As one of about ten bros on the planet who enjoy Austen but who 1) are not on faculty somewhere 2) do not have beards, 3) do not wear button-down V-neck sweaters on dates, I was most struck by a paragraph down near the bottom,
"Indeed, the term Janeite was initially coined by the male literary critic George Saintsbury. Rudyard Kipling's 1926 short story The Janeites describes a group of soldiers brought together by their passion for the works of Austen."And more notably,
"According to Claudia L Johnson, an Austen expert and professor of English literature at Princeton University, the author was widely regarded well into the 20th Century not as a romantic novelist but as a steely, tough-minded, sardonic social critic.
"Now, alas, Austen is typically seen (by my students and others) as chick lit and she is beloved for her love stories," laments Johnson, author of Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel. "I think this is a real loss."
At first it sounds ridiculous, but if I squint my ears hard enough I begin to hear Austen as her era's Dennis Miller. I once saw Miller go on a rant that would have taken three pages and 60 subdivisions to outline, and after about 5 minutes he sputtered and said, "Stop me before I sub-reference again."
Here is a single sentence by Austen, from "Emma". I count 99 words, 11 commas and 3 dashes.
"Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School—not of a seminary, or an establishment, or any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems—and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity—but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies."
"Screwed" did not have the same vulgar connotation that it does now, but the effect is the same. I suppose modern parents of any private college liberal arts major of any of 3 or 4 genders might suffer a shiver of recognition.
Also, one can see why the stories become chick-flick romances on the screen. Sarcasm at that level doesn't translate well, although a couple film versions of Emma are pretty wry.
Here is Austen's description of an overly-doting mother from "Sense and Sensibility". Austen had no children of her own which perhaps gave her the distance necessary to observe.
"Fortunately for those who pay their court through such foibles, a fond mother, though, in pursuit of praise for her children, the most rapacious of human beings, is likewise the most credulous; her demands are exorbitant; but she will swallow any thing; and the excessive affection and endurance of the Miss Steeles towards her offspring were viewed therefore by Lady Middleton without the smallest surprise or distrust. She saw with maternal complacency all the impertinent encroachments and mischievous tricks to which her cousins submitted. She saw their sashes untied, their hair pulled about their ears, their work-bags searched, and their knives and scissors stolen away, and felt no doubt of its being a reciprocal enjoyment.
"John is in such spirits today!" said she, on his taking Miss Steeles's pocket handkerchief, and throwing it out of window—"He is full of monkey tricks." And soon afterwards, on the second boy's violently pinching one of the same lady's fingers, she fondly observed, "How playful William is!"
"And here is my sweet little Annamaria," she added, tenderly caressing a little girl of three years old, who had not made a noise for the last two minutes; "And she is always so gentle and quiet—Never was there such a quiet little thing!"
But unfortunately in bestowing these embraces, a pin in her ladyship's head dress slightly scratching the child's neck, produced from this pattern of gentleness such violent screams, as could hardly be outdone by any creature professedly noisy. The mother's consternation was excessive; but it could not surpass the alarm of the Miss Steeles, and every thing was done by all three, in so critical an emergency, which affection could suggest as likely to assuage the agonies of the little sufferer. She was seated in her mother's lap, covered with kisses, her wound bathed with lavender-water, by one of the Miss Steeles, who was on her knees to attend her, and her mouth stuffed with sugar plums by the other. With such a reward for her tears, the child was too wise to cease crying. She still screamed and sobbed lustily, kicked her two brothers for offering to touch her, and all their united soothings were ineffectual till Lady Middleton luckily remembering that in a scene of similar distress last week, some apricot marmalade had been successfully applied for a bruised temple, the same remedy was eagerly proposed for this unfortunate scratch, and a slight intermission of screams in the young lady on hearing it, gave them reason to hope that it would not be rejected.— She was carried out of the room therefore in her mother's arms, in quest of this medicine, and as the two boys chose to follow, though earnestly entreated by their mother to stay behind, the four young ladies were left in a quietness which the room had not known for many hours.
I have lived that scene. True, I did not have my ribbons and needlepoint in a "work-bag", but still, I have lived that scene.
Austen wrote 6 full-length (to put it mildly) novels, perhaps 3,000 personal letters, and a smattering of other work before dying at 41. Here Walter Russell Mead compares her to Mozart and Vermeer.