Maggie Robinson


Jul 14
2007
St. Jane

I think we’d all agree that Jane Austen is the godmother of the modern romance novel. Her books have never gone out of print. Not everybody has been a fan, though—I thought I’d quote some heresy to raise your hackles and heat you up!

Joseph Conrad writing to H.G. Wells: “What is all this about Jane Austen? What is there in her? What is it all about?”

Charlotte Bronte: “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.”

And Mark Twain REALLY didn’t like her: “Jane Austen? 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.”

“To me his prose is unreadable–like Jane Austin’s [sic]. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane’s. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

“I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

Yikes.

What’s your favorite Austen novel? Movie adaptation? Quote?

I’m partial to Emma (both book and movie with Gwyneth Paltrow, although the Kate Beckinsale version is good, too).And Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood extravaganza, is a hoot. The movie Becoming Jane starring Anne Hathaway (!) is due out in August. Any casting comments?

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort and to have done with all the rest. Words to live by!

How do you feel about modern authors “continuing” Pride and Prejudice with little Darcys, et al, or with Jane being a super-sleuth? I try to avoid most of those, although I recently read Austenland by Shannon Hale, which is a charming if slight novel about a Darcy-obsessed thirty-something who gets to live out her fantasy in a faux Austentonian resort, corset and all.

Or… do you think Twain is right to dis Jane?

29 comments to “St. Jane”

  1. anne
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     · July 14th, 2007 at 9:36 pm · Link

    Oh, St. Jane! Oddly, I’m not crazy about Austen. I think she’s over-rated. Pride and Prejudice needs serious editing because it loses its dramatic impulse amid too many needlessly long sentences and ancillary situations, so the story of Lizzie and Darcy often has little sense of urgency.

    I do like Sense and Sensibility, though. It’s by far my favorite Austen. Whatever her faults as a writer, she had a wonderful understanding of human nature. I think Emma Thompson did a fine, truly Oscar-worthy job of adapting S&S, but I think she could have added depth by including Willoughby’s tortured explanation to Elinor and John’s rather evil assessment of Edward taking Orders.

    By the way, my feelings about P&P the book have not diminished my feelings about P&P the movie or that fabulous mini-series with Colin Firth. CF is a Darcy to die for! and the latest P&P movie has its own charm–a thoroughly appealing abridgement of the book! The Bennet family as seen in that movie reminds me so much of when I was growing up with my own “herd!” I also like the fact that the director set it in the late 1790s, when fashion was all over the place.



  2. anne
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     · July 14th, 2007 at 9:49 pm · Link

    LOL, I just re-read what Mark Twain said he wanted to do to poor Jane! And, see? Not even Charlotte Bronte could stand her! I confess to dissing her, myself. In The Domino Effect, one of the characters is Allen Ham, a direct bastardization of Allenham, in S&S! (Oh, that is sooo bad. But, like something psychotic out of Poe, I simply could not help myself! 😉 )



  3. Janga
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     · July 14th, 2007 at 11:37 pm · Link

    Maggie, I think Jane is established enough not to be bothered by anyone who wants to dis her. Few can match her bestselling status, and I don’t know of another canonical author who can claim a following like the Janeites.

    Mark Twain’s comments about Austen make me laugh. My favorite is his saying that trying to read Austen made him feel “like a bartender entering the kingdom of heaven.” LOL! Twain, too, has his detractors.

    I am a devoted Austen fan of long standing myself. I have been teaching her novels for decades and reading and rereading them even longer, and I am still discovering bits over which to marvel. I think her language is wonderful–and wonderfully lucid when compared with her contemporaries. Persuasion is my favorite, with Pride and prejudice a close second. But I can find something to like in all six novels.



  4. anne
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     · July 15th, 2007 at 9:01 am · Link

    Ohmy. I was re-thinking Austen as I lay in bed shortly before dawn this morning. Precisely because Sense and Sensibility is such an astonishingly human book–and because Northanger Abbey, which I neglected to mention, is such a lovely send-up of Gothics–I wondered about what I perceived as the failings of Pride and Prejudice. My understanding is that P&P was actually written before S&S, though published after. I was wondering what role, if any, Jane’s editor played in refashioning the content. Didn’t he change the original title, which was “First Impressions?”



  5. RevMelinda
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     · July 15th, 2007 at 11:14 am · Link

    Of all the Austen “children” I like BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY the best. I re-read it regularly every year and constantly find myself wanting to write “v.” instead of “very” and “or similar”–always cracking myself up ridiculously.

    The book totally tickles my funnybone (or similar), and the movie is v. excellent too in a dementedly sweet way, plus has the in-joke of Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in hero/villain roles.

    Going off now to consume some caffeine units. . .



  6. Maggie Robinson
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     · July 15th, 2007 at 11:56 am · Link

    Anne, I don’t want you to lose any sleep, although I’m glad this post made you think, LOL! I confess that when I worked in a private boys’ school library (the school was closing to become an Outward Bound campus),I stole The Complete Works of Jane Austen because a) no one had ever checked it out and b)all the books were going to be tossed/”redistributed.” I still re-read it thirty years later,although I’m not quite sure where it is at the moment. I think it’s time to find it and do a quick refresher.

    RevM, it really is extraordinary the “kids” that Austen’s spawned, from “Clueless” on, isn’t it? I really enjoyed Fielding’s books, and found both BJ movies very endearing…especially the fight scenes, which slay me every time.

    Janga,I hadn’t read that Twain quote. He’s pretty cantankerous when it comes to Jane. I wish I could audit one of your classes! I think you should start a blog and give us all some points to ponder…I’m all in favor of free education!



  7. anne
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     · July 15th, 2007 at 1:02 pm · Link

    Maggie, you didn’t purloin those books, you saved them from a horrible fate! And about Twain: Wasn’t he cantankerous about EVERYONE?

    I echo your plea to Janga for a blog!

    Please, Janga? Or would it seem more like teaching at a time when you should be enjoing vacation?



  8. midwestgal
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     · July 15th, 2007 at 3:02 pm · Link

    I’m all for Janga having a teaching blog but of course, I’m only thinking of my needs, LOL. I always look forward to her insights over at the BB for EJ/JQ. Anyhow, I’m not much of a literary expert but I do know what I like and I’ve always adored Austen. I read her stuff as a young impressionable girl and even as a grown woman I still find lots of enjoyment from her works (between the TBR choices). Persuasion is my favorite. Speaking of P&P – my hubby once announced in church during a sermon of his that he was always amazed at how quickly I could get through a Jane Austen novel and he compared it to “hungering” after God’s word found in the scriptures. I about died!!! LOL! Of course, I had a lot of ladies and girls come up to me and tell me they loved Jane Austen/ P&P! haha.



  9. Lindsey
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     · July 15th, 2007 at 5:37 pm · Link

    I rave about Jane, and I go through phases of seriously obsessive interest. P&P is probably my favorite in the desert-island sense, but I think Emma is pretty much the perfect novel. The Ang Lee S&S is by far my favorite film adaptation. I also really enjoy all the Austen fanfic & metafic, though I haven’t been keeping up with it lately. And I’m seriously excited about Becoming Jane. I know the purists are all up in arms about its inaccuracies, but I love a good story – and when is Hollywood ever accurate? And I find Anne Hathaway charming.

    Yes, Janga, you need a blog – or your own online course! 🙂



  10. Anonymous
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     · July 16th, 2007 at 8:28 am · Link

    Twain says he hated Jane, but then he says “every time I read Pride & Prejudice”. Could he have been jealous?

    Bronte? She must have been jealous. Austen’s books are full of passion, just not of the overwrought melodramatic ilk.
    NancyJ



  11. Maggie Robinson
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     · July 16th, 2007 at 9:17 am · Link

    Nancy J, I think you may be on to something. Today I hope most writers are diplomatic enough not to criticize each other. Twain’s words are a bit unhinged.

    MWG—so I wasn’t being sacrilegious naming this post St. Jane, eh?

    Lindsey, I know Tessa wrote Austen fanfic, but I’ve never read any. I also love S & S. Hugh Grant looks so innocent.

    Janga, looks like you’ve got some fans of your own!



  12. terrio
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     · July 16th, 2007 at 10:06 am · Link

    I’m on the Janga blog bandwagon. The insight, knowledge, humor and humanity would be priceless coming from those fingertips.

    I have to admit that I have never read an Austen novel. I do own Northanger Abbey but I haven’t read it. I have seen most of the movies though. I really like the most recent version of P&P. But then there’s the mini-series which is wonderful. And S&S and Emma. It’s too hard to chose just one.

    And like Janga I agree that I doubt Jane is ruffled at all by her detractors. She gets the last laugh everytime another copy is purchased or another movie is made.



  13. MsHellion
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     · July 16th, 2007 at 1:13 pm · Link

    I love Sense & Sensibility. Colonel Brandon–God, my heart bled for him as soon as he walked on the screen. Come to me, Alan, I’ll have your babies!

    Okay, that aside, Mark Twain is hysterical.

    I haven’t actually read a Jane Austen book really; I’ve read parts. I think she was great…and I think she is our predecessor for the modern Romance. (Fanny Burney might be the actual one, but her books aren’t universal in working for modern audiences where Jane’s IS…I mean, HELLO, that’s a feat in and of itself.)

    Mr. Twain is allowed his opinion. After all, I never thought his books were all that and a box of ho-hos either…so it serves him right.



  14. MsHellion
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     · July 16th, 2007 at 1:15 pm · Link

    Isn’t Charlotte the one who wrote that crap Wuthering Heights drivel? God, I can’t stand that book. She was worse than a soap opera. If that’s what she thought constituted good writing, no wonder she hated Jane–Jane at least left some part in “reality”. Not Wuthering Heights. That was the most unreal, most unreadable… Bleck. I’ll stop.

    If it’s not Charlotte…but Emily, which it might be, I forget…it doesn’t matter. She shares the DNA with her…



  15. MsHellion
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     · July 16th, 2007 at 1:16 pm · Link

    1790s? Is that why the clothes looked wrong to me? I’m glad that was on purpose!



  16. beverley
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     · July 16th, 2007 at 6:29 pm · Link

    I really have tried to read Jane Austen but I just can’t find my way through one book. Alas, I’m one of those.



  17. elyssany
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     · July 16th, 2007 at 7:26 pm · Link

    Pride and Prejudice and Emma are my favorites. Love them. Mark Twain cracks me up… in many ways, wasn’t he the Southern Jane Austen? LOL

    Loved the Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood version and Bridget Jones’ movies. But seriously I could rewatch Emma over and over again—I think I saw it like four times in the theatre. I just love stories where the hero and heroine are in love with each other for the whole novel but don’t say it until the falling action. Love it!



  18. elyssany
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     · July 16th, 2007 at 8:19 pm · Link

    Oh and I also read Austenland this past weekend and really enjoyed it, too. It was a nice, quicky easy read.



  19. Maggie Robinson
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     · July 16th, 2007 at 9:07 pm · Link

    Hellion, you’re hilarious. I kept rereading Wuthering Heights trying to make sense of it when I was in high school…even when I got older, I can safely say I just didn’t get it. There was a movie (1992 w/ Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes)that was pretty good tho, just for the sets and scenery alone.

    Beverley and Terrio, it’s okay! You’re in good company.I’ll get you a Jane Austen action figure for Christmas!

    Ely, I thought Austenland was cute, but it just didn’t feel like a whole book, y’know? I keep thinking it will be adapted into a movie, tho.



  20. elyssany
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     · July 16th, 2007 at 11:19 pm · Link

    Maggie, I know what you mean. I wished that she had developed the hero a bit better or at least had more interaction with the hero. It would make for a cute movie.

    Oh and there’s this book coming out next month I believe called: Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure (Paperback)—-

    (from amazon.com): Bringing together Jane Austen’s most beloved characters and storylines-a clever, playful, interactive, and highly entertaining approach to the wildly popular novels in which you, the reader, decide the outcome.
    Name: Elizabeth Bennet. Mission: To marry both prudently and for love. How? It’s entirely up to the reader.

    The journey begins in Pride and Prejudice but quickly takes off on a whimsical Austen adventure of the reader’s own creation. A series of choices leads the reader into the plots and romances of Austen’s other works. Choosing to walk home from Netherfield Hall means falling into Sense and Sensibility and the infatuating spell of Mr. Willoughby. Accepting an invitation to Bath leads to Northanger Abbey and the beguiling Henry Tilney. And just where will Emma’s Mr. Knightley fit in to the quest for a worthy husband? It’s all up to the reader.

    A labyrinth of love and lies, scandals and scoundrels, misfortunes and marriages, Lost in Austen will delight and challenge any Austen lover.



  21. Janga
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     · July 17th, 2007 at 2:04 pm · Link

    Thanks for the kind words everyone, but I don’t think I will be blogging as a regular anytime soon. I try to curb my tendency to pontificate; blogging might encourage it. Also, if I were blogging, I wouldn’t have time to read and comment on MRMR and other blogs I love. 🙂

    Ely, Lost in Austen sounds like great fun.



  22. Tessa Dare
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     · July 17th, 2007 at 3:42 pm · Link

    Well, you know I must have MY part in this conversation!

    Saint Jane is an object of veneration for me. I’d like to brain Mark Twain with his own femur for saying what he did. My fave book is, of course, P&P, followed closely by Emma. I love all the movie adaptations for different reasons.

    As for sequels … well as a sometime JA fanfic writer, I must say I heartily endorse them. Anyone who wants links to JA fanfic – the nice and the naughty – can email me! (But I won’t tell you my JAFF pen name)



  23. irisheyes
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     · July 17th, 2007 at 4:06 pm · Link

    I’m afraid I’m with those who have not read Jane Austen, but seen all of the movie adaptations. I do own several of her books and keep meaning to get around to them but never do. 🙁

    I love the movies and love the stories they tell. I’m afraid you’ll have to fight me for Col. Brandon, though, Hellion! I know this sounds sacrilegious to all those Jane followers out there, but I really wouldn’t have minded a good old fashioned hollywood sequel with Alan and Kate!



  24. BernardL
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     · July 17th, 2007 at 5:47 pm · Link

    I confess to having been exposed to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility through English Literature class in college. I would not have picked them up in the library by choice. Having admitted that, reading her works was a pleasure. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of the two I read. As for Bronte and Twain, I liked Austen’s Pride and Prejudice better than anything I ever read of theirs. While Twain’s berating of Austen is very funny, me thinks he doth protest too much. 🙂



  25. Maggie Robinson
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     · July 17th, 2007 at 6:05 pm · Link

    Ely, that book sounds weirdly interesting. My kids used to love stuff like that…maybe it’s okay for grown-ups now too!

    Janga, you’re excused. 🙂

    Bernardl, I wish I’d read Austen in college. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much about what I read, and I was an English major! Germinal and Magic Mountain are still kicking around somewhere, though.

    Irish, you also qualify for the Jane Austen action figure!

    Tessa—the next Jane Austen!!! But being the present Tessa Dare is good enough, I think.



  26. anne
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     · July 17th, 2007 at 8:33 pm · Link

    Oh, I prefer Austen over Bronte any day! Considering Charlotte’s own work, I’m not surprised at her assessment of Austen. Each of the B’s were absorbed by his or her own, distinctive, dark night of the soul. For me, reading their works–especially Wuthering Heights–is probably the closest thing in reality to being sucked on by a Dementor. It leaves me cold, cheerless, and feeling like I’ll never be happy again–LOL!

    NancyJ, maybe you’re right, and Bronte was tremendously jealous of Austen! I’ve no idea what Twain’s problem was, though, especially as he supposedly had this odd attraction to young girls, and Austen is loaded with marvelous insights about the female psyche.



  27. Keira Soleore
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     · July 18th, 2007 at 2:29 am · Link

    “Pride & Prejudice,” the 2005 movie, the final scene notwithstanding.

    I was very disappointed when I first heard that they’d cast Hathaway in “Becoming Jane.” But of course I’m going to go see the movie.

    As far as Austen-like movies go, I liked “Clueless” best.

    I’m not sure what it was that Twain was so upset about about Jane. I get the feeling that it went far beyond her prose.

    I always look forward to whatever Janga has to say wherever she says it. I support all the calls for Janga pontification specials (online classes, blogs, what-have-yous).



  28. Maggie Robinson
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     · July 18th, 2007 at 10:11 am · Link

    Anne, love the Dementor comment! Yes, we’re talking Bleak Brontes.

    Keira, I totally loved Clueless, LOL, especially the death by liposuction throwaway line. That ensures I’ll keep my fat forever. I can’t see me dragging my husband to Becoming Jane, but maybe I’ll catch it on DVD.



  29. Stephanie
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     · July 18th, 2007 at 5:02 pm · Link

    Gawd how I love JA. And gawd how I can’t stand either of the Brontes. Both of them. Amen Hellion! Their books were some of the hardest for me to get through in HS because I thought they were soooo awful. That being said, I read P&P over 14 times in 3 years starting in the 4th grade…

    Looooved the BBC P&P and I’m a big fan of the BJ movies as well as Clueless. And Emma is fabulous. I don’t know if I’ve seen Northanger Abbey but I need to because I really enjoyed the book. Wasn’t the Bollywood P&P with Aishwarya Rai? So fun!