Jane austen

High life | 28 May 2015

An operation on my hand after a karate injury has had me reading more than usual. I even attempted Don DeLillo’s Underworld, but soon gave up. Truman Capote famously said that On the Road was typing, not writing, but old Jack Kerouac was Jane Austen compared with some contemporary novelists. Making it sound easy is the hardest thing in writing, and today’s modernists sure make it look easier than easy. But they’re also sloppy, self-indulgent and at times incomprehensible. What I don’t get is how one can enjoy a novel when the plot is not clear. When the reader doesn’t know what’s real and what’s imagined, it’s time to regress

Jane Austen’s pinny

This is the third entry in an occasional series by Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library. You can read the other instalments here. It’s almost two years since the Bodleian celebrated its hard-fought acquisition (nail biting auction) of Jane Austen’s manuscript draft of her abandoned novel, The Watsons. Thank you again National Heritage Memorial Fund, Friends of the Bodleian, Friends of the National Libraries, Jane Austen Memorial Trust and all supporting Janeites everywhere. Once a manuscript has been fetched into the bosom of the Bodleian, repaired, shelf-marked, and safely housed, it needs to be studied. So it was that at a seminar with Professor Kathryn Sutherland,

Forget genre: P.D. James wrote novels that are worth reading and re-reading

P.D. James was the Queen Mother of crime fiction. Her career as a writer stretched over half a century, and her death at the age of 94 deprives the country of an author who was cherished in person as well as for her books. She was probably best known for her crisply-written and elegantly plotted series about the poet-policeman Adam Dalgliesh. Among other things, however, she was also an occasional contributor to the Spectator, which sometimes showed an unexpected side to her. An early diary piece recalls her attempt to learn to drive in Dublin in the 1980s. The caretaker at her block of flats took one look at her

P.D. James (1920 – 2014) on Jane Austen and the joys of great-grandparenting

P.D. James died today at the age of 94. She was a great friend of The Spectator. Here is her diary from 27 January 2010: Our protracted family Christmas with my elder daughter, Clare, came to an end when her son, with his Australian wife and two children, returned to Melbourne. The visit has been a great success, particularly so for Clare, whose idea of a perfect Christmas is to have four generations round the table. The snow was a bonus since neither great-grandchild had ever before seen snow. The first glimpse of a totally white England spread out beneath them as the plane descended to Heathrow was a wonder, and

Behind (almost) every great writer is a great garden

It is a truism that writers of all kinds often find inspiration and solace in their gardens, as well as protection from the outside world and its demands. After all, writing is a supremely solitary business and outside influences must be subtle and uplifting, not noisy and distracting, if writers are to flourish. The Writer’s Garden is an attempt to explore this appealing idea by describing the gardens of 20 well-loved British writers, including Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter, Walter Scott and George Bernard Shaw. The choices are largely expected — Jane Austen’s Chawton and Godmersham, Agatha Christie’s Greenway, Winston Churchill’s Chartwell, Rudyard Kipling’s Bateman’s and Walter Scott’s Abbotsford — but

Why boys love Jane Austen

When I first read Jane Austen I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to impress a girl who read her. I didn’t get the girl, but I got the novelist: persuading myself that I was the only 16 year-old boy in Newcastle who had read Jane Austen. Not yet subtle enough to appreciate the extent of how good she was, I was happy loving her heroines, ogling the country houses, trying to emulate the cads, and weeping at the broken hearts and accepted marriage proposals. Repeat this for the films and the endless BBC mini-series. Then I discovered at university that every boy liked Austen – as did the old

Look! Shakespeare! Wow! George Eliot! Criminy! Jane Austen!

Among the precursors to this breezy little book are, in form, the likes of The Story of Art, Our Island Story and A Brief History of Time and, in content, Drabble’s Oxford Companion to English Literature and Johnson’s Lives of the Poets. Other notable precursors are How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland, How to be Well Read by John Sutherland, 50 Literature Ideas You Need To Know by John Sutherland, Lives of the Novelists by John Sutherland and more in that vein. The tireless and compendious Dr Johnson — ‘the first great critic of English literature’ — deserves and receives a chapter to himself here, and it’s no

We can do better than Jane Austen

Was Jane Austen really the best idea the women could come up with? Furious campaigning from feminists has resulted in the rather mimsy authoress being chosen to adorn the back of our new ten quid notes. There’s another woman, of course, on the other side – the Queen. But as she’s an inbred fascist agent of imperialism, she doesn’t really count as a proper woman, apparently. My own suggestion – Mary Seacole, the partly black lady who helped out a bit in the Crimean War – fell on deaf ears. But it’s not too late to change. And if not Mary, how about someone who represents modern British womanhood in

Jane Austen on banknotes – the right person for the wrong reason

So the huge online campaign and (rather strange) legal action won in the end: Jane Austen is to appear on the new £10 note. Most people would agree that she is in the top division of English authors, so it’s a shame that, rather than being celebrated as a novelist, she has now been chosen as a woman, rather less of an accomplishment. As a consequence people will mentally devalue her, because the human mind always subconsciously adjusts to tokenism in the same way it adjusts to inflation. (And it is the same reason that Buy British campaigns have never worked, sending as they do the message that the products

Jane Austen and Winston Churchill are practically the only credible banknote candidates

Silly season is here. A minor row has broken out over which long-dead figures should appear on the reverse side of Bank of England notes. I can’t be bothered to relate the details because you’ve all got better things to do like water the garden, fix lunch or watch Loose Women. Basically, Sir Mervyn King’s got it in the neck from the Continuity Bien Pensants by seeming to back Winston Churchill and Jane Austen for this dubious accolade. So far, so ludicrous. But there’s one more point worth making. The criteria for this banknote business are that the subject must be enduringly famous and recognisable. This does rather limit the field, particularly

Jane Austen! Why can’t we have Anjem Choudary on the new ten pound note?

I see that they have gone for Jane Austen as the face of the new ten pound note, after a long and bitter row. I find it incredible that they decided not to take the chance to show a true commitment to multicultural diversity and have instead chosen some boring dead white woman.  I wrote to the authorities demanding that the fiery Islamic organiser Anjem Choudary have his face on the note. After all, as taxpayers we give him enough of the stuff every year. But this was rejected out of hand, sadly. Choudary has backed a new organisation, called Islamic Emergency Defence. The initials are a deliberate reference to

What’s love got to do with it? | 30 January 2013

In her Times column on Monday (£), Libby Purves valiantly attempted to fit together two things that were obviously on her mind. Discussing Pride and Prejudice, which is 200 years old this week, in relation to the modern permutations of marriage was sure to be a delicate operation. Purves argued that the book’s appeal lies in both its wit and the intellectual and emotional foreplay between Elizabeth and Darcy. What might seem ‘subversive’ for modern sensibilities, Purves suggests, is the fluttering of Elizabeth’s heart when she sees the size of Darcy’s pile. Nowadays, she argues, marriage is about ‘love’, of course. It doesn’t matter about class, wealth or gender. That