Good Grief! Miss Austen!!!

Over at the Aqueduct Press blog Timmi Duchamp has posted her collection of favorite reads from 2009. A book that particularly caught my eye was Austen’s Unbecoming Conjunctions: Subversive Laughter, Embodied History by Jillian Heydt-Stevenson. Timmi notes:

Heydt-Stevenson’s revelations of the multitude of sexual double-entendres and smutty allusions in Jane Austen’s novels (intelligible to her contemporaries but not so much to us) are stunning. That’s not all she does in her book by any means, but it pretty much makes the point that very few of Austen’s twenty-first-century fans have any notion of how Austen’s contemporaries read and understood her novels. For about a decade now — ever since I read Eve Sedgwick’s essay on Sense and Sensibility — I’ve suspected that significant aspects of Austen’s work was sailing clear over most of our heads. Given the socially contingent nature of language, it really doesn’t take long for certain (often important) aspects of texts to become either invisible or unintelligible.

Ah, if only I’d had this book years ago I might have been more willing to read Austen in school.

Also it is a very good point that Timmi makes. The way we read books depends very heavily on the cultural context in which we read them. Reviewers please take note.

3 thoughts on “Good Grief! Miss Austen!!!

  1. I’d have to read the book to judge it, of course, but I will note that there’s a mindset that finds a sexual double-entendre or smutty allusion in every use of the word “come” or the number 69. It gets very tiresome.

  2. This reminds me of the old joke about the guy who goes to a psychiatrist. The first thing the doctor does is to give him a Rorschach test. The guy sees something naughty in every single inkblot– two people making love, a naked woman roller skating, two dogs humping, and so on.

    The doctor puts down the inkblots and says, “Sir, you do have a problem.”

    “Me?” the guy says. “Doc, you’re the one with all the dirty pictures.”

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