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Book Cover: In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan
I know my title's provocative. Even a boy could suss that out.

In this diary, I look at why traditional Psychology rates girls as immature, even when they're solving problems in more complex ways than boys do (as explained in the feminist watershed, In a Different Voice). I show you how Jake and Amy, two 11 year olds, solve a moral dilemma; and how the biggest failure was the test itself.

I connect this with Jane Austen's formidable skills with Romance and Psychology. I claim that the perceived Femininity of Austen's work, and the smoothness and subtlety of her style, have misled millions of readers - so that they failed to perceive her depth and power.  

I consider why so few women are in the highest Pantheon of Western Literature. I look at how our culture fails to appreciate the qualities and careers we label Feminine. I rant about poor lost America.

Finally, I ask Which Great Writers are the Easiest to Underestimate?

Let's start with three questions, each of them far too large to answer in a single diary:

How do Women Write Differently than Men?

In what respects do Women write Better than men?

Why are so few women deemed Great Novelists?

If you inspect the Great Books of the Western World, you find books by 28 novelists, 4 of whom are women (Austen, Eliot, Cather and Woolf). Most traditional (i.e. Dead-White-Male-centric) views of the Western Canon look similar. In the very first rank, you might also find Wharton and approximately one Brontë.

The Canon is conservative: it is an accumulation of long-tested opinion. Part of its myopia is, it's always half a century behind the times. If you're looking for a broader view of Great Women Novelists my diary, Who is the Greatest Woman Novelist since 1950?, includes lists of all the Women Novelists who have won Nobel, Pulitzer or Booker Prizes since 1950. The poll and comments also consider earlier Women Novelists.

In that diary, in the poll, 42% of readers voted Jane Austen the Greatest Woman Novelist before 1950. Yet millions of readers find Austen limited, sedate or shallow. That's because those readers are themselves limited or shallow. Still, Jane Austen is the easiest Great Writer to underestimate. I'll return to this topic - which Great writers do we underestimate - at the end of this diary.


Why do so many readers underestimate Jane Austen?

Let's explore a few reasons. One of Austen's greatest gifts is, she always makes it easy on her readers. She is all about clear thinking, feelings that add up, and making her plot and meaning precise and lucid. She has an instinct for how a story should flow, and a genius for explaining herself. Compare this with James Joyce, who's always hitting you over the head with how smart and obscure he is.

Austen writes prose so delicious that we swallow it like sherbet, and miss all the subtlety, layers, and grit in her craft. Austen's pages are like fractals: the deeper you peer, the more you see that dazzles. Far too many readers get assigned Pride and Prejudice in high school or starting college, glide through it once - and never come back to take a closer look, with enough life and reading experience to illuminate all the substance beneath Austen's smooth surface.

So where are the hidden depths and dazzling fractals that many readers miss in Austen? I broke it down in my Austen Diary last week. I owe a shout-out to all the commenters who brought so much knowledge and insight to share there. I learned more from all that conversation than I have from any previous diary. But if you lack the time or patience for a full overview of Austen's genius, here is my twenty-second summary.

Most readers miss at least some of Austen's complexity. Many of her strongest skills are very subtle: she is a queen of plotting, wit and irony; she works magic with her narrative voice (using bold innovations - which have informed every novelist who came after her); and she owns one of the brightest and clearest styles in all of literature. Yet all of these gifts are easy to ignore, or take for granted.


Jane Austen's Feminine Domain

Jane Austen is a queen both of Psychology and of Romance. The latter is, in a certain sense, unfair. The whole genre of Romance follows in Austen's wake, and swims in currents she discovered first. But there are many faults associated with Romance - getting lost in a plotless flow of passion, approaching pornography, losing verisimilitude - which Austen is mostly immune to. She keeps her wits and her distance about her.

Nevertheless, Austen pays meticulous attention to Psychology and Romance, and weaves her tapestries around them. Many men consider this a drastic flaw in her work. They figure that if a novel has no swashbuckling heroes, wild adventures, madness, mayhem and murder - then it's pretty thin gruel, and not worth staying up late over. They look down their nose at Austen, and this world of womanly concerns she confines herself to.

There is a small truth in this critique, and a large error (but this is just my opinion; you're welcome to disagree in the comments). The small truth is, Jane Austen does show us a world with pretty strict boundaries, mostly confined to the domestic affairs and marriages of middle-class people living in the Home Counties of England. If you compare Austen to the other Women Novelists at the top of the Canon (Eliot, Cather, Woolf, Wharton and the Brontës), every one of them travels further geographically, socially, and in their subjects, than Austen did.

The large error is: are Psychology and Romance really feminine? I believe they are universal. Four lads from Liverpool sang, "All you need is love"; the whole world listened. Romance is at the heart of our families and our happiness. Psychology is everywhere we look - and saturates the most interesting novels.

But there is a blindness in our culture, which has painted Romance and Psychology pink, and called them feminine - as if that made them less. Jane Austen writes about universal truths with enormous warmth, wit and acuity. But we live in a world where most men have learned not to talk about their feelings, and many don't even look at them. As bookgirl diaried last month, in this world a Myopic Male Writer and Professor can say that he doesn't want to teach literature written by women. This is not a wrestler, or a cop. He is a writer and professor - educated, aware of other cultures and fine distinctions - who's not interested in what women write, because it doesn't speak to him, it's just not that significant.

There's a knotty problem here, which also shapes the rest of this diary: what is actually feminine, inherent in people who are born with two X chromosomes; and what is "feminine", layered onto girls by a society which was dressing most of us in pink or blue before we had words or favorite colors to call our own.


Why Girls Grow Up Stupid

Of course, they don't. But, bearing in mind that nature/nurture question re. femininity/socially-constructed-femininity, girls do grow up differently. Girls grow up into a smartness of their own, which doesn't fit into the rigid straight lines society surrounds us with - so society sees girls's smartness as simply stupid.

There's a splendid book on this, In a Different Voice (1982). When Harvard University Press reprinted it last year, they called it "the little book that started a revolution". It had a profound effect on feminist thought; though some have said that it fails to resolve my knotty problem - distinguishing between innate and acculturated Femininity.

Carol Gilligan's In a Different Voice examines the model of humanity and maturity that modern psychology has constructed, and she shows that the entire scaffolding was built on male development as the norm. This was partly through convenience (it was easier to run tests on large cohorts in male boarding schools and the military), and largely through pig-ignorance.

You know how the IQ scale originally measured mental/chronological development (x100)? So if a 6 year old child tested at a 9 year old level, they'd have an IQ of 150.

Lawrence Kohlberg developed a similar scale, to measure moral maturation: Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development. There are 6 stages of development. 1 & 2 are about, What Behavior can I get away with/profit from; 3 & 4 are about obeying society's conventions and laws; 5 & 6 are about looking beyond our society, towards universal principles (like Socrates or Gandhi).

Kohlberg honed his scale with questionnaires and in-depth analysis of 84 subjects. He followed them for more than 20 years, from childhood to adulthood. They were all boys. Later, Kohlberg found that most women only make it to stage 3 (most men reach stage 4, and a fraction stage 5). At stage 3, morality is framed in interpersonal terms, and goodness is equated with helping and pleasing others. Kohlberg said this was functional for mature women, insofar as their lives took place in the home.

In chapter 2, Gilligan introduces us to two 11 year olds. My next section is an extreme distillation from Gilligan's book. Jake and Amy are in the same sixth-grade class at school, and they're in a study exploring concepts of morality and self. They're each presented with a problem from Kohlberg's tests:


Heinz, his sick Wife, and the Druggist

Kohlberg's Question

Heinz's Wife is sick. She is going to die from her illness. There is a drug which can save her life, and the Druggist has it in stock. But Heinz cannot afford to buy the drug. Heinz approaches the Druggist, but the Druggist refuses to lower his price.

Should Heinz steal the drug?

Jake's Answer
For one thing, a human life is worth more than money, and if the druggist only makes $1,000, he is still going to live, but if Heinz doesn't steal the drug, his wife is going to die. (Why is life worth more than money?) Because the druggist can get $1,000 later from rich people with cancer, but Heinz can't get his wife again. (Why not?) Because people are all different and so you couldn't get Heinz's wife again.
Jake says if Heinz were caught stealing, "the judge would probably think it was the right thing to do", and that he "should give Heinz the lightest possible sentence". Jake considers the moral dilemma to be "sort of like a math problem with humans"; he sets it up as an equation, solves it, and assumes anyone following reason would get the same answer. Jake ends up being rated between stages 3 and 4 of Kohlberg's scale.

Amy's Answer

Well, I don't think so. I think there might be other ways besides stealing it, like if he could borrow the money or make a loan or something, but he really shouldn't steal the drug - but his wife shouldn't die either. (Why shouldn't Heinz steal the drug?) If he stole the drug, he might save his wife then, but if he did, he might have to go to jail, and then his wife might get sicker again, and he couldn't get more of the drug, and it might not be good. So, they should really just talk it out and find some other way to make the money.
Where Jake saw a math problem, Amy sees a relationship problem. She's looking further along the web of connection between all the characters, and she's considering what happens if Heinz goes to jail, leaving his wife bereft. Amy's taken a black-and-white, two-dimensional problem, and she's solving it at a higher level, including relationships, humanity, absence and time.

Alas, Amy's no longer coloring within the lines of the problem as stated in the test. As the interviewer conveys through the repetition of questions that the answers she gave were not heard or were not right, Amy loses confidence, and her replies become more constrained and unsure. Asked again why Heinz should not steal the drug, she's reduced to "Because it's not right." Jake was sure that Heinz should steal the drug; Amy's sure that "if Heinz and the druggist had talked it out long enough, they could reach something besides stealing."

But in Kohlberg's scheme, Jake's answer is clear, and Amy's is muddy. Amy ends up being rated between stages 2 and 3 on the scale. According to the test, her responses show a feeling of powerlessness in the world, an inability to think systematically about concepts of morality or law, and a reluctance to challenge authority, or to examine the logic of received moral truths.

When they weren't being badgered by annoying psychologists, Jake and Amy showed similar maturity and sense of self. Amy describes herself as "growing and changing", and says she "sees some things differently now, just because I know myself really well now, and I know a lot more about the world." But Amy's world is orthogonal to the one Kohlberg is measuring. Her world is a world of relationships and psychological truths, where an awareness of the connection between people gives rise to a recognition of responsibility for one another, a perception of the need for response.

The saddest part of Kohlberg's whole rigged game is, many girls do as well or better than boys of the same age, when they're younger. After the age of 10, the boys seem to mature in straight lines, and their world grows clearer in black and white; but the girls mature like a growing, branching tree, and their answers appear less clear-cut by the laws of logic. So a lot of teenage girls mature in their own fashion, yet they regress according to Kohlberg's scale.


Amy's World, Austen's Rules & poor lost America

What Amy's seeing is the world Austen writes about. Romance for Austen wasn't about heaving bosoms or sparkly vampires. Romance, at Austen's highest level, is about kind and noble hearts; open-minded, perceptive responsiveness to all the people around us; and people ending up together who match each other well (even if Knightley has to move into Emma's smaller house, so they can both look after her father).

Another theme in Gilligan's book is how our society degrades everything it considers feminine - so nurses, maids, and elementary school teachers all get underpaid. We degrade some of the most precious and human parts of our culture, like taking care of the weakest among us, and ensuring that every child in America has food, shelter, love and a good education.

There is a horrific blindness all across America: our guns are sacred, our war-machine is sacred, our almighty dollars and unfettered corporations are sacred, our unborn children are sacred (even in a stranger's belly); but our schools, our sick, our poor, our personal rights and our shared dreams all fall by the wayside.

Jane Austen's Romance and Psychology are not limited, shallow truths. They are universal truths, and they are the truths that America has most woefully mislaid. David Gilmour refusing to teach books written by women is in the same cloud of unknowing as George Bush mocking prisoners about to be executed, which is the same unknowing that allows a vast right-wing conspiracy to lie about very little thing, in order to hobble Obama and drown our government in a bathtub.

This is the final piece of my puzzle: Why do so many readers underestimate Jane Austen? Because two of her greatest gifts are her ownership of Romance and Psychology. But we live in a technological age, in a global economy, hungering for more freedom, adventure and luxury. Our hearts are too cheap and hurried to appreciate Austen's "feminine" gifts.

Jane Austen is the sanest writer I know: her mind and heart are clear, penetrating, and completely reliable. She has sterling judgment. These are some of the most universal gifts an artist can have, and they offer a nutrition our culture is starving for lack of. But we degrade this wisdom, we drop it by the wayside, and we run after our glittering dreams of monstrous happiness.

Which Great Writers are Easiest to Underestimate?

Jane Austen. Which sounds silly, considering how widely she is adored, and the praise that some have heaped upon her. But you know, it's easy to underestimate the Beatles, too. Even though they're widely considered the greatest rock group of all time, few have studied their music or their history enough to see how many things they did first, how original, brilliant and consistent their songwriting was, how rich their sonic stew . . . well, Austen's the same. You have to study her deeply and from many angles to discover all she has going on; then you have to study literary history to appreciate that she was a century ahead of her time. On top of which, there are all those people who never gave her a second chance, or who are trapped in the image of Austen, and never noticed all the bits which don't fit.


Which Writers have Depth or Craft that most Readers Don't See?

Others that occur to me are Emily Dickinson, Chekhov; and perhaps Wodehouse, Hemingway, and Bob Dylan.

There are many areas of writing that are taken less seriously than others. So writers of humor, horror, and fantasy are often taken less seriously than they deserve, when they may be superb at their craft. This extends to any genre that smacks somewhat of lowbrow: science-fiction, westerns, thrillers, and certainly romance.

The rules of the game were made up by dead white men and, even after forty years of shifting the goalposts, they're still somewhat stuck. So novels which bring a completely fresh perspective (i.e. novels written from a feminine, alternative, or minority viewpoint, or novels from other countries) will often get under-rated, because their particular qualities may be hard to measure against more traditional models.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Nov 15, 2013 at 09:21 PM PST.

Also republished by Sexism and Patriarchy and Community Spotlight.

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  •  Tip Jar & (85+ / 0-)

    Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:

    DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
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    2:00 PM What's on Your E-Reader? Caedy
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    Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
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    Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
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    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Fri Nov 15, 2013 at 05:02:07 PM PST

    •  Daughters (6+ / 0-)

      Both of my grown-and-gone daughters were encouraged to read from when they were very small. The house rule was that if you had nothing else to do, and you were reading, no one was allowed to bother you.

      My wife and I did not read to our young girls. They watched Electric Company and Sesame Street. Importantly, my wife and I are both readers. We like to read. Both daughters observed that mom and dad were always reading. They received age-appropriate books in the beginning. If they got stuck, we would pronounce and explain a word. As soon as they demonstrated they would not destroy other people's books they received library cards with adult check-out privileges. They were allowed to read anything, and they were not censored in any way.

      They both graduated from a nice, private college, having degrees; one  in English Literature and the other in Religion/Anthropology. They're both gainfully employed and married. They are both readers. For what it's worth, they're both liberals.

      •  I used to tutor kids for the SAT. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, poco, No Exit, Youffraita

        If you want your kids to do well at the SAT, the best thing you can do is get them reading books for fun as early and often as possible.

        Well done with your daughters.

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

        by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 01:03:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  OT, Brecht, (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Brecht, RiveroftheWest, poco

          but tons of new comments since yesterday & I wanted to ask you something.

          I think it's wonderful you're focusing on great women writers, and it's long past time for someone here to do so.

          But in the distant future: what about Shakespeare? I bet we could have a lively discussion there, too.

          Now I'm scurrying off to read the tons of new comments. You really opened a genie's bottle with this topic! Thank you VERY much -- I'm loving it.

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

          by Youffraita on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 11:24:11 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well, it's very good for you to nudge me that way. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Youffraita, RiveroftheWest, poco

            I adore Shakespeare. He's a bit more intimidating, I guess - in that there's so much in any of his plays, that it's easy to miss really obvious points.

            I've been talking about rereading Shakespeare for years. I should just start doing it next year. Then I'll have more time left to get to a third and a fourth reading of his plays. There are a few I've read multiple times already; mostly the ones I acted in.

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

            by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 11:38:36 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I for one would welcome the discussion... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              poco, Brecht

              esp. if you stick to the ones I've already read, LOL.

              Seriously, I adore the comedies, and Midsummer Night's Dream. Of the major plays, the only one I don't like is Hamlet (what a wuss) but I'm sure you can tell me why I'm wrong.

              The Scottish Play is a masterpiece. IMO, of course.

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

              by Youffraita on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 12:19:50 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  'Hamlet' was a brilliant and revolutionary study (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Youffraita, RiveroftheWest, poco

                in character and introspection. But I find it too Hamlet-centric as a play. My own favorite is King Lear, which has more three-dimensional characters and plot.

                I'll be thinking about it. Tempting to go through them all in the order he wrote them; though I'm less tempted to diary every single one.

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

                by Brecht on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 12:48:10 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  Coming Soon to Books Go Boom! (26+ / 0-)

    Mrs. Dalloway


    Their Eyes Were Watching God

    Song of Solomon


    Schedules appear to be allergic to me. So I won't promise which dates these diaries will appear on. They'll all appear, in this order, on Fridays in November and December. But it's possible other diaries will also appear, in between some of these.

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

    by Brecht on Fri Nov 15, 2013 at 09:25:51 PM PST

  •  I agree: (42+ / 0-)
    Most readers miss at least some of Austen's complexity. Many of her strongest skills are very subtle: she is a queen of plotting, wit and irony; she works magic with her narrative voice (using bold innovations - which have informed every novelist who came after her); and she owns one of the brightest and clearest styles in all of literature. Yet all of these gifts are easy to ignore, or take for granted.
    I think part of the reason is that what Austen did was essentially -- perhaps quintessentially -- modern. (I consider her the first truly modern novelist.)

    Because she was pioneering a style we are now used to -- that is to say, clear prose that doesn't get in the way -- it is easy to ignore her or underestimate her.

    But there's a lot of work involved in putting together an intricate story in prose so smooth that the style seems to disappear. I don't think the average reader appreciates exactly how difficult it is.

    Now back to finish reading ;-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 15, 2013 at 09:47:56 PM PST

  •  This (18+ / 0-)
    He is a writer and professor - educated, aware of other cultures and fine distinctions - who's not interested in what women write, because it doesn't speak to him, it's just not that significant.
    reminded me for some reason of an intro Robert Silverberg wrote for a James Tiptree, Jr. collection, Warm Worlds and Otherwise. Wiki doesn't have the direct quote, but iirc, Silverberg wrote something like there have been rumors that Tiptree is a woman. No: his writing is too muscular or words to that effect.

    I haven't read all her work, but Tiptree was also writing about relationships. It's just that some of the stories had aliens in them too. And "The Women Men Don't See" is a small masterpiece of psychology.

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

    by Youffraita on Fri Nov 15, 2013 at 10:10:42 PM PST

    •  There is a beautiful irony in chapter 7 of 'Emma' (22+ / 0-)

      Harriet Smith has just received a letter of proposal from her farmer friend. She asks Emma to read it herself. The lovely jest is, Emma is impressed that Robert writes so like a gentleman; but every "masculine" quality that impresses her in the letter is also a hallmark of Austen's own writing.

      Emma was not sorry to be pressed. She read, and was surprised. The style of the letter was much above her expectation. There were not merely no grammatical errors, but as a composition it would not have disgraced a gentleman; the language, though plain, was strong and unaffected, and the sentiments it conveyed very much to the credit of the writer. It was short, but expressed good sense, warm attachment, liberality, propriety, even delicacy of feeling. She paused over it, while Harriet stood anxiously watching for her opinion, with a "Well, well," and was at last forced to add, "Is it a good letter? or is it too short?"

      "Yes, indeed, a very good letter," replied Emma rather slowly--"so good a letter, Harriet, that every thing considered, I think one of his sisters must have helped him. I can hardly imagine the young man whom I saw talking with you the other day could express himself so well, if left quite to his own powers, and yet it is not the style of a woman; no, certainly, it is too strong and concise; not diffuse enough for a woman. No doubt he is a sensible man, and I suppose may have a natural talent for--thinks strongly and clearly--and when he takes a pen in hand, his thoughts naturally find proper words. It is so with some men. Yes, I understand the sort of mind. Vigorous, decided, with sentiments to a certain point, not coarse. A better written letter, Harriet (returning it,) than I had expected."

      Oh, Jane - you slay me. She had a lot of fun with this chapter.

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

      by Brecht on Fri Nov 15, 2013 at 10:38:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Lois McMaster Bujold (17+ / 0-)

    I looked at the list of female prize winners and have read a few of them:  Smiley, Welty, Lessing.  I'm surprised Annie Proulx's The Shipping News did not win anything.

    Science fiction is probably an equally male dominated genre  but Lois McMaster Bujold has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards (the genre's highest).  Her first novel Shard of Honor I think is really good.  

    One thing Bujold does is think quite a bit about her back stories and themes.  She also has written novels in several different genres, all within fantasy and science fiction.  

    She had one of her books reviewed by romance readers and by male readers.  They had different views of the book.  The guys would write, "that's a really cool fight scene" and the romance folk would write "the guys fought for ten pages and then we got back to the real story."  The readers just viewed the books differently.  

    Partly because I like the fight scenes, I just not much romance so Emma not a book I've read, though I did buy a copy years ago.  Just a matter of taste.  Now I've been encouraged to get to it.

    Bujold's Father was an scientistengineer. If we assume some of the author's life creeps into the story, reading between the lines of  her stories, sounds like LMB was not encouraged to follow in her father's foot steps.   And her brothers were mean to her, I guess.  

    Seems logical that woman coming from males goodwoman subservient patrichrial families are likely not to write.  They have a lot to overcome.   While things are opening a bit, still seems to me there is in this country a large segment of woman who are just unlikely to write based on their family circumstances.

    Dickinson's poetic efforts were panned by a male poetry editor.  Might have been enough to drive her back into reclusivity.

    “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” ― Will Rogers (Of course this also applies to me.)

    by MugWumpBlues on Fri Nov 15, 2013 at 11:10:55 PM PST

    •  Well (18+ / 0-)
      Dickinson's poetic efforts were panned by a male poetry editor.  Might have been enough to drive her back into reclusivity.
      it's true she was never published during her lifetime. OTOH, she never threw out or burned her poems either. I believe it was a niece of hers who finally got them published, posthumously.

      From our perspective, it's no surprise that a Victorian Era editor wouldn't understand Dickinson's work. But she knew what she was doing, what she had. And she was nearly a century ahead of her contemporaries.

      BTW, Brecht talks about romance in Austen's work a lot,'s not like romance at all. It's not like romance as we know it in novels now, and it's not like romance as the term was used for novels 100 years ago. (For example, I believe The Scarlet Pimpernel was at one time considered a romance. The meaning of the term has altered over time.)

      What Austen is actually doing is depicting the courtship dance among a specific group and in the process skewering the mores of said group.

      It's much sharper and more ironic than "romantic."

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

      by Youffraita on Fri Nov 15, 2013 at 11:23:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I read the Lois McMaster Bujold that won the Hugo (11+ / 0-)

      and the Nebula, Paladin of Souls, and I was underwhelmed. But people keep talking her up, so I'll try again, one day. I hear lots of praise for Annie Proulx.

      Your criticism of Bujold's alternating current is interesting. A lot of books end up that way, like parallel books in one cover. The best art often joins disparate elements, and manages to unite them into some weird whole where they both all fit at once.

      Yes, Dickinson was mis-edited, smoothed closer to existing styles, until after 1950. She was too rough and strange for her own time to grasp her.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 01:06:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  If you read Austen for something other than (11+ / 0-)

      romance, you'll enjoy her much more then.  That's what I read her for in high school.  Now I read her for her incredible wit first, then for her character development and social statements, and finally for the plots.  The reason she's undervalued is because most people consider the romance as the center of the book.  If you look deeper, you can discover so much more!

      •  This is true (4+ / 0-)

        And it is also true of Charlotte and Emily Bronte.  It drives me crazy when people take the romance (such as it is) and toss out everything else.  

        I love Jane Austen, but frankly, Jane in Jane Eyre kicks ass far harder and further than Elizabeth or Eleanor.

        •  Sure! (5+ / 0-)
          I love Jane Austen, but frankly, Jane in Jane Eyre kicks ass far harder and further than Elizabeth or Eleanor.
          But Austen was inventing the genre in which the Brontes could work. And I think Brecht mentioned that what the Brontes wrote was at least partly to push back against Austen.

          You really can't separate them b/c Austen's influence is so incredibly vast.

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

          by Youffraita on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 10:42:29 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  The Brontes were not only writing (5+ / 0-)

          in response to Austen, they were writing later than Austen. The world was changing and even that little shift made for big differences in horizons and the realm of the possible, even as a fiction.

          Austen was dead in 1817. Charlotte Bronte was born in 1816. Austen was born one year before the Bronte's father was born.

          Really, it doesn't make sense to compare them as if they were contemporaries. Imagine what Austen's daughters might have done if she had had any. They would have been of the Bronte sisters' generation.

          People bundle them together (English, 18th century, female) but really, it does a disservice to them all to make that comparison in the way that you do: "ass-kicking" women.

          •  Jane Austen kicks far more against the pricks than (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            poco, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

            most of her readers notice.

            She achieved this enormous fan base for her polite, swoony romances - which is just the first layer of a rich and varied trifle.

            As has been observed, the millions of readers who swallow her whole without digesting all the subtle and gritty parts, are exactly the kind of people Austen skewered best.

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

            by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 01:12:44 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Really? (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RiveroftheWest, poco, Brecht
              She achieved this enormous fan base for her polite, swoony romances - which is just the first layer of a rich and varied trifle.
              Maybe you have insider knowledge, Brecht, but I thought Austen gained her position in the canon with her skewers against hypocrisy...rendered oh so carefully, with a scalpel not an axe.

              She is the past master of damning with faint praise. She may have invented it, in fact.

              Maybe I missed something, but none of her works (that I've read) had anything in common with "swoony romances." Not if you know how to read, anyway.

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

              by Youffraita on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 12:04:35 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  You're talking of two very distinct Austens there: (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                RiveroftheWest, poco

                Her "enormous fan base" and her "position in the canon" are almost built on opposite aspects of her work.

                There's an article I think you'd find both entertaining and informative, "Pride & Prejudice" Forever:

                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. . . .

                Austen’s academic appeal escalated in 1912 with the publication of a scholarly edition of Pride and Prejudice, the first English novel in history to receive this kind of treatment. . . The avalanche of literary criticism that followed Chapman’s editions (and that accelerates to this day) tended to divide professors from populists and to eschew the romanticization that characterized an earlier generation of scholars. This division was profoundly shaped by a 1940 essay by D. W. Harding called “Regulated Hatred,” a scholarly call to arms against Austen’s adoring minions. Justifying the need for literary critical analysis of an author the average reader could never possibly understand, Harding declared that Austen is “read and enjoyed by precisely the sort of people whom she disliked.” Harding’s position was extreme (as he himself admitted), and many current scholars, ourselves included, would reject it. Nevertheless, a division between populist and scholarly readings can be traced at least as far back as his article. . . .

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

                by Brecht on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 01:07:27 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

          •  She wasn't writing in response to Austen (0+ / 0-)

            She hadn't even read Austen.

  •  The usual perceptive take, Brecht! (15+ / 0-)

    Good evening! I enjoyed reading this.

  •  an elegant and well thought out position (6+ / 0-)

    but one I ultimately disagree with as I think you assign motivations and reasoning to Austin that she simply didn't have.

    Der Weg ist das Ziel

    by duhban on Fri Nov 15, 2013 at 11:47:19 PM PST

    •  Neither of us can be certain of Jane Austen's (14+ / 0-)

      "motivations and reasoning": she disappears behind her work, like Shakespeare does, leaving slim hints of her deeper aims.

      I do try and pick apart Austen's devices, to find their beating heart, and infer her inner gods - just as I do with Shakespeare - just as I do with everyone and everything that intrigues me. If I state my theories confidently, I still know their theories, and provisional.

      So when I point to Austen's Romantic Code, "about kind and noble hearts; open-minded, perceptive responsiveness to all the people around us; and people ending up together who match each other well", I know that happy ending is only part of her view. She also has a satiric code, where even the most precious truths are questioned and undercut. And she has a few more codes I haven't cracked yet.

      My best guess is, not only does Austen have the motivations and reasoning I referred to, she has many more besides. There was a lot to her, and she poured all of it into her craft.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 12:47:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  She was a genius. (16+ / 0-)

        I don't think that is in dispute.

        How she achieved her literary aims, well, that's been an ongoing conversation for 200 years, and shows no signs of abating.

        Then again, the conversation about Shakespeare has continued for almost 600 years, right?

        Gasp, yes, I just compared Austen to Shakespeare. In some ways, they were mining the same territory.

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

        by Youffraita on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 01:08:19 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Another terrific diary, Brecht. Thank you. n/t (10+ / 0-)
      •  very true (5+ / 0-)

        but imo (and yes it's just an opinion) Austin pretty much wrote the same type of 'Twlight like' romance that we see today. By which I mean literature that isn't meant really to be picked apart and exists solely as romantic fantasy. There's nothing wrong with that but I just don't see anything about a code as after all all the things Austen wrote about were what young girls and women aspired to have both in romance and in a husband.

        Personally speaking I would argue you can gleam more out of Shakespeare and his works precisely because the man did so repeatedly and repeated certain themes. But then again maybe I'm only seeing what I want to see. That's the crazy thing about literature, people can read the same book or author and come to different conclusions. Where one see s light hearted but if slightly vapid romantic claptrap another can see something deeper.

        Regardless of the ultimate 'truth' here I salute both your effort and the reasoning you present. If I ever pick up Austen again (and to be honest that's a dim prospect I barely made it though the first time) I will definitely keep your arguments in mind.


        Der Weg ist das Ziel

        by duhban on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 01:14:27 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  There is plenty to pick apart in Austin. (7+ / 0-)

          It isn't like Twilight at all, although Twilight may be like Austen. :-)

          I think we are not conditioned by our culture to FIND things to pick apart in the domestic lives of women. Sadly, even women feel that way. Culture looks at our lives superficially (even now) and generally finds them without meaning. If that is the lens that women are viewed under, it isn't surprising that their cultural contributions are also viewed that way.

          Austen did not live for very long, and left unfinished works behind her. She suffered ill health and did not have a prodigious output like Shakespeare, whoever he was! :-)

          •  I disagree (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            there's some amazing women writers out there full of nuance and meaning I just don't think Austen is one of them

            Der Weg ist das Ziel

            by duhban on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 09:43:11 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Austen is full of nuance and meaning. (6+ / 0-)

              It is fair to say that it doesn't speak to you. But it is a falsehood to say that it doesn't exist. Opinion v fact.

              •  except your claim it exists is opinion (0+ / 0-)

                Der Weg ist das Ziel

                by duhban on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 03:33:22 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Sure, technically badscience's argument is opinion (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  RiveroftheWest, Youffraita, poco

                  but it's an opinion shared by all the literary scholars who have delved furthest into Jane Austen and her work.

                  Consider Economics and Psychology. They're not quite sciences, because they deal with immensely complex interconnected systems and psyches. There is no lab where you can dissect an economy or a personality to find definitive answers. But you can study these things very closely, apply all kinds of measurements, and test your hypotheses in the real world.

                  Literature is a whole lot further out along this branch of uncertainty. So you can get very well-read, thoughtful writers who say Shakespeare isn't all that, he's hugely overrated (as Tolstoy and George Bernard Shaw both wrote). But most other well-read, thoughtful people think this argument doesn't dent Shakespeare - it just makes us wonder how Tolstoy and George Bernard Shaw were so off-base.

                  Without bringing truth into it, I find back and forth arguments about literary taste get circular and obtuse after about six comments. And in the end, this is about taste: badscience and I are tasting something in Austen's writing, which you have not found there.

                  If I'm hosting a diary, I feel responsible for, and also enjoy, friendly conversation or spirited debate. But once I'm sure I've grasped someone's argument, and all the reasons behind it - well, if we still don't see eye-to-eye, I let it go.

                  For example, Youffraita finds Thomas Hardy insufferable, while I find much good in him. But now that we've both thrashed out all our reasons, I let her vent about Hardy, and just walk on by.


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

                  by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 05:32:16 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  well I could return with the argument (0+ / 0-)

                    that in sheer number of people my view is the one that's correct. I haven't because I think it's a fairly hollow argument as is any argument that refers to 'well this number of experts think this way so it has to be true'.

                    I will say you're right that ultimately this is about taste and that these comments can get very circular very fast. That is something I have tried very hard to avoid in all my comments. At the same time though I'm not going to lightly back away from my position either just as I don't expect you or anyone else to.

                    I get your point Brecht but I hope you also see mine in that I am simply don't going to back down from opinions stated as fact. I never have and I doubt I ever will.

                    Der Weg ist das Ziel

                    by duhban on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 09:39:17 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  ROFL (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    RiveroftheWest, Brecht

                    Y'know, Brecht, I love you. And no, we will never agree about Hardy. Although we do agree about one aspect of Hardy: reading him makes you want to slit your wrists.

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

                    by Youffraita on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 12:09:36 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

        •  If you believe this, you have not paid attention (8+ / 0-)

          to her writing and, IMO, shows a lack of understanding in you rather than Austen.  There is so much wit,so many social statements and so mich character development  in Austen, anyone who misses it isn't paying attention.  Yes, it's subtle, but that's hat makes it so sweet.

          •  or perhaps I have I just disagree with the (0+ / 0-)


            Der Weg ist das Ziel

            by duhban on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 09:43:36 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  You can state that it doesn't speak to you. (6+ / 0-)

              The quiet critique of the lives of gentlewomen and their domestic concerns in the early 19th century is clearly not of interest to you. Fair enough.

              But the analysis is sound.

              There are plenty of writers that I acknowledge are great, but whom I do not enjoy reading and from whom I take away very little. That is about me. It is not about the writers.

              I don't mean to say that the canon is always as great as the "experts" claim. But much of it is great.

              I have no interest or patience with Nathaniel Hawthorne. That doesn't mean he wrote poorly about subjects of no consequence. I don't much like Dickens. I would never argue that because it doesn't interest me much that it is not great, or that the subjects are not of consequence.

              I don't know from what avenues you arrive at your conclusion that there is nothing of substance in Austen's writing. However, if you have not, you might pick up some scholarly analyses of her oeuvre and see what literary scholars have to say on the subject. It might open your mind a little, even if her work still does not connect with you.

              •  I enjoy your arguing. You are insightful, accurate (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                poco, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

                and often winningly feisty.

                The distinction you make here is the first rule of criticism, for me: learning to see the difference between Books you just Like, and Books that are Good at what they do.

                It amazes me how few people, how few published critics, keep these two lenses separate. Half the reviews I read are just throwing colorful words for "like" or "dislike" at some art, trying to make them stick.

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

                by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 01:22:24 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  of course Brecht's anaylsis is sound (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                I already have said that above.

                But it (like just about any literature analysis) is also subjective just as any analysis is. It's incredibly well written and well reasoned. It's very convincing too but at the end of the day I don't see the clues that Brecht does. That's not to say that Austen wrote poorly in point of fact I never said that. Perhaps you felt that by me comparing it to Twilight I meant that? Because I didn't the only comparison was the one I made. Namely that both are popular romance books that play to what is currently popular.

                I have to say being condescending isn't going to get you anywhere with me. My mind is open enough in general I just simply disagree with the axioms that you start with.

                Der Weg ist das Ziel

                by duhban on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 03:29:17 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  No. You stated that it exists simply as (6+ / 0-)

              "romantic fantasy".  If that's all you see there, it means that you're unable to see what there is that goes far beyond that.  It means you've missed what's really there.  It's not a matter of opinion whether Austen displays an incredible amount of wit.  It's not an opinion that made numerous subtle critiques of society in her books.  It's not an opinion that she developed characters in a unique way that you can miss the first 5 times you read a book, then suddenly discover on the 6th reading.  Those are all facts.  That you're unable to appreciate those facts might well be true, and that's fine.  Nothing wrong with missing much of what's in any particular book or author.  But to dismiss it as nothing more than "romantic fantasy" and then claim it's your "analysis" rather than your inability to analyse is disingenious at best.

              •  My best defense of duhban is, millions have made (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                poco, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

                that exact same mistake with Austen.

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

                by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 01:24:23 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Sure! (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  RiveroftheWest, poco, Brecht

                  Millions also are unable to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of novels: hence the popularity of Dan Brown and that Twilight person.

                  When it comes to novels, I generally avoid the NYT bestseller lists, b/c so much of what "millions" like is anathema to me.

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

                  by Youffraita on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 12:41:43 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

              •  :sigh: (0+ / 0-)

                I have been enjoying this conversation so far but if you are going to start the self righteous 'I'm right you're wrong' nonsense then I am going to not respond to you. You might not like it but ultimately this is opinion. It's well argued and well spoken but ultimately opinion. I don't see the axioms that you or Brecht does not mean anything more then I simply disagree.

                I would suggest that you work on disagreeing without being disagreeable.

                Der Weg ist das Ziel

                by duhban on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 03:32:41 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  No matter how many times you say it's opinion, (4+ / 0-)

                  it still won't be opinion; it will be fact.  You don't get Austin's irony.  Regardless of that, it is there.  That's not opinion; it's fact.  Your inability to grasp that irony is also a fact.  You read Austin and dismissed her as nothing but a "romantic" writer.  That's fine.  

                  While you can say that you don't find her books humorous, or that you find the characters flat, you can't say they aren't funny or that her characters are flat. When so many others find so much depth there, you're not finding it there means not that you can have an opinion that it's not there, but only that you have not managed to find it, perhaps because you've never tried.

                  It's not a matter of not agreeing; it's a matter of your not seeing.  And your unwillingness to say "hey, these people get a lot more from her than I did; maybe there's more there than I realized and someday I might even pull it out and check it out" shows a closemindedness that doesn't bode well for your education.

                  I don't care for Shakespeare.  I don't find there what others find, probably because I have difficulty with sounds and the language he wrote in is unfamiliar to my ear, so the meaning simply gets lost.  However, I would never have the audacity to say "I don't think Shakespeare is all that good, and I just have a different opinion of his writings than you".  Rather, I would and do say "I know Shakespeare is a great writer because so many others get so much from him, and I therefore know it's my shortcomings, my inability to grasp what he's saying in the way he's saying it, that is the problem.  Maybe if I worked harder to discover what's there, I could get it, too, but I'm not willing to put that effort into it right now.  Maybe someday I will and I'll then discover what so many others have discovered."

                  Your dismissing one of the great authors as being merely a romantic writer simply because she wrote of relationships in a limited sphere is not merely opinion.  It's a sexist and  arrogant assumption of what subjects can be written of in a great way and simply shows a lack of knowledge and understanding, not simply a different opinion.  

                  •  look this has been respectful and friendly (0+ / 0-)

                    so please just stop. It's your opinion and in Brecht's case it's a well reasoned and well stated one but still an opinion.

                    I'm not going to put up with your ad hom and smears on me. Yes in my opinion Austen is just a romantic writer  but that's not meant as a smear on her. I am sorry you are so bent out of shape over that but your opinion is no more or less valid then mine.

                    You really need to get over yourself.

                    Der Weg ist das Ziel

                    by duhban on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 09:42:07 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  It's fair to ask "Let's keep this respectful and (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      RiveroftheWest, Youffraita, poco

                      friendly". When you say "please just stop", that's not as fair. You make it sound like the problem is all gustynpip's fault, and gustynpip needs to stop it - when actually, you're both being pushy, and starting to get rude.

                      If you want to get rude, I don't think either of you will convince the other - but, hey, it's a free country. But if you do get rude (e.g. "You really need to get over yourself"), then don't be a hall monitor too (e.g. "so please just stop").

                      I'm trying not to take sides here, as this is my diary. My bottom line is: I'd rather you don't fight; if you do fight, just fight fair and take your lumps.

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

                      by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 10:27:11 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I have accused no one of sexism or arrogance (0+ / 0-)

                        or anything else in this debate despite the honest truth being I think you are wrong and that gustynpip is wrong. So no I reject your claim that I have any culpability here. I have been respectful but firm gustynpip has not.

                        Personally I'd rather not fight either as I said I've enjoyed this discussion it's been intriguing and you in fact have convinced me at the very least that one day I should give Austen another chance. But I simply will not put up with being told I am sexist because someone doesn't like my opinion or can not accept the reality that we are not arguing hard facts here.

                        Der Weg ist das Ziel

                        by duhban on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 11:00:13 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  You did accuse gustynpip of arrogance, implicitly: (4+ / 0-)

                          You said "You really need to get over yourself."

                          The meaning behind that phrase is "You're being arrogant."


                          How come you get to take the moral high ground, and say

                          "look this has been respectful and friendly
                          so please just stop."
                          but you also get in a punch back, calling gustynpip arrogant with "You really need to get over yourself"?

                          You're not fighting fair, duhban. You can take the high road, or you can take the low road. You don't get to take both in the same comment.

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

                          by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 11:33:27 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  Heh: only you, Brecht, could (3+ / 0-)

                            have a pie-throwing contest in a diary about a famous, long-dead author.


                            FWIW, you're right.

                            duhban? stick with Dan Brown. Clearly he is writing to your reading level.

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

                            by Youffraita on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 12:52:36 AM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  that's at best incomplete (0+ / 0-)

                            Yes I said that AFTER I was accused of being sexist because I think Austen is a romantic author nothing less nothing more.

                            So yes Brecht I have been respectful and friendly but as I said I will not stand for smears on my character. You can accept that or not but we've talked about this false equivalency (as I see it) of yours before.

                            Where is your comment to gustynpip about calling me sexist? Oh yeah there is none which makes this pure hypocrisy. I'm sorry this ended badly as it as a fun debate but I'm not going to apologize for defending myself from being called sexist because some self important, self righteous person can't handle disagreement.

                            This will be my last post in this diary as I was happy to keep replying here so long as we were having a spirited but friendly conversation but between your hypocrisy and being called a sexist because I don't think Austen is full of hidden meaning well I think anything productive is over.

                            It's a shame that a bunch of self important self inflated people ruined this Brecht as it was fun and engaging.

                            Der Weg ist das Ziel

                            by duhban on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 01:36:56 AM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                        •  You are right in one respect duhban - I did (4+ / 0-)

                          adopt a somewhat patronizing tone in my responses to you and I apologize for that.  What I was trying to do - and failed miserably at - was trying to get you to open your mind to the idea that maybe the reason you aren't impressed with her is simply because you missed what is there because it's subtle and easy for a simple reading to miss - particularly if you read it only for the plot, which is essentially romantic.

                          The reason for my irritation with you probably arises from a very long ago instance when in one of my first college English courses, the male professor asked us who our favorite author was.  Mine was and always has been Austen.  When I responded with that honest answer, however, he immediately dismissed me as a lover of romance.  He did that because of a flaw in HIS thinking, not in mine.  I also loved Doestoevsky, Tolstoy, Harding, Sands, and many others.  But the wit, the recognition of the limitations of womens' roles, and the character development, together with the simplicity of the writing, were what I loved about Austen.

                          That professor obviously thought he had a superior intellectual standard that was evidenced by his dismissal of Austen as a serious literary writer and that's the same gut reaction I had to your post as well.  When you subsequently refused to accept even the possibility that it might be a fault in you rather than in Austen that you failed to see the depths of her simple writing convinced me further and made me lose perspective in my response.

                          •  and what if (3+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Brecht, RiveroftheWest, poco

                            having an open mind I simply don't agree? And to be clear I'm not dismissing you or your opinion on this. It's your opinion and Brecht has made some very good points as to why that opinion is the superior one though I'm really not completely convinced.

                            If it helps you any I had a similar experience only it was with a couple of sci fi authors. And so I can sympathize but I am not that professor and I am not dismissing anything. I am simply disagreeing.

                            Der Weg ist das Ziel

                            by duhban on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 07:28:54 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  It's just people's opinion that the world is round (2+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Brecht, duhban

                            and that the universe was created in seven days, too.

                          •  I'm sorry but no (0+ / 0-)

                            you're conflating verifiable facts like whether the earth is round with an opinion on writing. Unless you can produce some writing of Austen's that confirms your opinion it remains just that an opinion.

                            If you refuse to or don't want to see that then I'm simply going to wish you well.

                            Der Weg ist das Ziel

                            by duhban on Tue Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31:36 AM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                  •  Hey. gustynpip: if you want to read Shakespeare (3+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    RiveroftheWest, gustynpip, Brecht

                    and get it better, there's a book we had to read when I took a H.S. Shakespeare class. It's called The Elizabethan World Picture and it's only about 90 pages long, but it tells you a lot about the mindset during the period he was writing.

                    I'm not saying it obviates a need for an annotated Shakespeare: but it certainly helps. And I'm pretty sure it's still in print b/c I think pretty much every teacher of Shakespeare 101 uses it.

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

                    by Youffraita on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 12:47:46 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

        •  Twilight is a PRIME example of poor reading (7+ / 0-)

          Stephenie Meyer is a former English major and a terrible reader.  She sees nothing but romance in Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights, all of which she borrows from copiously, and totally misses larger themes of independence, moral strength, and the dangers of addiction and obsession.

          And if you don't believe me that she is a thin and superficial reader, consider this: she refers heavily to Merchant of Venice in the last book and totally misses the Anti-Semitism.

        •  I disagree - but you know that, since you read the (6+ / 0-)

          diary. I see in Austen all sorts of levels, and subtlety, and crafting so perfect you don't even see the magnificent work that went into it.

          Yes, I agree you can glean more from Shakespeare: but you can get more out of Shakespeare than anyone, as he's the greatest writer who ever lived (if we judge by his body of work). He's a good comparison to Austen, as they shared many excellences. They both were masters of their craft, ahead of their time, combined many angles and tones into one smooth flow, speak directly to our understanding as clearly as a telepath, and unlock the codes of the human heart. But Shakespeare does paint on a larger, more colorful canvas.

          You're not the first person to see only the surface flow of Austen, the romantic comedy plot. She made it very easy to drink up that story, without worrying about the rest of her work. But there are acres of darkness, brilliance, and sharp wit in Austen that you haven't uncovered yet. If there weren't, why would so many other great writers have said that Austen was better than them?

          When Austen died, Sir Walter Scott was the most popular novelist in the world. Scott praised Austen's works, celebrating her ability to copy "from nature as she really exists in the common walks of life, and presenting to the reader ... a correct and striking representation of that which is daily taking place around him". Scott may well have been the first to install Austen as the realist par excellence. Scott wrote in his private journal in 1826, in what later became a widely quoted comparison:

          Also read again and for the third time at least Miss Austen's very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going, but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!

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

          by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 12:57:38 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Jane Austen's world (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Portlaw, Brecht, Ice Blue, RiveroftheWest

    I read Pride and Prejudice as a set book at school and have never read anything by Jane Austen since. Presumably she chose to write about things she knew, rather than trying to expand the canvass to areas of life she was not familiar with.

    I recall that Pride and Prejudice includes soldiers, but in a domestic setting of attending balls and eloping with one of the sillier Bennett sisters (see I do remember some of the plot, even after 40 years). However there is no attempt to analyse soldiers, in a non domestic setting.

    Jane Austen could have investigated the life of the military, to a certain extent. Two of her brothers were naval officers (who ended up as Admirals, one of them the senior Admiral in the Royal Navy). She could have asked them what happened in the armed forces when the women were not present, although she might not have got very useful information for a novelist who wanted a realistic setting for story telling. It was probably wiser to stick closer to thins Jane Austen knew something about.

    There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

    by Gary J on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 02:51:33 AM PST

  •  As a music teacher, I cringed a tad about... (15+ / 0-)

    ...your analogy. Austen has little in common with a common rock band, regardless of how much one enjoys it. Her work is akin to Mozart's, which is often looked down upon by men as fussy or feminine. Like Austen, Mozart was confined to a narrow world. The musical conventions and theory of the time were strict, and he worked for nobles that would brook little dissonance. Yet he transcended his peers through deep and subtle understanding, in his operas, of the characters, using music to bring Beaumarchais' stale little play to a level of the sublime.

  •  Mark Twain (15+ / 0-)

    was underestimated for decades, the problem being that he is easy to read and funny. Why is it that I can read him for hours without tiring, and your average Nobel winner puts me to sleep?

    As to the Beatles, there are now graduate degrees offered in Beatles studies.  Their achievement had a great deal in common with Dickens--they were self-taught, globally popular purveyors of high art for the masses who struck a lasting blow for good humor and social justice.

    •  those Beatles records (7+ / 0-)

      also cover recording/technological innovations and breakthrus. People are still studying their studio techniques.

      Nothing says "we care" like a Tomahawk missile strike.

      by nota bene on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 09:37:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Mark Twain is a great example. He has many gifts, (7+ / 0-)

      was fearlessly original, and - like Austen - has such an accessible voice, overflowing with humanity, easy to befriend.

      Time has been kind to Twain: Huck Finn is rated perhaps the great US novel of the 1800s, alongside Moby Dick, and far ahead of The Scarlet Letter and Last of the Mohicans.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 11:13:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The Scarlet Letter basically sucked (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, Brecht, badscience

        I haven't read Last of the Mohicans, but if it's by the same hack who wrote Leatherstocking, it's prose so bad it's almost unreadable to the modern eye.

        In fact, I forget exactly which writer Twain skewered in an hysterical essay on bad writing. Someone here probably remembers it: Twain took a pretentious, wordy paragraph and boiled it down to a sentence, in what is one of the funniest essays ever.

        So I have to say, Brecht, I don't think "time has been kind to Twain" so much as that Twain (like Austen, like Shakespeare) was a writer for the ages, and those others were merely writers of and for their time.

        Which time is long past.

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

        by Youffraita on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 11:03:55 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  There is dark and bitter power in 'Scarlet Letter' (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          poco, Youffraita, RiveroftheWest, No Exit

          but not much beauty or fun. James Fenimore Cooper may be easy to laugh at now (and I'm pretty sure he's the one Twain skewered), but he was telling tales of America (albeit in a European style), and was the most popular and acclaimed of those four writers, in his time. Twain did become a national treasure later in life.

          Twain left an ambitious and diverse body of work, so he looks the most interesting as a writer. But Moby Dick alone, strange beast though it be, is one of the greatest novels of all. Hard to measure if it's greater than Huck Finn - which is more accessible to the average reader (who gets tired of all the whaliness in Moby Dick), but which I found fumbled and anti-climactic, with the whole busting-Jim-out charade.

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

          by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 01:22:23 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I can't argue with you (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            poco, badscience, RiveroftheWest, Brecht

            re: Moby Dick b/c I was mercifully spared that behemoth in high school and never felt the need to read about rendering whale blubber.

            The Scarlet Letter was, as I recall, a prime example of Words Get In The Way. Yes, okay, the preacher's hypocrisy is bad: next?

            Yes! Cooper! Twain took a paragraph, I think 56 words, and edited it to a sentence of about 14 w/out losing anything. It's a masterful essay, and I wish I had a copy of his collected essays. And I know Cooper was popular during his time, but he's not a modern writer: he looks positively antique next to Austen, who was writing well before he was, I think.

            Cooper also popularized the "noble savage" fiction.

            So, anyway, here's the thing: people, many many people, still read Austen and Twain for fun. Because they're terrific writers and they still speak to us. Few outside the academy gladly dive into Moby Dick, and even fewer, in or out, still read Cooper.

            The Scarlet Letter still gets taught, of course, b/c it's one of the first reasonably decent American novels...but it pales to a ghost compared to the least of Austen's jottings, much less to 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 17, 2013 at 08:54:50 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Cooper was popular... but he's not a modern writer (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              poco, Brecht, Youffraita

              I think that's a good deal of what we're talking about. Great writers are ahead of their times. We might enjoy many other competent writers (I certainly do) who are a pleasure to read, but they don't break boundaries and innovate like the few we call "great."

          •  Scarlet Letter (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            poco, Brecht, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

            I was spared it in high school. Then one night when I was 34 and a new father the baby kept me up and I read it at a sitting--well, five or six sittings, if you count getting the baby back to sleep. It was sensational.   I was nailed from the opening paragraph.  Here it is:

            A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments and grey steeple-crowned hats, inter-mixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.


            •  There's more in Hawthorne than most readers see (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              poco, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

              He's got some haunting short stories, a real fairytale spell. He completely blew Melville's mind, which is how Moby Dick turned out so full of magic.

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

              by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 06:57:42 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  I dunno, archer: (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I read that opening paragraph and I pine for my pillow and my bed.

              Perhaps I'm one of the millions upon whom Scarlet Letter was inflicted and who remain immune to its so-called charms even 40 years later.

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

              by Youffraita on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 01:05:51 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  There oughta be a law (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Youffraita, Brecht, poco

                Teaching Hawthorne, Dickens, and/or Melville to anyone under 40 ought to be a criminal offense.  For Dickens, maybe 50. The reason is, when you're 15 you haven't met any of the characters yet--I mean in your life. You don't know the world is full of Uriah Heeps, and in fact there is probably one in every office. You've never worked for Ahab. Hell, you've never even met Mr. Guppy yet.  But you will, you'll meet them all--and  that's the entire charm of character, the sense of recognition. So they make you read Copperfield and since you don't know any Murdstones yet (you'll work for him, too, I promise you, O teenager) you think the thing is a horrible bore and end up hating it all and wishing only for either death or the bell to release you.  Who can blame you?  I say, give young people stuff to read with subjects that they can relate to, which since they haven't had anything that yet can be called an actual life, should consist of vampires.

                •  LOL! (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Brecht, RiveroftheWest

                  Well, there's S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders. I think that one speaks to all teenagers. It certainly did to me.

                  Holden Caufield? An entitled rich kid with too much money and too permissive parents who probably should have been stuck in military school. What a whiner.

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

                  by Youffraita on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 12:42:39 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  We'd have to have a law requiring people in their (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  RiveroftheWest, Youffraita, poco

                  40s, 50s and 60s to go to a more mature school, too. In your 70s and 80s, it could be optional.

                  The main danger I perceive is, if you shove heavy books down unwilling throats, you put kids off reading. But those kids who are eager readers should have all of these harder books pointed out to them, to read on their own time.

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

                  by Brecht on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 01:12:43 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

  •  For the underestimated list: Josephine Tey. (10+ / 0-)

    Many know her "The Daughter Of Time" but her Inspector Grant novels also share that awareness of the particularity of people and their interweaving. Even better perhaps are her others like "Miss Pym Disposes" and "The Franchise Affair. "

    On mobile - more later.

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

    by Wee Mama on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 05:00:43 AM PST

    •  15 Best Crime/Mystery Books of all time: (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Youffraita, Wee Mama, poco

      This is a short list I got by crossing Two Top 100 Lists:

      Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time (1951)
      John le Carré: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963)
      Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep (1939)
      Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon (1930)
      Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone (1868)
      Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca (1938)
      Agatha Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
      Arthur Conan Doyle: Collected Sherlock Holmes Stories (1892-1927)
      Edgar Allan Poe: Tales of Mystery & Imagination (1852)
      Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night (1935)
      Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (1939)
      Raymond Chandler: Farewell My Lovely (1940)
      Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose (1980)
      Frederick Forsyth: The Day of the Jackal (1971)
      Len Deighton: The IPCRESS File (1962)
      And that's in order - The Daughter Of Time was top of the first 100, and 4th in the second.

      I've only read eight of them, and I haven't gotten to Tey yet. But it's good to know that there are more good Tey's, waiting in the wings. Thanks, Wee Mama.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 07:50:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There was an excellent diary recently about (5+ / 0-)

        The Daughter of Time. Miss Pym Disposes has a "detective" who is a retired school teacher doing an old friend a favor at a women's physical education college - many currents, some surprisingly deep, and a wholly natural way to look at the way women interact with each other away from men. The Franchise Affair is about a farmstead and its people when a young man, thought to have drowned himself years ago as a child, returns.

        They are all eminently re-readable, and like good books are richer and deeper as the reader grows.

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

        by Wee Mama on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 05:00:38 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Very interesting diary and (7+ / 0-)

    comments. Alas, am running very late and will have to save to read more carefully than the skimming they all just got and certainly deserve. Perhaps I will be persuaded to reread Austen. I have always agreed with Edward Said on her.

  •  Harper Lee (16+ / 0-)

    TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is outstanding for its timeliness on racial issues and atypical characters.  Because of this, the poetic feel of her prose gets overlooked.  

    Scout hasn't become old enough to be stupid and she has a dad who isn't the typical Southern gentleman.

    Don't look back, something may be gaining on you. - L. "Satchel" Paige

    by arlene on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 05:21:30 AM PST

  •  Harriet Beecher Stowe was the most influential (10+ / 0-)

    writer, male or female, of the 19th Century. Abigail Adams was a great writer. Perhaps a model for the Alcotts. William Henry Seward's wife, whose name escapes me, wrote letters that should be published. Of course, Eleanor Roosevelt was highly influential, more than her husband at certain points in her career. Julia Ward Howe. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The 19th century list is almost infinite because so many were such prolific writers. Then in the 20th century Benedict, Mead, Arendt, de Beauvoir, etc. Of the poets Emily Dickenson, also Anne Bradstreet.

    •  Stowe may have been the most influential writer, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Youffraita, poco

      if you're measuring by historical effect. When Lincoln met her, they say, he asked “Is this the little woman who made the great war?”.  Turgenev's A Sportsman's Sketches had a similar effect in Russia: when Tsar Alexander II met Turgenev, he told him that his book had helped move him to emancipate the serfs.

      Other 19th century books shook the world. Origin of Species had a meteoric impact. As did Das Kapital.

      I could write a diary or twelve on writers who were influential on the development of literature, and thought: the Romantic Poets, Austen, Dickens, Balzac . . .

      Your own list is impressively erudite - more than I'm informed enough to contend with. Thank you.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 08:20:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  reframing one of your questions: (11+ / 0-)

    why are so few women deemed great novelists...   by men.

    it is still mostly men who decide who gets to be on the great novelists lists, right?

    Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
    Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

    by TrueBlueMajority on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 06:09:50 AM PST

    •  'cause we're more objective... <snark> (8+ / 0-)

      just had to say it!
      but that great books list has so many things I've never read. I'm sure we have built our modern school math on Nichomachus' Introduction to Arithmetic, but who's read it?
      Augustine? pedant.
      Newton? most of us can read it but we won't understand it.
      Gibbon? Rise and Fall is a great example of what is wrong with many history books. Who killed whom to take power then get killed by someone else but no discussion of how politics, education, economics, and all those other things that actually make history get put together.
      yada, yada, yada. The list is a compendium of books that are still remembered but doesn't include the Bible. Seems like if you have a section on Philosophy and Religion and don't include the Bible, Confucius, and Winnie the Pooh you've missed out on some highpoints. Art of War isn't in there either.

      •  I find the Great Books list dusty and pointless: (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, Youffraita, poco

        I recognize how much of Western Thought these guys built, but that doesn't make them worth reading now. They have more pages of Thomas Aquinas (who's awfully dull and tendentious) than of Shakespeare. Pompous pedants made that list.

        So I agree with you in principle, but not all your particulars. They left The Bible out because they assumed every reader had it already; Confucius and Art of War weren't Western. Forgetting Pooh was clearly a foolish oversight.

        Perhaps the best effect of the Great Books list was, such a Dead-White-European-Male worldview looks ridiculous, and inspires anyone who cares about originality and alternate views to rebel against it, to look beyond its pale for all the books that list neglected.

        Quibbles: there is some good in Augustine - his Confessions broke new ground in writing and thought (some of them are also pretty readable); I haven't read Gibbon, but a lot of people find him entertaining and thought-provoking.

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

        by Brecht on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 08:49:39 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Really appreciate this diary, Brecht (10+ / 0-)

    Greatly enjoyed reading the viewpoints expressed here.

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

    by Diana in NoVa on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 06:40:02 AM PST

    •  Glad to hear that. Of course, it speaks to your (4+ / 0-)

      sensibility. The people who really need to get the message underlying this diary are the pachyderms running DC and Wall St. And pigheaded professors who don't teach women authors.

      America is dangerously tilted towards Bush's macho swagger: we need more feminine wisdom, and much more mutual understanding and integration. But you knew that.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 08:55:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  But Great Literature can't possibly (8+ / 0-)

    make anybody laugh.  I have believed for years that that is why so many fine authors are dismissed.

    Strength and dignity are her clothing, she rejoices at the days to come; She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue.

    by loggersbrat on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 07:03:12 AM PST

    •  very true (9+ / 0-)

      I assume that was snark, but have you read "Tom Jones?" Very witty, caustic writing with much to say on society but with some very funny scenes that were perfectly captured in the movie.
      I have a friend who pointed out that all the books kids are assigned to read in high school are dark and depressing. "Grapes of Wrath," Faulkner, and other great books that are 'serious.' These are important works of art, but really? Do we make art students study Michelangelo's works in art class by having to know and memorize all the stories of all the saints and Patriarchs in the Sistine Chapel? didn't think so.

      •  The film with Albert Finney is a wonderful (7+ / 0-)

        adaptation and really gets the spirit of the novel.

      •  I know where you're going with this.... (8+ / 0-)

        but I just can't agree about Grapes of Wrath. The more people read that book, the better.

        I mean, yes, of course it's a stone bummer. How could it not be? But it's explicitly political, yet still relevant 70 years later. And it's not just depressing, it's also righteously angry. I remember being hugely pissed off reading it in HS well before I was really politically aware.

        Anyway, for someone making highbrow art with a lowbrow/comic tone, try Zappa....

        Nothing says "we care" like a Tomahawk missile strike.

        by nota bene on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 09:45:26 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Shouldn't 'Grapes of Wrath' be set in college, not (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          poco, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

          in high school? Going on the general theory that you don't want to force any book too dusty, heavy and dark on a teenager - lest you sour them on reading hard books at all.

          I think you got lucky: that you were set it in HS, and it spoke right to you. But if I were a HS teacher, I'd look for more contemporary books, and shorter, that I thought would engage my entire class, so we could enjoy lively discussions about them. If I had any freedom in setting my own syllabus.

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

          by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 01:30:15 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I read Grapes of Wrath as a teenager, though not (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            poco, badscience, Brecht, Youffraita

            as assigned reading. I think it's so important as American history that it should be required, heavy though it is. Not everyone goes to college, after all... but (as nota bene said) everyone should read Grapes of Wrath.

          •  I got a copy of Grapes of Wrath (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, poco, Brecht

            at a used bookstore when I was in high school: it wasn't taught in my district, but I wanted to read it.

            Must have read it at least four or five times before college.

            It's a seminal work. EVERYONE should read it.

            Especially Teahadists.

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

            by Youffraita on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 01:10:23 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  It's unfortunately true that the books assigned (5+ / 0-)

        in high school frequently convince the victims -- uh, students -- never to read THAT author again!

        •  Of all the books I remember being assigned (5+ / 0-)

          in High School (and I took extra lit classes and AP English), the only ones I remember aggressively disliking were A Catcher in the Rye, Paradise Lost, Beowulf (it was just incomprehensible! But I know it is a great story), The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Old Man and the Sea.

          Everything else was fine to read whether I enjoyed it or not. We read some great stuff!

          •  OMG, thank you! (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, Brecht, badscience, poco

            I too aggressively loathed Catcher in the Rye (didn't have to read it but read it anyway & hated Holden) and The Mayor of Casterbridge (had to read it & will never read Hardy again).

            Beowulf I read recently, for the first time: but it was the Seamus Heaney translation. You'd like it, I think. I certainly did.

            The one that surprised me was Heart of Darkness by Conrad. It's so dense, stylistically and otherwise (but thankfully short!) yet I loved it. Loved it. And I had to read it b/c it was for a class, I forget which grade I was in.

            This was before Apocalypse Now, btw. ;-D

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

            by Youffraita on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 11:18:15 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  'Heart of Darkness' is great - I enjoyed it in my (4+ / 0-)

              teens. Cynical, wild, mysterious.

              I liked Salinger's short stories more - Holden kind of gets up your nose. But if you can handle him, it is a very clever tale (and a perfectly drawn account of a manic episode; Salinger drew from his weird family, I think).

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

              by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 01:39:17 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  My guess would be that each of those would repel (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            poco, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

            high school students - except The Old Man and the Sea, if you happened to be in the mood; and A Catcher in the Rye, if you didn't mind the clunky '50s slang and weird perspective.

            But others's taste is tricky to decipher or predict.

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

            by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 01:35:55 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The Milton and Beowulf (5+ / 0-)

              was the class we called "Brit Lit" and I knew what I was signing up for. Old Man was the first book that I was assigned ever to discuss through literary criticism and it was a hard slog. I didn't have the experience or discipline to approach it from any avenue other than plot, so naturally it was not enjoyable. But I still think it is a boring, overblown and somewhat cliched story. ;-)

              In AP English we read Invisible Man. Amazing novel. I should re-read because there is no way I had an inkling of what it was really about when I was 17.

              •  'Invisible Man' is a great book and a good read. (4+ / 0-)

                Ellison does something there which I've rarely seen.

                So many books from a minority, or feminist, or alternative viewpoint just dig deep into their niche. They end up speaking mostly to people of the same ilk, and to concerned liberals. Their story fails at universality.

                Invisible Man is like two books at once. It dives into various aspects of African-American experience; it also resonates on a mythic level, it speaks for everyone. It's a great way to write a book that opens people's eyes, and stretches their view of humanity. Of course, you need the story and the chops to pull it off.

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

                by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 02:06:00 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Huh? Are you being ironic and am I being too (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  RiveroftheWest, Brecht


                  So many books from a minority, or feminist, or alternative viewpoint just dig deep into their niche. They end up speaking mostly to people of the same ilk, and to concerned liberals. Their story fails at universality.
                  How are you defining "universality?"

                  It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

                  by poco on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 03:01:25 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I wasn't being ironic; maybe thoughtless & unclear (3+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    poco, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

                    James Joyce's Ulysses brings Dublin vividly to life, but it is not a story about Dublin: it's a story about humanity, realized in a particular setting. It's universal in that student in Tokyo today could feel all the heart and see all the illumination of it.

                    Though that was probably a bad example, because the student might need a whole raft of footnotes to get there. And perhaps this universality is just a measure of the greatness of a book, and whether it speaks to eternity. I find it in Homer, Dante, Austen: their worlds are immediate to me, the strangeness falls away as I enter their universal humanity.

                    This is what I found in Invisible Man: the hero's life was completely different from mine, and just like mine, at once. It's easy, when writing a book to illuminate an outsider's perspective, to paint every speck of difference, without getting the reader into your protagonist's shoes.

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

                    by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 05:55:40 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  All the authors you mention here, Joyce, Homer, (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Brecht, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

                      Dante, Austen, Ellison--I also recognize and honor as great. Although Ulysses does go into intricate niches of Bloom's life, which may have nothing to do with what i consider as "universal." Similarly with Dido and Aeneas, or Circe and Cyclops in Odyssey.

                      But there is a way in which partitioning off "universal" and "particular" has always worked in favor of the dominant majority. A novel that deals with the intricacies of Japanese social life, just as Austen does, will not be considered as having "universal" themes. Why not?

                      Our valuations of what we consider as great and good do not arise from simply the greatness of the texts that we are talking about; these evaluations also arise from what we are taught and encultured to admire.

                      You wrote earlier in one of your comments:

                      It's amazing how we smear our thoughts across all the gritty substance around us - we could probably split landscapes, weather, colors and musical instruments into more feminine and more masculine groups. And we'd never be sure how much of that was just our mind vomiting up silly labels that got stuck in its maw.
                      I found that very useful. I, however, also find that smearing "universal" and implicitly "particular" on works of art as another version of
                      our mind vomiting up silly labels that got stuck in its maw.

                      It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

                      by poco on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 06:37:39 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  "these evaluations also arise from what we are (3+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        RiveroftheWest, Youffraita, poco

                        taught and encultured to admire"

                        Absolutely. And we fall into habits of unthinking, yet believe we're paying full, open-minded attention. I face this myopia. When I peer closely, I'm pretty good at discerning things as they really are. More often, I forget to peer. And then there are all the things I mis-discern, because I don't recognize them.

                        Take two levels of recognition. First, there is the universal recognition, the stories so crucially human that they translate across all times and cultures. The mythic, the epic, the fairytale, the nuclear family drama, the romance.

                        Second, particular recognition. Suppose you're outside the mainstream, the dominant cultural paradigm, and you want to get readers to understand and empathize with your particular outsider viewpoint. The further you burrow outside their comfortable mainstream worldview, the more readers will feel disengaged, and put your book down.

                        This is what I didn't mention before. I'm especially considering authors who have a message they want to get across: that they want someone with a limited mainstream worldview to make it to the end of their book and, furthermore, to have a larger view by the time they finish.

                        Ellison did just this. When I finished Invisible Man, I think I had a larger understanding of African-American experience, and I felt more empathy for the struggles, injustices, and complexities it entails.

                        He achieved this through writing a great book. I also think he saw two stories very clearly, one of universal themes, another of minority experience. He crafted a powerfully balanced and integrated tale. In other respects too, like realism and surrealism. But I haven't studied Ellison, so I might just be sticking silly labels on him.

                        I guess you can write any story you like and, if you tell it well enough, it will resonate with any eager reader. On Japanese society, I read Soseki, who has a lot of that, and he gets it all across. Ellison went much further. I feel that he enlarged my worldview, my own paradigm of humanity, with his book.

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

                        by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 07:49:14 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

  •  Austen teaches to men, too (18+ / 0-)

    I never thought about this before reading your diary (so, thanks!) but Jane Austen teaches many lessons to men on the virtues. Since she writes from the viewpoint of her heroine it's easy to miss that her heroes also face challenges. "Pride and Prejudice" is a great example. Darcy has been taught all the important lessons of being a man and has learned them well. At least he seems to thinks so. Elizabeth shows him that there are other characteristics that are just as important. If you think about it, Darcy grew up with a strong but, seemingly, remote father and an overseer who was emotionally closer but he had another lad growing up with him who was more articulate (glib, even) and smoother in dealing with people. Darcy learned about right and wrong but not people. His father and mother have died when the book begins but he is still a young man and has no older role model to follow. Who can blame him for being rigid? Elizabeth is the first person he has met who doesn't bend to him due to rank. She shows him that flexibility is not immorality, kindness and humility are not weakness, and that a warm exterior can make life easier because most people are not out to get him.

    Really, thinking about Austen and the masculine model is very rewarding. She has the pedant, Collins, who is self-absorbed and shallow. Mr. Bennet, who is smart and witty but fails to practice any economy to provide for his family after his death. Bingley, who doesn't listen to his own heart but defers to Darcy. And, of course, the wicked Wickham. Her positive role models in the book are the Aunt and Uncle Gardiner and Colonel FitzWilliam. People who have embraced their role / place in life and society, can see their own limitations, but try to live life fully. With her bold eye and bright prose, Austen provides a very, very subtle set of rules for men throughout her books that often gets overlooked due to her first person style. Thank you for the opportunity to once more ponder Jane Austen. A writer who tells a good story and can still open one to new thoughts even after many, many readings.

    •  Balancing and integrating Masculine & Feminine (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

      is a delicate and arduous aspect of growing into our fullest humanity.

      In our society Masculine means being a Clint Eastwood loner-type, rigid in your proud integrity; Feminine means being receptive, fitting in, accommodating to everyone around you.

      In Austen, the heroines need to clarify their minds, and live up to their best principles; the heroes need to open their hearts - "flexibility is not immorality, kindness and humility are not weakness". I oversimplify, but this is a central formula Romance adopted from Austen.

      So we grow by integrating inwardly and outwardly at once. We commit to the largest, strongest, best parts of our inner selves; we connect to the truest family, friends and lovers around us - we tie ourselves to them.

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

      by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 12:58:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It makes sense women would be great writers. (10+ / 0-)

    In my experience as an elementary level substitute teacher girls overall are better readers which I assume can be connected to writing ability.

    Also, when my class read The Outsiders in junior high the teacher told us that S. E. Hinton used her initials in an attempt to downplay her gender in the face of prejudice and recently I heard for the same reason J. K. Rowling used her initials.  The latter surprised me since I thought her gender was common knowledge since Harry Potter first came out.

    Finally, FWIW, I would have sided with Amy in the dilemma above though I am a man, maybe because I tend to be legalistic.  As I think about it I'm a bit surprised it was not reversed as if I were to stereotype I would peg the girl for being compassionate and the boy for following the rules.

  •  A writer of depth who is often overlooked? (13+ / 0-)

    J.K. Rowling.

    When my son was six, I decided I’d start reading the “Harry Potter” series to him. The truth is, though I’ve been a lifelong reader, I never had any interest in fantasy stories involving wizards and the like.

    Still, I had heard so many good things about the Potter books that I figured, “What could it hurt?” Plus, I wanted to instill in my son the joy of reading.

    So, we began. At first, it was rough going. The boy wasn’t very interested. But there’s a scene early on in the first book where Harry communicates with a snake at the zoo, much to his cousin’s chagrin. It made my son laugh, and for the next three years, we devoured the entire series, usually reading before school and sometimes cutting it close to missing the bus because we just needed to read one more page.

    I think Rowling is overlooked for a couple reasons. First, she’s immensely popular, which makes snobs skeptical of her talent. Second, she writes fantasy. Third, she’s an awesome storyteller, and storytellers (such as the late Elmore Leonard) are for some reason given short shrift when it comes to literary accolades.

    If I weren’t a parent, I never would have picked up a Harry Potter book, but, boy, I’m glad I did.

    How about I believe in the unlucky ones?

    by BenderRodriguez on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 07:48:47 AM PST

    •  I agree about Rowling (7+ / 0-)

      And her grown-up fiction shows signs of that same happy fusion of seemingly effortless style and great plotting.  Have just devoured "The Cuckoo's Calling" (written under a masculine nom de plume) and am right now listening to "The Casual Vacancy" as an audiobook.  I know that one got mixed reviews, but I am loving it.  There's an Austenian economy in pointed observations as to personal and social situations, and a Dickensian sweep in observation and cast of characters (and the fact that I'm comparing Rowling to my two favorite authors must guess I really dig her work!).

      Speaking of audiobooks, as an me, one of my tests for "great writing" is whether or not it reads aloud well. (One of the reasons that it took so long for me to read "The Mists of Avalon" is that I was first introduced to it as a read-aloud.  Normally I like MZB's work, but I found her writing in this one to be turgid, repetitive, and dull to the point where I couldn't agree to find any merit in the book at all, despite all the bouquets being tossed around about it).

      And I don't think comparing Austen to Shakespeare is a reach or a slight to either, in that regard: my latest go-thru' with Austen has been thru' audiobook, and the sheer JOY of hearing delicious, incisive prose read by an intelligent actor/reader is hard to describe.  Austen was meant, I think, to be read aloud.

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

      by Miss Bianca on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 09:58:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  OMG, I've never read (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        poco, Brecht, RiveroftheWest, Miss Bianca

        Mists of Avalon b/c the prose is so bad.

        Bradley was a storyteller, not a stylist. I suspect -- but do not know -- that she was powerful enough at that point in her career to disdain all editing she didn't like. Or else her editor abdicated b/c, after all, she's a major writer in the genre. Or else the feminism of the storyline just blew everyone away. Or something like that: I dunno. But I couldn't read it. The style was just too stiff.

        Try reading Diana Paxson instead. She was a great friend of Marion's and has written some books in the Mists universe, and is by far the better writer: not only stylistically, but imo in terms of characterization.

        Outside the Mists universe, Paxson has written a bunch of really good novels, including my personal favorite, The White Raven, which is a retelling of the Tristan and Iseult story.

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

        by Youffraita on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 11:30:03 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I never heard of Diana Paxson. Thanks for that. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

          I'm so glad these diaries will sit here on their shelves, in the DKos archives. Early next year I'm going to sit down with my TBR list, and rummage back through all the appealing suggestions R&BLers have offered me in their comments.

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

          by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 11:41:41 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  On the other hand.. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, Brecht, Youffraita

          MZB did write "The Firebrand"...amazing revisioning of the Cassandra story.  Funny thing about Bradley...she could be so great, but Mists of Avalon, oy! Haven't read any Diana Paxson...I'll add her to the pile on Mt. Toberead... : )  

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

          by Miss Bianca on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 03:23:40 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Austen and Shakespeare have different aims, scopes (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, poco, Youffraita

        and media. But there are about half a dozen similarities that strike me, such as: making their meaning clear to any reader (or listener); knack for plotting and seeing the best flow for a story; discerning the minutiae of human hearts and minds.

        I'll try reading my next Austen (probably Sense and Sensibility, in the spring) out loud. The Harry Potter audiobooks are just wonderful, with many well-chosen voices.

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

        by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 11:39:02 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  And just to tie the Austen/Shakespeare thing... (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          poco, RiveroftheWest, Brecht, Youffraita

          ...into a neat little knot, one of my favorite moments in "Mansfield Park" is when Henry Crawford captivates Fanny Price by his marvelous reading of Henry VIII!

 Mr. Crawford’s reading there was a variety of excellence beyond what she had ever met with. The King, the Queen, Buckingham, Wolsey, Cromwell, all were given in turn; for with the happiest knack, the happiest power of jumping and guessing, he could always alight at will on the best scene, or the best speeches of each; and whether it were dignity, or pride, or tenderness, or remorse, or whatever were to be expressed, he could do it with equal beauty. It was truly dramatic. His acting had first taught Fanny what pleasure a play might give, and his reading brought all his acting before her again; nay, perhaps with greater enjoyment, for it came unexpectedly, and with no such drawback as she had been used to suffer in seeing him on the stage with Miss Bertram.

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

          by Miss Bianca on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 03:29:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Rowling is better, purely as a writer, than Lewis (4+ / 0-)

      or Tolkein. Her world gained a lot of depth and intricacy, from the years she spent developing her ideas, before she published any books. Also, she learned as she wrote the series - she was a better writer in the later books.

      I was tutoring kids for the SAT when I moved to LA 15 years ago, and then they got me tutoring for the PSAT. I got into Harry Potter after a few tweens, who weren't recreational readers, told me that they were loving Harry Potter. Which is a marvelous achievement of Rowling's.

      My niece got addicted, and five of us had some sweet hours sitting around a table in Maine, taking turns reading pages of the latest Harry Potter out loud.

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

      by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 11:33:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary. Thank you (8+ / 0-)

    My son was actually asked that very question last weekend by a friend's brother who is taking a psychology class.

    This was presently slightly differently though. The guy did steal the medicine and my son was asked if it was morally right. That puts it into a different context.

    When asked about how the wife would feel, he said, "well of course they are going to get into a fight about it, since the husband could go to jail now."
    He's 8.


    Jane Austen has a great rant about novels and their intellectual worthiness in Northanger Abbey. That's a great example of the levels at which she was working. She was acutely aware that he work was undervalued, and under estimated.

    I ain't often right, but I've never been wrong. Seldom turns out the way it does in this song.

    by mungley on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 07:54:50 AM PST

    •  Precocious insight from your son. I wonder how (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, poco, mungley, Youffraita

      much television teaches us about the complexities of interpersonal relations (since a large portion of sitcoms and dramas are built on them), and also whether society is in fact acquiring more wisdom and understanding in the aggregate.

      I see two Jane Austens: the polite Romantic with huge popular appeal; the great writer of critical esteem, who is prized for all her depth and subtle brilliance, which many fans hardly notice.

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

      by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 11:26:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Will spent much of today lost in (7+ / 0-)

    my own Amy-like meanderings after the inspiration of your diary and the comments. Thank you for putting this together.

  •  I'm not much of a sci fi person.... (7+ / 0-)

    but I've read some Ursula LeGuin and she's fantastic.

    Nothing says "we care" like a Tomahawk missile strike.

    by nota bene on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 09:54:50 AM PST

    •  I enjoy and admire Ursula LeGuin. I should read (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Youffraita, poco

      more of her many books. But I'm tempted to revisit Earthsea instead.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 10:06:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Brecht, you MUST read (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brecht, RiveroftheWest

        LeGuin's The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness.

        You really must.

        They are both important works, and you of all people will appreciate them.

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

        by Youffraita on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 11:34:24 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ha ha. Funny you should mention those two. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

          I've actually read both of those (since I read any novel which wins both Hugo & Nebula - as each of those did), and 4/5 of Earthsea, and The Lathe of Heaven.

          I just meant that all of those set such a high standard, that I should explore further. There aren't many fantasy/SF writers who are just that good.

          But thanks for your very tasteful recommendations - I appreciate your wide reading.

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

          by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 09:24:44 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Sorry I missed this last night, weekend houseguest (7+ / 0-)

    kept me pretty busy.

    Another wonderful, hotlisted diary that I will keep to re-read next time I start my Austen marathon.

  •  Thank you!! (6+ / 0-)

    Another excellent diary.

    Much appreciated.  You have expressed things that no one else has touched on.

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

    by cfk on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 11:44:25 AM PST

  •  Ta-Nehisi Coates calls her "Jane Awesome." (8+ / 0-)

    He has a few blog posts about how much he admires her writing style.

    There is one which compares Austen's writing style to hip-hop:

    One of the delights of Austen is how she employs the polite language of the gentry to describe people who really are not. ... But the fact is the high language is belied by the invariably low behavior of many of her characters. ... [I]t's the way I read it—a dissonance between form and content. Is there really anything, ultimately, ladylike about Lady Van der Burgh?

    Likewise, rappers have this way of using regal language to describe thuggish behavior. So in lieu of introducing a story where the protagonist will rob and kill drug dealers, Biggie gives us a corporate and officious beginning: "Today's agenda..." he instructs us.

    In another post called, "Jane Austen Just Dissed you," he writes:

    I think Austen erects the most gorgeous and intricate sentences. They move with force in one direction, and with an incredible suddenness turn back on themselves. You think you're reading one thing, when in fact, you're reading something else. So often I've found myself confused by an irony poking out from the understructure of her sentences. There are no signs that say, "Hey I'm being ironic." It's so much more natural, and so absent of pretense.

    It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

    by poco on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 12:44:12 PM PST

  •  i'm a little late to the party, but let me add my (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, RiveroftheWest, Brecht, Youffraita

    two cents worth to the mix . . .

    it was once said that reading jane austen is a measure of intelligence. the more you understand her, the more intelligent you are. she challenges her readers & her readers expect her to.

    it was also said that the genius of her prose is that, even tho a reader never knows what a character is going to say, the character says exactly what is called for. that (imo) is hard to achieve, as evidenced by how few authors are able to pull it off.

    thanks for another great diary :)

  •  great questions and thoughts (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, RiveroftheWest, Brecht, Youffraita

    in this essay!

    there's so much to think about, and i think it was very smart of you to continue with the austen theme.  

    what i adore about austen is that her characters feel fully inhabited, that she really understands them at an emotional level, and so there is the sense of humanity that i get from austen as a writer.  

    ps sorry to be late. i am behind again in my work, and i would much rather be hanging out on dkos but it is what it is.

    •  I'm chewing over these larger issues of Women (5+ / 0-)

      Writers, which Austen brought to the surface.

      There are many aspects of Women Writing, and of Austen, which I intend to explore in future diaries. But I find incubation crucial to any deep creative digging, so I'll look into a few more Austen books - spread out over the next couple of years.

      I think this one thing I stumbled on, the way Austen is taken less seriously by many because she attends to issues that have been labeled "feminine", is one that unfairly diminishes the standing of many other women authors. We just assume that authors, professors, and voracious readers are mostly enlightened. It's a bit shocking, how many male critics and writers don't take women writers as seriously as they deserve. How, for instance, can VS Naipaul believe that no woman writer is his equal?

      I find Austen imbues all her characters with humanity (like Dickens), but her heroines and a couple of other stars get the lion's share in each book, and are the ones who really change and grow (like Dickens).

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

      by Brecht on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 09:45:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Brecht knows my position but for the record (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, Brecht

    I'll say it again: Instead of a heart she has an algorithm involving time, real estate, and copulation. If Pemberley burned to the ground, she would kill off Mr. Darcy in the next chapter and not even give him a funeral. Sue me.

  •  After I saw the title of this diary, (4+ / 0-)

    I immediately thought of the Italian writer Anna Banti whose novel Artemisia (based on the life of an Italian woman who lived a few centuries ago) is a landmark of the post-Second World War era in Italian literature.  During the war, her manuscript went up in flames as her house had been hit by German weaponry, luckily she survived as she had fled, along with other villagers, into the countryside.  Later, she re-wrote the novel, but it was altered due to, for one, she was rewriting from memory since all of her research notes were destroyed as well, secondly, because the times demanded it, Banti inserted herself and the war into the narrative of an Italian woman who lived in quite another time.  So the fate of the novel and Banti's work that we read today Susan Sontag aptly described as 'a double destiny.'

    Below is the note 'to the reader' Banti wrote after finally completing for a second time her novel:

    Another convergence and alliance of past and preset, another instance of historical-literary symbiosis, an attempt at infusing into the polluted swamp of contemporary literature the pure spring waters of our language as it once was: such were the ambitions of the story which, under the title "Artemisia," had reached its final pages in the spring of 1944.  That summer, due to events of war which were unfortunately in no way exceptional, the manuscript was destroyed.

    To justify the heartbroken obstinacy with which my memory never tired, during subsequent years, of remaining true to a character of whom it was perhaps too fond, is what these new pages should, at least, succeed in doing.  But because this time the aim of the narrative was to preserve only the commemorative form of the unfinished story and because the writing of it became bound up, instinctively, with personal emotions too imperious to be ignored or betrayed, I think that the reader is owed a little information about the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the most talented female artists, and one of the few, recorded by history.  She was born in Rome in 1598 to a family of Pisan origin.  Daughter of Orazio, an excellent painter.  Her honor and her love violated on the threshold of womanhood.  The reviled victim in a public rape trial.  She established an art school in Naples.  And bravely set off, in or about the year 1638, for heretical England.  One of the first women to uphold, in her speech and in her work, the right to do congenial work and the equality of spirit between the sexes.  Biographies do not indicate the year of her death.

    *emphasis mine

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

    by micsimov on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 01:38:56 PM PST

    •  Society has grown more humane and equitable in our (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

      lifetime. Too slowly, but a lot faster than it had in previous millennia.

      I'd really like to see what we could make of a world where every human had equal opportunities and respect. It'd be great if we could get there before we wipe ourselves out as a species, from all the horrors our imbalance and madness are creating around us. We have all the pieces we need for a much better world, if we all just focussed on putting them together. I think.

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

      by Brecht on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 10:34:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think Austen is underrated because (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht, RiveroftheWest, poco

    she deals with the microcosm: country life from the PoV of female characters. Her plots are the result of humn frailties--Darcy looking down on the Bennetts because Lizzie's younger sisters and mothers are sheer horrors and the father lets Mama get away with too much--rather than grandiose plot manipulations.  Jane Eyre is similar: what happens is the result of human choices.

    Dickens on the other hand has utterly ludicrous plots that are so over the top as to be laughable (the twin men in A Tale of Two Cities, the convict in Great Expectations).  His female characters are never more than stereotypes and are often utterly hateful. For some reason THIS makes him a greater novelist. than Austen, since,a fter all, WOMEN don't really ever do anything.

    Louisa May Alcott wrote for girls, but people tend to view her as not all that good because her main characters are female--even though the books deal with death, loss, poverty, feminism and religion in a remarkably unsentimental value.  I strongly identified with Jo growing up when I read the book the first time at age 8 (I read at a junior high level).

    The problem isn't with the female novelists but with male critics who just aren't interested in books about and by women.

    Other names: all three Brontes, Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth,  George Sand, George Eliot (both women). And more modern novelists like Doris Lessing, Marge Piercy.

    The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

    by irishwitch on Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 09:39:50 AM PST

    •  I agree with you. These male critics, writers and (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      professors, who downrate women writers, are only the top of the iceberg. We have a culture with a huge amount of chauvinism embedded in it. More layers and angles of it than I can unpack.

      For a woman to get into the Canon is as hard as for a woman to become CEO of one of the 100 biggest companies in the world, or to become a senator. Except worse - it's quite possible that women are better suited to writing novels than man, and should be more than 50% of the Canon. Well, many aspects of the business are getting more equitable, albeit gradually.

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

      by Brecht on Tue Nov 19, 2013 at 06:46:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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