Monday, September 3, 2007

The Jane Austen Poll

Well, people seem to be very opinionated about Jane Austen, but as it turns out when I have encouraged people to cast their votes - they have not read any of her novels! And apparently, those who have, and therefore, can cast an informed vote, find her delightful!

Although I, personally, think that she is, in fact a literary genius - her most distinctive forte is indeed her finely honed sense of social satire. I can imagine that those who were the butt of her jokes, might just have been self-absorbed enough not to recognise themselves, but to people in their immediate circle the portraits would probably seem razor-sharp.

The truth is, for anyone interested in people as social beings, her novels are a gold-mine of case studies. And, as the cherry on top, there is her language, oh, so smooth and forever enjoyable.

  • 5% said Austen was an obsolete anachronism (fool!)
  • 11% thought she was all about love (obviously not!)
  • 11% claimed she was just for girls (
  • 41% lauded her as a literary genius, and (yes, dammit!)
  • 58% felt she was a goddess of sharp social satire (sweet justice)

I realise that the percent do not add up to one hundred. I will assume that this is due to the fact that one could choose several alternatives, because of course, this is a highly reliable, scientific poll. In case anyone should wonder.


Lorraine said...

hi I got here through facebook. I was part of that 41% or 58% (frankly though I feel that to see her merely as a satirist is rather hopelessly recidivist)...

I completely agree with you though. I hate the way (I think) Austen has been misunderstood as someone not self-reflexive and etc -- had a huge argument with my guy-friend about this. But I think this view gains evidence from the Jane Austen readers who are not careful (ah, here my elitism shows doesn't it?) with what they are reading!

Most often these are the "fans" of Austen themselves -- those who read for plot and not for style -- those who look for the fairytale in the novels will definitely find it, of sorts. For on the surface at least they are love stories, the very kind we like to read as little girls. The difference is between Austen and her various protagonists -- and she often uses free indirect discourse WITH third person omniscient so that things get blurred... generating a tension that is rather Joycean. But where Joyce causes the reader to vacillate; he wants the reader to be aware of the tension in the split self, between social norms and private feelings, I think Austen simply tricks the uncareful reader into becoming one of her less likable characters (eg Isabella in Northanger).

I admit that I am ambivalent towards this trickery. Surely it is a testament to Austen's genius that she is one of the few authors in the literary canon who 'made it' in popular culture. Then again, it seems like this is due to 'improper' readings of her work! It seems just the sort of irony she would love (indeed, who knows, perhaps things were intended to work out like this so she could get money, laugh and get her satire across all at the same time) though so I suppose it's ok. It's not like there's very much I can do about it by ranting anyway :P

Camilla said...

Hi! Thank you for your long and interesting comment. I think a lot of people who have opinions on Austen are, like you say, uncareful readers, but also people who have only ever seen the films. And, although I like many of the films, we get the plot but not the style, as you say. This disappointed me though because I thought her hecklers at least were informed hecklers.

Anyway, please explain in more detail what you meant by "free indirect discourse" in terms of point-of-view. I am unfamiliar with that particular term. It sounded interesting and I would like to be able to pay attention to it next time I read her.

Also, we have to keep ranting! It's part of the fun sometimes.