Lit. Crit. (was: Re: More than you ever wanted to know (was Re: answers from Diana))

Philip.Belben at Philip.Belben at
Tue Jun 5 12:26:50 EDT 2001

I think I'd better get my Jane Austen reply in before the debate on feminism
really takes off.

Dorian, quoting me:

>> Like Ven, I don't like Jane Austen.  Her books may be wonderful, as my
>> mother - and Hallie, who persuaded me to try one - insist.  But they don't
>> work - or haven't so far worked - for me.  This may be strange, as I am an
>> avid fan of Georgette Heyer, but that's just the way it seems to work.
> That is interesting.  But of course, Heyer's writing is perhaps more
> accessible to a late 20th/early 21st century reader than Austen's.  Writing

Yes.  That is certainly a factor.

> styles have changed a lot since Austen was writing, and writers today would
> not use a lot of the things that Austen uses (long sentences, "big words",
> expository dumps, asides to the reader...).  With the result that readers

Except that I have no objection to any of the devices in your list.  Georgette
Heyer uses all of them, and the longest sentence I've encountered is in "Winnie
the Pooh" by A A Milne (it's at the end of the chapter about the flood, and
lasts a page and a half)

> today are not used to such things, and can find them very off-putting.  I
> find I do have to engage a slightly different mind-set (reading-set?) when
> reading Austen (or any other pre-20th century writer) than normal.  I had to

Now we're getting closer.  I think this is the case, but it's not (just) a style
thing.  It's about the assumptions we all make about the world.  I've grown up
with DWJ, and as a result my outlook on life has been to some extent moulded by
her writing.  This means I can pick up _any_ book by DWJ and know that I'm going
to feel at home in it, whether or not I like it.  With unfamiliar writers it is
more difficult, and the separation in time makes it more difficult still.   In
the case of Austen, I just failed to find enough in common.  This means that if
I persevere, I would probably come to love the books.

> learn to do this (huge thanks to my mother and my school English teacher for
> showing me how!), but not everyone either realises that it's necessary, or
> is willing to, or maybe even is able to.

I'm not sure it's a case of realising or being willing.  I'm sure it's something
I do unconsciously with many authors I do read.

I would also say at this point that we shouldn't assume a hard cut-off at the
the turn of the 19th/20th centuries.  Quite apart from the plenty of writers who
span both, such things are almost always a continuous, gradual change.  ATM I am
reading The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris.  Definitely 19th century!
I find it heavier going than a modern novel, and a trifle slow in pace, but not
as off-putting as I found JA.

>> (FWIW the JA I tried was Pride and Prejudice.  I found it very strange,
>> since Fitzwilliam Darcy seemed to be two completely different people, and
>> this ruined the book for me, despite much of it being excellent.
> Hm.  I must admit, I didn't find that.  Can you explain this a little more?
> Give examples?  Darcy, it must be said, is one of my all-time favourite
> romantic heroes!

Oh dear.  We seem to be arguing from totally opposite premises.  I mean,
unromantic anti-hero was more the impression I got ;-)

To be more specific, we start the book with FD a stuck-up boor, who can't be
bothered to make himself agreeable at a party, and doesn't want to admit that he
fancies Elizabeth (or whatever her name is) simply because she's from the wrong
sort of ancestry.

Later on, he has turned into a charming host, taking a lot of trouble with his

These two sides to his personality come up throughout the book, but there's
nothing that I could see to tell the readers why there are two aspects; nor
could I really see how he transforms from one to the other, even though (iirc)
we do get to observe the process at least once.

And I ended up with a feeling of "Yes, so even a stuck-up boor can put himself
out to help people, but it hasn't made him less of a boor..."

Again, this is purely my reaction to it.  I wouldn't presume to make any
statements about What The Author Meant.  She no doubt had many of the cutting
things for which she is famous to say, but I didn't detect them...


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