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'.