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Book Cover: Emma by Jane Austen
Is Jane Austen really all that? Is she one of the greatest writers ever?

A lot of readers think so. In June I wrote a diary about Women Novelists. The poll listed 15 of the greatest Women Novelists before 1950. Out of 83 kossacks, 36 voted for Austen as the greatest of them all.

But plenty of readers disagree. They say Jane Austen only writes about one thing: comfortable middle-class women, chatting in their drawing-rooms, going on picnics, and finally getting happily married.

Let's take a closer look at Austen, and see what she excels at writing about; and what she fails to capture, that you must look for in other books.

Jane Austen wrote six mature novels, and each has its champions. I rate Emma (1816) one of the 40 greatest novels ever and, in many respects, the first fully realized modern novel. But Austen herself was unsure how Emma would go over. She feared that "to those readers who have preferred Pride and Prejudice it will appear inferior in wit, and to those who have preferred Mansfield Park very inferior in good sense." What's beyond dispute is, Emma is Austen's largest novel, and Emma Woodhouse is Austen's largest character.

I haven't the heart to tell you the story of Emma. Jane Austen has the heart in every respect: sensitivity, passion, and a deep, reliable moral compass. Austen is principled, perceptive, funny, forgiving, and overflowing with humanity. She plots Emma's story with care, and allows it to unfold organically, just as it should. So (re-) read the book.

I'm not sure Emma is inferior in wit to Pride and Prejudice, but it has less obvious jokes. The punchlines don't smack you, they lie in juxtapositions and the subtleties of relationships and perspectives. Several characters will be talking, and each of them knows some things, but misses others, or believes different things that aren't true. People misrepresent (or just don't know) themselves, and misconstrue each other's expressions and intentions. It takes careful attention to follow all that is explicit, implicit, and misdirected. Austen is extremely astute at juggling three or four perspectives at once. If you can follow all the balls, it's dazzling.

Austen is a queen of the ironic. Unlike Alanis Morissette, Austen knows the meaning of the word, and precisely how to apply it. At the simplest level, there are many speeches where a character diagnoses someone else, without grasping that they've also nailed themself. For example, Emma cries, "Oh! I know there is not a better creature in the world: but you must allow, that what is good and what is ridiculous are most unfortunately blended in her."

That, at least, is where Emma begins the book. Highbury is a village full of people who are unable or unwilling to look beyond their own cares and concerns. The most blinkered is Emma's father, who projects all his own feelings and frailties onto everyone around him. The least blinkered, clearest vision belongs to George Knightley, who is the deeper conscience of the book. The plot includes love and marriage, but the real engine of progress is how Emma (and, to a lesser extent, her friends) learns, deepens, and grows up. At first we like Emma, but laugh at her; then we're alternately pleased and exasperated at her triumphs and her painful errors of judgment. As for the growing up, you should discover that for yourself, in Emma.

When it comes to Romance, Austen wrote the book. In the 1700s, the novel had as much romance in it as anything else. Fielding, Richardson, and dozens of authors in England and France were spinning plots of love. But Austen crystallized the genre, with so many gifts, and such a knack for shaping fiction to fit both nature and the heart that, in the plotting, style and characterization of Romance, she seems to jump a century ahead of her peers. Austen was writing two whole centuries ago; it's startling how easy, how clear and flowing, her books are to a modern sensibility. She's been copied by thousands of authors, indeed by the whole genre of Romance. Outside the genre, the ways she handles love have been borrowed for the romantic components in 90% of modern novels.

Austen is a queen of Romance, of psychology, of wit, and of style. Her ownership of English is larger than I comprehend, or can explain. She did amazing things with voice, with the handling of consciousness: with the narrator, the heroine, and every angle in between them. Anyone who reads her can see how exactly she expresses herself, with the perfect words and phrases to make her meaning transparent and lucid. You never get stuck or confused in Austen's prose. Though, as I said, you may skim past without penetrating all the deeper levels in her tale. There is something so inviting, and so solid, in her prose. Between her mind and her heart, Jane Austen strikes me as exceptionally sane.

If Austen's all that, why do so many readers call her boring and shallow? What parts of writing and life does she leave out of her books? I can see two areas she misses.

First, Austen is all about the gentle middle, and leaves out all kinds of wild extremity. She sticks to towns and villages - not London, but not too far away, either. No Scotland, let alone continental Europe or beyond. She pays attention to the middle classes - we see very little of the truly poor or the really rich or powerful. She likes things small and peaceful. When she wrote, England was embroiled in wars on the continent, men were marching off, and coming back covered in glory or death. Yet these earth-shattering events hardly figure in her novels. Socially, geographically, thematically, she sticks to love and society in everyday settings.

Second, Austen is a very feminine writer. That's a huge word with many implications. All I mean in this case is, she writes about the subjects we now make chick flicks out of, and she avoids the brutal masculine subjects that appealed to Hemingway and Norman Mailer. When it comes to Romance, all the subtleties of relationships, psychology - and what is admirable, or trustworthy, or dangerous in our characters: she gets all that to the nth degree. If you find those intricacies fascinating, you will love Jane Austen. If you want wars, bullfights and murders, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Even in her psychology, Austen prefers the gentle middle. Dante and Dostoevsky are penetrating in their visions, but they're interested in heroes and lunatics, in angels and demons. They look in the dark, twisted corners of human nature, and they explore the brilliant illumination of heavenly grace. Austen won't go very far up, down, or out of the everyday. There is a coziness to her world: bad things happen, but you don't have to worry about a sympathetic main character getting hacked to pieces. She's no George R. R. Martin.

As Jane Austen put it herself:

What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?
I know this is a simplistic analysis: of just what Austen's missing and, even more, of what feminine and masculine writing are about. I hope you will tell me how I'm right, or wrong; and what you think on all these subjects.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 05:34 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.


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  •  Tip Jar & (58+ / 0-)

    Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:

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

    by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 05:01:54 PM PST

  •  Coming Soon to Books Go Boom! (33+ / 0-)

    Mrs. Dalloway


    Their Eyes Were Watching God

    Song of Solomon

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

    by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 05:37:13 PM PST

  •  Wow Brecht, this is amazing! (26+ / 0-)

    I am not sure where I should begin--this is just such a rich tapestry--which thread should I choose to pull?

    Love your analysis. I love Emma and Emma, despite her inadvertent cruelty, especially to Harriet, but also to Miss Bates and even to Jane Fairfax.

    It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

    by poco on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 05:53:43 PM PST

    •  We were warned from page one, fourth paragraph: (25+ / 0-)
      The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.
      I found chapter 7 so funny, and so painful, at once. Harriet has just received a letter of proposal from Robert Martin. She asks Emma what she should do. Emma makes false assumptions; she cajoles, browbeats, and manipulates Harriet in several ways; then Emma congratulates herself for letting Harriet make her own decision. Austen's wit draws blood.

      Thanks for your compliment. There are many threads; there is so much in Austen. After Emma cut Miss Bates, I found Knightley's rebuke, and Emma's reflection, particularly fulfilling. The epiphanies and growth eventually redeem all the stumbling and cruelty that went before.

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

      by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 06:32:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm in love with Mr. Knightley (7+ / 0-)

      even though he loves Emma, in him you can see an incipient progressive.  He walks everywhere; he's industrious in a time when people preferred to be among the idle rich; he is unfailingly good and generous and perceptive.

      He notices, too, the mistakes that Emma makes with Harriet, Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax.  But he notices, too, Emma's devotion to and patience with her father, her generosity to the poor, the fact that she is not vain about her looks despite being very pretty, and the fact that Emma does eventually admit her mistakes and attempt to correct them.

      by chloris creator on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 06:16:40 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree. Mr. Knightley is her best foil; I think (5+ / 0-)

        she'd never have grown into her fine maturity, with out him to  challenge and adore her. If only there were Knightleys for every Emma (and Frank) in the world.

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

        by Brecht on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 12:20:39 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  And Mr. Knightley examines his own (5+ / 0-)

          motives and behavior and tries to correct his own defects.  He takes Mrs. Weston's advice and does not interfere with Emma's relationship with Harriet Smith, even though he sees it is not wise.  Because of his affection for Emma (and Robert Martin), he makes an effort to get to know Harriet better (of course this is a little misleading).

          Of course, even Mr. Knightley has his blind spots - he is irrationally jealous of Frank (though he is right to suspect him, as Emma is right to suspect Jane Fairfax) and he does not realize that Harriet has a crush on him.

          That is wonderful about Jane Austen; none of her characters is perfect; they all have their flaws; they are so realistic!

          by chloris creator on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 12:28:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Well, I love Austen and I haven't every "studied" (26+ / 0-)

    her, so my thoughts are generally my own.

    I agree that her language is amazing and she paints delightful and often quite devastating portraits of people in her novels. They generally seem to avoid cliche or cardboard one-sidedness; often heros and heroines are clearly flawed and often can't really overcome their flaws readily or even ever.

    The one novel in which I find the characters the least enjoyable is Mansfield Park: Edmund is a prig and Fanny is a wimp. :-) It's very very preachy. It still has its enjoyable moments, and the Misses Bertram are certainly enjoyable. In that book, the "bad" characters are the most interesting.

    I love the beginning of Sanditon and I think it would have been wonderful had it been finished. Characters of minor folly and minor virtue get painted but there is no chance for their development or resolution.

    It's odd to me that a critique that she isn't exploring issues outside her own sphere is taken seriously. Are you kidding? She came from a particular social stratum, she had minor romance in her life, she lived through some serious financial hardships, illness and the folly of family members herself. Why on earth would she be writing novels of war or industry or urban poverty, or exposing some injustice in journalistic fashion like Normal Mailer?

    It isn't so much that she "avoids" brutal subjects: other than as a witness to their impact, she has no firsthand experience of them.

    I generally have a lower tolerance of "mannism" in writing: DH Lawrence, Henry Miller, Hemingway, stuff of that ilk. That isn't to say I don't enjoy male authors because I absolutely do. But sometimes the "masculinity" of the style and content has nowhere to resonate within my interests or experience.

    Lady Susan is hilarious as a fairly over-the-top epistolary story, and I think gives clues to the sort of thing she lampoons more gently elsewhere, both in literature as well as in life.

    •  Exactly. I was going to comment that Austen (28+ / 0-)

      wrote about what she knew. And that was the gentle middle.

      What sets her work apart was how clearly she was able to see what she knew. Below the surface, above it, around it, she was able to see all of the wonder of the everyday. Clearly and lovingly.

      •  Yet you can see hints of her awareness (9+ / 0-)

        of the rest of the world and its problems.

        Austen does not flaunt it, but she mentions slavery, for example, very negatively (even Mrs. Elton is against it).  

        Austen is especially aware of the challenges faced by women and the few options available to them.  From Pride & Prejudice:

        Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.
        Even though Maria Rushworth and Henry Crawford are equally guilty in their affair in Mansfield Park, Austen recognizes that they are not equally punished:
        That punishment, the public punishment of disgrace, should in a just measure attend his share of the offence is, we know, not one of the barriers which society gives to virtue.
        In Persuasion there is a lovely passage which shows how women's voices have been silenced:
        Captain Harville: "...I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman's inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman's fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men."

        "Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."

        "But how shall we prove anything?"

        "We never shall. We never can expect to prove any thing upon such a point. It is a difference of opinion which does not admit of proof. We each begin, probably, with a little bias towards our own sex; and upon that bias build every circumstance in favour of it which has occurred within our own circle; many of which circumstances (perhaps those very cases which strike us the most) may be precisely such as cannot be brought forward without betraying a confidence, or in some respect saying what should not be said."

        Despite this, Austen makes it clear that she still values the men in her life.  She is full of love and even tolerance for the most flawed among us.  As Mr. Knightley thinks about Emma, "faultless despite her faults."

        by chloris creator on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 06:42:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Austen is remarkably sanguine; her faith in virtue (6+ / 0-)

          romance and happiness is medicinal to us, her readers. She sees how universally we are flawed, and loves almost all humanity anyway. Shakespeare shared this insight and faith.

          You're way ahead of me, on unpacking Austen. I saw your comment at bottom - but I'd already discovered your book, after reading this comment. I was intrigued by your knowledge and opinions, checked your diaries to see what you'd written on books, opened So Many White Queens Means No Jam, and discovered your Highbury Murders there. Kudos.

          Without the research you've done, without even reading every Austen, I feel mostly in the dark. I can infer parts of Austen's own views, but she generally expresses them obliquely. Thanks for your quotes here; all you say seems sound.

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

          by Brecht on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 12:35:50 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  The defense of Fanny is that she was raised in a (19+ / 0-)

      subservient position, and would have just taken it. "They generally seem to avoid cliche or cardboard one-sidedness" - yes, Austen has a great instinct for what's natural and authentic. I enjoyed Mansfield Park, though it lacks the effervescence of other Austens. I felt that Fanny did have spark, but mostly in her consciousness, not her actions. The book had a bit more darkness and danger in it.

      The critique of Austen cuts both ways. I think a lot of men get bored of Austen, because they want adventure and heroism. But I bet some of them are emotionally shallow, and can't even see a fraction of the depth and heart in Austen. She paints her perfect ivory miniatures, and all they see are fiddly little doodles.

      For myself, I'm more curious to what extent she was trapped in conventional moral frames, and how far she really saw beyond polite English society. But that's a huge and tricky subject, which I've only just started to consider. I'm sure there are already books on it.

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

      by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 06:58:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Brecht: (12+ / 0-)

      what badscience said.

      Thanks, badscience!

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

      by Youffraita on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 10:21:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wonderful analysis, Brecht. (23+ / 0-)

    I love Austen.  I know she thought that people might not like Emma, the character, and it's extraordinary that we do, given that she's, at one level, a meddling, scandal-spreading, snob. Yet she's absolutely lovable.

    And the other characters!  Mrs. Elton alone would do any writer proud, not to mention Mr. Woodhouse, the very complex Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, and the Bateses.

    Have you seen Clueless?  One of the best adaptations of a novel I've ever seen.

    I must admit I'm not crazy about Mansfield Park, which reads as though Austen had a toothache throughout the writing of it.

  •  Wonderful essay, Brecht! (17+ / 0-)

    I have this itch now to take down my Austen from the bookshelf (yes, she is not yet a member of my digital collection) and lose myself again in her special world. Problem would be deciding where to start. Normally it would be with Emma, but I just read that about six months ago. Maybe Mansfield Place. Haven't visited there in years. Or Lady Susan, that has been even longer.

  •  I do think Emma and P&P are absolutely (22+ / 0-)

    brilliant and unbelievably rich in terms of what you can mine out of them.

    But i also love Northanger Abbey for the way it simultaneously embraces and sends up the gothic novel: embracing the real gothic sexism of the period and sending up (lovingly) Catherine Morland's heightened teenage response.


    It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

    by poco on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 06:18:42 PM PST

  •  I love both Emma and Pride and Prejudice... (20+ / 0-)

    ... but I love Persuasion even more.  My favorite novel (albeit possibly tied with Dostoevsky's The Idiot). Emma was my first Austen love (around age 20), however.  I cringed every time it was clear she was going to make a phenomenal mistake.  I think I even shouted (to the book) -- "Enma, don't do it. ;~}

  •  good diary. you came pretty close in your (19+ / 0-)

    analysis & i think jane would be pleased by your measured approbation :)

    as was commented upthread, austen didn't write about the napoleonic wars b/c she didn't have firsthand knowledge of them, even tho she had 2 brothers in the royal navy at the time. she stuck to what she knew best, & that was the gentry class to which her family belonged. she preferred to stay away from writing about the dark side of human nature b/c she said she didn't care for morbidity, & that's why her novels are usually lighthearted & have happy endings, with the possible exception of persuasion).

  •  She wrote what she knew. (20+ / 0-)

    The Royal Navy plays a part in Persuasion. She had two brothers who rose to Flag rank in that service and no doubt were "mined" for character details. Beyond that, she never cruised the Spanish Main or felt the need to go husband hunting in India. Her household and village tales nevertheless pull me in. A generation later, Dickens visited London slums and rural poverty, He could be endearing, brutal and hilarious, but none of his characters are quite as believable or loveable as Emma.

    If one of Austen's brothers had been blessed with her writing skills and joined them to his experiences at sea, Patrick O'Brien would have been no more than a charming travel writer.

    I share your admiration for Austen's ability to keep all those balls in the air. Her use of subtext and misdirection under dialogue is a wonder.

    I started with nothing and still have most of it left. - Seasick Steve

    by ruleoflaw on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 07:30:45 PM PST

    •  Patrick O'Brian (11+ / 0-)

      was not charming, but a bad person who abandoned his first family after a child was born with a serious disability (she died a few years later). I remember wanting to find out more about him after reading Master and Commander.

      •  O'Brien did some of bad things. (13+ / 0-)

        He is not the first or last great writer to behave badly. Some have atoned, some have not.

        Anne Sexton was a serial adulteress but her poetry is incredibly good.

        Hemingway was a loudmouthed braggart who abandoned the entire human race when he put a shotgun in his mouth. I've been afflicted with both trout-fishing and PTSD, but I could never combine the two with such stark power and acuity as Papa did in Big Two-Hearted River.

        Mark Twain volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army in defense of slavery, but grew out of that rather quickly. He went on to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn wherein he created the first truly human literary portrayal of an African-American.

        I don't know if O'Brien ever made it up to his first wife or if he even felt a single pang of regret. I hope he did what he could in the way of repentance. However dickish POB may have been in his personal relationships, it doesn't alter the fact that The Golden Ocean is one of the best books I've ever read, fiction or non-fiction.

        It's easy for us to accuse, condemn or forgive people we've never met. I'll give the Dalai Lama a pass, even if he did stiff his caddy, Carl Spackler for the tip.

        I started with nothing and still have most of it left. - Seasick Steve

        by ruleoflaw on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 09:09:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Bad people can make great art. I can't deny that (13+ / 0-)

          Chinatown is a brilliant and powerful movie, even though Polanski did a truly wretched thing. Perhaps he gets some extenuation, for having lived through hell as a child.

          The main question is whether we can enjoy that art, once we know a monster created it.

          There is another possible stunting with novels, where we prefer an author with wide and mature awareness: are they such a small or broken human being that they can't write deep, convincing characters. But, again, twisted writers (Celine, Mishima) may find shards of brilliance, and make great art in that small space.

          And writers may get inspired, and reach beyond the petty lives they lead: As Milan Kundera said, every great book is smarter than its author.

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

          by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 09:58:05 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Agreed that one must generally (13+ / 0-)

          separate the artist from the art. Artists behaving badly? LOL: that's part of the artistry: an ego the size of the moon. You almost have to have one, in order to actually achieve anything, b/c for the most part you are going to work your butt off for years with little to no recognition.

          There are some great artists, in all fields, who are NOT like that, but...great art seems to spring also from neuroses, almost as a way of the artist working through their neuroses, and of course there will be some acting out in that. Also selfishness -- that ego, again.

          Of course I could be wrong, but that's how it seems to me.

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

          by Youffraita on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 10:03:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Most great artists have a ruthless dedication: (14+ / 0-)

            they're determined to put their work ahead of the relationships, entanglements and hassles of every day; and they're ruthless in their self-editing, because the final product is worth all the sacrifices. And I've noticed that most great rock bands have at least one captain, who brings that ruthlessness to piloting the band's career.

            And I also agree about the neuroses - at least, that art is a great place to put your craziness, if you have too much of it.

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

            by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 10:35:55 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  But how far does this go? (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RiveroftheWest, Brecht, suka

              Do we give great artists a pass if they beat their spouses, their children? Polanski had a terrible time as a child, however, many people do and don't become rapists.

              It's one thing to have a bad attitude, entirely another to cause actual damage. I would never tell someone whether or not to support an artist based on his/hers behavior, obviously that is a personal decision, but making the excuse that anything is allowed because art elevates brings only one word to mind: bullshit.


          •  I've pretty much made it a policy (8+ / 0-)

            never to meet anyone whose art I admire. My dad worked for NBC back in the day, and hearing story after story about jerk after jerk made me conclude very young that the artist and the art were two separate things.

            But what you say about the necessary ego is true: no normal humble person could force themselves to slog through years of practice/writing/work on the strength of a maybe.

            Maybe the huge ego is the norm for humanity, and us ordinary nobodies have a lot of work to do!

            "You can observe a lot just by watching." ~ Yogi Berra

            by dandy lion on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 01:08:02 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  If "huge ego is the norm for humanity", we may (6+ / 0-)

              have a short future before us. But we United States really are exceptional in our humanity, at least.

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

              by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 01:37:19 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  No, what I meant was (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              suka, Brecht, RiveroftheWest

              the norm for successful artists is the huge ego.

              Well, combined with the drive to achieve great art: that's hugely important also.

              Driven artists: and all great ones are driven, have no doubt: are driven by some great heartbreak or other trauma in their lives. Probably there's an exception in a couple of cases, but...this generalization is generally true.

              It takes a lot of trauma to create a Van Gogh, or a Picasso.

              Ya know?

              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 01:22:50 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  A lot of great art comes out of neuroses, trauma & (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

                heartbreak - but I don't think those are the engines of art. After all, there are a couple billion broken or damaged souls on earth, and most of them won't produce exceptional art.

                The drive comes more from that huge ego, the hunger to carve their visions across the face of eternity. Deep nightmares can feed into those visions - but for the absolute artist, every speck of their personality and their past will feed into those visions. The consume all they ever touched, and transform it into art.

                But Jung may have disagreed with me, when he said the place you've been most wounded is the place where you have the most to give.

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

                by Brecht on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 12:56:14 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I remember something (4+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Brecht, suka, RiveroftheWest, poco

                  it was maybe a movie or maybe a book: too long ago to even know how to Google it.

                  But someone said something (about having a normal middle-class life or something like that) and....

                  (drum roll)

                  The other person said, "You must have had a wonderful childhood" (or something like that) and

                  I thought: there, that's it: that's the filmmaker or writer pointing out the essential hurt that drives the artist.

                  Because -- make no mistake about this -- all true artists are indeed driven to create. They can't NOT.

                  That huge ego, btw, is a method of self preservation. Do you know how difficult it is to succeed as a dramatist? An artist? A writer? If you don't have a huge ego, you will fold in the face of all the negativity and the years of failure.

                  I am not making this up.

                  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 12:33:24 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

              •  Speaking of trauma feeding into art, and of Austen (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Youffraita, suka, RiveroftheWest, poco
                Jane Austen employs a very psychological approach, though  whether this explains her enduring popularity in its entirety, can be substantiated and plausibly considered the subtext that elevates and distinguishes her work. She seems to be one of those who  transmuted her suffering into art. A case for this was made in 1940 by D.W. Harding in F.R. Leavis’s literary magazine, Scrutiny. His essay was entitled: “Regulated hatred: An aspect of the work of Jane Austen.” Harding argued that far from being a calmly reassuring writer, Austen offers uncomfortable insights into society, and that her novels enabled her to attain “some mode of existence for her critical attitudes.”…

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

                by Brecht on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 08:24:50 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Well, I certainly agree that (4+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Brecht, suka, RiveroftheWest, poco

                  "Austen offers uncomfortable insights into society" and would argue that that's why we still love her: it might be centuries later, but human nature hasn't changed during those centuries, has it? Not so far as I can see!

                  As for the rest of that quote, I'd have to read the whole thing and consider it in context, but for right now, I'm thinking hooey  except for the part where, yes, of course she's doing psychological drama. Yes, of course, that's why we still read her and love her. See my first graph, above:

                  Human nature hasn't changed, and she is the past master of depicting it in prose so pointed it's a stiletto.

                  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 12:44:41 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I've been reading articles on the internet, some (5+ / 0-)

                    very interesting, about D. W. Harding's influential essay.

                    Harding himself admitted that his was a biased view of Austen. But when it came out in 1940, it was the bias that everyone had been missing: everyone was seeing Austen as this polite, diffident spinster. Austen's reputation was given a huge push in this kinder, gentler direction by her nephew:

                    Austen’s posthumous fate took a dramatic turn for the better after her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, published his idealistic A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869, which emphasized Austen’s feminine contentment and propriety, her modesty about her writing, and her prioritization of domestic duties. Austen-Leigh’s book was a smashing success and ignited the first wave of what we would now call Austen mania. Claire Harmon, in Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, has argued that the memoir provided potential fans with a story they could believe about a gentle spinster author for whom they could feel affection and tenderness; without it, Austen might have remained a niche favorite cherished by those who knew her work, but she would not have become what she is today: an “infinitely exploitable global brand.” Austen-Leigh received letters from adoring readers around the world, and a rash of new biographies and editions of the novels followed. The commercialization was so intense that in 1905 a disgusted Henry James (whom many would designate Austen’s literary descendant) lambasted “the special bookselling spirit” and the “body of publishers, editors, illustrators, producers of the pleasant twaddle of magazines; who have found their ‘dear’, our dear, everybody’s dear, Jane so infinitely to their material purpose.”
                    Harding's essay in 1940 brought a paradigm shift which had a huge effect on how scholars have viewed Austen ever since. Again, he didn't find the whole truth, but he did spot a darker side of Austen that many of her fans entirely miss.

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

                    by Brecht on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 01:42:20 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  sigh. (4+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Brecht, suka, RiveroftheWest, poco

                      How can you miss the darker side? /rhetorical.

                      PandP and SandS, yeah, maybe, if you're in sixth grade.

                      But in Emma? As an adult reader? C'mon!


                      I really do need to read some more Austen, btw. Never read Persuasion, which sounds wonderful, and in one of my comments here I mis-identified the other one I need to read: Northanger Abbey. Wow. What have I been missing all these years?

                      Ya done good, Brecht. This is one of the best comment threads (not to mention your diary that started it) in years.

                      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 01:52:47 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

      •  his private life doesn't matter to me at all (9+ / 0-)

        and there's always more to it when we're dealing with such an artist

        o'brian's writing is very close to austen's, who he loved as we do

        and the series is full of the same "take" on life and the world as austen

        in case anyone here doesn't know him, he wrote i think 21 books in the series which begins with master and commander, and each one is a treasure of writing

        and his is the most masculine of worlds...

        •  "o'brian's writing is very close to austen's" (8+ / 0-)

          Never heard that before. Master and Commander was already on my TBR list - it's a little higher now.

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

          by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 06:48:59 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Every time I look at his series sitting on my (5+ / 0-)

            bookshelf I long for the chance to grab one and set sail with two of the most interesting characters on the high seas. O'Brian's writing is reminiscent of Austen's.

            I was devastated when he passed away leaving the series incomplete.

            •  I've been poking at the internet, finding shards (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Youffraita, RiveroftheWest, poco

              of insight about Austen. Harder to put down than an encyclopedia. With your interest in mysteries, and joy in Austen, I thought I'd share this comment by Keith Oatley with you:

              Here is how I see it. Pride and Prejudice is a novel about investigation, discovery, and explanation, in the social world, in the same way that Edgar Allan Poe's and Wilkie Collins's stories are about investigation, discovery, and explanation, of crimes. That is to say, Austen's plot-engine in Pride and Prejudice starts up with the question: "How can the eminently eligible Darcy have behaved so badly?" The elegance of the investigatory device is made psychologically profound, I think, by the tracing of how coming to love someone has little to do with the glance of a stranger across a room, but is itself a kind of investigation and explanation, a gradual coming to know the person. . . .

              At an Edinburgh Festival, some years ago, I heard P.D. James talk about why the detective story holds such appeal. She said that the appeal is based on a wound having been inflicted on the body of society. By sheer cerebration, the detective works out not just who caused the wound, but what kind of person this was. With the conclusion of the investigation—in the fantasy, as it were, of the detective story—the wound is healed and life can continue. Austen, it seems to me, had a comparable insight. In Pride and Prejudice she asks: "What kind of person, seemingly the very acme of gentlemanliness and eligibility, can have caused a social wound?" The wound is healed by investigation, explanation, and acknowledgement.

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

              by Brecht on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 10:34:28 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  David Copperfield has to be Dickens's largest (13+ / 0-)

      character. I've only read half his novels, but I know how much of himself and his life he poured into DC. But you're right, DC isn't "quite as believable or loveable as Emma." There is a description of DC getting sozzled, which may be funnier than anything that happens to Emma.

      Dickens was more ambitious, he attempted many more directions than Austen. It's eye-opening, when you line his novels up from Pickwick Papers on, to see how Dickens kept pushing himself and absorbing new skills. But there is far more in Dickens that is flat out false, and much more emotional manipulation of his readers. Wilde said no man with a heart could read the death-scene of Little Nell without laughing.

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

      by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 07:59:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think that's reductive (21+ / 0-)

      Female authors, in particular, seem to attract a very reductive sort of biographical criticism. This is really pernicious with Austen. She is no frightened hothouse flower, blushing in a drawing room.

      Folks need to ditch the Madwoman in the Attic frames and realize that 18th century female authors were not under pressure to hide, did not face lower chances of getting published, etc. Austen, in Northanger Abbey speaks directly of what other female authors were writing and what the pressures were. Booksellers wanted her to write a romance or a Gothic.

      She's got a strong mind, and she writes about what was in play in the novel at the time. The novel had lost its revolutionary and ideologically active position, but it was still active with regard to the newly forming middle class. This thing -- the bourgeoisie -- was absurd, and she found it absurd. She described the tensions between squirearchy and trade as they constituted the new "sensibility" of middling sorts.

      Everyone's innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 08:44:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Point conceded. (11+ / 0-)

        Game, set, match.

        I started with nothing and still have most of it left. - Seasick Steve

        by ruleoflaw on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 09:12:06 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I apologize if I caught you in the reply (14+ / 0-)

          I was venting a professional aggravation. Biographical criticism is one of my bugaboos to start with, and, generally, the stuff is on the ropes except where it comes to women authors. There is a cartoonish story of the Bronte sisters that people find endlessly fascinating -- it's awfully truthy -- that they had to hide their names, that no one would take them seriously if their sexes were known, etc.

          Well, for them it was true, but that was,
          1. Later,
          2. Class related,
          3. Due to their specific family.
          The children in that family were a mess, and the family was a distillation of the insanity of what we now think of as Victorianism. A wealthy lady of a "good" family at that time needed to hide her name, and one writing a novel that has the form of a romance would want to hide her sex to have the differences from the romance appear.

          Anyway, while biographical criticism is useful in the classroom, it's almost always apologetic in scholarship, except when it comes to female authors, where it seems like critics and fans insult the authors afresh by thinking their works can be explained by the authors' losses of men or trembly hearts. It took brains and strength to be an author then as now, and, despite the pose of ease, Austen, of all female authors, is least at ease.

          I just hope that each of us asks that our explanations of female authors are as intellectual and complicated as our explanations of male authors.  (The recent movie that wanted to make Austen's novels about her "broken heart" over missing out on The Guy seemed to be the worst of bad ideas.)

          Everyone's innocent of some crime.

          by The Geogre on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 10:15:48 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Of Austen's major works, (17+ / 0-)

    the only two I haven't yet read are Emma and Sense and Sensibility.  Thanks for your diary Brecht, I'll certainly have to put Emma on my To Read list now ;)  Thus far, Mansfield Park I would have to rate as my favourite but I feel I should give Persuasion another chance, after all Virginia Woolf rated the latter as Austen's masterpiece and I agree with her opinion with respect to George Eliot's Middlemarch: 'the only novel ever written for grown-up people.'

    As an English major, I certainly admire Austen's talent and stature.  We've discussed this before, my heart certainly lies with George Eliot.  Austen is perhaps a tad too "popular" for my taste but I suppose that's her strength as well as her weakness.  One can only commend writers like Eliot and Austen whose works are still read today, whether for school or pleasure, some two-hundred years later-- just as the songs of your namesake, Brecht, are still performed today nearly 60 years after his death--is anyone 60 years from now going to cover a Beyoncé or Kelly Clarkson tune (I purposely avoided the term song, see Der Song von Nein und Ja, aka Barbara-Song from Der Dreigroschenoper).

    I look forward to your next diaries.  I've read Woolf's Mrs Dalloway three times, one of my favourites; and I've read Djuna Barnes Nightwood twice, another personal favourite of mine, and the character of Robin is based on the artist Thelma Wood from St Louis (where I'm from); cannot wait to read your take on the good doctor, Matthew O'Connor (for short).

    The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

    by micsimov on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 07:46:57 PM PST

    •  We did have the Eliot/Austen debate, and I'm with (15+ / 0-)

      you that there's more in Eliot. But it is wonderful when something so popular and accessible also has such quality craftsmanship and deep perception, that it's worth reading more than once. Austen enlarged the novel and enriched literature.

      Woolf has great penetration and judgment herself. I want to look at that omnibus of her essays that came out a few years ago.

      Which songs of today will be played in 60 years? I feel I should know Beyoncé a little. I like MIA, but that's partly for the colorful personality. Her songs are adventurous. Radiohead will be played in 60 years: a lot to unpack there.

      Wish I had time to read Mrs. Dalloway twice before my next diary. I'd better get cracking. Looking forward to Nightwood myself.

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

      by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 08:49:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I remember trying to read Nightwood (9+ / 0-)

        many years ago. I don't remember whether I actually finished it...I suspect I didn't.

        When are you going to tackle Tender Buttons? ;-D

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

        by Youffraita on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 10:27:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I have pulled out my copy of (10+ / 0-)

        Persuasion and on the second page Austen writes: "Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot's character: vanity of person and of situation. ... Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did ..."   -- So perhaps one can say of Austen that most of her work deserves, requires even, a second reading at least.  Her style is dare I say compressed?  The major works of George Eliot require second readings (if not more) because they are so expansive, the intellectual weight and history that she puts on display demands quite the effort from the reader.

        It shall be interesting I gather to move from the subtle humour of Jane Austen to the quirkiness of Djuna Barnes; Nightwood should be read if not a few times then in doses for she demands patience from the reader; when you get used to her style (and I understand for many she is hard to read, T.S. Eliot wrote the introduction when her novel was first published in 1935) there is quite a pay-off; of all the so-called minor characters in literary fiction, Barnes' Dr. Matthew O'Connor stands apart:
        "an Irishman from the Barbary Coast (Pacific Street, San Francisco), whose interest in gynaecology had driven him half around the world."

        And while Djuna Barnes wasn't a 'great' poet, she is an accomplished poet.  I'll share my favourite:

        Love Song

        I am the woman --it is I--
        Through all my pain I suffer peace;
        Through all my peace I suffer pain;
        This insufficient agony--
        This stress of woe I cannot feel--
        These knees that cannot bend to kneel--
        A corpse that flames and cannot die--
        A candle with the wick torn through--
        These are the things from which I grew
        Into the woman whom you hate--
        She whom you loved before you knew--
        Loved, loved so much before you knew.

        All I cannot weep -- in tears,
        All I cannot pray -- in prayers,
        For it is so the wild world moves,
        And it is so that Tame Man loves.
        It is for this books fall to ruin;
        For this great houses mold and fall;
        For this the infant gown, the pall;
        For this the veil that eyes weep through,
        For this the birds go stumbling down
        Into the cycled ages where
        Their squandered plumage rends the air.
        For this each living thing that dies
        Shakes loose a soul that will arise
        Live ivory against black space--
        A quiet thing, but with a face
        Wherein a weeping mouth is built--
        A little wound where grief is spilt.

        I am the woman--even so--
        Through the years I have not swerved,
        Through the years I've altered not.
        What changes have I yet to know?
        Through what gardens must I crawl?
        How many roses yet must fall?
        How many flowers yet must blow?
        How many blossoms yet must rot?

        How many thorns must I yet bear
        Within the clinched fists of despair?
        To be again she whom you loved--
        Loved you so much, so much did care--
        Loved, loved so much, so much did care!

        The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

        by micsimov on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 08:21:47 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Poem's got magic, mystery, and a piercing aim; (6+ / 0-)

          you're making me hungry for Nightwood. And thanks for the heads up to leave enough time for swimming through that.

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

          by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 12:20:27 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  In that case, some choice words (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Brecht, RiveroftheWest, suka, Dragon5616

            from the great Dr Matthew:

            "I'm sorry to say and here to say it."

            "I wanted deep corn curls to my bum, and a womb as big as the king's kettle."

            The poem from Djuna Barnes is interesting to ponder  when you get to the fifth chapter (or the fourth?), as one of Robin's relationships unfurls.  

            As I wrote previously, the novel is based in part on Djuna Barnes' ten-year relationship with Thelma Wood.  She wrote: "Nightwood, or my life with Thelma."  Other titles she considered:  Bow Down; Anatomy of the Night; Through the Night; Night without Sleep; then "Nightwood ... one word ... like night-shade, poison and night and forest, and tough"
            (1936, 1995.  The Original Version & Related Drafts [Nightwood]. Edited with an intro. by Cheryl J. Plumb. Dalkey Archive Press.)

            The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

            by micsimov on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 01:12:29 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  I have felt bad since reading (21+ / 0-)

    about her life. It has been a long while since I read two biographies, Jane Austen: A Family Record by Austen Leigh and LeFaye; and Jane Austen by Claire Tomalin.

    so I went to wiki:

    wiki says:

    Austen was born on 16 December 1775 at Steventon rectory and publicly christened on 5 April 1776. After a few months at home, her mother placed Austen with Elizabeth Littlewood, a woman living nearby, who nursed and raised Austen for a year or eighteen months.

    In 1783, according to family tradition, Jane and Cassandra were sent to Oxford to be educated by Mrs. Ann Cawley and they moved with her to Southampton later in the year. Both girls caught typhus and Jane nearly died. Austen was subsequently educated at home, until leaving for boarding school with her sister Cassandra early in 1785. The school curriculum probably included some French, spelling, needlework, dancing and music and, perhaps, drama. By December 1786, Jane and Cassandra had returned home because the Austens could not afford to send both of their daughters to school.

    It seemed to me that her family, esp. her mother, ignored her and that her last years were in near poverty though one brother could have helped.

    I will be honest and say that I wouldn't want Jane on my case.  Being sent up by her would have been painful.  

    Of course, I loved her books as a young person and as I grew older, I understood them so much better.  I have also enjoyed the movies that were made.

    Thanks for the diary!!!

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 07:51:55 PM PST

  •  Austen demands sentence reading (14+ / 0-)

    Your poll asks why Austen, when you have Elliott, but it's only one Elliott -- Middlemarch. George Elliott changes her style from book to book, where Austen, like Pope, occupies the complete capitol of a stylistic position. If the characters are psychologically realistic and their speeches are statements in the author's performance, then Austen executes perfectly.

    Modern readers can or can't accept authors who point at the language, because they expect the language to disappear and look through it to a cinematic enactment. The reader who can enjoy Stephen King is not one who will enjoy Austen, as the one wishes you to neither hear nor count the words of the sentence in favor of a mental theater, and the other expects you to hold the words as a separate line that never disappears while the cinematic occurs with various lenses and hues ordered by the language before them.

    Those who enjoy Austen may enjoy Tristram Shandy and, in perfect circumstances, A Tale of a Tub, but those who can read Gerald's Game and think it cool will wonder why all these "words" are in the way of getting to the action.

    Since A Tale of a Tub is my favorite non-Bible book (and Smollett's Humphry Clinker is vastly underrated), I can easily say that people who think the narrative voices are in the way and the frames are distracting are better known as Philistines.

    Everyone's innocent of some crime.

    by The Geogre on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 08:39:18 PM PST

    •  "cinematic enactment" (12+ / 0-)

      You just nailed my beef with contemporary, popular fiction.  It has been corrupted by the siren song of movie rights.

      I'm arriving late to this diary and am too bleary-eyed to contribute, but I just had to chime in to say "Right On!" to your post.

      It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

      by Radiowalla on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 09:40:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  And now you're asleep, dreaming I hope of a (10+ / 0-)

        soft-focus Ivory Merchant milieu, where everyone has delightful picnics and dinner parties, banters with a circle of warm acquaintance, and ends up happily matched with their other half. A sort of clockwork paradise.

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

        by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 02:22:47 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Hey, now! (11+ / 0-)

          Cinema can replicate the medium-consciousness of fine narrative. The Merchant-Ivory stuff was an interesting Douglas Sirk-meets-Max Ophouls recall; the invisibility of the camera and fluidity and false calm was itself a statement of the camera. I actually enjoyed the non-translation adaptation of "Tristram Shandy" into a movie, because the book could never be adapted. Since the book is about fear of death and fear of inadequacy addressed through public performance, the film re-enacts it by having the actors freak out about getting "cut" from the movie and who will get to be with Scully.

          This, however, is not the Stephen King movie, for the most part. It's not the "good movie."

          I think Radiowalla is right, and, in fact, I'd argue that the novel since 1945 has been influenced more than anything by the presence of the movie. Just as painting reacted to the photograph, so the novel had to.

          Everyone's innocent of some crime.

          by The Geogre on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 05:19:39 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  A Cock and Bull story is hilarious. (9+ / 0-)

            It is also a very clever contemporary adaptation that gets to the meat of the matter, rather than simply a cinematic re-presentation. Steve Coogan "Alan Partridge" is fantastic in the title role.

            I'm really trying to give Tristram Shandy a fair go, but it's rough. I know it to be funny rather than experience it as funny. I have the ebook version, and I suspect that there are typographical aspects to the book that I am missing. I do know that it is an important novel.

          •  'Cock & Bull Story' was a remarkable filming of an (8+ / 0-)

            unfilmable book. I saw another like that a couple of years ago, Zazie dans le Metro - sort of MTV style 20 years before MTV.

            Not sure what you mean by "the medium-consciousness of fine narrative". The way Austen's narration travels between omniscience and her heroine's viewpoint?

            The larger subject here is which aspects of reality, and which kinds of storytelling, do books excel at; and which are movies better at. Lots to that. I think books have far more freedom of motion, and can enter into all sorts of awareness and representations of meaning that can't be squeezed into two visual dimensions. But I'm biased - I prefer books, and the myriad platforms they provide for my own imagination to leap from.

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

            by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 08:08:15 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Sergei Eisenstein (et al.) (11+ / 0-)

              There are things film can't do. Film cannot have metaphor. After the invention of montage, it had a unique (some theorists say) figure of its own or a method of narrative voice (other theorists) or a heightened form of symbol. Film cannot achieve stream of consciousness, because it is an objective and objectifying medium. After the invention of the subjective point of view camera in Expressionism (see, e.g. "The Last Laugh," 1928), film had the ability to re-enact a particular set of phenomena in stream of consciousness, but not to actually work linguistically or philosophically.

              Film is an event rather than a document, but it has a document associated with it, and therefore it may be studied textually. Time is the ultimate grammar of film, both because of the 24 fps speed of projection and because film must start and proceed at a sequence and speed that is consistent. Thus, film achieves its figures (i.e. figurative language) through alterations of time -- slow motion, time lapse. Film is similarly an aperture, where the wide angle of a viewer's eyes is constrained to a film frame size and shape. Thus, another form of figure comes from framing (camera angles, defying 90 degrees). Et cetera.

              Anyway, post-1945 it got too easy to film a novel. Novelists, unconsciously and without coordination, began to write things that couldn't be filmed. Stream of consciousness digs in deeply. Flashbacks multiply. Point of view narrators who are unreliable get more and more common. A novel such as Graham Swift's Last Orders is written in a way as to be hostile to the blood of film. v and Gravity's Rainbow defy the page limit of the film (a novel you want to film had better be short). Many novels go into such excruciating pain that the novels are simply commercially hostile.

              Austen, I feel, keeps us aware of the characters' values and our own part in challenging those values with her sneaking narrative voice. We know that we don't trust it, because it isn't asking for trust. We also know that we care and laugh at the characters, and if we feel angry that women are kept powerless, we also know that they're not powerless at all, except to the degree that they accept being "silly" (the word changes meaning).

              (I apologize for the length.)

              Everyone's innocent of some crime.

              by The Geogre on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 10:35:08 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  Hey! (9+ / 0-)

          I think Merchant/Ivory did a brilliant job with A Room with a View, and there is very little of soft-focus in that. One of my favorite films. Lucy Honeychurch has just the right petulance and immaturity. Daniel Day-Lewis walks the tightrope of parody and pathos with Cecil Vyse. I love all the characters, even relatively minor ones like Freddie. Of course, Freddie and George should be the couple, but there you go, not how Forster wrote it.

        •  I love me some Merchant-Ivory (9+ / 0-)

          and wish I could dream in their technicolor every night!

          Film can and does enrich literature in the same way that opera enriches literature.  If I read a book and then discover that there is a movie version, I always try to see the movie when I've done with the book.  Classical literature can make wonderful movies which are re-imaginations of the original work by new artists.  But the original classic stands on its own as a work of literature where language and structure predominate.  Hence we have the gorgeous Room With a View which lives in two separate, lovely forms.  Same for many Jane Austen or Charles Dickens works.  

          My issue with contemporary literature is the self-conscious way that much of it is written.  You can tell that the writer is jonesing for film rights, creating cinematic scenes that scream for the multi-plex.  Style and language take a back seat and the reader often feels that the novel is no more than a fleshed-out screenplay.

          Before the advent of cinema, literature was created for the reader, not the viewer.  

          It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

          by Radiowalla on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 07:43:34 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  True; these days there's a much larger audience of (7+ / 0-)

            sharp viewers than sharp readers available. Which saddens me a bit. I love the new world of rich, deep TV - but there's such a wealth of magical text to swim in, and so few olympic swimmers in training.

            I like to see a favorite book painted faithfully on the screen. But the movie adaptations that wow me tend to be the more surprising ones, where the director has grabbed a few powerful themes and images from the book and run away with them, to create a new work of their own envisioning (e.g. Apocalypse Now).

            There is a certain dumbing down, or at least flattening, when Crichton and Grisham know they can sell millions by writing screenplays in book form. Grisham even casts his characters before he writes his books, so you'll find a tall redhead heroine, because he's writing with Julia Roberts in his mind's eye.

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

            by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 12:38:03 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  My thoughts exactly. (6+ / 0-)

              Especially your point about a screen adaptation that seizes on some essential part of a book and then uses that as raw material for a new vision.   Apocalypse Now is a perfect example.  Recently, the newest version of The Great Gatsby used florid visuals which matched the novel's lush language and images ("yellow cocktail music," for example).  

              I know Crichton and Grisham are loved by many, but I can't read either of them anymore.  

              It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

              by Radiowalla on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 03:47:37 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  Eliot wrote five other novels; 'Daniel Deronda' is (12+ / 0-)

      at the very least, a flawed masterpiece.

      I've been wanting to read Smollett, as he influenced Austen, Dickens et al., and he also sounds like a lot of fun to read.

      Austen . . . expects you to hold the words as a separate line that never disappears while the cinematic occurs with various lenses and hues ordered by the language before them.
      Very nicely put. I'm not sure it's fair to call those who entirely miss this Philistines, even if you're technically correct. We live in an age of Philistines. It takes a lot of education, and a whole lot of books, to get past that. As cfk said:
      Of course, I loved her books as a young person and as I grew older, I understood them so much better.
      The more I read, the more I find in Austen. But I'm interested enough to look a lot harder than most people ever get to, these days. Partly through serendipity: my computer broke, I left it so for about two years, and in the interim I turned to novels again, and found much more there than previously.

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

      by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 09:41:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I DID qualify the insult :-) (8+ / 0-)

        There are some people who naturally gravitate toward "meta" work. As a bumbling sophomore, I met A Tale of a Tub, and later I met Tristram Shandy, and I didn't read Austen until the next year. I.e. there is a natural attraction that leads to certain works that are simply milestones of this sort (the tradition kept going; Northanger Abbey and then Don Juan and then Sartor Resartus and George Meredith, and then on to the Moderns whom we know).

        Thus, since I'm one of those, I share the insult.

        I should just issue the insult and stand behind the canon. As for Elliott, I quite agree. My point was that she was an extraordinary writer. Henry Reed, in his "Lectures on English Poetry," argued that Alexander Pope was bad for poetry, because he could only do one verse form. (He was wrong.) The point is that Elliott is various, interested, responsive.

        Everyone's innocent of some crime.

        by The Geogre on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 05:27:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I beg to differ, strongly (14+ / 0-)

      One can, in fact, appreciate both Austen and King, although Gerald's Game is IMO an utter pile of dreck. But King is a very, very interesting writer -- extremely inconsistent (which is, now that I think of it, in stark contrast to Austen who is anything but) but at his best, absolutely remarkable. Granted, they use language in very different ways and to very different purposes, but each does so masterfully. Of course, I'm kind of eclectic in everything, so I suppose enjoying such radically different authors should come as no surprise :-)

      In terms of story presentation, I think the difference you're noting, beyond stylistic usage of language, is the presence of a strong, consistent narrative voice in Austen which is almost entirely lacking in King (except for those times, as in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and a few other novellas, when a story is told through a character's narration.) The use of a narrative voice can and often does provide a certain emotional detachment tailor-made for the type of quietly devastating observation at which Austen excelled.

    •  another "right on " (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, poco, suka, RiveroftheWest, Dragon5616

      Humphrey Clinker is the funniest book I ever read !

      “Good things don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate!” Julian Bond

      by Dvalkure on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 01:11:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I would like to hit Jane Austen over the head... (11+ / 0-)

    with her own shin bone!

    Hmmm.. that's pretty hostile and rude, I really should blame someone else.

    “I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize 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. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”  -- Mark Twain

    the Clear Light is the consciousness of the quantum vacuum

    by Sharkmeister on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 09:15:35 PM PST

    •  Weird. Twain absolutely loved (10+ / 0-)

      Anne of Green Gables.  He's a hard guy to figure.

      •  I think he just saw her as a big target (15+ / 0-)

        She was massively popular in his time. Yet it's pretty clear in all the critiques he wrote about her that he thoroughly read all of her books more than once and actually examined them critically. If I had to guess? I think he was trolling her work just for the hell of it, especially since many of his critiques were written for his contemporaries, who all pretty much adored Jane Austen.

        Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

        by moviemeister76 on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 09:45:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Makes sense. He had plenty of contrarian in him. (13+ / 0-)

          I always figured that was also why George Bernard Shaw took potshots at Shakespeare - partly to Épater la bourgeoisie. And Tolstoy may have had a bit of the same, combined with his own ineffable eccentricity.

          Harold Bloom might say they suffered from the anxiety of influence. But I don't think that would apply in Twain's case, who doesn't seem much influenced by Austen.

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

          by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 10:12:40 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  He also may have been annoyed by her work (9+ / 0-)

            After all, Twain always seemed to appreciate honesty and reality in literature, and Austen's novels seemed to skirt that to remain in a self-contained environment that Twain likely would not have much recognized, especially since it was so feminine.

            Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

            by moviemeister76 on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 10:17:13 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  This idea that Austen is not "honest" or "real" (9+ / 0-)

              is confusing to me. Her work may not have appealed to what Twain found of value for himself, and his reaction to her is probably exaggerated (by which I mean he exaggerates his reaction, and/or is reacting to deification of Austen at that time). Which has nothing to do with her.

              I also think you tread on some dangerous ground by implying that the "feminine" is not "honest" or "real." To some, those would be fightin' words.

              •  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 ]

          •  I think its simply bad-mouthing the competition (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Emmet, suka, Brecht, RiveroftheWest, Dragon5616

            I think both Twain and Shaw knew they were competing with very talented individuals and resented the competition they had to deal with.

            the Clear Light is the consciousness of the quantum vacuum

            by Sharkmeister on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 10:49:47 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  And he blamed the Civil War on Sir Walter Scott (14+ / 0-)

        who sold the South on romantic nostalgia with a code of chivalry, and made them senseless.

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

        by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 10:15:43 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I love Anne of Green Gables but it is pretty much (13+ / 0-)

        sentimental twaddle.

    •  A discussion of where Twain was coming from (9+ / 0-)

      with that opinion would be interesting, for sure.

      •  That IS interesting!!! (13+ / 0-)

        Especially where there is in many ways a real similarity of wit. If I had to guess, though, I would wager that his beef with Austen was that her wit was employed in service or defence of the status quo -- in other words, while she never hesitated to highlight and quietly mock personal hypocrisy and follies, her stabs at the wider hypocrisies and follies of the society she wrote of are generally so subtle as to be almost nonexistent. By and large she embraces (or at least her characters embrace) the status quo whole-heartedly, and act within its confines. I can certainly see why Twain would find that maddening! "Such a talent," I can almost hear him thinking, "such a talent for mockery, and to let so many targets pass by without a single shot!"

        •  I think you might be right. (12+ / 0-)

          He was impatient with so much in his own society, and reveled in pointing out the ridiculous wherever he found it. Perhaps it was her subtlety that annoyed him so.

        •  Funny you should mention it. I got stuck on this, (16+ / 0-)

          and was trying to figure out just how conventional Austen's morality is. At the heart of it, I find Austen's morality very sound: she handles fine distinctions, complexities of competing claims; and she can reliably discern what's good, what's reasonable, and what's forgivable.

          But how far does her morality extend, and how much is it trapped in a comfortable middle-class provincial English early 19th century worldview? Which would lean towards chauvinism, racism, materialism and snobbery. How blinkered is Austen herself? If she does fall short on these axes, we can't condemn her for being human - she was a product of her time and place. But it does affect the scope and timelessness of her work.

          It's hard to figure this out, just from Emma. I'll have a better sense when I've read more of her, bearing this question in mind. In Emma, Austen presents Emma Woodhouse as blinkered, and it's hard to get past Emma's world to see Austen's own clearest view.

          I was quite relieved when Emma mocked a poor friend, and Knightley rebuked her for it - there we see that Austen does have a morality that is at least the highest her society can attain:

          "Oh!" cried Emma, "I know there is not a better creature in the world: but you must allow, that what is good and what is ridiculous are most unfortunately blended in her."

          "They are blended," said he, "I acknowledge; and, were she prosperous, I could allow much for the occasional prevalence of the ridiculous over the good. . . . Were she your equal in situation-- but, Emma, consider how far this is from being the case. She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and, if she live to old age, must probably sink more. Her situation should secure your compassion. It was badly done, indeed! . . . and before her niece, too--and before others, many of whom (certainly some) would be entirely guided by your treatment of her. . ."

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

          by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 11:32:49 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's been a long time since I read Emma (13+ / 0-)

            but yes, there are numerous instances in Austen's work where she certainly seems to suggest a critique of her society without ever actually making it. Perhaps the most overt example is in Sense and Sensibility, when Elinor is (or perhaps the narrator is -- I can't remember rght now) commenting on her inability to even earn her living, let alone inherit it. Another very vague one can be discerned in the character of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice -- a clergyman who has nothing of the "Christian" graces about him whatever and is utterly entranced with and impressed by the most crass evidences of material wealth and success, rhapsodizing constantly about the cost of items in his noble patroness's mansion -- a mantle of material "greatness" that he appropriates for himself by association. These are extremely quiet, extremely subtle moments at which I, at least, see a rather more critical figure lurking behind the gently mocking figure of the narrator (who, much as she appears to be the author herself, is of course merealy another fictional construct).

    •  The key to that (11+ / 0-)

      "Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone" by Mark Twain is the EVERY TIME. If you don't like a book or author you don't re-read it many times! Or have such a strong reaction....

    •  Wow! I thought I'd come back to a dozen... (9+ / 0-)

      hide ratings and instead I've sparked a lively conversation that's mostly over my head.   I go hide in James Thurber and maybe deal with all this literary stuff later.

      Remember, kids, the mome-wrath hasn't been born that can outgrabe me!  -- or something like that.

      the Clear Light is the consciousness of the quantum vacuum

      by Sharkmeister on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 11:07:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Is she one of the greatest? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht, Emmet, suka, Dragon5616

    I'm not sure. She had talent for a specific type of writing, for sure. She had a wonderful sense of humor, definitely. Yet I think it's a copout to say that she wrote what she knew about. After all, Jane Austen's setting and characters often come off as not quite real. They feel tailored and sculpted and lacking any sense of truth. I think Jane Austen was interested in writing about things that upset her, and she felt the only way she could do this was by creating a world that appeared prim and proper.

    Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

    by moviemeister76 on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 10:05:57 PM PST

    •  You have to put Austen in her historical context: (10+ / 0-)

      I get what you're saying about "tailored and sculpted" - but look at Fielding, Richardson, Swift or Sterne, who each has their own extreme artificiality. Defoe was aiming for something grittier, with the texture of real life, and sometimes hit it.

      There is something very authentic and natural in Austen, I feel. Though I think she left a lot of life out, too. Not just what I mentioned in the diary, but also that grit Defoe looked for. I find she captures some of the essential reality of the human heart - and that is where she was pointing her magnifying glass.

      But, when you step back a few paces, you might argue that she rarely achieves three dimensions. Well, we partly say that because the two centuries since Austen have fleshed out the novel in so many directions. Emma Woodhouse has, in herself, some real depth and complexity. It's the scenery around her that looks like it's painted on screens.

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

      by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 10:29:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The "not quite real" critique is, I think, common (17+ / 0-)

      but also kind of odd. Perhaps you mean "inauthentic." Perhaps not. But I think she is neither unreal or inauthentic.

      What Austen is "saying" and what her characters (heroines) say and do are not necessarily the same thing. I think Emma is probably the strongest case-in-point: she is admirable in many ways, she is flawed in many others, and really behaves badly according to the tenets of her time and social rank. She's selfish, cruel, vain, petty, judgmental and manipulative.

      Mr and Mrs Elton are caricatures (like Mr. Collins in P&P) but they also have a role to play in the critique, even as their outlines are exaggerated.

      I get impatient with people's impatience with Austen. And honestly, what are they impatient with? Someone who lived in fairly straightened circumstances and general poor health in a time when lack of money and being female, even as a "gentlewoman," were serious hindrances. She made very distinct choices for herself and was by no means powerless, but expecting blood and guts and aggressive critique: not in her. That isn't a weakness. Perhaps it's a strength.

      Perhaps the "inauthentic" part comes from the use of language. She was extremely well-read and I would imagine the culture of letter-writing and reading/discussion as entertainment would encourage that kind of discourse as natural. However, not all her characters "speak" in those terms. Lydia Bennet is a great example. She is ignorant, has little to say, and says it poorly. Her "scholarly" sister Mary is equally ignorant, has little to say and says it poorly, but in much different terms.

      Of course, the reader needs to be sensitive enough to pick up on that and not just categorize all the conversation as unnatural language.

      •  I mean that she wasn't honest or true (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Emmet, suka, Brecht, Dragon5616

        Jane Austen lived during a time of great international upheaval. The country was in a massive debate over slavery, not to mention huge troubles with France and America. Yet you'd never know it from her writing. Only one of her novels barely touched on the Atlantic Slave Trade and colonialism, and in Pride & Prejudice, she treats the soldiers who are stationed there like they are on holiday. I find it difficult to believe that a woman who could discern human nature the way she so obviously could could be so completely blind or ignorant of what was actually going on around her.

        Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

        by moviemeister76 on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 08:25:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I commend your comment, especially (8+ / 0-)
        I get impatient with people's impatience with Austen.
        Perhaps it's better to simply say writer so-and-so just isn't my cup of tea.  I find that there is much to admire in Austen and I respect her stature within the literary cannon and while she isn't my favourite writer, to me personally it is important that I at least read all six of her major works; I've read four so far.

        A Literature major in my undergrad studies, I admire people who at least attempt to read the classics or make the effort to dabble in/get a taste of what great and timeless art is.  There are some though who get in over their heads and in their critiques complain and whine about character so-and-so or I can't believe character x did this or they feel insulted/horrified that character y said that.  I have to bite my lip because I feel compelled to say: "I don't think you're reading it right, honey; perhaps you should just stick with Stephen King or Nora Roberts."

        The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

        by micsimov on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 08:52:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Agree! (7+ / 0-)

          Dickens is not my cup of tea AT ALL - generally don't enjoy Victorian novels. That being said, I'm reading Wilkie Collins right now (a recommendation from a comment in a Book Flurries diary) and I am loving it. So I might need to re-think my anti-Victorian or anti-Dickens stance. Certainly greater people than I value Dickens immensely.

          So, I wouldn't join a discussion of Dickens' oeuvre just to bash his melodrama and tendency towards caricature :-) Just kidding. That's not really a dig!

          •  I agree with you about Dickens; (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Emmet, suka, Brecht, RiveroftheWest, Dragon5616

            I've read Bleak House, Hard Times, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol --none for pleasure, all required reading assignments; I am glad to have tackled at least some of his work and I still have A Tale of Two Cities on my To Read list even though he is not one of my favourites he still is a master of the English language and the English novel.  At some point, too, I absolutely must read Samuel Richardson's Clarissa --same reasoning applies ;)

            The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

            by micsimov on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 10:52:07 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Dickens does got cartoonish (which he can do very (7+ / 0-)

            funnily) and cloying (which is what I find hardest to swallow in his work). He has many other skills, and I am in awe of how he bootstrapped himself from the sketches in Pickwick Papers to the depths of Great Expectations and Bleak House. He pushed himself to grow in all directions, and never quit until he dropped.

            But I'm odd, in that I enjoy complexity and turbulence. There are other authors I find far fewer flaws in, but Dickens gets under my skin, with his powers and blind spots. I find him compelling, because one year I'm a fan and the next I'm a critic. I cannot rest in a stable view of his work, I have to keep turning him over and looking for more.

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

            by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 01:30:28 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  He is also profoundly theatrical (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RiveroftheWest, Brecht

              One sometimes has the feeling that he is envisioning his novels being acted out as plays even while he is writing them.

              This is particularly true of A Tale of Two Cities, with its completely contrived - and thoroughly theatrical - coincidence of the Identical Stranger who coincidentally falls in love with the same woman for no reason but that the plot requires it.

              Not surprisingly, there have been several successful movie versions, though the Identical Stranger motif is rarely used straight-up.

              If it's
              Not your body,
              Then it's
              Not your choice
              And it's
              None of your damn business!

              by TheOtherMaven on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 09:22:50 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  "he is envisioning his novels being acted out" (0+ / 0-)

                A lot of truth in this. Dickens loved the theatre, and went almost every night, for a while in his twenties. He gave so much to his dramatic renditions of scenes from his work, that he did himself in.

                A visitor, or a chid of his, once saw him performing in front of a mirror. He acted out incidents he was writing, to find how his characters looked, and what they did as they were speaking.

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

                by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 09:07:00 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

      •  Austen was the past master -- in fact (5+ / 0-)

        she may have been the first to master this -- of the unreliable narrator.

        I'm not a literary scholar: I don't know.

        But she wrote unreliable narrators before most others, and did it so well we are still discussing her unreliable narrators, like Emma.

        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 01:56:04 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thoroughly enjoyed this, Brecht! (16+ / 0-)

    To me, arguments on who is the "greater" writer are as useless as the arguments as to whether cats are better than dogs or vice versa.

    There is an author for every mood. I don't always want to read wide, sweeping narratives of blood, guts, and war.  Sometimes I just want to ponder the intricacies of human nature and that's where Austen comes in. She was the absolute mistress of the art.

    But in a different mood I want something passionate, something jars me out of everyday life, and that's when I want to reread Jane Eyre.

    There are books I can read only once--for example, Les Miserables. Likewise, I could only read Emma once, although I enjoyed watching a couple of BBC versions of it on television.

    This is a really good diary and discussion, for which many thanks!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 03:48:35 AM PST

    •  I couldn't agree more (10+ / 0-)

      'an author for every mood.'  And sometimes I want an 800-page novel; other times I just want to read a volume of short-stories, two at a time.

      The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

      by micsimov on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 08:56:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Hello, Queen of the Morning, from the sluggard of (6+ / 0-)

      the afternoon.

      15 years ago, I started asking my friends "Who are the 10 greatest rock bands?". I thought I'd figure out who the greatest bands were. I soon learned that there's no definitive answer (though I'd happily give you one, and defend it in a filibuster). The most interesting thing I found in the answers was, I could infer how each of my friends defined rock music in their own minds.

      I enjoy lists of "greatest novels" not because I find factual truth there, but because they lead to interesting debates about the essential elements of Greatness, and Novels, and also about the boundaries we imagine around those concepts.

      I end up with a whole mess of titles, qualities, and ideas in my head. But I enjoying analyzing the mess, both to figure out which books I should explore for new horizons, and to help sort which of the books I've already read mean the most to me.

      "There is an author for every mood." Absolutely. I find, after all my thrashing and sorting, I have a larger and more distinct map of the different moods and flavors in books, and which of my literary appetites they each feed. I can never just let things rest in a simple, natural state. I guess it's just how I like to fuss.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 01:56:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  i !@#$%& love austen! (15+ / 0-)

    that woman had a rapier wit.  i srsly LOLd reading her stuff all the time.

    and super bonus recs for the alanis comment...hahaha.

    sorry, but i did LOVE Clueless.

    ; P

    Please don't dominate the rap, Jack, if you got nothin' new to say - Grateful Dead

    by Cedwyn on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 05:38:35 AM PST

  •  Recently I discovered Librivox, the library of (12+ / 0-)

    free audiobooks. I've just downloaded their Emma, which is read by the same person throughout (some Librivox recordings are collaborations). Looking forward to starting it -

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 06:47:14 AM PST

  •  Bravo, Brecht, in your diary and the (10+ / 0-)

    comments it inspired.

    Austen is like many modern literary fiction writers in that they don't write about war or the economy or politics directly either, yet the explorations of characters informs and is informed by the society in which they live.

    •  I'm thrilled to see so many interesting opinions (7+ / 0-)

      and facts about Austen. It looks like a lot of kossacks have been reading and thinking about Austen for years, and just wanted a place to put it.

      You know me, I love debate. I'm glad I framed this as the strengths and flaws of Austen, because it sparked a lot of ideas and feelings. My own opinion is: Austen is sterling in many directions, and queen of her domain. She owes nothing to all the fields she chose not to plow.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 02:36:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  lovely essay (9+ / 0-)

    and wonderful discussion that you are hosting here.

    i haven't read emma in years although i find myself reading p&p yearly for some reason and i get something new each time.

     i agree with your sense about austen, as a person, and this is precisely why i like austen's works so much.   her intelligence as well as the wit and the perceptiveness shines through as well as in your words, the sanity.

     what alway struck me about her work, at least the ones i've read, is that the 'action' is cerebral and social. there is conflict and dissension and agression, just way more disguised as it is subtle and less physical.  i've always felt she was writing as though she was communicating to us from a prison of sorts, that she was stuck but doing the best she could and she could never be in your face with her deeply felt opinions. i also love how she used humor to communicate, definitely NOT in the same way as twain, and i treasure that because i don't find too many authors who use humor.  i think it isn't easy to write using humor.

    •  I know P&P's popular, but didn't expect it to get (6+ / 0-)

      half the votes in the poll. Nor did I expect Persuasion to get twice as many as Emma.

      I think we don't pay enough attention to super-sanity. I believe Shakespeare had it too. We define people as Sane, or Less than Sane. But there are people who are grounded and kind and share that with others; who calm us and look out for all. Well, I'm not thinking of Austen. I knew a case worker who always made everything easier around her - which, working in a schizophrenia clinic, was a precious gift. Of course, Austen did the same thing, just by putting her books into the world, where we can turn to them when we need balm.

      "she could never be in your face with her deeply felt opinions." That's what most intrigues me now: what were Austen's deeply felt opinions, and which parts of Austen barely made it into her books?

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 02:47:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  In 1816, Jane went to London (6+ / 0-)

    at the personal suggestion of the Prince of Wales, who was an admiring of her books. He instructed his secretary, Mr. Clarke, to escort her around his famous (and overdone) palace, Carlton House. Apparently during that visit, Mr. Clarke made certain recommendations to Miss Austen about her next book.

    As an author, I know that kindly friends often make these suggestions, usually prefaced with 'I've got a great idea for a book...'

    This is what Jane Austen did with those suggestions: Plan of a Novel According to Hints From Various Quarters

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue The Eno the Thracian Fantasy Series by C.B. Pratt. Epically amusing.

    by wonderful world on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 12:10:00 PM PST

  •  Austen's "bits of ivory" comment... (8+ / 0-)

    has always struck me as a bit disingenuously self-deprecating. I have an idea that her nephew Edward, to whom this remark was famously addressed, was an aspiring writer (but am far too lazy and frivolous a creature to back up this assertion with any evidence, at least not until pressed).  

    I don't find it hard to believe that even in her day, Austen had to deal with the attitude of "if you're not writing about wars or involving hundreds of characters in a huge sprawling tapestry dyed with blood and Weltschmerz then you're just not SIGNIFICANT enough to be one of the
    Bad Boyz of Rock'n'Roll." (a remarkably gendered idea of significance, as some of the other commentators have pointed out with force and eloquence - and I smile at the thought of future critics attacking whoever our latter-day Austens turn out to be: "I can't believe Authoress X  spends all her time talking about marriage and children and family and relationships and jobs! Not one word about the Iraq War or climate change, even tho' BOTH THINGS WERE HAPPENING!" ).  

    My best friend from high school made me laugh by describing Emma as "the most perfectly-written novel in the English language where absolutely nothing happens." Yes, on the surface...but think of all the mysteries that lie at the heart of that novel, all pertaining to a relationship between two characters that must be concealed.  (Ah, The Mystery of the Pianoforte!)

    Every time I read Emma, I am blown away by how skillfully Austen throws dust in our eyes - we don't realize, at first, how completely our view of events are shaped by Emma's, because the omniscient narrator provides just enough ironic distance that we think we are seeing through her as clearly as the ON does. It's not exactly's...I'm not sure what you'd call this slyly subversive narrative style. Familiarization Effect? : )

    •  Some thoughts (10+ / 0-)

      1.  You really need to find and read Rudyard Kipling's short story "The Janites" about a group of (all male) Austen fans.  Now, before anyone starts in on me about imperialism and so on, allow me to remind you that no less an authority than Borges described Kipling as a writer of genius.

      2.  All Austen's novels are not alike, and each needs to be placed in its proper genre.  Northanger Abbey is a lively satire, Pride and Prejudice the only of the six which could be described as a romantic comedy.

      3.  Mansfield Park is a study of corruption, with a tacked on happy ending.  It belongs on your shelf next to   Dangerous Liasions, The Splendor and Misery of Courtesans and the Golden Lotus. Had it been allowed to proceed to its inevitable tragic conclusion, I think it would be numbered among the greatest of all novels. I don't know if Austen thought that a tragedy would not be well received from a female writer, or if she felt her powers unequal to describing tragedy.  Her comments in the book, which occur immediately prior to her description of the aforementioned happy ending, which I suspect no intelligent reader has ever believed,  suggest the latter.  I don't know if any critic other than the famous "anonymous" has ever given a completely satisfactory account of MP.  Trilling did not, nor did Said.  Trilling descends into gibberish at some points.  Said's point about the Bertram's wealth being the fruits of slavery is well taken, but I don't think he understood the novel.

      4.  Emma is perhaps the forerunner of English novels of Country Life,  such as those of Miss Reade, and hilariously satirized in Cold Comfort Farm.  It is a pastoral, but with the genre being sort of upended and transformed.  I believe the pastoral genre begins in the Rennaisance and the classical model is Virgil.  On the continent, the "countryside" of shepherds and nymphs is an erotically charged landscape, presided over by pagan dieties, where lovers may enjoy each other's company unencumbered by the strictures of Church or Society.  In Austen's novels, the County, the society of manor houses and the rising middle class is the heart of civilized life, and for her, corruption comes from London.

      5.  By the time she got to Persuasion, my favorite, I believe her health had begun to fail.  There is a moral savagery not present in her earlier novels;  where Elizabeth Bennet laughes at folly and foolishness, Anne Eliot contemptuously dismisses them with a few curt sentences.  

      •  An Extremely Erudite, Entertaining and Original (6+ / 0-)

        Overview of Austen's Oeuvre.

        In Appreciation:

        The Janeites

        My take on Cold Comfort Farm

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

        by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 08:03:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you for this summary. (5+ / 0-)

        On point. To the point.

        What did you think of that adaptation of Mansfield Park: the "Hollywood" one where Fanny actually has a spunky and sly personality and there is a heavy post-colonial overlay on the story? I found it horrible.

        •  No, no and no (5+ / 0-)

          Me, I couldn't stand it.

          Fanny Price is not a feminist heroine.  It was no part of her character to offend propriety.  Her admirer Crawford at one point refers to her hair perfectly arranged,"as it always is."

          A film adaptation, inspired by MP, without the happy ending might be a project worth undertaking.

          •  H'mm... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            poco, RiveroftheWest, Brecht

            re 1. Have heard of "the Janeites", never read it.  However, I will track it down immediately!  And I love Kipling.  Imperialist or no.  : )  

            re 2. and 3. Your comment about Mansfield Park fascinates me...just out of curiosity, what do you consider to be MP's "inevitable tragic conclusion"?

            re 4. And in Emma, the pastoral also elides with the notion of "Englishness", which is a concept that Austen doesn't explicitly explore in her other novels, but which is all over Emma. There is a description of the countryside at the (in)famous Donwell Abbey party that reads like this:

            It was a sweet view -- sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive
            And then there is this, of course, Mr. Knightley in one of his rare bitchy moods, trashing Frank Churchill in Chapter 18:
            No, Emma, your amiable young man can be amiable only in French, not in English. He may be very ""aimable,"" have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but he can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people: nothing really amiable about him."
            re 5. "Moral savagery"? Wow...wouldn't have thought to characterize Persuasion or Anne Elliot that way! I guess because of The Letter, which to my mind is one of the most goosebumpy, heart-felt avowals in all of literature and which, to me, defines the tone of that book.  

            All very cool! And what a lovely diary, Herr B!

            For what is the crime of robbing a bank, compared to the crime of owning one? BBrecht, Happy End

            by Miss Bianca on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 04:51:50 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I hadn't noticed that about Englishness; well, had (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              poco, RiveroftheWest

              not noticed most of those points. But I'll be reading a lot of Austen in the next couple of years, and will probably notice more.

              I have noticed a few things already. It seemed only right to read the comments in my own diary. That "moral savagery" leads to the dark side of Jane Austen, unveiled in Harding's Regulated Hatred essay of 1940. But I'll write more Austen essays in the future, so there will be a time to look at her moral savagery, and how she masks it.

              There are a lot of good Brecht quotes. Ironically, I really need to read some more Brecht.

              If you want The Janeites, follow the link

              I'm going to push back my Mrs. Dalloway diary a week. This Friday I'll have a diary mostly on Austen and femininity, addressing much of what you brought up in your first comment.

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

              by Brecht on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 11:39:25 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Thanks for all the great diaries (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                RiveroftheWest, poco, Brecht

                Really been enjoying this one.  Oh, and the "Cold Comfort Farm" one too...I think that one prompted me to borrow the movie from the library.  Now I find myself occasionally gripping my imaginary pulpit, fixing my audience with a gimlet eye, and intoning, "Thurr'll beee no butterrrr in HELL!"

                That's usually enough to stun any gathering into silence.
                : )

                For what is the crime of robbing a bank, compared to the crime of owning one? BBrecht, Happy End

                by Miss Bianca on Tue Nov 12, 2013 at 05:39:47 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Thanks for adding value with your comments (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  RiveroftheWest, Miss Bianca

                  "occasionally gripping my imaginary pulpit, fixing my audience with a gimlet eye"

                  You anecdote well.

                  When I damage some small thing, I'll put on an apologetic dormouse expression, and protest "But it was the best butter."

                  And when I'm asked to do something that suits me not, I'll pronounce "I would prefer not to."

                  My non-literary friends find me exasperating.

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

                  by Brecht on Wed Nov 13, 2013 at 09:23:02 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Ha! Just between you and me... (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Brecht, RiveroftheWest

                    ...and the rest of the R'n'B Kossack Krewe (since you're really the only ones who'll appreciate this)...

                    I have long dreamed of taking over one of the bars here in my mountain town.  It's only been relatively recently that I've started to dream of rechristening it The Golden Orb. : )

                    For what is the crime of robbing a bank, compared to the crime of owning one? BBrecht, Happy End

                    by Miss Bianca on Thu Nov 14, 2013 at 08:12:18 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  After college, I moved to Chicago with a friend; (0+ / 0-)

                      we planned to open a theatre-nightclub. Alas, we didn't. But we had some colorful dreaming.

                      From the way you say it, it sounds like "The Golden Orb" is a literary reference - which I'm entirely missing. But it's a good name for a bar - with a golden orb hanging out front, of course.

                      Oh, I found it:

                      “Think, in mounting higher, The angels would press on us, and aspire To drop some golden orb of perfect song Into our deep, dear silence.”                                                    - Elizabeth Barrett Browning
                      One of it, anyway. I'd guess others have used it, too.

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

                      by Brecht on Thu Nov 14, 2013 at 07:00:09 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Alas, nothing so poetical was in mind... (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:

                        "The golden orb" was the point where poor Flora always got stuck in her effusions. At least in the movie. ; )

                        For what is the crime of robbing a bank, compared to the crime of owning one? BBrecht, Happy End

                        by Miss Bianca on Thu Nov 14, 2013 at 07:34:00 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, "a bit disingenuously self-deprecating" fits (6+ / 0-)

      from all I know of Austen.

      Your last paragraph, about Austen's skillful play with ironic distance and points of view, may become central to another Austen diary (many moons hence), once I get a strong enough grasp on Austen's deft handling of narrative voice. But I found that idea in James Wood, and haven't done the groundwork to make it my own yet.

      "Familiarization Effect" fits. Thanks for name-checking my own contribution to dramatic theory.

      On the heaviest issue here, the way Women Writers get labelled "too feminine", and pilloried for not having enough blood and Weltschmerz in their books (yet, strangely, Men Writers are rarely blamed for not having enough psychology and romance in theirs) - well, huge and contentious territory, indeed.

      I'll be covering Novels written by Women for the next month, and I don't want to step to far into this. I've already addressed it more directly than I first set out to. A great advantage of looking at one aspect of Novels for a month (however huge and complex the issue) is, that I can chew on what I find considerably before reaching definite conclusions. It's not like I can reach very deep conclusions on Novels by Women anyway, after reading just half a dozen. But perhaps I'll find a few themes to look further into.

      So, yes, all I can say for now is that your insights make sense, and you've expressed them with wit and eloquence. I hope we can have some further discussions in the next month.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 07:55:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I hope you include (5+ / 0-)

        Elizabeth Gaskell and Christina Stead.

        •  A relatively rambling reply: (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Youffraita, suka, poco, RiveroftheWest

          I thoroughly enjoyed your longer comment above, but had no substance to respond with. So here are some tangential thoughts, in reciprocation.

          I haven't read either of your picks (both in my TBR list, Stead higher up). The agenda for my next several diaries is Mrs. Dalloway, Nightwood, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Song of Solomon (perhaps + God of Small Things).

          Diarying every week is good for me - keeps me reading, thinking, writing. Also frustrating, as I'd like to study deeper, and write some tours-de force; but have trouble finding the time and space for that. Dedicating a month to one aspect of Novels is how I balance the two aims: keep producing, but also dig deeper, and keep learning.

          I attempted a theme in August, with Darkness in Novels. Didn't make the full month. But found some things. I'll get back to Darkness, once I have dug a little deeper, and have fresh insights to frame.

          Well, Women Novelists, and the feminine in writing, goes larger and deeper than Darkness. The odds are, I'll do a whole nother month of Novels by Women. Perhaps next November. So your suggestions don't suit me right now, but I'll probably find my way there, in time.

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

          by Brecht on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 08:54:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Put off Mrs Dalloway for a bit so I can (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Brecht, suka, poco, RiveroftheWest

            re-read it and joint in intelligently.

            I read it for a class in graduate school (fall 1987) and haven't read it since.

            We read Dorothy Richardson in that class as well, and if you haven't read her, try to find her work (it has been out of print for 25+ years, but I think there is a new edition that a university press has put out). She was big in her day. It could be argued that she, and not Joyce, was the "mother" of stream-of-consciousness.

  •  See "Regulated Hatred" by D.W. Harding for a (8+ / 0-)

    deeper appreciation of Austen's profoundly critical attitude toward her own milieau.

    The frog jumped/ into the old pond/ plop! (Basho)

    by Wolf10 on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 05:34:14 AM PST

    •  After some internet poking to examine it, I'm sure (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Youffraita, suka, poco, RiveroftheWest

      that's a book I'll enjoy greatly. I'm inclined to read a couple more Austens before I get to it. I have several Austen theories already whirling in my head, which I need to test. I fear if I read Harding's insights first, they might replace mine entirely.

      Thanks for a suggestion that speaks perfectly to various interests of mine.

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

      by Brecht on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 08:36:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Highbury Murders (7+ / 0-)

    A Mystery Set in the Village of Jane Austen's Emma and very positively reviewed by Susan from Twenty-Nine here in the Monday Murder Mystery feature.

    To quote from that review:

    In the author's note at the end of The Highbury Murders, the author writes

    "Jane Austen’s Emma has been famously described as a detective novel without a body."

    So she sets about to reveal just where the body in Emma was and how it got dead. This is a skillful, flowing tale told as perhaps Jane Austen would have told it had she lived and been so inclined.

    Here's a link to Highbury Murders at Amazon if you like Austen and Christie and want a treat for yourself.

    And yes, I'm the author of The Highbury Murders.  If you're tempted but skeptical - so many claim to imitate Austen, and most fail - then check out the review from Susan from 29.  Or do a sample download before actually making a purchase.

    by chloris creator on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 06:06:53 AM PST

  •  Sigh (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht, suka, RiveroftheWest

    Well, it all sounds very nice, the way you put it--so nice that I may try yet again, as I've tried a hundred times to care about her characters.  There are people who are Dickensproof; I may  be Austenproof. Partly it's that mild middle thing--I'd like to see the Divine Jane come within fifty miles of Tom All-Alone's without needing the smelling salts and a cure at the baths. But mostly it's my sense that my divorce-lawyer friend (if you can have a savage hungry man-eating shark like that for a friend) described it:

    SAVAGE DIVORCE LAWYER:  My wife dragged me to that move last night. What's it, um, Sense and Sensibility.

    GUY AT NEXT LOCKER: Yeah? Whadja think?

    DIVORCE LAWYER:  I thought I was a fucking cynic.

  •  Brecht, what an amazing diary and a profound (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, Brecht, suka

    collection of comments! I actually have some Austens in this toppling-over stack of TBRs, and I'll hotlist this so I can read it all again later. Thank you!

    •  I'll be reading and diarying Austen a fair bit in (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, RiveroftheWest

      the next couple of years. I'm even pushing back Mrs. Dalloway a week, so I can look briefly at the heart of Austen, and open a Pandora's box, this Friday.

      And I'll be putting some of these comments (and a couple of earlier ones) in the second half of the dairy. This diary's comments have sparked so many ideas - I do feel an energetic fulfillment, when a large conversation goes so well. I feel like I hosted a perfect party.

      You're welcome, RiveroftheWoman.

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

      by Brecht on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 11:46:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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