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JANE AUSTEN: Pride & Prejudice Over The Finkler Question

…Howard Jacobson grew up in working-class Manchester, to a father who worked as a children’s entertainer and who ran a market stall selling trinkets. Bright, bookish and intellectually ambitious, he studied English literature at Cambridge under the legendary F.R. Leavis. “I’m an old-fashioned English lit. man,” he said. “Straight down the line — it’s George Eliot, it’s Dickens, it’s Dr. Johnson, it’s Jane Austen.”…

...One minor but interesting point is that, though Jane Austen never used a Jewish character, or discussed Judaism in any way in her writings, she manages to strike a blow against anti-Semitism anyway -- her sole mention of Jews is the phrase "as rich as a Jew", used repetitively in Northanger Abbey by John Thorpe (one of the most obnoxious and ridiculous characters in all her novels); significantly, the heroine Catherine Morland does not at first understand what he means....

There is no denying that the outward events of Jane Austen’s life were of no moment except to herself and her family. Nor does the inner life appear to have been very rich except as it related to her creative genius. If she had a passion, it was an uncompromising love of truth and an unforgiving horror of sentimentality and pretense- a horror so extreme that she suspected as fraudulent in others emotions that she could not feel herself. She knew love, no doubt- but it was the love of a spirited young woman with a strong sense of decorum and without sexual experience.

Tony Grant:Word play of every sort is what jokes are made from. Jane Austen was good at this. Throughout her letters and often in her novels there are examples of what people describe as waspishness. Sometimes this can be hurtful or even insulting to the person she talks about, if that person were to hear or read what Jane said about them. Some of them did, because she wrote the letter directly to them. Cassandra, Martha Lloyd and her own mother, Mrs Austen, did not escape.

Characteristically, the lovers in her novels never kiss or even hold hands, and the men with whom her heroines fall in love have something mysterious and inscrutable about them: a man’s world was closed territory to her. Not that she was a prude or ignorant of the facts of life. The heroes and heroines of her earliest productions, written when she was fourteen or fifteen, are alarmingly addicted to love out of wedlock and to grand larceny. But these productions are pure parody and buffoonery. In her mature work illicit or adulterous love does occur on several occasions, it is true: in “Sense and Sensibility” Mr. Willoughby begets an illegitimate child by a young woman who is herself illegitimate; in “Pride and Prejudice” Lydia briefly lives in sin with Mr. Wickham, who, incidentally, is also guilty of financial indelicacy- the most serious nonsexual crime in any of Jane Austen’s mature novels.

…Because of his rare position in the literary landscape, Mr. Jacobson has been called the “English Philip Roth,” but he says he would prefer to be “the Jewish Jane Austen.” “I’m an English writer who happens to know about Jews and would like to write like Jane Austen, with a little bit of Yiddish,” he said….

Rob Bricken:Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the book that is very much Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice but with zombie attacks and Elizabeth ripping out a ninja's still-beating heart, is apparently going to be made into a miniseries, according to the book's Twitter and io9. No word on who will be making it or when it might air, but as you might recall, I loved the book, and am excited enough by the thought of a live-action P&P&Z that I had to inform you guys immediately.

None of these scandalous events, however, is described in detail; the reader hears of them only as he would hear gossip- either from the mouths of other characters or, in a succinct statement, from the author. Where her intuitive knowledge is complete, Jane Austen re-creates the minutest shadings of emotion in their totality, but where is it wanting, she is content to represent events and actions not in themselves but indirectly, as they strike the consciousness of characters not immediately involved.

Howard Jacobson has won the 2010 Man Booker Prize for The Finkler Question. For the honours he receives a £50,000 (US$76,790) cash prize, and perhaps more importantly, the right to put the little "Booker Winner" sticker on the cover of his novel. Read more: http://arts.nationalpost.com

That Jane Austen could describe what a woman feels when she loves must be clear to anyone who has read “Persuasion” , the last novel she completed. What she expresses here is a triumphant satisfaction arising not so much from physical passion as from moral certainty and peace. The title of the novel is deliberately ambiguous: eight years before the action of the novel begins, its heroine, Anne Elliott, had been persuaded by an elder friend that the man to whom she was engaged-Captain Wentworth of the Royal Navy- was not the man for her; being in doubt of her feelings, she has cancelled the engagement-for, as jane Austen wrote to her niece Fanny Knight, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection.” At the end of the novel, Anne is persuaded not only of her continued love for Wentworth but also of his for her. She has just received his written declaration of love when they meet accidentally in the streets of Bath and he offers to escort her home. Anne accepts the offer, and, “smiles reined in and spirits dancing in private rapture,” they proceed on their walk:

An illustration showing zombie-slaying protagonists Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy from "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." Credit: Quirk Books

“There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting. And there, as they slowly paced the gradual ascent, heedless of every group around them, seeing neither sauntering politicians, bustling housekeepers, flirting girls, nor nursery-maids and children, they could indulge in those retrospections and acknowledgements, and especially in those explanations of what had directly preceded the present moment, which were so poignant and so ceaseless in interest. All the little variations of the last week were gone through; and of yesterday and today there could scarcely be an end.”

" I was taught by F.R. Leavis, and those of us who were taught by F.R. Leavis believe that D.H. Lawrence was the last great English novelist and he died in 1930 and that was that. I hadn’t read modern books. And I went on to read Roth and I thought, Christ being compared to him ain’t bad—he’s some writer! He’s fantastic! And then I went on to read him more, and Saul Bellow, and I became more consciously working a bit like them, but not in their tradition. Their Jewish roots are in European novels. They’re sort of Kafka and Dostoyevsky and Babel and the better for it. I—and I’ve made this joke about myself—I’m not the English Philip Roth, I’m the Jewish Jane Austen."

Howard Jacobson won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction this month with “The Finkler Question,” a dark comedy about a man convinced that tragic love is his destiny. It is the first overtly comic novel to win the prize in its 42-year history. Jacobson responding to question from David Hirsch:

“When it comes to Jewish anti-Zionists, their Jew-hatred is barely disguised, not in what they say about Israel but in the contempt they show for the motives and feelings of fellow-Jews who do not think as they do. There is, of course, nothing new in such schismatics; Jews have been railing against one another and indeed against Judaism from its inception. It was a Jew who invented Christianity.”

“Monotheism probably explains this enthusiasm for dissent. The Jewish God demands a oneness it can feel like a positive duty to refuse. It might even be to our greater glory that we splinter with such regularity and glee. In our variousness is our strength.”

“But then let’s call the thing that drives us by its proper name. Hiding behind Israel is a cowardly way for a Jew to express his anti-Jewishness. That half the time he is battling his psychic daddy and not his psychic homeland I don’t doubt, though I accept that, in political discourse, we have to pretend that what we are talking about is what we are taking about.”

“But here is the beauty of being a novelist —- I can have fun ascribing pathology to whom I like. I know what’s really bothering them. They are my creations, after all.”

Jacobson:It’s an accident. There isn’t an affinity. Except of course there’s a puritan tradition in English literature, which I quite like, actually. My old teacher F.R. Leavis made bones about his really being in sympathy a sort of Puritan. That’s got its roots in the Old Testament. They read the Old Testament, studied the Old Testament, and a kind of biblical connection between the Jews and the English. But essentially, temperamentally, no. And that’s been my great challenge, really, to try and sell it. Can I sell it to the English? Here’s Jane Austen’s world, I’ll beef it up a bit with some Yiddish expressions, with some Yiddish obscenities, even. But the real way in which this has expressed itself is through comedy.

ADDENDUM:

Howard Jacobson: The madonna-whore thing is alive and well with us, it seems to me. Or do I mean alive and ill? The sight of Billie Piper playing Fanny Price in ITV’s dramatisation of Mansfield Park last week persuaded me of this. Of all Jane Austen’s novels, Mansfield Park has been the most susceptible to reinterpretation. First Edward Said, employing the methodology of reading not the novel that’s been written but the novel that hasn’t, turned it into a book about slavery, then the feminists set about transforming the deeply conservative Fanny Price into a vitalistic and rebellious hoyden. Hence Billie Piper’s Fanny Price, all blazing pout and pouting bosom. As though we like a heroine to be principled but can’t abide her buttoned up. ( Telegraph)

---( Telegraph):Though post-colonial and feminist readings of classic texts are meant to radicalise them for our times, in fact they often do no more than adapt them to accommodate our assumptions. A novel that says the right thing about slavery is hardly a challenge to what the critic John Wiltshire calls "our current dispositions". On your way to the nunnery I recommend you read his excellent Recreating Jane Austen for an account of what truly constitutes Jane Austen's radicalism. "Mansfield Park remains disturbing," he reminds us, "because it contains a critique of modernity", and its heroine, Fanny Price, "is a difficult figure because her psychological struggles precede not actions, but acquiescence". And acquiesence in a heroine, reader, is not where you and I are at right now.

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Posted by Dave on Oct 23rd, 2010 and filed under Cinema/Visual/Audio, Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Literature/poetry/spoken word, Miscellaneous. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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