Thursday, October 4, 2007

ça m'amuse

A struggling author, David Lassman, recently proved how difficult it was get published as a first time author. He submitted chapters of Jane Austen novels to various literary agents and publishers (including some very big names) and all but one rejected the manuscripts.

Well, who wouldn't reject a manuscript from Jane Austen? Despite the Beeb's television series, the various and sundry movies of her novels and about her, Jane Austen is dull. She is overly mannerly and correct. There are no surprises or major conflicts in Austen novels, just irritating lapses in etiquette. Charlotte Brontë described Austen's petit point screeds in accurate terms.

Letter of April 12th 1850 to W.S. Williams:

"I have likewise read one of Miss Austen's works,Emma -- read it with interest and with just the degree of admiration which Miss Austen herself would have thought sensible and suitable -- anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, or heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré and extravagant. She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress."

Charlotte, be it noted, grew up with a kickass younger sister. Emily could shoot a pistol. The more youthful Brontë also made a tidy livelihood from railroad stocks. None of your mincing, faint-of-heart Austen mollycoddles for the Brontë clan when they wrote of their heroines. The sisters gave literature Catherine Earnshaw and Jane Eyre. Both characters had more spirit than, well, I can't recall any of Austen's lead women. They are not memorable as the plain Jane with her mysterious Rochester or Catherine with the brooding Heathcliff. Perhaps, someone ought to try the same experiment with a Brontë novel and see if publishers recognize such.

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If my words, like leaves,
should scatter through the world,
would that I might leave behind
the name that was mine
in the unforgettable days of old.

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