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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Twain on Austen

So while I was away this Summer, I still found ways to keep myself occupied without the computer. Books A Million puts out a book a day calendar. One of the recommendations that intrigues me the most is a book of quotes from artists about other artists. And this one that was their example tickled me senseless

"Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the head with her own shin bone." ~Mark Twain
Well Mr. Twain, I've got a few questions for you. Why? I know why I want to smack Jane Austen senseless... or smack some sense into her... whatever. What is it that riles the Great American Writer to such a fantastic solution?

Is it a personal conviction about what you see as the short comings of English society being praised? Or is it the shallowness of the characters? Is it the way Miss Austen lngers over trivialities as though they were weighty matters of state? I want to know because these are the things that bother me about that work. I would feel somewhat vindicated in my dislike were it shared with a literary giant.

For all of her intent to expose the insipd vulgarity of husband hunting in the Ton, what she has really done is perpetuate its endurance. I am upset that when I read this book I do not find the tone mocking or accusatory. I do not see sarcasm or derision in the characters. I know that she meant to take the society down a peg or two. What I take away from each reading is more the how to than the why not of these practices. And it seems as though the Southern American traditions that produce many entitled Belles finds its roots fertilized by each word. And that makes me wonder if Twain saw the paralels and was inspired to revolt. I read this and it renews my own futile Cinderella fantasies and I find myself angry enough to want to raise a shin bone to her myself.

My second question, if it makes you that mad why the hell are you reading it over and over again. It's not ever going to be a different book. You know how it ends. You know that your blood will boil so why do you keepreading it? For that matter... why do I keep reading it?

Oh Bingley!

Pride and Prejudice reinforces the fantasy of a Prince Charming for everyone. It bothers me that the qualfications for husband are prioritized in descendding order of importance beginning with income and ending with the qualities of compassion and fidelity. It annous me that looks above character leave the good guy out in the cold. Moreover it annoys me that the girls are a commodity traded to keep the family in the black. And as for the pensioned pastor, it annoys me that he felt no comunction to develop a personality as he believed his breeding and position were all that were needed to land a wife. I will always feel sorry for the girl that married the dour old sour puss.

The book's depiction of society annoys me to no end. Apparently that was Miss Austen's purpose. Unfortunately though it also, in times of lonliness and uncertainty, reinforces and fosters my own weedy belief in a magical Someday. That special Someday soon when my Prince will come with or without a cheesey rendition of a Disney tune. It teaches nothing real about self-reliance. And it teaches that the magical Someday is a reward for a dogged pursuit of a man and not the pursuit of self expression. I read Little Women for that. I am Jo March to the core. But I still want a sweeping romance. I want the folral regalia the accompanies the sanctity and certainty of marriage. And I want it because Miss Austen and her kind repeat that every woman is entitled to it. And I am not getting that entitlement.

Pride and Prejudice is a guilty pleasure. I know why I can't put it down. I read it when feminism fails me. I read it after a break up. What I want to know is what compelled Twain to keep picking it up.

When I came across this quote I laughed with such glee that it shocked me. Polite society doesn't say things like that in public. For one thing the very idea of doing such a thing required a bit of skull-duggery. And, once the dead is exhumed for bone retreval it would then be defiled by the act of being hit. In Twains time not only was that shockingly impolite to contemplate, it was completely heathenistic. But then, no one ever accused Twain of being overly polite. And he did enjoy provocation.

It was such a curmudgeionly thing to say. Imagine Niles and Frasier Crane with those words. I can also imagine Patrick Jane (the Mentalist) say something like that. Granted, Patrick Jane would be wearing his trademark smirk thus imparting some humor. As would the delightfully off colored Richard Castle, far from being the 12th precincts resident curmudgeon. The quote is in the vein of both my whimsical humor and my ascerbic distemper. So I find in word and thought a kindredness with Twain that I've always suspected.

And that may be why he keeps reading the book. There is a similarity or purpose to both Austen and Twain. Perhaps it is his inability to define that kindredness that inspires him to a skeletal and very Poe like recourse. And perhaps the reason I would like to pop miss Austen on the head is because I am not sure I like how I am reflected in her book.

... the World may never know. But I sure intend to find out when I hit the Afterlife.

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