Austen vs Chandler: What Melissa Is Reading

by Melissa MacAulay

Published at 2016-07-14

Since having my first baby earlier this year, my book-reading time has taken a serious hit. In fact, most of my reading for the past four months has consisted in frantically scrolling through the forums at or skimming the pages of What to Expect: The First Year while rocking a crying infant in my arms. This past month, though, the chaos has subsided somewhat. Baby Ben’s more regular nap times have allowed me to crack open a few books from my ever-growing To Read shelf.


Persuasion vs The Big SleepThe Big Sleep

I’ve ended up jumping back and forth between two classic works of fiction: Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1817) and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939). Both were impulse purchases from used book stores. I picked up Persuasion because of a mention it received in one of the last editing projects I took on before my maternity leave; I picked up The Big Sleep because of my recent discovery of Raymond Chandler as another one of Canada’s most stolen authors.


I’m not sure that I could have picked up two books more diametrically opposed. One afternoon, I’m in the prim and proper world of Sir Walter Elliot and his daughters. Later that evening, I’m tailing a known drug dealer with a boozed-up Philip Marlowe, in a “nice neighbourhood to have bad habits in.”


Persuasion is full of romance. Anne Elliot pines for a long-lost love, a man who has just re-entered her quiet, uneventful life. “There could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison…” The romance of Marlowe’s world is somewhat less idyllic: “You can have a hangover from other things than alcohol. I had one from women.”


Anne Elliot and her kin aim to be surrounded by what she calls “good company,” that is, “the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation.” The Elliots would be less than impressed with the company Philip Marlowe keeps: “Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.”


Which book will leave the biggest mark on my literary life? It’s too early to tell. And if Ben’s nap time schedule is anything to go by, I won’t be finished either of these books for a while yet.