Piling On


The dust is still settling from Claire Harman’s academic tussle with Kathryn Sutherland, and now another Austen scholar has claimed that in her new book Ms. Harman used his work without proper citation.

In a letter to Times Higher Education, Peter Sabor, Canada research chair in 18th-century studies at McGill University, Montreal, said that Ms Harman had attended a symposium in 2006 at which he presented a paper on Austen’s marginalia in Oliver Goldsmith’s History of England.

In the same year, he edited an edition of Austen’s Juvenilia, in which he covered the same ground more extensively.

Two years later, Ms Harman published a commentary piece on Austen’s Goldsmith marginalia in the TLS. In it she acknowledged Professor Sabor’s published work, but did not mention his earlier symposium paper, which was unpublished at that time.

Why is that a problem? Because Prof. Sabor later published the paper, and because of the timing, he claims it looks as though his paper is indebted to Harman’s work rather than the other way around. It’s enough to make one devote oneself entirely to fan fiction. 😉

A copy of Jane’s Fame is on its way to AustenBlog World HQ, and we’ll have a review. In the meantime, we’re looking a little askance at some of the stuff online. The Independent has a review that is mostly the usual, but one bit stood out for us:

This is a fantastic compendium of absolutely everything relating to Austen, the tone calm and impartial despite severe provocation. It is another irony that so many people’s enthusiasm for Austen’s writing is actually an enthusiasm for the images of screen. A couple of years ago, the director of the Austen Festival in Bath sent, under a pseudonym and the title “First Impressions”, the opening chapters of Pride and Prejudice “with proper nouns slightly adjusted” to 18 British publishers, all of whom rejected them. Only one recognized the hoax.

It’s hard to tell if that incident was referred to in the book or if the reviewer is bringing it up on her own, but we hope it wasn’t referenced in such terms in the book. As we wrote at the time, it’s possible (and indeed probable) that the publishers queried did recognize the synopsis but preferred, for whatever reason, to not refer to it in their responses, or never even got as far in the query as to read it. We would be surprised and chagrined if Ms. Harman failed to recognize that in her book. But again, we don’t know if that is actually in the book.

The Daily Fail Mail has an article/review that needs a bit of sporking, however.

Jane Austen fans are ghastly, aren’t they? With their frilly bonnets, their re-enactments and their parades – exchanging recipes for horrible Regency biscuits, tittering over centuries-old snobberies and going on cooing day trips to clutter up the backstreets of Bath. Anyone who self-identifies as a ‘Janeite’, if I have any say, will be first up against the wall come the revolution.

Oh, keep talking, smarty pants. We’ve got a Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness. Let’s see who has who up against the wall.

The most pernicious effect of the Austen cult – encouraged by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s sentimental 1870 memoir – is to have created the image of Austen as a pious, ‘sweet and genteel’ spinster for whom writing was a sort of extension of needlepoint.

We feel the need to defend young Edward (who was actually in his seventies when he wrote the Memoir, but we persist on thinking of him as Jane’s young nephew). He wrote the Memoir because he thought those who had actually known and remembered Jane Austen should write something about her before their memories were lost forever. If he attempted to protect her reputation, at least by his lights, he did it out of affection. As we wrote above, he was elderly. He didn’t write the book for the money (and indeed used profits from the book to purchase a memorial plaque for his aunt in Winchester Cathedral, and we think the memorial window too but aren’t sure about that). Fanny’s son, Lord Brabourne, on the other hand, who edited the first collection of Jane’s letters, most of which were bequeathed to his mother as a remembrance and never meant to be published, we’re almost certain was in it for the money. We hasten to add we only suspect this because after publishing the letters, he sold them off. But everybody slags on poor Edward, whose main crime was being well-meaning.

And as far as preserving Jane Austen as a “biscuit-tin icon,” we point at the most recent films as much more at fault for that. Longtime Gentle Readers will remember an episode in which those complaining about how the Editrix and her minions were all meanies said that Jane Austen would be shocked! shocked! by our sarcasm! and would have hated us using it about her beautiful, beautiful work! Which bewildering yet hilarious misunderstanding was later shown to have very possibly been engendered by a featurette on the P&P2005 DVD.

When I was a lad, there used to be – and probably still are – a line of books called the Critical Heritage series. They collected the things that had been written about a given writer, from contemporary reviews or mentions in diaries and letters, to the present day, letting you chart the course of a literary reputation. These are very interesting and useful for students.

That’s roughly what Harman’s doing here in narrative form.

Actually, there are two books in the Critical Heritage series on Jane Austen, both edited by Brian Southam. We own the second one; would love to own the first but it is rare and insanely expensive, unfortunately. Take that, Mr. Janeites-Only-Watch-Movies-And-I’m-So-Much-Smarter-Than-They-Are-About-Jane-Austen. *dusts off hands* We think our work here is done.