• Lauren Straley

The Rejection Plot: How Jane Austen Did Not Prepare You for Your English Degree

Are you or do you know a post-English grad trying to make their way in the world? Read on to learn more about the path that literature can lead you down. Discover a world full of books.

Many of us have a romantic tale associated with our decision to major in English. Mine was not an arranged attachment, rather one I chose for love.

It began as most do, in the pages of a book. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was the last book my high school teacher assigned us to read before summer break. Naturally most of my friends and classmates clung to the Spark notes descriptions, while I drank in every word Ms. Austen created.

The populous of characters, complex narrative structure, drips of dialogue, historical commentary, and satirical drama entranced me—my heart then belonged to the British novel.

Matters of the heart teem with complexities, and often lead you down paths you never could have predicted. Yet of one thing I am certain—Jane Austen did not prepare me for my English Degree.

The Name of the Game

Rejection has never come so easy to me as when I became an English major.

Jane Austen’s fame stems from many hallmark traits, one being her use of the marriage plot (all six of her novels end in a wedding celebration). The marriage plot is a term used in academic circles to describe the trend for the portrayal of romantic relationships in novels. This term became used more with the rise of the middle class novel in the 18th and 19th centuries.

To make Ms. Austen’s trope more applicable to my situation, I have re-titled it the rejection plot. Rejection, as a term, was first used in the 15th century and its meaning has remained relatively unchanged: to refuse to accept or consider. Rejection has never come so easy to me as when I became an English major. Poetry contests, short-story awards, scholarships, graduate school applications, job prospects—everywhere I turned, rejection loomed.

Even Austen herself was rejected in her early career. Eminent London publisher Thomas Cadell rejected an early draft of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 1797. The book would not be published for another sixteen years, until Thomas Egerton came to his senses and published it in 1813.

Think about the kind of perseverance it must have taken to keep writing and revising with virtually no success for over a decade. But look at what it did for Jane. Jane Austen did not teach me about rejection, she taught me about perseverance—a trait all writers have in common.

Rejection 101

There isn’t a course on rejection (though that could be an incredibly interesting literary history) and most advisers will not properly prepare you for the bitter realities that await freshly groomed Victorian scholars.

You will often hear that majoring in English will open many doors for you, and in some ways that is true. You can use the carefully curated skills you accrue throughout your undergraduate program and apply it to many industries. A delicate balance must arise between duty and passion, between what you want to do and what you have to do.

My English trajectory was meant to lead me to a Ph.D., but that is not the road I took. One key element I did not consider was rejection. A great way to plan around that is through internships. Be an office assistant in a publishing house, intern for a local marketing agency, volunteer for a school newspaper, actively pursue internships in business areas that interest you. These experiences will help you clarify your likes and dislikes within a particular industry.

Try whatever interests you before you specialize—that breadth of knowledge will stay with you and will be able to be applied in the discipline you do end up choosing. It is ok to change your mind. If you find yourself unhappy, you have the skills and the education to move on to something new. Don’t let the fear of rejection stand in your way.

The Final Exam

I never knew...I would be making a career as a writerbut here I am.

My English degree has taught me so much about myself. It has forced me to do the things I say I love to do—innovate, create, and think in new ways. I never knew that the day I went to the registrar’s office to declare a major in English that I would be making a career as a writer—but here I am.

I don’t know much, but I do know that following your dreams is always worth it in the end. Studying Jane Austen, the 18th and 19th centuries, and women’s studies did not lead me down a path, it forced me to create the path myself. My dream is threaded in the stars, glowing on in both my darkest and brightest moments.

Jane Austen did not prepare me for the ups and downs of my life post-English degree. She couldn’t hold my hand while I explored new avenues for writing in the 21st century (though her words were always there for comfort) nor could she be there as I changed careers, or started a new business. If there is one thing I know for certain “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

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