Persuasion (Modern Library Edition), by Jane Austen

As longtime readers of the site know, every few months I indulge myself by reviewing specific editions of Jane Austen's novels. These are not meant to be reviews of the stories (hot take: Austen's books are great! You should totally read 'em!), they are reviews of the supplementary materials included by various publishers. I am a raging nerd, so my complaints can get pretty nit-picky... but I think pretty much anyone with an English degree would find this particular book irritating.

The 2001 Modern Library Classics edition of Austen's Persuasion features a brief biographical note, notes by Professor Audrey Bilger, a Reading Group Guide, and Austen's original ending to the novel. They are all unremarkable. What makes this particular book stand out is the Introduction: an essay entitled “Terrible Jane” by novelist Amy Bloom. I don't know where the Modern Library found Amy Bloom, but they—and she—should be embarrassed, because this is seriously the worst Austen essay I've read in years (and there have been some contenders).

My complaints about Ms. Bloom's essay are many and varied, but here are the highlights:

1. Her argument hat there are “no great mothers in Austen's work”, but “good, even marvelous, fathers—like Mr. Bennet”. Um... has she read Pride and Prejudice? Because Mr. Bennet is a terrible father. He is fond of exactly two of his five children, ignores or mocks the others, and is so lazy and irresponsible he has made no provisions for their future, despite having had many years to do so. His silly, obnoxious wife at least has the virtue of being worried about her family.

Plus, this statement ignores Catherine Morland's mother (excellent), Mrs. Dashwood (less excellent, but a damn sight more caring than Mr. Bennet), and Anne Elliot's own mother (dead before the story kicks off, but literally described as excellent).

2. Bloom pats herself on the back for the following discovery: “I don't think Jane Austen thought she was tearing the veil off a terrible secret or analyzing a complex equation whose far-reaching implications only she could see; I think she thought she was telling truths that most people knew”. No one thinks Austen was writing complex equations that only she could comprehend. Her genius and her everyday subject matter are inextricably entwined. Have you perhaps confused her with the Illuminati?

3. But the biggest rage-inducer was this throwaway line: “...although Jane Austen received two other proposals—one in which she, like Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, said yes at night and no the next day—she did not marry.” Here's the thing: that doesn't happen in Mansfield Park. It happens in the (infuriating) 1999 movie adaptation of Mansfield Park, but not the book. If you're going to write an essay for a famous publishing house about one of the most beloved authors in the English language, you need to actually read the books you're writing about. Watching the movie version isn't going to cut it.

And bear in mind: these aren't my only complaints! And her essay is only six pages long! If they haven't already produced several updated reprints of Persuasion since this edition came out seventeen years ago, the Modern Library needs to get right on that. Persuasion is long out of copyright; there's no reason an established publishing house can't spend some of the money that would otherwise have gone to Austen's estate on a decent essayist to introduce her work.
Posted by: Julianka


No comments yet. Be the first!

No new comments are allowed on this post.