Monday, February 23, 2009

better, deeper, more intelligent


Better, deeper, more intelligent,
and sensitive than us, Jane Austen
provides a literary environment
in which we all, by getting lost in
admiration for her heroines,
feel so diminished we conclude
whichever of the many heroes wins
their heart is an unlucky dude.

Riding with her, dressed by Abercombie
and Fitch is not the sort of way
I’d like to spend my time. I’m not a zombie.
Perhaps because I am not gay
I can’t relate to all the topics Jane
obsesses on, and in Northanger
Abbey heroines would all complain
I was a crashing bore and wanker.

“Why couldn’t all these heroines go out
and get a job?” was asked by Emma––
not Jane’s, Ms. Thompson’s Emma, without doubt
a heroine who’s not a femi-
nist––oh horrid word––but understands
how prejudice which is their pride
lands nearly all of them in Jane’s badlands
composed of English countryside.

Who needs a woman who is deeper than
themselves, far better, surely, and
far more intelligent? I’m not that man.
Although I think I understand
what all her heroines are saying, I
don’t look for girls who're good or deep.
I’m merely looking for the sort who’ll lie
with me before I fall asleep.

Inspired by two articles. The first was an article by Jennifer Schuessler on “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” by Seth Grahame-Smith (“I Was a Regency Zombie,” NYT, February 22, 2009):

These days, America is menaced by zombie banks and zombie computers. What’s next, a zombie Jane Austen? In fact, yes. Minor pandemonium ensued in the blogosphere this month after Quirk Books announced the publication of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” an edition of Austen’s classic juiced up with “all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem” by a Los Angeles television writer named Seth Grahame-Smith. (First line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”)… In fact, “Pride and Prejudice” may already be a zombie novel, contends Brad Pasanek, a specialist in 18th-century literature at the University of Virginia. “The characters other than the protagonist are so often surrounded by people who aren’t fully human, like machines that keep repeating the same things over and over again,” Professor Pasanek said. “All those characters shuffling in and out of scenes, always frustrating the protagonists. It’s a crowded but eerie landscape. What’s wrong with those people? They don’t dance well but move in jerky fits. Oh, they are headed this way!” While the vast industry of Austen sequels and pastiches runs heavily toward the romance-novel end of the literary spectrum - see “The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy” by Maya Slater, to be published in the United States in June - scholars have long emphasized the mean-girl side of Jane’s personality. Professor Pasanek, who has collaborated on a project that uses spam-detection software to analyze Austen fan fiction, cites the psychologist D. W. Harding’s 1940 essay “Regulated Hatred,” which sounds more like a death-metal band than a piece of influential Austen scholarship.“Most people try to ignore the fact that Austen’s novels are sort of acid baths,” Professor Pasanek said. “She’s so much better, deeper, more sensitive and intelligent than everyone around her that she has to regulate her own misanthropy. Her novels re hostile environments.”

The second was an article in the NYT published on the same day by Sarah Lyall (“Get a Griup, You’re British”), contrasting the speeches of British actors when receiving awards like the Oscars with those of Americans:

[D]espite their increasingly American forays into public displays of feeling in the aftermath of the Diana, Princess of Wales, era, many English people still feel repelled by all that capital-E emoting. Instead, said Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, they stick to the old standbys: self-deprecation, false modesty and humor. “While British actors are dying to get those awards as much as anyone else, they are supposed to pretend they don’t really care and that it doesn’t really matter,” he said in an interview.
At the same time, Mr. Furedi added, there is a sense that British actors are meant to be classy and dignified, reflecting the view in the entertainment world here that while Hollywood has the money, Britain has the real actors. In 2005, Gil Cates, the longtime producer of the Oscars, said there was indeed a cultural difference, at least as far as acceptance speeches go. "They are really taught how to frame a sentence," he said, speaking of English actors. "I love it when an English actor wins because their speeches are so classy and precise.” The classic examples of that would be any speech by Judi Dench — her accent certainly helps — or Emma Thompson’s understated, wryly funny acceptance speech at the 1996 Oscars, when she won the award for best adapted screenplay for “Sense and Sensibility.” “Before I came, I went to visit Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral to pay my respects, you know, and tell her about the grosses,” she said. She also thanked Sidney Pollack “for asking the right questions, like, ‘Why couldn’t these women go out and get a job?’ ” Ms. Thompson — who accepted another award, at the Golden Globes, with a speech in the style of Jane Austen herself — then did what cool British award winners do: she put the Oscar in her guest bathroom.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/22/09

1 comment:

  1. "I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone." Mark Twain
    - Letter to Joseph Twichell, 9/13/1898
    "Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book." Mark Twain

    Enough said. I concur fully!