At school the following week we began reading parts from Jane Austen’s novels. Mr Norris let the group move all the chairs and tables to one side and we sat on the floor in the centre of the room. We each had to read a page and then pass the book to someone else at random to read until everyone had taken a turn.
It was nice hearing the stories being read out loud, but each time the reader got to the end of the page I could feel the tension in the bottom of my stomach as I waited to be the next person picked. The book passed around the room and then it was David’s turn.
He took the book and started reading confidently. It was the ball scene in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Darcy was approaching Elizabeth to ask for a dance. David kept pausing for emphasis, just as though he was acting out the part rather than just reading it, and whenever Darcy spoke to Elizabeth, David would look straight at me. When he reached the bottom of the page, David reached over and handed me the book.
‘It’s your turn,’ he said.
I opened to the page where he had left the bookmark. I took a deep breath as I looked at the words on the page. Elizabeth and Darcy were still dancing, but Elizabeth had rebutted all of his approaches so far and was saying something about Wickham. I tried to speak but it came out in a whisper. I paused and took another deep breath.
‘It’s okay, Molly,’ said Mr Norris, ‘Just take your time.’
I looked up and he was smiling at me kindly. I turned my eyes back down to the book and started reading again, trying to sound confident but I could hear my voice wavering and I knew I wasn’t doing justice to Elizabeth’s remarks.
Eventually I got to the end of the page and looked for Rose and handed her the book. She smiled and squeezed my hand as she took it from me and then started reading.
Once everyone in the class had finished their turn, Mr Norris stood up and asked us what we thought was going on here. David was the first one to put his hand up. ‘Yes, David?’ said Mr Norris.
‘I think they both like each other, but neither is willing to admit it yet. Darcy knows he likes her, but she has developed a prejudice against him for some reason and so she is pretending to herself that she doesn’t like him. I think they will get together in the end.’ He didn’t take his eyes off me the whole time he spoke.
‘Thank you, David. That is pretty insightful, although we should watch out for spoilers. Does anyone else have a view?’ He looked around the group, but nobody spoke up. ‘Molly White, how about you? What do you think is going on here?’
I had to take another deep breath and stop my heart from racing. Why did Mr Norris have to single me out? ‘Ummm…,’ I began hesitantly. I had an idea in my mind but it was hard to form it into words with everyone looking at me. ‘Ahhhh…, I think, ummm, that Jane Austen is trying to make a statement about, ummm, relationships between men and women.’ I started to warm up and feel more confident as the idea solidified in my mind. ‘I think she is trying to breakdown stereotypes that a woman has to say ‘yes’, just because a man asks her.’ I looked up at David.
‘That is an excellent analysis, Molly,’ said Mr Norris. ‘You have struck right at the heart of the theme we will be exploring throughout the term. Now, does anyone else have anything to add?’
Rose leaned over and squeezed my hand again. ‘Molly, you were wonderful!’ she whispered. I smiled at her and felt a flood of warmth in my chest.
‘Thanks, Rose,’ I whispered back.
‘Okay, well I don’t think we have time for any more today. Make sure you have finished ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by the end of the week because next week we are starting ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Now we had better put the chairs and tables back and you can have an early lunch.’
I stood and started to pick up some chairs. ‘Here, let me carry that for you,’ said David as he tried to take the chairs from my hands.
‘Thanks, but I can carry them.’
‘I know you can, but I just wanted to help.’ I let him take one of the chairs off my pile, and while that made it easier to carry, I didn’t want to admit that to him.