Austen The Novelist

In a new book about Jane Austen, Emily Auerbach attempts to uncover the novelist behind the myth, dispell all those sexist assumptions about the writer, and generally restore her to her place in the canon. Auerbach is interviewed here.

What do you mean by “finding” Austen?

Even though she is everywhere, she is hard to find in terms of the real novelist. We get a lot of movie adaptations and TV shows and kitsch. We get an image that often does an injustice to the real novelist.

I’m afraid that Austen movies have made the problem worse in that many of them are so-called “chick flicks.” They take the romance, but do away with the biting social satire and the wit. She was much more politically aware than people give her credit for. So you end up instead with these period pieces with women in long flowing gowns.

It robs Austen of her depth and sparkle. When she died at 41, her relatives were uncomfortable with the fact that she was biting and sarcastic. So they tried right away to soften her and make her into a sweet maiden aunt.

If you see the parts of her letters they cut out, they are lines about making money or about politics, so that she would seem not very intellectual and not very interested in her craft. That process of distorting and censoring Austen continues until today.

And, in case you’re wondering, my favorite Austen is Emma.