You Call This After-Dinner Entertainment?

I recently finished reading Pride and Prejudice, and I have to admit that while it was an enjoyable read, I much prefer reading a Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, or Lee Child mystery. After all, who can top Myron Bolitar or Harry Bosch or Jack Reacher?

Anyway, for whatever reason, there was one brief section in Pride and Prejudice that stuck out to me.

The Bennets had just finished their after-dinner tea, at which time Mr. Bennet invited their dinner guest and his distant cousin, William Collins, to read aloud to the ladies of the house.

Mr. Collins readily accepted the offer, but turned down the first book that was offered to him, proclaiming that he never read novels. Instead, he opted to read Sermons to Young Women, a two-volume compendium of sermons compiled by James Fordyce, a Scottish clergyman.

The youngest of the five Bennet daughters, Lydia, interrupts Mr. Collins “before . . . three pages” leading him to stop reading, with the comment, “how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit. It amazes me, I confess;—for certainly, there can be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction.”

Now it’s not the book that he chose or Lydia’s reaction to it that caught my attention. (Although it is kind of strange that Mr. Collins was first offered a novel to read – would he have to come back every day and keep reading from it until he finished it?)

It’s just the very idea that listening to someone read from a book would be considered after-dinner “entertainment”.

I know there was radio or TV or the Internet at the time (what did they do all day!?), but there were musical instruments, or simply conversation. But reading aloud?

So I decided to do a bit of research and discovered that reading aloud was a form of entertainment back in the day, according to the book Women and Literature in Britain, 1500-1700. Such reading seemed to be geared towards those who were functionally illiterate, who at the time were predominately women.

I would have had no problem if that were the case; however, my sense is that none of the Bennet women (the mother and five daughters) were illiterate. So again, it just seems like an odd after-dinner entertainment.

And it’s not like Mr. Collins was an author reading from one of his own books, which also would have been fine.

I just can’t imagine inviting a friend or relative over for dinner, and then afterward, asking him or her to read to us. I’d much rather be entertained by asking Alexa to tell us a joke or watching the latest viral YouTube video.

I’m so glad I’m alive today, and not in the early 1800s.

Reading Beowulf was bad enough; having to listen to someone else read it sounds painful.

*image from smarthistory.org

58 thoughts on “You Call This After-Dinner Entertainment?

  1. That seems like a peculiar form of entertainment to me, too. I can’t imagine staying awake for an after dinner read aloud session. In a couple hundred years, people may find it weird we get information on a phone.

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  2. I still enjoy being read to… just as I did when I was a child, which is probably why. It is not the same immersive experience as reading for yourself, though. And, oddly, I really don’t like audiobooks.

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    1. It’s been a long time since someone has read to me; I just don’t think I would enjoy it. Funny that you don’t like audiobooks though, it seems similar to be read aloud…

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      1. We all ‘know’ things…understanding them without ever putting them into words, so never really looking at them. I am glad you posted this, so I had to think 😉

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      2. I couldn’t agree more, and all kidding aside, one of the benefits of blogging for me is that it has forced me to learn about something before I start writing about it!

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  3. If I am not being nerdy I also have similar reading tastes to you…Being read to after dinner is not somehting I hanker for unless I am the teller of tales to my grandchildren…Be safe, Jim 🙂

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      1. I agree Jim…I am a good tale teller if I say so myself although my grandchildren tend to want the same one over and over although as I make it up as I go along Mickey Monkey has many adventures….

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  4. How is that different from an audiobook? (Assuming it’s a short story and we don’t have to turn on tomorrow for more.) I don’t like audiobooks – they never read the story the way I would have read it in my head (I emphasise the last three words as it never comes out of my mouth the way I read it in my head.)
    I am reminded when reading bedtime stories to my grandsons that the problem with reading aloud is that it’s so s l o w. (It’s good strategy for editing though – I have time to spot typos while the robot in the computer is reading).
    Poetry is another matter – preferably comic and read by a clone of Victoria Wood.

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    1. I think audiobooks are fine if you jsut want to listen to something by yourself. I can’t imagine a group of people sitting around after dinner listening together to an audiobook. Although I have heard of people doing this with some podcasts…

      I am not a fan of audiobooks either, but for a different reason; I’d be worried I’d miss something critical because of a temporary lapse in concentration. A physical book makes it so much easier to simply go back and reread something.

      I am not sure who Victoria Wood is, but I’ll do some investigating!

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  5. It is all in the timing, Jim. Back then, it was not only a problem of illiteracy, but also the fact that only the wealthiest people actually owned books that were kept in their home. Whatever the effort made, having that classic under your belt will be a benefit. What is the next literary adventure? 📖

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    1. I agree that listening to a podcast is enjoyable, but doing it in a group setting could be a bit strange. Particularly if it is a podcast everyone in the group has access to.

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  6. Hi Jim,

    My physician (now retired) close friend has a second home in these NH White Mountains and his main home on the coast north of Boston. He loves to drive alone and listen to audio books. He drives up here every Thursday, we have breakfast together on Friday morning, then he returns to his ill wife (cancer) on the coast.

    Even when he’s up here alone he drives for hours to nowhere in particular. I asked him why he burned so much gasoline?

    He said that it was that he so much enjoyed listening to audio books while he drives. If he sits and reads at his (and my) age he tends to doze. But while driving he has to stay alert and awake.

    My trick to avoid dozing off is to take a lot of notes while I read any book. But I must admit that I prefer movies. Each day my wife and I watch at least one BBC mystery movie. I bought a big library, because there are so many BBC movies not available on Netflix.

    Our favorite series include Foyle’s War, Touch of Frost, Endeavor, Happy Valley, and many others. If I’m in the mood for a classic like Pride and Prejudice I generally check out the film first (many of which you can get on Netflix disks).

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    1. I’d be worried to be on the road the same time as your doctor friend. To me, it takes concentration to listen to an audiobook while driving, attention that should be given to the driving task. Plus, if there is a momentary lapse in concentration while listening to the book, it’s not as easy to go back and listen to it again as it is with a physical or e-book. But I do like going for long drives with some music playing, since listening to the music doesn’t really require my attention.

      Thanks for the BBC recommendations – I will have to check them out!

      I hope you and your wife are doing well.

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  7. Ah, to go back in time! I’ve spent hours being read to and reading to others and those are some of the best adventures ever! Flying on dragons, and encountering enemies of unknown origin, fighting duels, flying on brooms with Harry Potter… encountering the ghosts of Ebenezer Scrooge… the sky is the limit!! It’s different reading the stories out loud – especially with a voice that brings each character to life!

    😊🤣😊 To have 30 min a day to work through a book with someone would be my favorite after-dinner delight!

    Of course now it’s so much easier to watch tv. But books are good for the brain and soul … I live on audible now 😊

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    1. you do make it sound quite appealing, Beth! And I can see the appeal of audiobooks, but that is a one-on-one experience, not typically an after dinner group activity 🙂

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  8. I have seen that book, when we visited Jane Austen’s house and then the ‘big house’ Chawton House, up the road, where they had a display of some of the books in their collection. Jane Austen was poking fun at the book and of course at the sanctimonious Mr. Colins; for the teenage girls it would be very boring ‘entertainment’ and they would have far preferred the novel.
    As for being read to I think that would be enjoyable for a time that had no radio or television and a change from piano recitals!
    https://chawtonhouse.org/

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    1. That’s awesome that they had that book on display. And perhaps a reading such as this might break up the monotony. I am sure my wife would love to visit Jane Austen’s house someday…

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