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Christine98 Profile
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What was Jane Austen really like?


For more than one hundred years after her death, the major biographies were in fact written by family members, who painted Austen as sweetly old-fashioned, genially mild and reserved, spirited but primly spinsterish.

Susan Ostrov Weiser from her introduction to "Persuasion"

The letters, sharp-tongued and acerbic, like the early fiction, shocked and even offended some readers when they were first published. Jane Austen's nephew, writing in his memoirs before their publication, cautioned that their "materials may be thought inferior" because they "treat only the details of domestic life. They resemble the nest which some little bird builds of materials nearest at hand." But in fact they are filled with harsh, pointed and dark wit: She calls one person a "queer animal with a white neck"; she writes that she "had the comfort of finding out the other evening who all the fat girls with short noses were that disturbed me."

Susan Ostrov Weiser

Virginia Woolf wrote, "Sometimes it seems as if her creatures were born merely to give Jane Austen the supreme delight of slicing their heads off."

It should be noted the bulk of her letters were destroyed. Boy, I'd like to read them.

Chris

Jun/29/2011, 5:28 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: What was Jane Austen really like?


Yeah. The old saying goes, who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? I say only a fool is not afraid of Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, and George Eliot.

Tere
Jun/29/2011, 6:35 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: What was Jane Austen really like?


I ran across two unfavorable opinions on Austen's work recently:

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Jane Austen

“Miss Austen’s novels . . . seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer . . . is marriageableness.”

Mark Twain on Jane Austen (1898)

“I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

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I started watching Pride and Prejudice the other night, the version starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett. Keira is very good at delivering Lizzie's more biting lines, especially those directed at Mr. Darcy.
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Christine98 Profile
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Re: What was Jane Austen really like?


I daresay these wretched comments do not meet with my approbation. Mr. Clemens in particular, presents a most haughty and arrogant demeanor. Let us settle upon a more agreeable subject.

Jane,
I mean [sign in to see URL] where is my lavender water?

Jun/29/2011, 8:19 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: What was Jane Austen really like?


You reckon Sam was complimenting Austin? I do.

Tere
Jun/29/2011, 8:20 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Christine98 Profile
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Re: What was Jane Austen really like?


How do you figure?

Chris
Jun/29/2011, 8:58 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
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Re: What was Jane Austen really like?


Because Clemens, the supreme ironist, always worked in the negative when he meant the supreme compliment.

Tere
Jun/29/2011, 10:38 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Christine98 Profile
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Re: What was Jane Austen really like?


Well, nice try Tere. Twain also wrote this:

Whenever I take up "Pride and Prejudice" or "Sense and Sensibility," I feel like a barkeeper entering the Kingdom of Heaven. I mean, I feel as he would probably feel, would almost certainly feel. I am quite sure I know what his sensations would be -- and his private comments. He would be certain to curl his lip, as those ultra-good Presbyterians went filing self-complacently along. ...

She makes me detest all her people, without reserve. Is that her intention? It is not believable. Then is it her purpose to make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters? That could be. That would be high art. It would be worth while, too. Some day I will examine the other end of her books and see.
- "Jane Austen," published in 2009 in Who Is Mark Twain?

Also this:

"Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen even if it contains no other book."

Gotta love Mark Twain, even when I disagree with him.

Chris
Jun/30/2011, 8:34 am Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
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Re: What was Jane Austen really like?


some further thoughts:

I understand, even sympathize with Emerson and Clemens. Reading Austen, I have felt like Clemens' barkeeper from time to time. But

that response is to a single dimension of her writing; the surface. Austen equips her protagonists with wicked smarts and uncommon common-sense, allowing them to comprehend the sum-total of their circumstance and navigate the treacherous territory between 'sense' and 'sensibility.'

The stifling world of custom and manners
depicted by Austen is so astutely observed and skillfully rendered, it seems to have completely captured Emerson and Clemens, causing them to conflate the writer with her subject matter. A large compliment in a way.

If I'm right, why were two such thoughtful and intelligent men so obtuse? Maybe, steeped in their own time, they were unable to comprehend the layered, multi-dimensional existence of women.

As for Austen,

Speaking of the conventional social obstacles, the traditional privileges of class and gender that stood in the way of what she called "the play of spirit" in Jane
Austen's life, Virginia Woolf remarked most insightfully about Jane Austen, "She believes
in them as well as laughs at them."
Weiser

Chris



Last edited by Christine98, Jun/30/2011, 12:44 pm
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Terreson Profile
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Re: What was Jane Austen really like?


Points taken, Chris. But a question for you. Why did Clemens take up an Austen novel more than once if he thought her so shabby? Rather begs the question, don't you think?

Tere
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Christine98 Profile
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It's hard to know how much of Clemens to believe when he's being facetious but according to his statement, he never finished an Austen book. I wish I were more of a scholar at times like this. Googling and grabbing a quote here and there probably lead to wrong conclusions and confusion.

Chris
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It is possible, you know, Clemens and Emerson were afraid of Austin, and in the way 19th C arbiters of literary taste were inclined to be afraid of women writers. Poe comes to mind, for example, who panned the poetry of E.B. Browning, who, by any measure, was a far better poet than he was. Why?

Tere
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Christine98 Profile
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Entirely possible, but I don't know enough to say. It's also possible they just weren't that into Jane Austen. It's the superficial reasons for dismissing her that don't make sense to me. But the quotes were googled and grabbed, the context is missing.

Chris
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Came across this quote which raises further questions about the Twain/Austen schism:

"Thinking of Twain, the irrepressible American riverboat pilot, and Austen, the tea-drinking maiden aunt, I'm reminded of Bogart and Hepburn in the film classic The African Queen. . . . Could not Twain and Austen be seen as such an odd couple?" Emily Auerbach

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Christine98 Profile
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Great article, Kat. Thanks for it. Couldn't resist copying this:

Twain noted, "We keep losing all the world's great authors. Chaucer is dead, so is Shakespeare, so is Milton. And I'm not feeling very well myself."

Chris
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Thanks for the article, Kat. Kind of gets to what I suspect. And thanks for the chuckle, Chris. I just may have to misappropriate it.

Tere
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Christine98 Profile
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When V.S. Naipaul picked a fight with women writers in an interview earlier this year, citing a “narrow view of the world” as the source of female inferiority, he scorned Jane Austen for “her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world,” declaring that no woman, not even Austen, was his literary equal. “A woman,” he said, “is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing.” Women at best produce “feminine tosh.”

If Naipaul’s goal in putting down women writers was to get attention, he couldn’t have picked a better target than Jane Austen. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any other woman whose disparagement would have garnered so much notice. In a word-association game, if I say “woman author,” odds are the first name in your head would be that of the creator of Pride and Prejudice. It’s worth noting that when I tried to talk to one of my nonliterary friends about Naipaul’s remarks, his immediate response was “Who’s V.S. Naipaul?” Nobody ever says, “Who’s Jane Austen?”

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It isn't just that Naipul is an ass, which he is, it is that he is second rate, which is worse.

Tere
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