Skip to main content

View Diary: Books Go Boom!   Jane Austen's 'Emma' (271 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  There's a whole book to be written about Austen's (5+ / 0-)

    realism: in what respects does she capture the grain of life as we experience it, and in what ways invent (and borrow) methods of representing what we already have coded in our minds?  

    Twain himself might have said that Austen's world was a "dainty" picture, and not the real thing. He lived in Hannibal, Missouri until he was 18, in a culture steeped in chauvinism, and ruggedness.

    Just take the feminine part out of the equation, and look at Twain's and Austen's styles. If you've read Huckleberry Finn, you can see the kind of envelope Twain was pushing, and the parts of realism he was mapping out for the first time. He was running away from most of what Austen was known for. I'm sure he missed much of the authenticity and integrity in Austen; but to Twain himself, Austen must have felt very artificial. Her world had no room for his experiments.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 12:53:18 PM PST

    [ Parent ]

    •  Her world, was, literally, a different world. (5+ / 0-)

      Whatever he was running away from, it wasn't genteel poverty of the unmarried woman a half-generation earlier in a different country.

      •  He didn't have to run away from the old country; (6+ / 0-)

        though I like the image of Twain in service, slipping out the back door of the manor in sundress and bonnet, and scarpering for the woods.

        I just meant in terms of literary style and subject, he was reacting against what he found too polite and artificial in the books of his time.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 04:12:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Without researching it, (6+ / 0-)

          I think you're probably correct that Twain was reacting against the norms...

          although really, by then hadn't the Brontes written their torpid stuff?

          Why single out the greatest novelist of all time and ignore the fervid Bronte shit?

          I don't get it: not from Twain at any rate.

          Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

          by Youffraita on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 01:43:13 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  This, and later comment re. unreliable narrators, (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            poco, wonderful world, Youffraita, suka

            do make me curious. I'll have to find a good overview, showing the development of the Novel in the 18th and 19th century. I've gained so much respect for Austen and Dickens, now that I see how much ground they covered, how many ways they pushed the Novel forward, and how widely all their innovations spread.

            Perhaps Austen was much more popular? I know Wuthering Heights is the great mainstream 19th century classic that hardly sold at the time (Moby Dick is canonical now, but not mainstream). Then again, Emma only sold 1500 copies in its first 17 years.

            I don't have many facts and numbers. But I'd guess Twain attacked Austen partly because she impressed him, so her "flaws" irked him; and mostly because her work stands for the more polite books of his time, which were far more numerous and popular than the wilder Wuthering Heights type.

            "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

            by Brecht on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 01:28:11 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I know I can't stand Wuthering Heights, despite (6+ / 0-)

              recognizing its virtuosity--the dialectal narrative voices, intermingled with the prissy Lockwood, the very interesting background given to Heathcliff, (Malay, maybe?) the amazingly violently plotted story.... Anyway, not because of my dislike, but WH is not quite the great mainstream 19th century classic (according to Eagleton's reading of Leavis and the Scrutiny group, Emily Bronte was the one half of the 2 and 1/2 women allowed into the canon--the other 2 women being Austen and Eliot.) I think the greats are Dickens, Eliot, Thackeray, Trollope (not my rankings, but rather a survey of current literary and critical tastes.)

              But in response to Youffraita, I am going to pipe up in support of Villette by Charlotte Bronte. I have been ardent in my praise for this novel quite a few times, even in a few comments in these series. Like Austen, Bronte makes a serious attempt to school the reader in the proper way to read her novel; where Austen does it in the way of a distant family friend: "Here's where you are doing it wrong, but beyond pointing it out, I don't really care whether you get it or not, if you choose to be a stupid chuckle-head, that is your problem, not mine." However, Bronte does it like an exasperated professor: "Look how many examples I have to give to make you understand that you are not following the nuances here--you are not reading carefully or with proper attention and this is not going to help you later."  

              Love Austen and Bronte both, but I find the attention given to Jane Eyre unfortunate, given that Villette is so much better. Just as if Mansfield Park were considered to be Austen's best work and most widely known and praised.

              It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

              by poco on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 03:10:11 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  In junior high school, (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Brecht, poco, suka, RiveroftheWest

                I only read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. And loved Jane and hated Heathcliff.

                Okay, so I read them on my own, not for a class, and I was, what, twelve or thirteen, so not exactly a scholar.

                Never heard of the book you rec so highly. But I despise didactic prose: which is to say, the professorial narrator admonishing the reader.

                If I liked that sort of thing, I'd like Ayn Rand and C.S. Lewis and all manner of horrible writers.

                Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

                by Youffraita on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 01:04:17 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Oh dear--this is going too much into the (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  RiveroftheWest, Brecht

                  right margin, for my taste:-))

                  First of all, I should apologise for my description of the narrative voice--in no way is it remotely didactic or professorial--that is solely on my own stupid attempt to personalise something that should not be. Lucy Snow, the narrator draws our attention over and over again to how unreliable she is, but, invariably we, as readers, get suckered in, over and over again, because we have conventional mind-sets, or prefer easy solutions.

                  No way is Villette's narrator like Fielding in Tom Jones (though I like Fielding) intruding obviously in our reading. And yes, i dislike Rand and Lewis for the reasons you cite.

                  If you liked Jane Eyre, there is no way in hell you wouldn't love Villette.  

                  I don't want to sound like a one person cheer-leader for Villette, precisely because it seems so unknown, though it seems like that on DKos.

                  Here is Virginia Woolf:

                  Virginia Woolf felt that Villette was Bronte's "finest novel," and speaking about Bronte, wrote that "All her force, and it is the more tremendous for being constricted, goes into the assertion, 'I love, I hate, I suffer.'"
                  Not gonna link to it, 'cause the site contains spoilers.

                  Here is George Eliot:

                  "Villette! Villette! Have you read it?" exclaimed George Eliot when Charlotte Brontë's final novel appeared in 1853. "It is a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre. There is something almost preternatural in its power.

                  Here is Ishiguro:

                  By Charlotte Bronté

                  Almost everything I know about first-person narration comes from this novel. Its plot lacks the clean lines of Jane Eyre, but this is the richer, more daring achievement.

                  Read more:

                  It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

                  by poco on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 04:46:45 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

              •  You know how some texts are brand new and strange, (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Youffraita, poco, suka, RiveroftheWest

                but then they hit the canon so hard that literature gets reshaped around them? A century later they seem perfectly normal to readers. That hasn't happened to Moby Dick, because it's essentially a misshapen, fantastical work. But that was what I meant about Wuthering Heights: people see it as the kind of text on a high school syllabus, not as its alien self. But I think it's reputation may look mainstream, while the book is still mighty eccentric.

                I need to reread it. I'm sure there's far more there, then when I read it in my early 20s. Also Villette, based on your and other friends' recommendations.

                For sales in the mid-1800s, Dickens, Eliot, Thackeray and Trollope are the four I'd have named, probably. Collins and Gaskell also sold very well, as did Bulwer-Lytton before them, and Scott before him. And then Hardy and some others in the late 1800s. As best I can retrieve from my magpie memory.

                Nice observation on how Austen and Bronte teach us to read their books. I like that, and them for it.

                "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                by Brecht on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 01:14:32 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site