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#TBT Post: Does it matter what Jane Austen looked like?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwback Thursday


Throwback Thursday Post of the Week:
Does it matter what Jane Austen looked like?

Originally posted: April 1, 2007

I don’t usually post on Sundays, but my mom forwarded this link to me. It’s a nice op/ed piece on Jane Austen and if what she looked like and what she was like as a person have any effect on how we read her novels:

“It is a failing to read Shakespeare and feel impoverished by the lack of biographical detail. It is no less a failing to read Austen and wonder what the mirror said when she looked into it. I cannot think of anything that would make Emma richer than it is.”

Verlyn Klinkenborg, The New York Times, April 1, 2007

Jane Austen

It’s interesting that this essay should appear in the NY Times today. I recently read another article (from the British Guardian) where the writer poses the idea that publishers are as concerned about what an author looks like as they are with the quality of the writing.

“Amid the pile of first novels in front of me, a handful of author photos proves her point: Ivo Stourton looks as if he has stepped out of Brideshead Revisited, snapped outside a sunny villa. His publisher makes much of his youth and Cambridge education. And an A4-sized photograph of a smiling Priya Basil slips invitingly out of the review copy of her novel as if to win favour.

That is not to imply that this is a talent contest—only that everything counts.”

Kate Kellaway, The Observer, March 24, 2007

This is an area long debated by literary critics—and something I had to learn about as an undergrad in my Literary Criticism course. Is it possible to separate the author from the work? The theories of literary criticism are vast and wide—and very similar to the theories of philosophy . . . and some are rather along the lines of “If a tree falls in the forest…”

For example: Is a poem good because of the response that readers have to it, or is it good because it has the potential to create a response in readers? Does the author lose authority over his/her writing as soon as someone else reads it (reader as authority)—in other words, does it matter with what intention an author writes something, or is it only what the reader gets out of it that means anything?

Wow—this has made me dig out my notes from that class, which was one of my favorites.

So let me as you—when you read, do you find out everything you can about the author? Do you try to figure out what the author is trying to say or do you read it looking only for your own interpretation of it? Does knowing about an author’s personal life enhance or detract from your reading experience?

One Comment
  1. Thursday, May 22, 2014 10:52 pm

    It depends. LOL. I know that’s probably not the answer you’re looking for. If it’s a story that I’m very taken with and connect with personally, then I often do go looking to find out as much as I can about the author. I enjoy seeing if the connection I have to the story is because the author and I share anything in common or if it’s for other reasons. However, if the story is enjoyable but doesn’t grab me intensely, I don’t go looking. If I see information, fine, but I’m not looking for it. I think what has become most worrisome to me now, is that often in digging for personal information, I sometimes find information about the writer that turns me off in some way and that can also put a damper on my reading their work. I know it shouldn’t matter, but sometimes it affects me all the same.


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