"Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick & wicked"

- Jane Austen
"Jane Austen is weirdly capable of keeping everybody busy. The moralists, the Eros-and-Agape people, the Marxists, the Freudians, the Jungians, the semioticians, the deconstructors - all find an adventure playground in six samey novels about middle-class provincials. And for every generation of critics, and readers, her fiction effortlessly renews itself."

- Martin Amis, in The New Yorker

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Some of the stupidest ever Jane Austen criticism...

Amongst a very large selection of way-off-the-mark, downright stupid, truly inane, and sometimes deliberately obtuse and malicious Austen criticism, here are a few little gems from the late 1800s and early 1900s:

"It has always been known that Miss Austen's private life was unruffled by any of the incidents or passions which favour trade of the biographer.. It fits with our idea of the authoress, to find that she was a proficient in the microscopic needlework of sixty years since, that she was never in love..."

- An anonymous review (1870) of James Edward Austen-Leigh's A Memoir of Jane Austen.

"it is scarcely to be expected that books so calm and cold and keen... would ever be popular... They are rather of the class which attracts the connoisseur, which charms the critical and literary mind."

- Margaret Oliphant (1870)

"Every time I read "Pride and Prejudice" I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

- Mark Twain (1898)

"The key to Jane Austen's fortune with posterity has been in part the extraordinary grace of her facitlity, in fact of her unconsciousness: as if, at the most, for difficulty, for embarrassment, she sometimes over her work basket...fell... into woolgathering, and her dropped stitches... were afterwards picked up as... little master-strokes of imagination."

- Henry James (1905)

(With acknowledgement to Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club, who compiled a collection of Austen criticism from the 19th century to the present, and included it as an appendix to her novel. Fascinating stuff! Jane Austen is clearly something of a Rorschach Test - she can be everything and anything that the critic wants her to be.)

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