Weekend Bookblogging: They're Not Sequels Edition


Welcome to Weekend Bookblogging! There is lots of news this week, especially since we were too lazy and distracted with domestic crises to post on Friday, and lots more came in over the weekend. Thanks to all the Alert Janeites who have sent us news.

The Times lists the ten best second novels ever, and Pride and Prejudice was included on the list, but we object to the use of the word “sequel” (though it’s only used in the subhead, and therefore probably inserted by an overeager editor rather than the author of the piece). Remember, they’re not sequels.

A while back we posted about an academic kerfuffle in which Kathryn Sutherland accused Claire Harman, author of Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, of borrowing uncredited ideas from Sutherland’s book Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood. Ms. Harman has answered the accusations in a letter to The Bookseller.

But Harman stated: “This is not a matter of identity theft or intellectual property at all, but of a potent professional jealousy that can extend even into the realm of the unwritten.”

Ouch! The Telegraph has a positive review of Jane’s Fame:

Harman unpicks the cultural and sexual fantasies at the heart of Jane fandom with great skill, placing each of various editions, films and fanclubs in their historical context (for example, Austen’s appeal to a certain kind of Englishness guaranteed the success of the wartime film of Pride and Prejudice, starring Laurence Olivier, aka King Henry V, as Darcy). But the trajectory of Jane’s fame has been by no means steady or predictable: in 1866, a request appeared in Notes and Queries for the name of the author of a book mentioned by Macaulay: Mansfield Park.

John Sutherland has also reviewed the book in the Times, and we have to get out the spork for this one.

Nowadays, to go boldly into areas into that even Harman is occasionally reluctant to probe, we are much interested in a different pachyderm in the Austen room. What, over the past couple of months, has been the most looked-at item of Austeniana? With A-level exams coming up, you might guess the Penguin Classics Pride and Prejudice, or possibly the DVD of that delightful skit Lost in Austen.

Wrong. It’s Porn and Penetration: a “knockoff”, as the porn and penetration trade calls them. Mr Google will find it for you in seconds, flagging the tens of thousands of hits that the video has received.

What? What is the criteria for being the “most looked-at item of Austeniana” “over the past couple of months?” How can such a thing be accurately measured, let alone indexed by Google? Though in a whimsical moment we have been known to anthropomorphize the Googlebot, we have never suspected it of such prurient interests.

In the background of the narratives, of course, the prurient ear can usually detect some suspicious rustling. “Coltish” Lydia Bennet, we surmise, is bonking everything in a red coat in the garrison town of Meryton.

We are fairly certain that Jane Austen never used such an adjective as “coltish” to describe Lydia or any of her characters, so why is it in quotation marks?

But was she little Miss Prim? There was controversy in the TLS recently about the passage in Mansfield Park in which Mary Crawford recalls: “Certainly, my home at my uncle’s brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.”

The surface pun is on “Vices” but it’s hard to think that a woman as smart as Jane Austen, with brothers serving in the rum-bum-and-lash 18th-century Navy, with a father who (despite his dog collar) was broad-minded enough to let his daughters read Tom Jones, would be unaware of the other, deeper, dirtier double entendre.

We’re actually on board with this one. We know others disagree.

Andrew Davies, Ang Lee and – most graphically – Patricia Rozema, in the film of Mansfield Park, insert the explicit sex they believe that Austen left implicit. In Lee’s Sense and Sensibility it is made crystal clear that Marianne has surrendered her pearl-without-price to lustful Wickham.

WHAT? Wickham? Is somebody writing fan fiction again?

Did Frank Churchill seduce Jane Fairfax at Weymouth? Modern readers think so.

And they have the tinfoil hats to prove it!

Austen is to fiction what Elizabeth I is to the throne of England: a virgin queen. But did she not have sexual longings?

Does it matter?

The film Becoming Jane ponders that question with much heaving of the bosom. Why did Jane remain single: to preserve herself for fiction?

As we do with many such questions, we employ Occam’s Razor: the simplest answer is most often correct. In this case, she probably never got married because she never met a man she wanted to marry who also wanted to marry her.

Or was she Sapphic by preference?

Because any woman who remains single must be a lesbian. Of course, these days lesbians can get married, too, at least in some places, so there goes that argument. Single straight chicks and single lesbians all can be equally pathetic spinsters.

Why, after her sister’s death, did Cassandra burn all their private papers?

Because they were private. Duh.

Jane and Cassandra shared a double bed. And what else?

Um, no they didn’t. They shared a bedroom, but each had her own bed. Sorry if we wrecked your fantasy, dude.

Harman suggests that the name should have one of those superscript “TM” marks attached to it.

Gee, nobody’s ever suggested that before (she said in tones of deep irony). Oh, we’re tired of this now. On to other things.

This sounds like an interesting book (and one that we would like to read!): Literature and Dance in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Jane Austen to the New Woman by Cheryl A. Wilson, assistant professor of English, Indiana University.

Wilson includes analyses of works by Austen, Thackeray, Eliot and Trollope, as well as material from 19th-century dance manuals to show how dance provided a vehicle through which writers could convey social commentary and cultural critique on issues such as gender, social mobility and nationalism.

And finally, the release date approaches for P&P and Zombies, and many Janeites have written to tell us they have found it for sale in some Borders stores. The co-author, Seth Grahame-Smith, was interviewed on NPR (and there’s an excerpt from the book at the link) and it received a positive review from the San Luis Obispo Tribune and a not-so-positive review from Suite101.com.