People who hate Jane Austen – yes, such benighted folks do exist – sometimes claim that she is so-o-o boring that she causes eyelids to droop.
The now-defunct blog Bad Reviews of Good Books, which compiled excerpts from you-know-what,* offered some choice morsels: “I have fallen asleep EVERY TIME I have read it” (Persuasion); “Austen only appealed to me when I needed something to help me fall asleep” (Pride and Prejudice).
So I was amused when I ran across a reference to Jane Austen Bedtime Stories, a podcast whose premise is that a couple of chapters of Austen, if read aloud “in soothing tones and set to calming music,” provide the perfect segue to dreamland. “With everything that is going on in the world, we find comfort in the familiar,” each episode’s promotional text notes. “For so many of us, Jane Austen's works are like a warm hug.”
Apparently, the Janeites and the anti-Janeites agree on one thing: Austen is a sleep aid.
Indeed, the Austen insomnia cure is apparently a cottage industry of whose existence I was previously unaware. Jane Austen Bedtime Stories, which has spent the past sixteen months offering bimonthly, sequential chunks of Pride and Prejudice – just seven chapters to go! – is far from your only choice.
There’s Sleep Story for Grown Ups, whose abridged-and-summarized episodes cover not only P&P but also Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility, along with a slew of other classic tales from literature and mythology. There’s Bore You to Sleep: Sleep Stories for Adults, which has dipped into Emma, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility, among many other fiction and non-fiction offerings. And there’s Just Sleep – Bedtime Stories for Adults, which offers a reading from Sanditon, as well as from four of Austen’s completed novels and a wide variety of other works. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve missed yet more: Austen’s delightful combination of widespread popularity and lapsed copyright is catnip to sleep podcasters.
Because these readings actually aim to put you to sleep, the quality of the performances is, well, soporific, at least as far as I could tell from a quick spot-check. Don’t look here for lively interpretations by gifted voice actors.
Even so, Jane Austen wouldn’t be my choice for tedium-induced slumber. Other selections on the Bore You to Sleep menu seem likelier possibilities. Can I interest you in Aviation in Canada, 1917-18? Wood-Carving: Design and Workmanship? Perhaps The Filtration of Public Water-Supplies? Didn’t think so.
* But unfortunately did not footnote those excerpts.