Around the Web

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Many of you no doubt have already seen these posts, but we found them interesting and wanted to share!

Deborah Yaffe sent us this article and begged us to turn the Cluebat upon it; we planned to oblige, but with one thing and another, never got to it; and then Deborah did it herself, so thoroughly we found it impossible to add much more.

(Though we will add: in what benighted universe are William Collins and John Thorpe leading men?)

A couple of days ago, Austen paraliterature author Alexa Adams posted on Facebook that an Individual posted (on an old post and not really on-topic, which around here we call spam) a comment about his book claiming that Jane Austen’s novels were really written by…wait for it…Eliza de Feuillide. Such a claim is completely silly, of course, but Janine Barchas wrote a guest post for the Jane Austen in Vermont blog reviewing the book and refuting the Individual’s claims. It’s quite thorough. Go check it out.

The Amorous Effects of Brass

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First, the good news, which no doubt most of our Gentle Readers have heard by now: Jane Austen will be on the UK ten-pound note beginning in 2017!

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We experienced a mix of emotions upon hearing the news, from delight at this recognition of our favorite author, to a giggle over the delicious irony of Jane Austen on money. (We mentioned that on Twitter and had W.H. Auden’s lines about Austen quoted back to us:

You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle-class
Describe the amorous effects of ‘brass’,
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society.

Precisely.) However, in general delight predominated. Even some general snarkiness on the Internet–from complaints about the use of one of the portraits “inspired” by Cassandra’a watercolor, which we suspect was chosen because it is in the public domain, to the choice of the quote to appear on the bill, which is a quote from Caroline Bingley that sounds good out of context like that, but in reality, as so much of Austen does, means nearly the opposite of what it appears to mean. (We would have preferred “I write only for Fame and without any view to pecuniary Emolument.” But no one would know that was sarcastic, either, so maybe not.) We wear on a nearly daily basis a bracelet with a quotation from Pride and Prejudice, “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.” It sounds terribly inspiring and profound; but of course it is from Elizabeth’s letter to Mrs. Gardiner to announce her engagement to Mr. Darcy, and she is being very silly and Lizzy-like, not at all profound. We like the bracelet the better for it having a completely out-of-context quotation. It makes us enjoy the whole thing so much more! So let’s all just smile over the quotation, and keep our little joke to ourselves; it seems so much more Jane Austenish to us. And of course there were complaints from the Great Unwashed (that is, the non-Janeites) that Herself shouldn’t have been chosen at all; to which we say, considering how much money Austen brings to the UK in tourist dollars and filmmaking budgets, we can think of few who deserve it more.

Sadly, while Janeiteville was celebrating, some more sinister things were going on. The woman who headed the campaign to have Jane Austen (and more women in general) pictured on British money, Caroline Criado-Perez, received rape threats via Twitter from idiots who are too witless to even make a proper Austen villain. Fortunately, a man has been arrested in connection with the threats, and Twitter is taking steps to make it easier to report such abuse.

We suspect the excitement will die down somewhat until the new bills are finally circulated in 2017. Overall, we think this is a good thing, for Jane Austen and for Janeiteville. JANE AUSTEN MONEY!!! Ten thousand a year! We shall go distracted!

Edwardian is the new Victorian

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Cross-posted to This Delightful Habit of Journaling.

Perusing an article on a new YA rewrite of S&S, we were a bit startled to read this sentence:

[book title*] is a contemporary retelling of another, equally amazing classic tale by the Edwardian authoress

Huh? What Edwardian authoress would that be?

Jane Austen. She meant Jane Austen.

You know, we’re hardened now to hearing Jane Austen referred to as Victorian. We still roll our eyes, but it no longer makes us twitch, because we’ve heard and read and seen it so many times. After all, Queen Victoria had a really long reign. We’ve even heard Jane referred to as Old English, which just makes us laugh. But really? Edwardian? Is this what the overwhelming popularity of Downton Abbey has brought us to? We hope we don’t have to remind our Gentle Readers that there’s about 100 years between Austen’s novels and the adventures of the Crawleys et al. We hope this article isn’t a test balloon of sorts for a whole new flight of historical ignorance: “Edwardian” replacing “Victorian” as a catchall term for “old-timey.” It’s like they learned a new word from reading articles about the costumes in DA or something and started throwing it around like they know what it means.

inigo-montoya

:: dresses up in Edwardian cricket whites, takes up Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness, smashes dopey story over the fence. What do you mean they don’t do that in cricket? ::

*book title redacted because the book and its author are not responsible for these shenanigans, and we respectfully request that our Gentle Readers keep that in mind.

A Fool and His Money

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…will buy an unattributed portrait of Jane Austen, presumably. There’s one currently for sale on eBay, purveyor of fine art.

Offered here is a rare and important early 19th century oil painting which by tradition depicts the English novelist Jane AUSTEN (1775 – 1817.)

Whose tradition would that be?

While shawls were another popular fashion item of the day, it is worth noting that Jane Austen’s father died in 1905. If this shawl is taken as a token of mourning, it makes Austen 29 in this portrait – perfectly plausible.

Oh, certainly.

The writing implement in the portrait is a “quill holder” or “quill slip holder” of the type popular in the first decade of the 19th century and which represents the evolution between the feather quill pen and the later widespread popularity of the fountain pen.

But wait…why would she have been painted with a pen when she didn’t publish her first book until 1811? Huh huh huh? (We don’t think Jane was so egocentric as to consider her purchased-but-unpublished Susan sufficient reason to puff herself off as a Published Author. Standards are lower in this degenerate age, of course.)

This painting is not just a beautiful and sensitive work of art but potentially a historical object of the very highest importance and value.

And you can get it for the low-low price of £280, if you bid quickly! Make haste, as the auction ends tonight! It’s a good thing the seller didn’t take it to Sotheby’s or Christie’s, where bidding for such an item might start in the thousands. Get a rare, valuable work of art for less than the cost of an iPad!

So the questions, as we see it, are:

1. Is this truly a portrait of Jane Austen?

2. If so, how in the name of Harris Bigg-Wither did it end up in Glasgow?

Point and laugh, Gentle Readers. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

ETA: AND SOLD for £805.86. We suppose as a period work, it might be worth that much; but we hope that some eejit doesn’t start promoting this all over the place as The Lost Portrait of Jane Austen. We’ve got quite enough of that already.

Context

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In the comments to the post about the trailer for the new modern-set P&P, we hinted at some background that readers asked us to share. We thought the confirming pages had disappeared from the Internet, but it turns out they hadn’t, so we decided to go forward. We post this information so that our Gentle Readers can form their own conclusions about the production.

In February 2010, we heard from an Alert Reader who has provided us with excellent information about upcoming films, casting, etc. in the past. She wanted to let us know about a new modern-set P&P. She seemed excited about it, but after inspecting the links, we had serious doubts.

The first link was to the P&P2005 blog, which had an interview with the writer/director/producer. The blogger claimed that she had been introduced to this individual by Keira Knightley. Yes, that Keira Knightley. Allegedly the interaction had happened via a Twitter account allegedly belonging to Miss Knightley, which claims it is “MY ONLY TWITTER!” References to wonderful fans, coy allusions to “Ru,” etc. lend an air of verisimilitude; however, in 2009 Miss Knightley claimed in an interview that she hated social networking in general and Twitter, Facebook, and email in particular. Another thing to be noted is that most official celebrity Twitter accounts are verified by Twitter. For instance, see Tom Hanks’ Twitter account, and note the white-on-blue check mark next to his name. If one hovers one’s mouse over this checkmark, it indicates that the account is verified to belong to the actual celebrity. All celebrities we have followed on Twitter have this verification. Keira’s “MY ONLY TWITTER!” has no such check mark.

According to the blog post, “Keira” told the blogger that she had read a great new script written by a friend of hers for a modern-set P&P. She offered to perform the introductions via e-mail. The introductions were performed and resulted in a spate of blog posts on the P&P2005 blog interviewing various cast members and generally publicizing the movie.

We did post about the film on AustenBlog at the time, as word got out around the Internets and we had several people write to us in a high state of excitement, thinking this was a legitimate production. However, the whole thing with the “Keira Knightley” Twitter account, and the involvement with it by the producer/writer/director of the film, and the fact that the Twitter account had been allowed to lie fallow from April 2010 until very recently (conveniently, perhaps, just in time to help publicize this new film)–well, if we were a nasty cynical suspicious type of person (who, us?), we might think that’s more than just a coincidence. And if there is some connection there, we’re sure our Gentle Readers will give this production the attention it deserves.

Naipaulcalypse

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Since we’re a little slow with updating the blog these days, no doubt most of our Gentle Readers are already aware of the current brouhaha created by novelist V.S. Naipaul with his comments about women writers in general and Jane Austen in particular. The media is all over it.

In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul, who has been described as the “greatest living writer of English prose”, was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: “I don’t think so.” Of Austen he said he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world”.

He felt that women writers were “quite different”. He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”

We do not think he deserves the compliment of rational opposition. Others disagree with us, however. Jennifer Egan, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award (and who kicked up a bit of a dust last week for dissing chick lit), said:

He is such a kook. It makes me laugh because he sounds like such a cranky old man. It’s the classic case of how prejudice works – you feel like you see it confirmed all over the world but the prejudice is tainting your perception everywhere you look.

I would put money on the fact that he has not read Jane Austen in 10 years. She’s the most cool, mathematical writer to come along, male or female. It’s a word no one who’s familiar with her work would call her. . . . To condemn these comments gives them more weight, endows them with more authority. They just sound like one’s man cranky, outmoded point of view.

NPR’s blog The Two-Way has some other interesting comments from authors and critics (thanks to Alert Janeite Maria for the link).

At Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote of the kerfluffle:

The wisest observers of human nature are the ones who can illuminate without bias. They’re the ones who can opine that “Your feelings may be the strongest but … ours are the most tender” without assuming that strength automatically has a greater value than tenderness. And to write them off would be to miss out on the genius of a Jane Austen, an author who knew that when it comes to men and women, “I will not allow books to prove anything.”

We were amused by this quiz in the Guardian, which asks you to choose whether the quoted passages are written by a man or a woman. (We actually recognized one of them, and got that right.)

Jane Austen is Never Done

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A blogger and author has declared that Jane Austen’s books should not be “forced upon” students studying English literature.

We are not going to jump all over this author, or even beat her into a virtually bloody pulp with the Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness. Perhaps a few love taps, but not a beating. We do not expect everyone to love Jane Austen’s novels. However, we do want to refute a few points in this particular blog post, and point out why it is indeed important to study Jane Austen’s novels as part of an English literature curriculum.

Teachers teach Jane Austen because she is easy to teach, familiar, and non-controversial.

There is probably a note of truth in that. Jane Austen’s books do not usually appear on banned books lists. However, there is a very good historical reason to study Austen in an overview of Western literature. In our high-school AP English class back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, we studied everything from Greek tragedies to 20th-century dystopian novels, and the progression of the development of literature–when well-taught–is as fascinating as the literature itself. This development is more from a technical point of view. You see a progression from the Greek chorus and deus ex machina through the epistolary novels of Richardson through the dark Victorian melodrama of Joyce and Eliot through the experimentation of Faulkner and spare language of Hemingway and social commentary of Fitzgerald and Orwell–the progression and development of literature, each generation building on the other, is easy to see.*

So where does Jane Austen fit into this? She fits into the slot between the 18th-century novelists–Richardson, Burney, Radcliffe–and the Victorians–Eliot, James. That’s a fairly large jump. Plainly stated, the development of modern conventions of plotting and narration and characterization and the general construction of what we think of as a novel were pioneered in the novels of Jane Austen. She was heavily influenced by the novels she read–we know Austen was a big fan of Richardson and Burney, and she could not have written such an affectionately perfect parody of Radcliffe as Northanger Abbey unless she enjoyed The Mysteries of Udolpho–and yet she improved upon them. Our book group just last week met to discuss Burney’s Evelina, which we all enjoyed immensely, and yet we all noticed that there were all these minor characters and subplots that, while hilarious, did nothing to move the plot along–something that a modern author would be told to remove from her manuscript. Jane Austen built hilarious minor characters into her books, and even a few funny subplots, but they all serve to move the main plot. This is a technical improvement that is crucial to the development of the novel, and is certainly worthy of the attention even of a modern teenager who has important texting to tend to before deigning to read a book.

But generation after generation of high schoolers are left with the impression that Austen’s novels are what writing should be, and it’s poisoning them. Long descriptions, endless parlor scenes, pace that drags across empty weeks and months.

Maybe she should have just left blank pages with months written on them to show the passage of time. We hear that a popular modern author that the kids like to read finds that a workable proposition.

It’s not beautiful language and astonishingly complex human relationships, as Shakespeare is.

Wait, what? Did she read the same Austen novels we did? The syntax is gorgeous and the characterizations are complex and nuanced. The latter at least is not very apparent in Austen’s predecessors. Because novels were considered something that young people should not read, heroes and heroines tended to be annoyingly and boringly perfect. (Read the first chapter of Northanger Abbey to understand how the normal teenager Catherine Morland is so very unlike a typical heroine of her time.) Austen made it okay to have a flawed hero–or heroine!–in a novel. Part of the interest of Austen’s heroes and villains is that the villains appear, at first, to be heroes, if one is accustomed to the novels of her time period: they have excellent address, they are handsome, they are everything a hero should appear to be; and the heroes have personality defects, such as snobbish pride or shyness or a compulsion to make fun of everything that amuses him; but when push comes to shove, the real hero shows his true worth. And so it is in real life. That sort of thing is normal now, but that’s because the writers learned it from…Jane Austen.

It’s ploddingly dysfunctional and does not help young writers learn their craft or young anybody learn how to communicate.

The dysfunctionality is kind of the point. In Jane Austen’s time, people could not communicate because of social restrictions. It isn’t until the happy couple becomes engaged at the end that they can communicate freely. In Austen’s society, an unbetrothed couple simply can’t communicate. There was no Dr. Phil or Oprah or Savage Love to get them in touch with their feelings. They had to suffer in silence and hope that something happened to push things along. However, people did meet and marry and learn to talk, otherwise the race would not have propagated. Plots can be built around such things, just as they can be built around modern conventions such as serial killers and police procedurals and supernatural creatures who walk among us. 😉

We find it ironic that anyone who professes herself an author can discount Jane Austen’s work so cavalierly. We’re not saying they will necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea, but Austen’s novels are an important part of the development of Western literature, and without her books, you might not be writing at all–or writing very differently.

We would love it if those who teach English literature at both the high-school and university level would weigh in on this topic. Why do you teach Jane Austen, and what do you expect your students to take away from it?

*Unfortunately in our class we skipped over the 18th century and half of the 19th entirely. Yes, we did not study Jane Austen. Yet in our education we were forced to read Wuthering Heights TWICE. (We joke. Studying Wuthering Heights is very important to developing novelists. If the story is unpleasant, the language and technical details are crucial to the development of literature.)