The Other Austen

Guaranteed to Bring Out the Bitch In You

  • 29th January
    2013
  • 29

the fact that jane austen was a woman AND a writer is social activism in itself.

i noticed that the tendency of most articles posted yesterday in honor of the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice was to simplify jane.

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william deresiewicz (who wrote how jane austen taught me to be a man) said that there’s “not much to know” about jane.  well, william, let me tell you that you didn’t learn all you could from her novels if you still think a quiet country life is really all that drama free.   apparently deresiewicz even knows for a fact that austen was a virgin.  wtf, did he dig her up for a hymen-check?  and is it really so marvelous that a woman who never had the D (and perhaps never even wanted the D *gasp*) turned out to be a literary genius?  it’s that becoming jane bull shit again.  it may shock a lot of people, but you don’t have to have a penis or want a penis in you/around you to be a writer.  you have to write.  that’s it.

and yes, if you do a surface reading of her life events (shared a room with her sister her whole life, never went abroad, had a big family) her life could look simple.  but:

  • she was raised away from her parents and her siblings in an emotionally detached school setting
  • she had a disturbing and often hilarious view of death (she asked for details about her sister-in-law’s “corpse”, she joked about dead children)
  • she had a disabled younger brother
  • she had a brother who forced himself on his wife and impregnated her so many times, she eventually died in childbirth
  • she had an aunt who was accused of shoplifting and had to face a threatening trial (family scandal!)
  • her training as a writer was self-taught, at home, with her favorite books
  • she had writer’s block for a decade when she was forced to live in a city she hated (Bath)
  • the prince regent ‘requested’ that she dedicate Emma to him and she did so in the snarkiest way possible without getting hanged
  • some people who knew her identity as a writer were scared to be around her lest she mock them in her novels
  • she died a painful death at a young age
  • she had a lifelong correspondence with a woman she only knew for a short time and who she left something for in her will (beat that, lefroy shippers)
  • her choices were limited, but she CHOSE not to accept marriage proposals, she CHOSE to be a ‘spinster’ and dress like a matron well before her time, she CHOSE to be a writer and a partner in life to her sister

LOOK AT HER LETTERS.  look at how wicked and wonderful and multi-dimensional she really was.  and here’s something telling: HER SISTER CASSANDRA BURNED THE MAJORITY OF THE LETTERS.  if what’s left shows a flirtatious, intelligent, sincere and deliciously bitchy jane, JUST IMAGINE WHAT WAS IN THE BURNED LETTERS.  who knows, perhaps more tales of tom lefroy, harsher words for her neighbors and family, even more brutal honesty.  if we must go on comparing austen and shakespeare, i would say that both of their lives are equally shrouded in mystery.

and say you’re right after all (you’re not but let’s go with it), say she sat at home quietly living out her boring, virgin-y days.  jane austen was still a woman AND a novelist in 18th/19th century England.  and for women, writing is/was a revolutionary act.  jane had a voice. not her father’s voice or one of her brother’s, but her own voice.  Pride and Prejudice had to be published anonymously “by a Lady,” otherwise the public would have perceived jane and her family as improper.  loose morals, loose vaginas, you get the idea.  her family even set out on a propaganda spree well after she was dead and buried, trying to prove to her growing number of readers that aunt jane really was quiet, good, and Christian (maybe she was, but that’s not ALL she was).  they did such a good job of whitewashing, that a lot of people today still turn to that image of jane instead of to her works and letters.

even Jezebel (for shame!), delegitimizes Jane and women writers in their piece.  are her books ‘just high brow Twilight’?  the question ultimately leads to a weak answer of ‘Jane never did it for me.’  in the process though, you insult women as readers, writers, consumers and participants in our culture when use ‘chick lit’ as a category and then denigrate it as vapid, silly romance.  austen knew better than that, over 200 years ago, in her “it’s only a novel” rant in Northanger Abbey.  the novel as a form was largely the province of women then, and the majority of novel readers were women. to this day women read more (fiction) than men.  if you’re going to knock fiction for irreponsible portrayals of gender politics, go for it, but don’t knock it because women create and consume it.  what ARE you saying, Jezebel? because i don’t even think you know.

and if you don’t think social and political commentary are present in austen’s works, get educated about 18th/19th century historical context.  or you know what might help?  if you actually read her works, like, at all.

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  1. themusicalofthenight reblogged this from ms-digne
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    (p.s. Bravo to the O.P.!) Seriously, read Auerbach’s book — so you can throw it at the next person who calls Austen’s...
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    Love this!
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    This. Austen ftw.