Cautionary note: if you truly love Jane Austen books just be forewarned. You may not want to read further… I have a bit of a complicated opinion about her writing and characters… Well, I warned you.
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. Because he considered himself better than they? Not at all. They would not be to his taste—that is all.
My apologies, but this has nothing to do with knitting.
Apparently Jane Austen fans are “getting their knickers” in a bunch over the recent film Becoming Jane because it alludes that the inspirational spark for her genius came from a man. When I read this article I remembered a funny clip from the show Red Dwarf from the episode “Beyond a Joke” (where the Characters go to “Pride and Prejudice Land’ in “Jane Austen World”):
Okay, so Becoming Jane is probably based on very tenuous information about Austen’s life, but it’s just a movie. And who says that we women can’t have male muses? Or the inspiration for the soul of art is gender-based?! I’m not a Jane Austen fan. Maybe I’m not really a woman and I’m certainly NOT a connoisseur of literature, but for me her books basically serve as a substitute for Nyquil.* I know there’ll be hell to pay somewhere/someday for me posting my opinion on Jane Austen.
Yes, Austen may have been a pioneer of her time at portraying women as vibrant and noble characters in literature, as pointed out quite eloquently by this blogger, and I appreciate that so many people love her books, but I’ve always felt like an outsider to my sex because I don’t particularly enjoy the superficial flirting and drama that drives the plot in these stories. I’m basically a low-context woman and the coquetries and indirect actions of some of Austen’s characters just irritate me. I know that Austen was probably a good observer of the human machinations and intricacies of relationships of her day, but I just suspect that women (and even men) at times get so involved in the whole ‘foreplay’ and ‘titillation’ of the heroines’ flirting and teasing of their suitors… and become entwined with the whole ‘idea’ of romance that they forget about the complications and human difficulties that come with love. Take the good with the bad when it comes to love, and realize that there’s more than the hunt and chase.
I read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I started reading Emma, but I just couldn’t get past the first three chapters without drifting off to sleep. About Pride and Prejudice, I think the only character that I can relate to in the book is the sensible and frank Mr. Bennet who openly admits that his youngest daughters are dingbats. Frankly, and again I may be speaking heresy, but Elizabeth Bennet completely irritates me as a character. I think the only thing I found admirable about her was that she walked several miles to see her ill sister and apparently didn’t care that the house guests at the Bingley’s manor mocked her for her muddy and travel-stained clothing. Still, the hubris she wallows in through most of the book is too much for me to stand. As far as I’m concerned, both she and Mr. Darcy deserve each other because they are perhaps the most irritating couple ever portrayed in literature. I’ve often thought that it would be interesting if someone wrote and epilogue of what happened after they actually get together. But perhaps maybe I’m only looking at the story with the eyes of a person who grew up in the 20th century.
Still, it irks me that a woman who perhaps never consummated any love relationship has basically authored what for many has become the Western standard for romantic love. I haven’t read all of her books, but did Austen actually write about what happens in a romantic relationship after it’s flowered then matured? Sometimes seeing the fruits of relationships that have lasted the test of time is just as rewarding as the excitement that comes from the beginning.
Actually, as I write this, thinking about Austen’s novels and reading some of the comments posted on her writing (from people who both hate** and love Jane Austen) has made me want to pick up the Emma one more time and give it yet another try. I want to try to appreciate her portrait of women at the time as courageous characters characters and perhaps even find evidence of Austen’s own defiance towards the conventions of her time. I just might need a little caffeine.
* But I do enjoy a good Gothic tale. Mary Shelly and Isak Dinesen all the way. Also, I’m more of a Russian Literature fan (Doestoevsky and Chekov in particular).
**Apparently Mark Twain had strong opinions about Jane Austen as a writer
Though this article hints that perhaps he was a closet fan and conflicted between his irritation by the conventions in her writings and character portrayals and his genuine appreciation for her ability to capture problems with human nature.
Other interesting links I found:
- More of Mark Twain’s Quotes on Jane Austen
- Jane Austen’s Work Rejected by Modern Publishers
- Jane Austen’s Guide to Dating (Frightening… though I might be piqued to read it for the horror factor)
- Review of Jane Austen’s Guide to Dating
- Why Jane Austen Never Married (maybe because she wouldn’t be able to continue writing…if I was born during this time I’d go straight to a nunnery because I’d have a better chance of surviving)
- Jane Austen – The Movie (funny article about watching Austen’s works on film rather than reading them)
- alt.jane_austen.die.die.die – Wired article (humorous) in which the writer berates Jane Austen culture and makes in my opinion a somewhat tenuous connection between Riverdance, The Church of England, etc. As the writer notes Austen embodies the fear to move forward: ” Buried deep in the heart of every middlebrow British man and woman is a desperate desire for the modern world to go away.” Though I would argue that they’re not the only ones who suffer from the longing for nostalgia.