My response to some Jane Austen criticism

When I read a post recently from another blog criticizing the mandated study of Jane Austen novels in so many lit classrooms, I thought, again?

This type of thing comes up a lot. I think I was a bit bitchy in my response in the comments section. Sorry for that. But, I’ve reproduced the comment – decided not to edit; showing my warts – because I’d like to emphasize the value of Austen’s work on my own blog. This really is a response to that criticism in general that Austen’s writing is merely pretty and romantic and has little literary value. On the contrary, Austen’s work has great social, literary and historical value. Her writing helps us discuss questions like:

What social pressures did women (and men) face when women had limited financial independence?

How do you write realistic dialogue that vaults the reader forward in the story?

What were the customs of the Regency period?

So, here’s my comment, albeit out of the context of the post that it responds to (That post is linked to above.) :

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.


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