Analects of the Core: Austen on stupid men (and some Austeniana)

Thank Heaven! I am going to-morrow where I shall find a man who has not one agreeable quality, who has neither manner nor sense to recommend him. Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing, after all.

– Elizabeth Bennet, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Volume II, Chapter iv, 151-152 (Penguin Classics edition)

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Jane Austen’s P&P is studied in the spring semester of the second-tear Core Humanities. Relatedly, here are some snippets from recent writing in the trade and literary press concerning Austen and her legacy:

  1. When V.S. Naipaul picked a fight with women writers in an interview earlier this year, citing a “narrow view of the world” as the source of female inferiority, he scorned Jane Austen for “her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world,” declaring that no woman, not even Austen, was his literary equal. “A woman,” he said, “is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing.” Women at best produce “feminine tosh.” [from the beginning of Audrey Bilger’s double review, “Just Like a Woman” (5 Sept 2011) for the Los Angeles Review of Books.]

  2. Bilger, writing about Rachel M. Brownstein’s new book, Why Jane Austen?: “For Brownstein, emphasizing Austen’s role as a woman limits any sense of artistic greatness. ‘Readers who excoriate (or, indeed, adore) her too narrowly imagine Jane as first-and-foremost a woman, a writer of romances, and/or a moralizing goody-two-shoes,’ she declares. ‘She was in fact much more than that.’ All the same, she has fun taking potshots at Naipaul’s virility, declaring, ‘If [his] 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’.”

  3. … and Bilger quoting from William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education: “The fact is that Jane Austen is not only a great writer, she’s a great writer because she was a woman, because instead of going out hunting and shooting and conquering India like the men of her time, she was sitting in a drawing room, watching how people interacted, listening to how they talk. She’s the greatest writer of dialogue in the language, after Shakespeare, because she listened to how people talked.”

  4. Bilger: “In Deresiewicz’s approach, feminism coexists with humanism. We can see gender difference as a cultural reality without writing off women as less than fully human.” With this notion, the Core concurs.

  5. “Wanting Austen for the Enlightenment means more than dissociating Austen from Aristotle. It also involved saving her from the film industry and its “romantic” reconstructions of her novels.” [James A. Harris in his essay “Morals of the Story” for the Times Literary Supplement No. 5657, 2 September 2011]

  6. “Yes, her heroines always get the guy. But Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice isn’t the only man who unexpectedly falls in love. Male readers, including some severe critics, have read and reread her novels for 200 years. Though Mark Twain complained, ‘Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone,’ we need to count him, too, as a repeat reader. Maybe he returned to it because it’s a novel that runs like a Rolls-Royce, as Austen scholar Richard Jenkyns has suggested.” [Carol Adams, rejecting the notion that Austen’s novels are “chick lit”, in her article “Five myths about Jane Austen” for The Washington Post, 14 July 2011]

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