Since I seem to have caused a bit of a controversy by my intemperate comments below (see the comment section of the post directly below), perhaps I should return to safer ground and cover a literary topic. I was looking through a book I never fail to find fascinating, Fighting Words: Writers Lambast Other Writers, and I was amazed at the vitriol aimed at Jane Austen. Here for example is Ralph Waldo Emerson:
I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels at so high a rate, which seems to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer is . . . marriageableness . . . Suicide is more respectable.
Ouch! That is a rather scathing critique. Not to be outdone, Mark Twain also weighs in:
Jane Austen’s books, too, are absent from this library. Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it.
Now we see where Twain’s reputation come from! But Nabokov sees Twain’s insult and raises him by insulting the whole gender:
I dislike Jane, and I am prejudiced, in fact, against all women writers. They are in another class. Could never see anything in Pride and Prejudice.
Well. So, who should come to the rescue? Edmund Wilson, writing in response to Nabokov’s letter quoted above, defends Miss Austen but in a unique way:
You are mistaken about Jane Austin. I think you ought to read Mansfield Park. Her greatness is due precisely to the fact that her attitude toward her work is like that of a man, that is, of an artist, and quite unlike that of the typical women novelist, who exploits her feminine day dreams . . . She is, in my opinion, one of the half dozen greatest English writers.
So, any theories as to the dislike of Jane Austen? Sexism, ego, style differences?