Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote, I thought, looking at ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ and when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they may mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare, and for that reason Jane Austen pervades every word she wrote, and so does Shakespeare.

                                                                          –Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Early this morning I walked the dog along the waterfront in the windy darkness, looking at the lights of Manhattan and wondering what Jane Austen would have made of the fact that she’s world-famous and still relevant today, nearly two and half centuries after she was born. I like to think she would have been amused — and not entirely surprised. Does genius recognize itself?

Over at Austenblog, there’s a giveaway of a book of essays that looks to  be excellent.  Sarah Emsley has a fascinating post about Jane Austen and grandparents. The BBC has a great article by Rebecca Smith about the daily routine at Chawton. And you can still enter the Goodreads giveaway for The Jane Austen Project right here. It runs until next Tuesday.

‘Eligible’ and the Tradeoff of Updates

eligible-by-curtis-sittenfield-2016-x-200 I stayed up too late reading “Eligible”;  I snorted with laughter; I rejoiced in Curtis Sittenfeld’s clever updates  to plot points in the original and in her cool, dry wit.

Sittenfeld, an accomplished creator of her own plots and characters, here  was given the literary counterpart of a paint-by-number kit: Austen’s people, Austen’s plot, Austen’s wit. But make it modern, please.

Some things are obviously funny, like making Lydia and Kitty crass devotees of CrossFit and paleo diets; others more subtly so, Continue reading

I Picture Colm Toibin Laughing…

…alone at his desk while he writes the following:

Once she discovered she was not pregnant, she thought of the night with pleasure, especially after she had returned to the priest, who somehow managed to imply that what had happened between her and Tony was not hard to understand, despite the fact that it was wrong, and maybe a sign from God that they should consider getting married and raising a family. 

‘Longbourn’ and Pig Shit Realism

 

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All the time I was reading Jo Baker’s “Longbourn” I had the sensation of not being able to decide if I liked it.  This is unusual;  feckless and tentative as I am in most realms of human activity, I am generally confident in my literary judgments.

The story, in case anyone  missed the large splash it made upon publication in 2014, is “Pride and Prejudice” from the viewpoint of the Bennets’ servants. A brilliant, can’t-miss idea. I like to imagine Ms. Baker, tormented by insomnia and casting around for her next idea for a novel, sitting up in bed.

HOLY SHIT! I’LL CALL IT ‘LONGBOURN!’ Continue reading

‘Mrs. Engels’ and the Triumph of Voice

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I read “Mrs. Engels” by Gavin McCrea, but it’s stayed with me. The memory, not the actual book, which I immediately mailed it to my brother-in-law upon completing, because it’s also the sort of work one feels compelled to share. In short, it was amazing. Continue reading

Harper Lee and the Fellowship of Novelists

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I’ve been more intrigued than I ever imagined being about the fuss surrounding the release of “Go Set a Watchman.” I had expected it to be merely a failed “Mockingbird,” cynically dusted off and sold; the reality turns out to be vastly more interesting.

Old-media to care about such things, but Michiko Kakutani’s review made 1A of the New York Times! Above the fold! And what does it take to get a book review to 1A, aside from being a long-lost (or at least, long-ignored) work by the reclusive author of one of America’s best-loved novels of the 20th century? Continue reading

Forget ’50 Shades of Grey.’ Go Read ‘Clarissa.’

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With the much-heralded release of the film version of the much-heralded book, it’s hard to avoid thinking about Fifty Shades of Grey, the work that has given fresh hope to a million unknown optimists writing self-published fanfiction, that made pornography respectable and brought bondage into the mainstream, and has become a touchstone for terrible prose. But this weekend I found myself instead thinking of something else; I found myself thinking of Clarissa. A book I read almost seven years ago and am unable to get past.

You want a story of dominance and submission? You want a rich, creepy, brilliant, controlling male lead? Robert Lovelace leaves Christian Grey eating his dust. And Clarissa Harlowe, handsome, clever and rich, but born in the wrong century and created by the wrong author, makes Anastasia Steele look more loser-ly and pathetic than she already is. There is drama, heartbreak, betrayal, drug use, Stockholm syndrome, cliffhangers and gender battles. As God is my witness, there’s everything.

This book is amazing. Why is it not better known? Continue reading