The politics of Jane Austen

When I decided to start this blog, as I’ve said many times, I wanted to thrust Jane into the light of the pop culture that she is — but along with pop culture, there must also be politics — you cannot have one without the other. (See current US president and UK prime minister.)

When research began on books and things on Jane at Amazon and around the internet, I knew from previous research endeavours there would be almost too much to handle. Over 400 items on my wish list alone and I have not even gotten touched the tip of the ice berg.

There were two books that kept popping up as I searched, The Politics of Jane Austen by E. McNeil and Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly. Now here’s the twist: Both books claim, using her work and papers, our Jane was a conservative (McNeil) and a progressive (Kelly). I suppose Jane could be both — her skewering of her contemporaries and her suggestion, no pushing!, of changes could be seen as progressive while the end results of the books — everyone gets bloody married and realizes those women’s fates — could be seen as conservative.

But can she really be both?

In Bharat Tandon’s review of Jane Austen, the Secret Radical in The Spectator, Tandon observes in the very first paragraph that Kelly’s work is,  “…ambitiously revisionist new study of Austen — a study that is by turns illuminating, provocative and infuriating.”  Which, hello!, there is always going to be varying opinions on someone’s work depending on their lens as they study the work. That’s why such studies exist in the humanities.  (It also makes for good conversation at academic conferences and perpetuates fake academic  rivalries.)

(However, we cannot apply this same logic to hard sciences where we need the studies to agree on whatever they are studying so our direction in health and so on can be taken care of!)

Once you get past the pretentious 10 dollar words and overbearing sentence structures, it is easy to come to the meat of Tandon’s argument on why they find the book to be so “infuriating.” It seems Kelly is writing for the general populace, which is clear by two accounts: One the price (see footnote below how I come to this conclusion)1 and two, the summary is written in plain and conversational language while McNeil’s and Tandon’s own book (Jane Austen and the Morality of Conversation) are geared for academics, also verified by price, and the language is more than likely going to be dry and boring.  So Kelly bad and McNeil good.

(I also refer to such academic texts such as McNeil’s and Tandon’s as mental masturbation because it is not so much “Hey, this is what I think, let’s discuss” but more of “Hey, this is what I did, let me preen about my brilliance.”  Also! Morality of Conversation is not something I could see as being the hot topic as a book group unless a bottle of alcohol was involved.)

So was Jane radical or conservative? As in any research area, there is always going to be dissenting opinions and I disagree with Tandon’s ideas that those who love Jane are necessarily so by the general ideas of her rather than the actual independent thought of her work.

Kelly’s obvious culprits are the agents of the Austen industry, that heritage-industrial complex which transfigures radical art into tea towels and novelty mugs, but it is not obvious how her grievance is only a modern one.

As I have not read Kelly’s work (or McNeil’s or Tandon’s for that matter), my opinion is one of gloss. However, I have requested an advanced reader’s copy from Kelly’s publisher to review and at some point, I’ll read the other two esteemed authors works and also draw my own opinion from them as well.

So there.


1. If you have attended college or worked in academia, one of the biggest complaints is the cost of books. Why? As the readership for such tomes is going to be significantly smaller than say a copy of Harry Potter, the publishing companies have to come up with a way to recoup the costs. This also ties in with authors of such great works are paid very little, again due to a small readership. Insofar as the language, newspapers like New York Times and Washington Post have the comprehension level of those in their final year of high school / beginning college while papers such as USA Today have the comprehension guides of those in middle school. Again, what audience they are striving for. Most academic books are typically written for those close to graduating from a four year or in grad school and are meant as more as companion or research texts since many of these titles are just bound copies of dissertations. None of this is to install if you do not fit the model of what these papers and writers are looking for and can understand the contents but it is to point out who exactly the type of readership being sought.

Top 5 weird Jane-related things

My grand plan, if you will, is to push Jane out into the world via pop culture. While yes, media reviews, notices of upcoming events, notes of newsworthy information will still reign on the blog, I am more curious about the huge wealth of Jane-related stuff that does not follow the aforementioned. I remain vigilant that if a Pride & Prejudice and Doctor Who fan fiction mashup exists, anything is possible.

This is why a listicles feature will appear on a semi-weekly basis and they will be on anything from coloring books to toothpaste.

Jane Austen Cookie Cutters
Isn’t this the perfect accouterment for the holidays, an afternoon tea, or even just for a lovely snack? I mark this as “weird” for the simple reason biting Jane’s head off seems a bit cannabilistic, but hey, if you’re a tried and true Janeite, this may be perfect for your collection.

The cutter is shipped from England and
costs $11.28 USD (£8.95 GPB) plus there is shipping involved. If you’re looking for something a bit closer to home, this Etsy seller  is located in the US and is selling their design for $7 USD. She also has a recipe for “Jane’s Best Sugar Cookies” on the product page.

Straight Outta Pemberley
Right, it’s a t-shirt, why is this weird? Straight Outta Compton is the 1988 debut album (and song) by rap legends N.W.A. Doing a mashup of N.W.A. and Jane is hilarious. (And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, just read the wiki articles I linked and soon you’ll get the joke or be appalled.)

The t-shirt is sold on Amazon and costs $19.99 plus free shipping if you’re a Prime Member.

Jane Austen Temporary Tattoos
Not so much as weird as adorable, this pack includes 22 temporary tattoos from images to words. While you can buy these across the internet from different vendors, Amazon is offering them with free shipping for Prime Members.

Jane Austen Toothpaste
Yes, you read that correctly: Jane. Austen. Toothpaste. When I mentioned this to a pal at our last JASNA meeting, she looked at me incredulously as if how could such a thing happen. The answer: Apparently very easy. But I suppose if you’re fond of dancing, having fresh breath would be helpful.

Another Amazon find,  the toothpaste is $7 USD and is available for free shipping for Prime Members. (The toothpaste allegedly tastes of “rose” which I’m not a fond of so if you bought it and used it, let me know in the comments!)

Emma Matches
The item is billed for use at weddings, I suppose to be used in gift baskets for wedding members or as a token on the dinner tables. But still. Matches?

 

 

(I had many of these bookmarked but the rest were a little too easy to find.)

Basingstoke Festival 2017 featuring Jane Austen

Oooohhh — look at this. If you find yourself in Hampshire, specifically Basingstoke, from June 16 to July 9th, the community is having a month long festival to celebrate “Born in the Borough,” which of course includes lots and lots of Jane. (I’m going to go out on a limb here and suppose the Jane Austen statue will be revealed during this time.)

From the festival’s website:

Our theme for 2017 is ‘Born in the Borough’. Expect international artists and big name acts alongside local talent and an array of ‘Festival in the Community’ events which will help showcase arts and performances in underused places.

In addition, there will be a number of events held to celebrate Jane Austen, the world-renowned 19th century author who was born in the borough at Steventon and drafted some of her best known works while living in the area. This July marks the 200th anniversary of her death and provides the perfect opportunity to highlight how her work still entertains and inspires people today.

Visit the festival’s website for locations, times, and listing of events!

200 Years Since Jane Austen – Lunch & Talk

On July 20th, the Bath Priory is having a lunch and talk on, well, Jane!

From the event page:

Join Dr Moira Rudolf for an afternoon discussing Jane’s family background, her five years (1801-1806) in Bath, preferred entertainments, allies and love(s), focussing particularly on the two ‘Bath Books’: Northanger Abbey (drafted 1798/99, originally titled Susan) and Persuasion, her last complete novel, begun some seventeen years later, after she had already lived in Bath. Moira will also draw upon Jane’s lively, gossipy letters.

The event begins at noon BST and costs £50.00 per ticket.

Inappropriate Jane Austen

This may have most of you clutching pearls but it’s too delicious not to share. A comedy troupe / production / duo (or something), SparkleSuit, have put together an eight episode web series entitled Inappropriate Jane Austen. The content is on the bawdy side and while I’m a sassy strumpet outside of this blog, I am trying to keep the blog fairly family friendly. With all of that being said, if you roughly have 10 minutes and you enjoy a bit of ribald humour, I suggest you click on the video below and giggle.