What would Mr. D'Arcy say? - Mercedes-Benz Forum

 
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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-21-2006, 05:15 AM Thread Starter
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What would Mr. D'Arcy say?

Our appetite for literary gossip is insatiable, but great writers aren’t mere fly-by-night celebs, argues Bryan Appleyard

Jane Austen had a lesbian affair with her older sister, Cassandra. It’s obvious, really. There was “the passionate nature of the sibling bond” so evident in the letters. There were her descriptions of women, betraying “a kind of homophilic fascination”. And, of course, there was her fascination with the “underlying eros of the sister-sister bond”. Case closed, I’d say.

Well, no. All these quotations come from a 1995 article in the London Review of Books by Terry Castle, an American academic. Castle was simply noting certain important preoccupations in her writing. An eager subeditor, however, had other ideas. “Was Jane Austen Gay?” was the headline. The LRB had barely hit the newsstands when Newsnight went on air with an earnest discussion of the sexual proclivities of one of our greatest novelists. Good grief! Was Mr Darcy really a woman, the bulge in his breeches a clumsy prosthetic? We had to know. But why? Literary biography is one of the dominant forms of our time. Almost weekly, big fat books emerge to reveal new truths about our greatest writers. Among the current fatties are Zachary Leader’s The Life of Kingsley Amis and the second volume of John Haffenden’s life of William Empson. The first has drunkenness and promiscuity; the second a bisexual fascination with troilism. And, yes, Austen is in for another doing-over, as a film released next year, Becoming Jane, about “a little-known but true love affair with the brilliant, roguish and attractive young Irishman Tom Lefroy”. One way or another, it seems, we shall just have to accept the awful, the incredible truth: Jane Austen had sex. Gosh.

Such works represent a new, quite recent tradition. They are neither reverent hagiographies, as most biographies used to be, nor feline hatchet jobs, as many became after 1918, when Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, an elegant onslaught on hypocrisy, was published. Rather, these books aspire to a balanced completion; to set down the life warts and all, but with sympathy rather than judgment. In this, the biographers are constantly thwarted by the headlines that spring from their work. All groan at news items that reduce their subjects to just one supposedly sensational characteristic — alcoholism, exotic forms of promiscuity, whatever. Current biographical conventions demand that they go after the man or woman in full. Again, why? Should not the work stand alone, freed of the burden of the life? For some, the answer is an emphatic yes.

“Proposing that Jane Austen was a lesbian or Sophocles a cross-dresser,” writes the literary theorist Terry Eagleton, “is one way for those who have nothing especially stunning to say about irony or tragic fate to muscle in on the literary scene. It is rather like being praised as an eminent geographer for finding your way to the bathroom.” Literature, in other words, is too big, too independent, too important to be caged in the confines of life. Anyway, what, exactly, is so important about life? The poet John Ashbery once told me he had never wanted to write about any of the normal stuff of life because “much the same things happen to everybody”. There is a disconnection between art and life that should warn us against moral or psychological invasions. Orwell wondered if we’d feel any differently about Shakespeare if it turned out he was in the habit of assaulting little girls. Well, would we? The answer, it seems, is yes. The high aesthetic position that the art and the life are utterly different has seldom been observed. In the 16th century, Giorgio Vasari’s “lives” of the Renaissance artists were reverential, certainly, but they also implied there was a link between a great life and great art. At the same time, Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography, one of the most scandalous and sensational books ever written, took this idea to its logical conclusion. For Cellini, the madness and mayhem of his life were justified precisely because he was an artist of genius for whom all things were possible and allowed. Life and art had become one.

More at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspap...454013,00.html
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-21-2006, 08:16 AM
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^^^^^^^

I'm thinking you haven't yet taken out a subscription for 'Viz'?
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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-21-2006, 01:36 PM
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Good article, strange conclusion, although not an unreasonable one, just a little off subject. It always amazes me how sensationalzied headlines, book titles, etc. are needed to jar the purchaser into watching or taking plastic card action. Speaking of such I am reading Collapse by Jared Diamond.
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-21-2006, 02:57 PM
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Terry Castle could play Roger Irrelevant for the next round of Viz
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-21-2006, 03:29 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shane
Good article, strange conclusion, although not an unreasonable one, just a little off subject. It always amazes me how sensationalzied headlines, book titles, etc. are needed to jar the purchaser into watching or taking plastic card action. Speaking of such I am reading Collapse by Jared Diamond.
One of my favorite writers. I haven't read that title yet but friends tell me it is good book. I'm hoping Santa will be nice to me.
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