Tuesday, 5 May 2009

oh dear

I was planning on writing a rather ranty post about how sad Frank Kermode's essay in the current London Review of Books has made me, but the online version is only available to subscribers so I don't think I will trouble you with that. Except to say that really, there is no point at all going on insisting that Sense & Sensibility is not as good as Jane Austen's other novels. It is just an utterly pointless, worthless critical gesture. Unless the aim is to make some sort of reverse-engineered swipe at the multitudes of people, female people almost always in my experience, to whom that novel means a lot and means it very deeply. Except I don't want to believe that can be the aim, mainly because Kermode is too intelligent and decent and good a critic to stoop to that kind of thing, but also because I don't think he seems to be conscious of how much the novel is valued, not for its movie connections or its olde-worldeyness, but for itself. Nor indeed does he seem conscious of what is valuable about it. As part of that strange critical project of demonstrating that S&S doesn't have much intrinsic value and only retains a readership (at the expense of other, better, but forgotten novels, which aren't named, I note) because it is by the author of P&P (which people apparently only like because the tv show had a wet blouse in it), Kermode quotes Elinor praising Edward Ferrars: the problem, he says, is that how Elinor talks is not how a sisterly-girly chat about a boy actually sounds. No: that's right; this is a novel, like Ulysses and Lolita and those other books where people are liberated from the burden of having to talk exactly how they do in real life, and I can't for the life of me figure out why one of the best critics alive has fallen into thinking it's a bug rather than a feature. Besides the strange animus against S&S there is also an unedifying bemusement about the project of editing Austen's texts with the same care and seriousness routinely meted out to Shakespeare (and as Kermode observes, to D. H. Lawrence, among other novelists.) Because really, who's interested in those trivial and boring little details?

Last year, at the Austen summer school at UQ, on the last afternoon, one of the younger women taking the course told us that at lunch a man from the James Joyce stream had said to her "Jane Austen brings out the absolute worst in the silly women who read her." That, my friends, is a True Story. Something* about Austen makes people feel they can say that kind of nonsense. Why, why, why, why, why. Anyway. I realise now I have written the rant anyway so there is nothing for it now but to publish. Here is a picture I took in Canberra. The sculpture is by Tom Bass.




Looking at this photo I realise that while I am here ranting I also want to record my profound disappointment in the pathetic photographs The Sartorialist has published from his Melbourne - Sydney jaunt: I don't know whether to hold the subjects or the photographer responsible for being so unimaginative and generally embarrassing, but it's the same outcome either way: LAME.


* by 'something about Austen', I probably mean 'the lack of a dick'.

10 comments:

TimT said...

That quote from the James Joyce man made me laugh out loud. I have a completely unfair prejudice against James Joyce and the unintentional irony in that fellow's statement just seems to me to be hilarious.

innercitygarden said...

The real benefit of being a silly woman who reads JA is that one learns how to very quietly put stupid men in their place. Perhaps that's what the Joyce reader dislikes.

Jane Austen would have had a killer blog.

cristy said...

I have always been pleased that my Grandfather, who I'd a professor of education who studied nuclear physics at Oxford, loves Jane Austen. Emma is his favourite book if all time. I loathe the sexist dismissal of female authors.

cristy said...

'is' not I'd stupid iPod autocorrect.

Elsewhere007 said...

>how a sisterly-girly chat about a boy actually sounds<

Gosh, well, I'm sure Jane Austen knew more about how it sounded in her time than Kermode does (I know that's not your point, but...)

I didn't even know that Kermode was still alive.

Jake said...

If I were forced at gunpoint to rank the six novels, I'd put Sense and Sensibility last, but that doesn't mean I don't value it. There are no duds by Jane Austen.

And she doesn't need Kermode -- surely nowadays her books sell better than those of any other 19th century English language author? I can't even think who her close competitors would be.

Helen said...

How are your thumbs, though, Cristy?

TimT said...

Two interesting Austen-related reviews in The Oz today - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and 'Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World' - that one's offline because I it came from The Spectator.

Oh yeah, and I apologise for doing two consecutive comments on this blog linking my own.

Rochelle said...

Oh, the Sartorialist really let me down with his pathetic Melbourne pics. I feel your disappointment!

Just Like A Woman said...

I couldn't agree more re the Sart Aus photos.....he could only find two worthy subjects in Melbourne? And on (or off) Chapel St??? Puhleez! I feel very disillusioned as I thought for sure he would not be seduced by the cliched Sydney backdrops of Coogee beach and the Harbour, but would find Melbourne's realness and innate style more to his liking. Very disappointing indeed.