Monday, January 24, 2011

Jane Austen Must Be Stopped.

Another post inspired by Yahoo Answers, where it has become painfully clear to me that Ms. Austen's estimable works are still being forced upon young people. The same thing happened to me.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the books at the time and likely would again. I enjoyed the 1940 MGM movie of Pride and Prejudice. Lawrence Olivier as Darcy? What could possibly be wrong with that?

Here's what's wrong. High school students forced to answer the following essay question: "Compare and contrast the relationships between Lizzie and Darcy and Jane and Bingley." In English class. Now, I'm sorry, but how is this getting anybody ready for anything? How is reading a novel that is nearly two hundred years old helping?

Teachers teach Jane Austen because she is easy to teach, familiar, and non-controversial. She makes Golding and Salinger look like wild-eyed radicals. But generation after generation of high schoolers are left with the impression that Austen's novels are what writing should be, and it's poisoning them. Long descriptions, endless parlor scenes, pace that drags across empty weeks and months. It's not beautiful language and astonishingly complex human relationships, as Shakespeare is. It's ploddingly dysfunctional and does not help young writers learn their craft or young anybody learn how to communicate.

Someone stick a fork in Ms. Austen. She's done.


Arnie Perlstein said...

Maybe if you were open to the possibility that you have completely missed 95% of what is going on in Austen's novels, you'd understand why it is a good thing for English teachers to assign the reading of Jane Austen to students.

Jane Austen was a covert radical feminist, and she hid that fact in plain sight, where readers too readily seduced into accepting what they read at face value, and seeing her as a prim, proper, passive romance writer, would never see it.

She was a major put-on artist from the age of 12 till the day she died 30 years later.

Here is a sampler of a couple of recent posts at my own Austen-related blog that you might find interesting:

Please feel free to browse around in my blog, you will see 100 other evidences of what I claim.

Weston, Florida

Carin S. said...

Wow, obviously Jane Austen isn't your cup of tea, but that's no reason to suggest getting rid of her forever from literature classes. Personally, I hate The Grapes of Wrath, David Copperfield, and all British Romantic poetry, but I'd never suggest people stop teaching Wordsworth and Coleridge just because I dislike them. I think Austen's writing is brilliant. Her characters are flawlessly drawn, her dialogue is so accurate that it's often lifted into screenplays verbatim, and if you think her plots and storylines are too old fashioned, I suggest you rent Clueless which you may not know if based on Emma. I think finding love and money worries and annoying families are all pretty timeless. And speaking as a former editor at the 6th largest US publisher, I can assure you that today's writers could certainly learn good lessons from Ms. Austen.

Arnie Perlstein said...

I just noticed that Lorelei also is not particularly a fan of Mozart, either--so at least she is an Emersonian sense!

Anonymous said...

I hardly feel that their being 200 years old is a good reason to ignore the novels altogether. Isn't Shakespeare, who you laud later in your post, significantly older than that?

I think that Jane Austen touches on themes that are as pertinent today as they were in her time: how do you deal with loss? Is it acceptable to sacrifice your personal feelings for the sake of security and financial stability? How does a woman cope in a world that is designed to help men succeed? And most importantly, how do any of us find happiness?

As Carin S. said, it's perfectly acceptable to dislike Austen, but I don't feel the evidence given in this post forms a compelling argument that schools ought to discontinue the study of her novels.

Emily Nelson

Anonymous said...

One of the best things about Austen is that she lays a foundation for women to understand the insidious and almost pretty-looking repression that their forebears endured.

Why are women always accused of being manipulative? Perhaps because there have necessarily been Mrs. Bennets and Miss Bingleys in the past. But, arguably, the ugly truth is: how else was a person who was considered the property of a man and ineligible for a profession to survive? Depend on the goodness of male (and female) chauvinists?

Perhaps you didn't have very good teachers or simply didn't understand what you were reading.

-These are not romance novels. -

Perhaps you should have paired your reading of Austen with a Women's Studies class.

In any case, this ignorant position that students receive nothing from reading an incisive fictional story of the dynamics of relationships and power plays is baloney.

At the very least, appreciate the writing. Not beautiful? Austen spoke truthfully and with insight while using an elegant economy of words.

I suggest a re-read.

Anonymous said...

Jane Austen is the example of Proper English not the text message crud that is fed to this generation of kids. It also is classical literature that so well known and translated into other languages. The embarrassing thing would not to know any of Jane Austen at all. It is like asking who is Harry Potter.