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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hilary Mantel Wields Jane Austen's Quill Pen

Near the  end of the first of my two recent posts about Hilary Mantel's controversial article  about Kate Middleton and the other British Royals.....

....I drew the following parallel between Mantel's article and Jane Austen's satirical writing:

"...[M]ost obvious[ly], "The pen is in our hands." [in Mantel's article] is a direct echo of Anne Elliot's stirring feminist call to arms: "Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything." "  END QUOTE

Now, I'd bet that notwithstanding my own high level of confidence that Mantel had Persuasion's Anne Elliot specifically in mind while writing that sentence in her article, more than a few of those reading my comments were skeptical of my certainty, thinking that such a phrase could easily have been reinvented a number of times by creative writers over the centuries. 

Being aware of such likely skepticism, I was determined to find out what, if anything, Mantel had ever written about Jane Austen in published form, which might shed light on this question. 

So imagine my anticipation, yesterday, when Google led me to Mantel's entry about.....(who else?)  Jane Austen in Joseph Epstein's 2007 collection entitled Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define  English & American Literature.

Today, I was able to swing by the library and pick up a copy of that book, and then imagine my delight and sense of vindication when I was reading through Mantel's relatively short entry and came upon the following

"...[Austen's stories] seem to be telling us something tough, enduring, and valuable about how power  is negotiated, exercised, yielded. In Austen's books, history is not written by the winners, and society is not described by its overlords. Anne Elliot in Persuasion  tells us,  "Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story....The pen has been in their hands."...  "  END QUOTE

As they say in math class, Q.E.D. 

Even though Mantel is clearly not a passionate Janeites (she misspells Knightley as Knightly, and does not know that JA's "poor animal" quote is not merely about "some woman", it is about niece and psychological daughter Anna Austen Lefroy!), I nonetheless strongly recommend Mantel's entry about Jane Austen

Perhaps some of you were put off by reading Elsa Solender's pretty negative review of Mantel's piece in Persuasions Online a few years  ago. It's obvious why Solender didn't like Mantel's taking a satirical swipe at uncritical idolatry of  the romance in Austen's novels, Mantel does not pull punches, that's for sure. But she takes on Austen's writing, and the culture of Janeites, the same way she took on the Royals in her recent article, and I gotta admire that. 

Here  are two brief quotes that might tantalize  some of you to give it a read in its entirety:

"It was time for someone [like JA}to write, without constraint, about the constraints of private lives and about the constraints of women's lives in particular: to redefine private life and make it into art."

"In one of her two attested portraits, she wears what may be an incipient smile: a mere, ambiguous flicker. In the other, she turns her back to the viewer. It is only genius that can say, make of me what you like."

Love her, hate her, Mantel lays it all on the line. 

I want to read one of her novels--any recommendations from anyone who has read her fiction?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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