Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jane Austen critiqued

Doing some more BlogPosting practice,
and borrowing some more quotes re: Jane Austen.

* Why Jane Austen? Well, because she'd be noticed on TWoP if she'd ever bother to set up her own blog anywhere! ('Just kidding' for you literal types.) JA is here, because (a) I need to practice-blog, (b) her series (on PBS) got me interested, and (c) I found unique comments about her penned by notable authors, that I thought others might like to see. (via Wikipedia)

Negative views of Austen have been notable,
with severe detractors frequently accusing her
writing of being unliterary and middle-brow.

Charlotte Brontë criticized the narrow scope of Austen's fiction:
"Anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well-bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as 'outré' or extravagant. She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well.

There is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy, in the painting. She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him with nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood… What sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study: but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through,
what is the unseen seat of life and the sentient target of death - this Miss Austen ignores… Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete and rather insensible (not senseless) woman, if this is heresy - I cannot help it."

Mark Twain's reaction was also negative:
" 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."
"When I take up one of Jane Austen's books,... such as Pride and Prejudice, I feel like a barkeeper entering the kingdom of heaven. I know what his sensation would be and his private comments. He would not find the place to his taste, and he would probably say so."

Rudyard Kipling felt differently, going so far as to write the short story "The Janeites" about a group of soldiers who were also Austen fans, as well as two poems praising "England's Jane" and providing her with posthumous true love.

Austen's literary strength lies in the delineation of character, especially of women, by delicate touches arising out of the most natural and everyday incidents in the life of the middle and upper classes, from which her subjects are generally taken. Her characters, though of quite ordinary types, are drawn with such firmness and precision and with such significant detail as to keep their individuality
intact through their entire development, and they are uncoloured by her own personality. Her view of life seems largely genial, with a strong dash of gentle but keen irony. Some contemporary readers may find the world she describes, in which people's chief concern is securing advantageous marriages, unliberated and disquieting.

During her time, options were limited, and both women and men often married for financial considerations. Female writers worked within the similarly narrow genre of romance. Part of Austen's reputation rests on how well she integrates observations on the human condition within a convincing love story. Much of the tension in her
novels arises from balancing financial necessity against other concerns: love, friendship, honor and self-respect. It is also important to point out that, at the time, romance novels were seen as a clever modern variation on the knightly romances of medieval times; these were damsels engaged in adventure, seeking their fortunes and carrying out quests.

FYI: There are two museums dedicated to Jane Austen.

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath is a public museum located in a Georgian House in Gay Street, just a few doors down the street from number 25 where Austen stayed in 1805. And the Jane Austen's House Museum is located in Chawton cottage, in Hampshire, where Austen lived from 1809 to 1817.

1 comment: