Cawley and Becky Sharpe, we used to go for drinks after book club meetings and “abuse the company.” Pretty soon we were dating.
Andrea, Denise and Charlotte were also in our book group. All three of them were as mean as junkyard dogs. Their favorite Austen quote was, “Elinor agreed with everything he said, because she didn’t believe he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.” Their favorite novel was “Emma,” but they were no matchmakers. Instead, they obsessed about how to break Janine and me apart.
It was not surprising that the three young ladies hated Janine. She had a supercilious turn of the upper lip that inspired men and women alike, the former to obsessive devotion, the latter to despair and loathing. Also, I’m pretty sure each member of “ADC” (as Janine and I called the three young ladies) secretly thought that women were better off without men – at least without real, live men who have body hair and body odor (unlike Austen’s heroes, who smell like books, look like Colin Firth, and dress like dandies). So ADC made a point of disagreeing with everything Janine said, and Janine and I made a point of abusing ADC after the meetings.
Members of the book group took turns hosting. We met for dinner, Wednesdays at 6:30. One evening, during the discussion, Andrea said, “I don’t actually think Lizzie was prejudiced. She saw Darcy for what he was – a pompous ass.”
” ‘Lizzie!?'” I asked. “Don’t you mean, ‘Miss Elizabeth Bennet'”?
“We call her ‘Lizzie’ out of affection,” said Denise, who often spoke for ADC as “group leader”.
“And I call her Miss Elizabeth Bennet — out of politeness.”
“You don’t even like Austen novels,” said Denise. She doubtless considered this the worst insult she could dream up. “You just come to these groups to hit on women.”
“I do so like Austen novels,” I said. “And I promise – scouts honor – I will never hit on you.”
“Yeah, well I can’t understand why Janine doesn’t see that you’re exactly like John Willoughby.” Denise was referring to the caddish villain of “Sense and Sensibility,” whom I sort of liked.
“It’s better than being like that arthritic dweeb, Colonel Brandon,” I said. “And by the way, you think you are like Elizabeth Bennet, but you’re really exactly like Mary Bennet.”
The discussion group broke up early that night. Janine made an excuse about why she wouldn’t be able to join me for drinks, so I headed off into the night on my own. The third bar I stopped in was The Horsehead. There, in the corner, ADC were merrily gossiping and sipping on white wine. Janine was with them. I caught enough of the conversation to be pretty sure they were abusing me.
I went home and started reading all of the Bronte sisters’ novels. Charlotte Bronte, I knew, despised Jane Austen.
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