Sunday, 25 June 2006

I am a fanatic; I will not listen

Jane Austen? I feel that I am approaching dangerous ground. The reputation of Jane Austen is surrounded by cohorts of defenders who are ready to do murder for their sacred cause. They are nearly all fanatics. They will not listen.”

—Arnold Bennett, The Author’s Craft (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968), p. 256.

6 Comments:

kim fabricius said...

Here is (Mark) Twain on Jane:

Edgar Allan Poe - "to me his prose is unreadable - like Jane Austen's. No, there is a difference; I could read his prose on a salary, but not Jnae's.

Drew said...

Are you saying you're a Jane fan, Ben?

Ben Myers said...

Yes, an incurable one! I've heard it said that she's the best writer of English prose who has ever lived -- and that sounds right to me.

Drew said...

Great to hear :)

do want to do a pole on authors? I know the're not theologians, but...

Drew said...

...authors in the fiction sense...

By century perhaps? (To draw an arbitrary line) As long as you put Conrad in both the 19th and 20th. You could include poets too.

kim fabricius said...

I studied English under the long shadow cast by the great Cambridge scholar F. R. Leavis and his "Great Tradition" of the English novel, which, not surprisingly, Austen heads (Leavis' other four elite being George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and D. H. Lawrence - Leavis had little time for Hardy and Dickens). Leavis especially admired, not ony Austen's prose, but her ethical sensibility, which was the crucial criterion for inclusion among his cream.

But if you want a theological angle on Austen as a moralist, check out this observation by Oxford Professor John Carey, from his recent What Good Are the Arts? (2005). Comparing Austen and Wordsworth, Carey writes:

"The difference between Austen and Wordsworth as moralists does not come down to social comedy versus elemental passions, for she is quite at home with the elemental passions. It is a question, rather, of whether ceratin people are beyond the pale or not. Wordsworth wants to embrace everything . . . For Austen, that would be mindless and indiscriminate. The distinction comes out in their attitude to contempt" - which Wordsworth regards as childish and unbecoming, Austen as a necessary element of maturity and sophistication. Interesting, don't you think?

I remember writing an essay on Persuasion as an undergraduate. Even then - and probably for all the wrong reasons! - I was uneasy about certain elements of Austen's morals. Alas, my teacher wouldn't have it, and the essay was slated!

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