Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Friday, March 25, 2011

What Do We Do with Miss Austen?

Nothing like reading Austen criticism over breakfast.

Here are some quotes from Christopher Nagle's Sexuality and the Culture of Sensibility that correspond with what I was saying in my last post. Also, if you know me and my writing, you will know I have a stake in domesticity and thus enjoy when others talk about it.

As in her other mature novels, Persuasion shows the varied aspects of Regency life mostly limited to characteristically female, domestic spaces: the country house, the family and local community, the heart and hearth. But these works do more than expose the negative effects of a narrow life and purely local or domestic perspective of the world. They also explore the unexpectedly rich means by which sensible women—that is, women of sense and feeling—can exploit these spaces through physical as well as psychic mobility, through the imagination and through active works in the outside community.

Like Alison Sulloway, one might suspect that "almost two hundred years of the reading public" were "fooled" by [Austen's] subtly crafted fictions of a putative "Enlightenment feminism"; certainly it seems as though the potentially radical implications of this fiction escaped the notice of Regency readers and their ancestors, in addition to most of our own contemporaries. But it is not just that Austen was—and no doubt continues to be—too subtle for many readers. The more important point is that, since the early days of Walter Scott's reviews, she too often has been the victim of negative appreciation, of marginalization and miniaturization. Readers have assumed that she would not say daring or provocative things—much less bawdy ones—so despite the proliferating critical attention to her popular works, she has been at least partly silenced for almost two centuries.

Literary history..., despite its perpetual interest, has never known quite what to do with [Austen].

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