Like lots of people, I’ve been thinking about all the accusations of sexual misconduct that have come spilling out into public notice ever since the Harvey Weinstein story broke – hardly six weeks, yet what feels a lifetime ago. Like many women, I’ve wondered if we will look back on this historical moment as a paradigm shift in what is considered acceptable behavior.
It’s important to be realistic about the limits of such a shift. Some men will still behave like jerks, whether through groping, leering, impolite remarks, or rape. There will be still be painful, awkward episodes among all genders of misread social cues, attempted flirting gone horribly wrong, unreciprocated workplace crushes, etc.
But is it too far-fetched to imagine a world where the goal posts have moved? Where the default of people’s conduct and their expectations of other people’s is different than today? It’s a topic that science fiction has not ignored. Continue reading →
At the recent JASNA AGM in Huntington Beach, Calif., one of the many interesting people I enjoyed meeting and talking to was Paul Butler, whose wonderfully inventive takeoff on “Persuasion” kept me enthralled the whole journey home. After reading “The Widow’s Fire,” (started in the LAX departure lounge, finished on the A train back in Brooklyn), I will never see Mrs. Smith or Captain Wentworth the same way again. But it’s not a travesty — more of a radical rethinking, a bit the way Jean Rys flips the narrative in “Wide Sargasso Sea.”
Mr. Butler has in turn done me the honor of reading my book and kindly invited me to answer some questions on his blog. Link here.
Virginia Woolf photograph by Gisèle Freund, 1939 Photograph: National Portrait Gallery
I’ve read this before, what Virginia Woolf wrote in 1924, but I just came across it accidentally in search of something else. It still makes me cry, because she was right, as Woolf generally is; or if not right, at the very least, wonderfully persuasive.
“She would have stayed in London, dined out, lunched out, met famous people, made new friends, read, travelled, and carried back to the quiet country cottage a hoard of observations to feast upon at leisure. And what effect would all this have had upon the six novels that Jane Austen did not write? She would not have written of crime, of passion, or of adventure. She would not have been rushed by the importunity of publishers or the Battery of friends into slovenliness or insincerity. But she would have known more. Her sense of security would have been shaken. Her comedy would have suffered. She would have trusted less (this is already perceptible in Persuasion) to dialogue and more to reflection to give us a knowledge of her characters. Those marvelous little speeches which sum up in a few minutes’ chatter all that we need in order to know an Admiral Croft or a Mrs. Musgrove forever, that shorthand, hit-or-miss method which contains chapters of analysis and psychology, would have become too crude to hold all that she now perceived of the complexity of human nature. She would have devised a method, clear and composed as ever, but deeper and more suggestive, for conveying not only what people say, but what they leave unsaid; not only what they are, but (if we may be pardoned the vagueness of the expression) what life is.”
Almost five years ago now, I wrote about the strange feeling of going to the a local copy shop to print out copies of my novel in preparation for a manuscript workshop. More specifically, about the strange feeling of walking out of the store with them, that something existing only in my mind had now taken a physical form, had become a thing that existed in the world, like a rock or a highway or a batch of cookies cooling on the counter. Continue reading →
Choosing the names of a novel’s characters is a task not to be undertaken lightly. As Jane Austen herself was aware, a name is a crucial handle, revealing character, demographics and possibly self-image. Continue reading →
A few days ago I was surprised (but pleased) to learn that someone in Germany wants to publish The Jane Austen Project. Although foreign rights are one of the topics a standard publishing contract covers, the idea that this would ever happen had always seemed more hypothetical than real. Perhaps because Jane Austen seems so rooted in Englishness — though I knew, in an abstract way, that she was famous beyond her own language.
There is something so strange about the idea of my own story existing in a form I can’t read myself, that it will go to a place I can’t. I remember thinking about this the last time I read Anna Karenina. Reading his words, I felt so close to Tolstoy’s amazing mind — and yet these words were not his, only some approximation. But then, language is always only an approximation, the cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to. Everything, ultimately, is lost in translation.
The internet has been all over this, a “dramatic re-appraisal,” as the headline breathlessly puts it. But we never knew just what Darcy looked like in the first place — about all Jane Austen gives us is “fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance of his having ten thousand pounds a year.” The piece by John Sutherland and Amanda Vickery is great, a thorough exploration of early 19th-century ideas about male desirability, ticking through things like the importance of cravats, of knowing how to move gracefully, and of having a well-turned leg. None of this was news to me, so I personally can’t be too surprised to learn that the first readers of Pride and Prejudice probably did not imagine him as looking like a certain late 20th-century English actor.