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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Miss Austen did not do duets

Last week I posted in the usual places about the recent "literary fracas" raised by Kathryn Sutherland's comments on NPR confirming that the articles in various Brit publications quoting her were not offbase, and she really DID mean to suggest that the finished version of Emma had in some significant way been altered as the result of a certain Mr. Gifford's editorial interventions (has anyone made a transcription of what KS actually said on NPR?), and further that Jane Austen was not very adept at spelling, punctuation and the like.

I opined that Sutherland's comments, while ill advised, were not entirely a bad thing, because about a dozen of my NON Janeite friends had independently brought this news item to my attention. This suggests that it has gone more than a little viral, and that it is good for JA's name to be on the lips of intelligent folks generally--it might just cause them to take a closer look at JA than they previously had. I still adhere to that view.

Anyway, yesterday at the JASNA AGM in Portland (where I will be giving my talk in 3+ hours), not a single speaker failed to make some witty comment on the situation. And so I was not entirely surprised when I received an anonymous email early this morning from an anonymous someone calling herself "A Lady", in which she, evidently responding to my blog on this topic, had these memorable comments, which are obviously a reaction to Sutherland's claims, and which I pass along to you now:

"...the usual style of letter–writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars---a general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar...I should no more lay it down as a general rule that women write better letters than men, than that they sing better duets, or draw better landscapes. In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.”

To which I just fired off a reply as follows:

"Depend upon it, madam, Miss Austen did not do duets."

Cheers, ARNIE


Jennythenipper said...

Indeed it is good that JA is in the news for something other than zombified ripoffs of her works. And I've been hearing from non Janeite friends. I sometimes get the feeling they are hoping I'll explode into a comical rant on the topic. I don't know why they'd think that?!

The part that I was sure you'd be interested in Arnie, was the statement that Jane's first drafts were unpunctuated and stream of consciousness which immediately brought to mind Molly Bloom. The myth that Mozart composed in his head and wrote out perfectly formed music onto paper has long-ago been dispelled. I suppose it was long past due to dispel the similar rubish started by Jane's well meaning(?) brother.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Henry Austen was a Henry Crawford, I fear, so it's hard to know what his motivations were.....

Our non Janeite friends have a strange fascination with Janeism.

More about the AGM in a day or two.