Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I Should Pick Up Jane Austen

Prospect's Richard Beck makes me want to do so with his article on the authoress who "remains not only well-read but culturally present and alive to an extent that other classic novelists (excepting Dickens) do not" — Cult leader. An excerpt:
    In the Victorian era, Tories who felt queasy about the cultural effects of industrialisation praised Austen for documenting a time of quiet, domestic triumph, when England’s best families “vegetated quietly on a fixed income.” In 1900, the Church of England tried to memorialise this domestic and pious version of Austen by installing a stained glass window honouring her in Winchester Cathedral, where she had been buried years before. After its unveiling, the Winchester Diocesan Chronicle announced that the “object of the figures and text was to illustrate the high moral and religious teaching” of Austen’s writing. The “moral” part is plausible, but as for “religious,” apparently nobody told the editors of the Winchester Diocesan Chronicle that Mr Collins, the stupidest person in Pride and Prejudice and one of the great figures of ridicule in English fiction, is a clergyman. In any case, the Victorian era’s Austen did not last long. After 1914 the emphasis shifted, and suddenly it was Austen’s detachment and glinting irony that people admired, as Britain’s sensibility was reshaped by horrors nobody had previously imagined.

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