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Archive for the ‘Susannah Carson’ Category

Having only done four years of post-secondary education (and in Commerce, no less!), I am no where near academically-minded enough to attempt to review a book of reviews so I shall be brief in my thoughts on A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen, edited by Susannah Clarke.  Essentially, it does what it says on the tin: 33 writers, some more famous than others (Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, W. Somerset Maugham), share their opinions on Jane Austen, her works, and her legacy. 

I was glad to see old favourites included here: there’s Fay Weldon with an excerpt from her wonderful Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen, Amy Heckerling discussing how she adapted Emma into her film Clueless, and W. Somerset Maugham on Pride and Prejudice.  There are articles that one finds difficult to take seriously (Diane Johnson compares Marianne Dashwood with the heroine of Johnson’s own novel, Lulu in Marrakech – seemingly without irony) and then those that one delights to discover (David Lodge’s “Reading and Rereading Emma” – a favourite author on my favourite Austen book, also fulfilling my desperate need to hear reviews of Jane Austen from the male perspective).  The essays (or excerpts from them) are short, which makes for delightful mid-week reading, when you don’t necessarily have the time or patience for lengthy, intensive criticism.

Everyone, no matter which Austen novel they champion as their favourite, will find quotes enough to satisfy them that their choice remains the best.  Each novel is given the due respect and fawning adoration that it deserves, from multiple perspectives.  Already, I am fighting the urge to reread those novels I am least familiar with (Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park) with new eyes and a new appreciation for them. 

There are far too many fascinating Jane Austen-related lines of discussion I could bring up after reading this book.  However, there are several blogs out there already devoted to covering these questions, so I shall leave you with some favourite quotes from the various essays contained within this thought-provoking and terribly satisfying volume:

“Think of today’s fiction in the light of hers.  Does some of it appear garrulous and insistent and out-of-joint, and nearly all of it slow?  Does now an then a novel come along that’s so long, arch, and laborious, so ponderous in literary conceits and so terrifying in symbols, that it might have been written (in his bachelor days) by Mr. Elton as a conundrum, or, in some prolonged spell of elevation, by Mr. Collins in a bid for self-advancement?” p.14-15, “The Radiance of Jane Austen” by Eudora Welty

“I am a Jane Austenite, and therefore slightly imbecile about Jane Austen…I read and reread, the mouth open and the mind closed.  Shut up in measureless content, I greet her by the name of most kind hostess while criticism slumbers.  The Jane Austenite possesses little of the brightness he ascribes so freely to his idol,  Like all regular churchgoers, he scarcely notices what is being said.” – p. 22, “Jane Austen: The Six Novels” by E.M. Forster

“Dating guidebooks have been compiled from advice culled from her novels, suggesting that much of Austen’s current appeal lies in her treatment of the romance plot.  If we read Austen, will we improve our chances of finding the right mate?  Perhaps, but such instruction is incidental: Austen does not set out to describe ideal relationships.  Her interest is in flawed characters who achieve a greater level of self-understanding throughout the course of each novel and who are rewarded at the end with relationship which, although never entirely perfect, are perfect for them.  Elizabeth will always been a bit too cynical, Emma a bit too full of herself, and Anne a bit too reserved for some.” – p. 41, “Reading Northanger Abbey” by Susannah Carson

“She had too much common sense and too sprightly a humour to be romantic, and she was not interested in the uncommon, put in the common.  She made it uncommon by the keenness of her observation, her irony and her playful wit.” – p.79, “Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice” by W. Somerset Maugham

“The whole novel in a way is about people who don’t notice other people’s feelings, and the extraordinary rarity of people who do notice other people’s feelings, or who can act on this noticing.” – p. 130, A.S. Byatt on Mansfield Park

 “…we believe we are peculiarly close to her [Jane Austen] as a person and would somehow be appreciated by her were we to know her.  Her characters can seem to walk free of the books to live in quite other spheres and contexts.  The narrator of the novels often gently mocks us for accepting the heroines as ‘real’, but we go on doing it nonetheless.” – p. 158, “Why I Like Jane Austen” by Janet Todd

“She has made leading ladies of the sensible sisters.  She created a world where dashing, if arrogant, men seem to fall madly in love with the women who have more brains than fancy ribbons.” – p. 175, “The Girls Who Don’t Say, Whoo!” by Amy Heckerling

“We love Jane Austen through her heroines.  Knowing so little about her, we worship her surrogates.  And generally speaking, unless we are cranky scholars or celibate critics, we love and rank the novels according to our regard for the female principles.” – p. 269, “Beautiful Minds” by Jay McInerney

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