What Would Jane Think and Do?
Universally Misunderstood by Andrea Mullaney, published today in the News Scotsman.com, makes a few cogent points about the "Jane-obsessed," as she calls us. In her article Andrea asks: "How did Jane Austen come to be so purely regarded as a writer for women only? It was not always the case: her earliest admirers included Sir Walter Scott and Byron's publisher, John Murray. The essayist and poet Thomas Macaulay, in the Edinburgh Review, declared her second only to Shakespeare. Even by 1948, FR Leavis was placing her at the start of his influential great tradition of English fiction."
Yet today few men read Jane's novels or choose to attend classes about her. "Asking around men of my acquaintance, most hadn't even tried reading Austen, put off by the adaptations. Perhaps they glaze over when presented, even in print, with the sight of a bonnet, mentally fainting away like the heroines of Austen's hilarious teenage satire, Love and Freindship. (her spelling, dear reader). "It's the proto-chicklit thing," said one, himself actually a lecturer. "They're all about women desperately trying to get themselves married off."
As Andrea notes, that's not only what Jane's novels are about. She lays the blame for this huge misrepresentation at the feet of the Jane industry with its spin-offs and sequels of romances, marriages, happy endings, and the sort of breezy declarations of love that Jane's smart and principled heroines never used.
You may choose to agree or disagree with this article, which doesn't exactly bash the Jane fan industry as much as point to the irony that "that someone who rejected romance, in her life and work, should be held its greatest icon. Although she would probably have enjoyed all the men in wet shirts."
New Issue of Persuasion Online
Another publication, the Winter 2007 issue of Persuasions Online is now available on the JASNA website. After having read the first three articles, I have come away with new insights on Emma. Ironically, I had just finished rereading this novel over the Thanksgiving holiday, and the scenes were still fresh in my mind as I reconsidered my impressions of the book. (I found Emma at this stage of my life to be a rather tedious young woman who needed to find some other more worthy way to preoccupy her days than to meddle in someone else's life.)
Bruce Stovel very astutely points out that Emma has two very distinct sides to her character, and that at the start of the novel the bad side of Emma dominates over her good side. As the plot progresses and Emma learns from her mistakes, she examines her motives or compares her own behavior to Mrs. Elton's, and her good side begins to dominate.
Elaine Bander writes about Emma as a new kind of novel, one that was rather revolutionary for its time, and in which ordinary events happen to characters with ordinary lives, with not a hint of a melodramatic plot. Yet we find the novel riveting. The third article, "Fun With Frank and Jane," and written by David Bell, explains why. Mr. Bell examines the clues Jane disperses throughout Emma about Frank Churchill's secret relationship with Jane Fairfax. Someone who reads the book for the first time might miss these clues, but on close reexamination they are challenging and fun to pick out. According to Mr. Bell, Jane is as adroit at leaving clues out in plain sight as a skilled mystery writer. I have printed out the rest of the articles in Persuasions Online, and can't wait to read them as I travel home to be with my family for the holidays.
E-text of Fanny Burney Book Available
Click here to view an e-text of Fanny Burney's Evalina at Girlebooks Blog. Jane Austen enjoyed reading Fanny's popular books, and she took the name Pride & Prejudice from the closing chapter of Cecelia. Evalina is Fanny's first book.