Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jane Austen’s Tough Love

Book Beast

What explains our enduring fascination with the novels of Jane Austen? It’s her tough-minded take on life and love, says Rachel M. Brownstein.

Jane Austen, it seems, is everywhere. Nobel prizewinning novelist V.S. Naipaul has slammed her for the sin of sentimentality. A film adaptation of bestselling mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is in the works. And if that parody weren’t enough, a pornographic send-up of the same Austen novel (Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts) is slated for July. All of which raises the question of why the writing of this long-dead novelist continues to provoke such a wide range of critical and creative reactions. The answer has in large part to do with the enduring appeal of her complex, tough-minded view of love, life, and human nature.

Surely some Austen disputation is driven by the technological imperative to express one’s opinions; the great maw of the Internet must be fed with “news,” and declarations of one’s personal preferences (“likes”) are taken, these days, for both information and conversation. Then there is the suspicion among those who harbor the itch to say something shocking that hordes of Austen cultists are out there poised at their keyboards, prepared to defend their darling at a moment’s provocation. The well-washed legions of those who idolize Austen can be counted on to be horrified—preferably publicly—by both impious naysayers and the ever-more-inventive dirtying-up of the decorous romantic stories.

In Naipaul’s case, the motive appears to have been pretend-impish daring, the childish boast, more and less explicit, of having the nerve (the balls) to criticize Saint Jane. If Naipaul’s pronouncement that no woman writer can be considered his equal is merely the sad senescent squawk of a geezer, his grandiose comparison of himself to Austen is a silly show of faux-boyish daring. Austen, schmaltzy? Never in her short life did she write anything nearly as sentimental as Naipaul’s great youthful novel, A House for Mr. Biswas. As for his excoriation of “feminine tosh” (the marvelously delicate phrase stinks of gentility!), it’s a childish effort to shock, much like the forthcoming pornographic Pride and Prejudice.

Full article at Book Beast.

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