I think we’d all agree that Jane Austen is the godmother of the modern romance novel. Her books have never gone out of print. Not everybody has been a fan, though—I thought I’d quote some heresy to raise your hackles and heat you up!

Joseph Conrad writing to H.G. Wells: “What is all this about Jane Austen? What is there in her? What is it all about?”

Charlotte Bronte: “Anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well-bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré or extravagant. She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well. There is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy, in the painting. She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him with nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood … What sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study: but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of life and the sentient target of death–this Miss Austen ignores….Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete and rather insensible (not senseless woman), if this is heresy–I cannot help it.”

And Mark Twain REALLY didn’t like her: “Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

“To me his prose is unreadable–like Jane Austin’s [sic]. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane’s. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

“I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”


What’s your favorite Austen novel? Movie adaptation? Quote?

I’m partial to Emma (both book and movie with Gwyneth Paltrow, although the Kate Beckinsale version is good, too).And Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood extravaganza, is a hoot. The movie Becoming Jane starring Anne Hathaway (!) is due out in August. Any casting comments?

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort and to have done with all the rest. Words to live by!

How do you feel about modern authors “continuing” Pride and Prejudice with little Darcys, et al, or with Jane being a super-sleuth? I try to avoid most of those, although I recently read Austenland by Shannon Hale, which is a charming if slight novel about a Darcy-obsessed thirty-something who gets to live out her fantasy in a faux Austentonian resort, corset and all.

Or… do you think Twain is right to dis Jane?