During my random wandering around the web last week in search of tidbits for a post I hope to write once I finish Jane Austen’s Emma as part of Austen in August I came across a quote by Virginia Woolf: “of all great writers [Austen] is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness”. It got me wondering what other authors might have had to say about Austen, whether they felt the same way.
There were some that didn’t, Mark Twain seeming to be most widely quoted critic, saying “I often want to criticize 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. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin bone!”
More often than not though, other writers seem to be fans and there are a lot out there, including…
…Harper Lee – “All I want is to be the Jane Austen of the south”
…William F. Buckley, Jr. – “One doesn’t read Jane Austen; one re-reads Jane Austen.”
…Thornton Wilder – “[Her] art is so consummate that the secret is hidden; peer at them as hard as one may; shake them; take them apart; one cannot see how it is done.”
…J K Rowling – “My favorite writer is Jane Austen, and I’ve read all her books so many times I’ve lost count…I imagined being a famous writer would be like being like Jane Austen. Being able to sit at home at the parsonage and your books would be very famous and occasionally you would correspond with the Prince of Wales’s secretary.”
…Anthony Trollope – “Miss Austen was surely a great novelist. What she did, she did perfectly…. she places us in a circle of gentlemen and ladies, and charms us while she tells us with an unconscious accuracy how men should act to women, and women act to men.”
…Margaret Drabble – “Austen’s output was so compact that many of us know much of her work by heart and feel its echoes every day. Yet, on rereading, we always find new shades of meaning, new pleasures and, most importantly, new questions.”
…Val McDermid – “She’s a genius…One of the reasons we all still read Jane Austen is because her books are about universal things which still matter today – love, money, family.”
But the last word goes to Helen Fielding whose Bridget Jone’s Diary is based on Pride and Prejudice and has its own Mr. Darcy. It sums up why Jane Austen may have been adapted so many times on TV, film and books. “Jane Austen’s plots”, Fielding said, “are very good and have been market researched over a number of centuries, so I decided simply to steal one of them…I thought she wouldn’t mind and anyway she’s dead.”. Here’s to more stealing of plots!