Suspending Your Disbelief
-the scary and the sacred
By: Norma Jean Bennett
I never meant to do it. I told myself that the addiction had to end with me—that my children and the generations to come would not suffer as I had. Yes, I would end it. But I failed. Now my daughters are addicted, too, and will probably suffer the same consequences. And I just sat back and just let it happen.
When did it start? I’m not sure. It’s all so confusing. I think it started when I was sixteen. No one warned me not to fall in love with Mr. Knightly, Mr. Bingley, Mr. Elliot, and Mr. Darcy. I may as well just come clean and say it: Hi. My name is Norma Jean and I’m a Jane Austen addict.
It seems the consequences of this serious obsession manifested themselves when I became of marriageable age. You see, I was spoiled for the ordinary. Where, in heaven’s name, was the man who would say to me: “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed.
You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” as Mr. Darcy said to Miss Elizabeth?
Then I got married. And he DID ardently love me and I him… but he also… sorta bugged me sometimes. And I MAY have bugged him sometimes. Something seemed wrong. Marriage wasn’t anything like the book! He was ordinary; I was ordinary; marriage was… stunner of stunners… ordinary.
Alas, my self-guided tour through the classics when I was a teenager formed a world-view that was not life-like. The idea of “suspending my disbelief” while reading Jane Austen was not something I mindfully engaged. Oh no! She did it for me. I had no choice. She swooped in and took over my whole mind, heart, and soul. I barely came up for air, let alone lunch. And… I believed her! I believed what she said about romance and… all that… stuff. She lied! I mean… she fictionalized!
The point is, how do we take our willing suspension of disbelief, as experienced through media (reading, movies, etc), and separate it all into real world living? Can we lose ourselves in fiction and still be able to think critically? After all, if you cry or clap or growl or laugh or … well, you name the emotion… over a fictional character, then you’ve just been emotionally manipulated. Shouldn’t a good critical thinker stop and logically think through the emotional response options BEFORE engaging in one?
As I’ve aged I’ve come to realize that I must conscientiously manage my dives into suspended disbelief. In other words, I now know that all literature is not equally edifying and that there are some places I just cannot go. If a writer of fiction is leading me into, what I call, “dark places”, then I pull up, quickly, and go have lunch. Certain themes trigger my REAL world experience into sadness and fear. I don’t need that. Fiction is written to create an imaginary reality. I am careful not to treat its influence too casually. I was created in the depths of God’s thoughts and my imagination still lingers there… in the infinite. This must be honored, respected, and treated with awe. I will do so.
So, what about Jane Austen and her ilk? She and her compatriots really DID mess with my head. I really WAS stunned that adult life outside books was so… difficult! Should I have not read these fictional classics? Naw… I just needed to remember Lydia. Every romance novel needs both an Elizabeth and Darcy, as well as a Lydia and Wickham. And if this means nothing to you, then I suggest you pull “Pride and Prejudice” off your library shelf. Do it. Dive deep. Don’t come up for air or lunch. Then analyze your emotional response! But be forewarned—it might take you years. Good fiction stays with you forever; bad fiction does, too.
Now, I’m off to have lunch with my two-year-old granddaughter, whose name is… wait for it… PEMBERLEY.
I told you I’d failed.
And if this means nothing to you…
Go read the book!
Norma Jean Bennett