Many modern readers who love Jane Austen are eager to find ways to acquit her of being a woman of the long 18th century. Clutching My Pearls is my ongoing blog series about my take on Jane Austen’s beliefs and ideas, as based on her novels. Click here for the first in the series.
Granted, I'm not an academic. My eyes glaze over at mentions of Derrida and Foucault--all that stuff is just beyond me. I'd like to know more about Austen's contributions to the development of the novel, but modern scholars have moved beyond that. Or rather, they seem to take it for granted that Austen was writing at such an advanced level of subtlety and symbolism that the merest object or reference--an apricot, a shawl, a hedge, a surname--can unlock the key to a hidden level of meaning that exists underneath and sometimes in contradiction to the narrative. I'm unconvinced: would an author of her time, even an author of genius, write novels about happy marriages that aren't really about happy marriages at all?
I have no quarrel with individual reactions to Austen, or with what people draw out of Austen. But I do differ with those who ascribe improbable opinions to Austen, hence the following rebuttal.
For my 100th blog post, I offer six simple questions which I think academics might profitably ask themselves when formulating their theories about who Jane Austen was, and what she believed...