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Giles Coren: Why I hate Jane Austen

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Location: L.A., California

PostPosted: Thu Dec 14, 2017 12:10 am    Post subject: Giles Coren: Why I hate Jane Austen Reply with quote

The Times columnist dislikes the author so much he has made a film about
his loathing — and invited her fans to try to convince him of her genius


The Times, London
Giles Coren: Why I hate Jane Austen

After a year of far, far, far too much Jane Austen — too many books, too
many 200th-anniversary exhibitions, too many radio specials, too many
appearances on bank notes and at least 700 hours more Lucy Worsley in a
bonnet than our nation needed in an already tragic and difficult year for
its people — there is, at last, as 2017 draws to a close, only one more
hellish Jane Austen-related public brain fart left to be endured. Mine.

Oh yes. Despite the fact that the new plastic tenner is the first thing to
have been published with Jane Austen’s name on that I was able to read
all the way to the end; despite the fact that on first touring the museum
at Jane Austen’s home and seeing a quilt she had made with her own
hands, I felt nothing but sadness at the great loss to needlework
represented by her ill-advised foray into writing; despite the fact that
Jane Austen totally ruined my life . . . I spent the best part of this
summer making a film about her. Largely because the drooling public
obsession with this third-rate Augustan ink-widdler means you can get
pretty much any piece of work commissioned — fiction or nonfiction,
written or spoken or filmed — as long as it has her name on it. I’m
looking at YOU, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and YOU, Jane Austen Top
Trumps and YOU, Guinea Pig Pride and Prejudice — all, by the way, bought
by me at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath for the purposes of filming and
brought home in an “I *heart* Mr Darcy” linen bag.

My film, which is on Sky Arts on December 12 at 9pm, is called I Hate Jane
Austen. Because I do. In fact, I hate her so much that 2017 was a year in
which I was for once weirdly in accord with the world’s several billion
“Janeites” (bear with me while I vomit in a bonnet at having to employ
that grim coinage) as they commemorated the 200-year anniversary of her
death. Though perhaps I was the only one going at it less with grief and
more with a “ding-dong, the witch is dead” spring in my step over the
event that marked the shutting down of her grisly literary production

Giles Coren’s film, I Hate Jane Austen, is on Sky Arts on December 12

Jane Austen first waddled into my consciousness in her stiff skirts and
unforgiving bodice in the summer of 1985, as I prepared for my university
entrance exams. Fired up by the thrill of watching Shakespeare on stage,
by the wit and sexiness of the metaphysical poets, the dark humour of
Dickens, the social sweep of George Eliot and the passion of Fitzgerald
and Hemingway, I was keen to study English literature at Oxford and to
pursue the life of a writer. So when my teacher said to me, “Read
these,” and handed me Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and
Emma, I thought: “Excellent. More of this classic English literature
that I’m so into. I shall go home and tear through it pronto.”

My God, what a drag. What a tawdry glimpse into the bored life of a
long-dead Hampshire spinster making up love stories about imaginary
facsimiles of herself because she never got further into the world than
the garden gate of her father’s rural parsonage. Two months later, as
autumn turned, I was still sitting in front of these books, struggling to
enumerate the differences between them in a stark enough way that I might,
when interviewed, remember which was which.

You recall Sense and Sensibility, no doubt. That’s the one about the two
sisters — one a terrible square, the other imperceptibly less so — who
look as if they may never get married, but in the end do.

As opposed to Pride and Prejudice. That’s the one about the five sisters
— a couple of them terrible squares, a couple of them imperceptibly less
so — who look like never marrying, but then do.

And then of course there’s Emma. The one about the girl who tries to
arrange the marriages of all the terrible squares in the village, gets it
slightly wrong because she is imperceptibly less square than them, and a
bit too self-involved, looks like never marrying herself, but then does.

Ye Gods, what a banquet of word turds to lay before a 15-year-old boy in
the bloom of his youth. That summer, while my friends frolicked in the
sunshine, smoked their first joints and kissed their first girls, maybe
got a bit further, I sat locked up at home trying to penetrate Jane
Austen. Reader, she did not yield. As I banged away fruitlessly day after
day, the loss of my actual, earthly virginity was delayed by at least two
years — oh, irony of ironies — by the cast-iron chastity belt of my
Austen studies.

Once at university I was compelled, of course, to complete my reading of
the oeuvre. So I read Mansfield Park, the one in which — in a staggering
reversal of the norm — the central, ordering consciousness is that of
the terrible square (although she is called “Fanny”, so that’s at
least quite funny), and the other imperceptibly less square ones are seen
through her eyes, having a bit of a lark. It’s great, this one, because
just when you think she’s never going to get married . . . guess what?
She does! And so do all the others.

And then of course there’s Persuasion. The great masterpiece and career
climax in which there are two sets of sisters, all terribly square, and
they go off to Bath and someone falls off a wall and then, just when you
think nobody’s going to get married, they all do. (I might have got that
a bit wrong, I went to Wikipedia to refresh my mind about the plot, but
couldn’t even get through the short synopsis there.)

Of the six major novels (there are a couple of unfinished works, but if
Jane couldn’t be bothered to finish them I sure as hell can’t be
bothered to start them) the one I found least awful was, perversely, the
one that is least well thought of (and never filmed as far as I can see):
Northanger Abbey.

I read that one as part of a paper on the gothic novel because what Austen
does in Northanger Abbey, in her relative youth, is to attempt a parody of
the hackneyed tropes and daft plot twists of such celebrated fantasy
novelists of the day as William Beckford and Ann Radcliffe. It is really a
rather clever diversion from the ultimately unchallenging story of
Catherine Morland, a terrible square who you think will never get married
but, in the end, does.

The gothic module also introduced me to a truly significant novel by a
woman of about Austen’s age in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: a
rollicking tale full of grand ideas, dazzling landscapes and a perturbing
vision of mankind’s mechanised future — exactly the sort of thing I
missed so desperately in Austen’s titchy pen portraits of irrelevant
dead villages and their dreary inhabitants, sauntering through the
Napoleonic era without one mention of the wars, parading slave owners
across the stories without a moment to pause and question and endlessly
riffing on the petty machinations of a teeny tiny band of provincial
bourgeois fusspots.

Once out of education, I thought at last I would never have to think about
Jane Austen again, but alas ran straight into the late 20th-century
fashion for exhuming her moribund works on to the screen. I walked out of
university splat into the awful, gushing Andrew Davies Pride and Prejudice
bonnet-fest of which, years later, all anyone remembers is Colin Firth
diving into a lake. A scene that, of course, Austen did not write. Hence
its relative interestingness.

Suddenly Austen was everywhere. Everyone was claiming to have read her
thoroughly on the basis of 20 minutes in front of the telly, perving over
Jennifer Ehle’s ringlets. Every second newspaper article began, “It is
a truth universally acknowledged that . . .”, as one smug, illiterate
hack after another showed off that they had read one line of one book,
once, as they introduced the latest grisly manifestation of her influence.

There was Gwyneth Paltrow gurning her way through Emma, Alicia Silverstone
doing Emma in Barbie clothes in Clueless, Emma Thompson preposterously
playing half her age in Sense and Sensibility, and as for Bridget bloody
Jones . . . That the dreariest story of the early 19th century should come
back to haunt me in the form of a newspaper column (followed by books and
films) based on the diary of a whiny secretary, whingeing about her
weight, fag intake, booze problems and dull-arse office romance with “Mr
Darcy” was too much to bear.

So when the opportunity was presented to make a film about the horrors of
my life with Jane Austen, there was only one way to go: I had to take my
hatred of her out into the street to see if anyone could challenge it.

John Mullan, professor of English at University College London and the
greatest Austen scholar of our day, admitted that I was in good company in
mistrusting her, alongside Charlotte Brontë, Joseph Conrad, Henry James
and Mark Twain. He explained that their problem was that “they didn’t
get any of the jokes. They just didn’t see how funny she was.” Well,
them and me both. Mullan spoke of the beautiful “Swiss watch”
mechanics of the novels, the “miracle” of the plots, and he placed
her, without appearing to jest, alongside Shakespeare. What a clown!

But then David Baddiel, the comedian, novelist and former figurehead of
“laddism”, also insisted that she was hilarious, rather flatteringly
drawing parallels with my writing before going on to spout some guff about
her pioneering use of free indirect discourse and declaring that with
that, “Jane Austen single-handedly invents the modern novel”.

From there it was all downhill. The author of The Genius of Jane Austen,
Paula Byrne, told me I was an incompetent reader. The legendary Joanna
Trollope totally owned me on the 18th-century philosophical fashion of
Sensibility and laid before me the mystery of how the daughter of an
obscure country parson “understood that the great themes of fiction, for
ever, were going to be romantic love, money and class”. And a member of
the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan fixed me with a glare as she declared:
“Pride and Prejudice may be a period drama to the contemporary person
living in London, but my experience growing up in Pakistan was that it was
a road map.”

Gradually, they broke me down. They sent me to dancing cotillions in Bath
— quite fun; better than reading about them. They sent me to Austen’s
graveside at Winchester for a 200th-anniversary “funeral”. They sent
me to the dining room at her brother’s house where she would sit and
write, then hastily cover the pages with needlework if anyone came in. And
they sent me back to the books. Eventually they persuaded me that . . .
well, I’m not going to spoil the ending for you. But I can promise you
that nobody gets married.
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 14, 2017 9:10 am    Post subject: What a git Reply with quote

Ha Ha that bloke would never have survived living in the period when the books were written would he..... Someone needs to tell Giles that that was what happened in the middle classes in those days and also remind him that Jane Austen was rather a regular theatre goer in London which I didn't realise until recently and maybe he should read a book by Paula Byrne called The Genius of Jane Austen which discusses her love of the theatre etc.... She did get out of the vicarage despite what Gile says... Sheesh he is an literary uneducated uncouth wannabe it seems...
The Grumpiest Old Woman on Ave Viet.....
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