Hyping Jane

Ron Rosenbaum thinks Jane Austen is overhyped . Not, he insists, overrated. But lost in what he calls “the tsunami of schlocky, rapturous, over-the-top, wall-to-wall multiplatform of celebration of the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice .

He’s got plenty of evidence to back it up: Erotic Austen, Tweeting Elizabeth Bennet, TV Austen, and “Austenland,” a film about an Austen lover who falls in love at a theme park.

What he finds most dispiriting is William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter . Deresiewicz is a leading Austen scholar, but the book is about how Austen helped transform him from a sex-crazed libertine into the cultivated man he is today. Rosenbaum writes:

“he could have any number of gorgeous, knowing, bisexual babes at the drop of a hat, but he’s become a better person than that now. A more virtuous person. He says so himself. And he’s even willing to impart to his implicitly oafish and clueless reader some super-obvious lessons about interpersonal interaction that he claims he only grokked to after reading dear Jane . . . . This is the basic theme throughout the book: Jane Austen schools him out of his bad behavior.” It sounds like a very Victorian reading of Austen, the kind of reading that drove Mark Twain to distraction.

Rosenbaum has two problems with this, one Austen-specific and one generally literary. The Austen specific one is that Jane “would surely have made fun of [Deresiewicz’s] overbrimming self-satisfaction. Deresiewicz is exactly the kind of sententious character she particularly liked to skewer in a not-nice way.” The generic literary reason is that literature is not merely for moral training. He asks, not a little plaintively, “Is Lolita not literature? Is Anna Karenina not literature? Is Coriolanus not literature? I rest my case.”

You can’t reduce even a morally interested author like Austen to a series of “teachable moments.” He’s right about Austen’s limitations; she doesn’t question “the moral order of the universe.” Probably she never thought to do so. But he also has a sense of what she does “inimitably”: “Austen writes brilliantly about Bad Behavior in a little world,” and the novels are cheapened when turned into “little sermons on Good Behavior.”

"What Happens In Holy Communion?Not much. Priest/pastor/parson says some magic words and pretends that crackers ..."

What Happens In Holy Communion?
"How to glorify a scam, read this crap."

What Happens In Holy Communion?
"1. The Constitution is the law. The DoI isn't.2. Where did "defy God" come from? ..."

Here Comes the Judge

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!