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Jane Austen… Sucks?

By Shamus
on Thursday Oct 11, 2007
Filed under:


I’ve never read any Jane Austen myself, but I’m aware of the fact that her work is viewed as monumentally important and influential to the world of literature, and that she is the author of several beloved novels. In fact, looking at what she’s done, I note that Northanger Abbey is the only one which has not been made into a movie at least once. (Although it has been adapted for television. Twice.) She’s been dead for 190 years, and yet her work is still cherished and read by millions. I think it’s safe to say that she were to somehow put out a bookl tomorrow they wouldn’t have any trouble finding people to buy it.

Which makes this story sort of amusing: A guy takes a few chapters from some of her more well-known novels, changes the names, and sends them off to several large publishers. Not only did they think the work was not very interesting or marketable, only one recognized Jane Austen’s work at all.

Tee Hee.

Comments (66)

1 2

  1. Darin says:

    I tried reading one of her books once. It was so awfully boring that I didn’t finish it. And Gone With The Wind was even worse, only problem there was I’d set myself up to do a book report in JH. Oh the pain!

    Sometimes I feel that people who gush over old novels, the classics, are just trying to share their pain with others. The more pain they can inflict, the less their own seems. So I’m not surprised that the publishers rejected the chapters. Without the “classic” tag attached to it, its just some boring novel.

  2. Aaron says:

    Now that IS funny. I’ve never read her works, but even the clues he left should have been enough for any publishing company. I’d say it not only reflects on how difficult it may have been for Jane Austin to get published, but also how different publishing is now.

    Many of the books printed in the fiction genre are basically cookie cutter. Very few are an original idea. Nonfiction is tending toward that same problem. Everyone has a personal story to share in a book, but an original one can be difficult to find due to the sheer volume of works out in publication now. Publishing is a business, and they are in business to make money (just like everyone else), and sometimes “original” means “money sink”. Unfortunate, but frequently true.


  3. Maija says:

    So sorry Shamus, as a reader and appreciator of Jane Austen, I feel the need point out that you’ve mispelled her surname :)

    I also feel the need to bring out that English is not my primary language, so I’m not quite sure how Austen is suppose to be pronounced correctly – I just saw “Becoming Jane”, a film about miss Austen, and I was slightly disturbed to find that the name Austen was repeatedly pronounced by several characters as “Austin”.

    Great link too, thank you.

  4. LadyDyani says:

    I find that equal amounts of hilarious and disenchanting.

  5. maehara says:

    I go with the “times change” approach, myself – “classic” literature exists as an indicator of what was popular in its day, and shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of greatness now. Jane Austen’s books were written nearly 300 years ago now, and it takes a lot less time than that for a book to become dated.

    Take my personal favourite genre, science fiction. When I was younger, I would plough through Isaac Asimov’s books at a rate of knots – there was no limit to how often I could read them & enjoy them. Now, I’ve been exposed to more modern writers like Peter F Hamilton and Stephen Baxter, and Asimov’s writing style looks a little.. stilted. The present day writers do a much better job of transporting you into the world their works are trying to portray. (Note that I’m not talking about the science / futuristic content here, as that’s always going to date horribly.) Different ways, different times.

    As for the Daily Mail – their reason for being is to present as many stories as they can to prove that the modern-day UK is going to the dogs, and that the only way to save it is to do what their editor tells you. Not exactly a hotbed of quality journalism.

  6. maehara says:

    …and on a complete aside, I’m currently looking at a Google ad in the sidebar, for an “IRA”. On closer reading that means “individual retirement account”, but coming from Northern Ireland, you have no idea how spooky that was at first…

  7. Henebry says:

    Jane Austin: novellist barely alive. We can rebuild her book. We have the raw text file and a good word processor. We’ll make her better … shorter … a quicker read.

  8. Steve says:

    There needs to be a distinction made been the story and the language.
    Austen DOES have excellent and well-founded stories, but language has changed and moved on (some say “evolved”).

    LOTR is a great example of this. Fundamentally an excellent story from which incredibly popular adapations have/can be made.

    You could discuss changing entertainment media over the last two centuries of course and people’s differing wants and needs. But stories are eternal, it’s just the culture and presentation that changes.

  9. Jim says:

    This comes up every year or so, where someone submits a “classic” work of literature, only to have it rejected. Usually, that’s put forth as proof that the publishers wouldn’t recognize good writing if it bit them. (Often, this experiment is conducted by struggling authors, searching for validation after being rejected themselves.)

    There are a number of problems with it.

    1. As maehara pointed out, times and tastes change. What was publishable and sold well only 50 years ago probably wouldn’t sell as well today.

    2. While most authors act professionally, some are whackjobs. Every editor out there will have run into authors who argue with rejection, sometimes devolving into threats of violent. (“I’m going to come to the Harper-Collins offices, follow you home, and kill your family.” I wish I was making this stuff up.) Given that potential, a form rejection is often the easiest response to odd submissions.

    3. Even if a submission is brilliant, as many would argue Austen’s work is, that doesn’t mean it’s right for any particular publisher. I write fantasy, but my short fiction doesn’t work for every market. Even my best stories only fit a certain subset of the magazines and anthologies out there. Usually when this experiment is done, it’s done with a minimum of market research.

    Sorry for the long-winded commentary. Pet peeve. I’m done now.

  10. mikael h says:

    You really need to take the time period into consideration. Anything written like one of the classics would be regarded as extremely dry and dull were it released today. Read Beowulf, anyone?

  11. Browncoat says:

    Interesting. I tried the same thing with some of Theo. S. Geisel's works (_And to Thing That I Saw it on Rodeo Drive_, _Larry Hears a What_, _The 500 Hats of James Smythe), but they caught me on it. I was charged with fraud, and had to take a plea deal to get 2 years probation, a court order never to go within 7 feet of a Dr Seuss novel (it didn’t have to be very far, because I have very poor eyesight), and 100 hours of community service, during which time I wrote my first original children’s books: _Goodnight, Lunar Object_ and _The Very Hungry Velociraptor_ (though that last one should really be read to children who are susceptible to nightmares).

    So, about Jane’s surname–is she related to Steve Austin?

  12. Browncoat says:

    Duh. “…should *not* be read to children who are…”

    I’m gonna kill my editor.

  13. Skythian says:

    You mean you’re going to “go to [your editor’s] offices, follow [him] home, and kill [his] family” of course…

    (couldn’t resist) :D

  14. Rick says:

    I was supposed to read Pride and Prejudice for AP English my senior year. It was mindnumbingly boring. So the guys in the class got together and thought we’d watch the PBS miniseries instead. It too was mindnumbingly boring.

    We shut it off and played pool and video games instead. A much better use of our time. I faked my way through the book, essays, tests, etc. and did well. Only book for school I didn’t read.

    On the other hand, A Tale of Two Cities was a great book. As was The Count of Monte Cristo. Also written around the same time. They had similar writing but had characters that were interesting, stories that went somewhere, etc.

    In summary: Jane Austen does indeed suck.

  15. Hal says:

    I think people have a tendency to romanticize the books they had to read in high school/college and remember them much more fondly than they may have enjoyed them at the time. Add in the factor of wanting to seem “smart” and “sophisticated” by saying that you enjoy such classic works of literature as The Great Gatsby or A Farewell to Arms, and you have the catalyst for situations like this.

    We read quite a few “classic” pieces when I was in high school. Most were trying, at best. I liked Shakespeare, but I was weird like that back in the day.

  16. I have one or two friends who like Jane Austen’s works, but the majority (of those who’ve read her stuff) have told me to steer clear because its intensely boring.

    I think you’ll find that the editors were right. Her works would only find a niche audience, had they been written today.

  17. Miako says:

    shakespeare is butch. however, most ‘greats’ couldn’t hold a candle to the best books nowadays. Writing has changed (twenty page digression on architecture of Notre Dame?), and editors have improved just as much.

    And not all science fiction has to age poorly. I read something published in playboy about satellites. seemed pretty apropos.

    with science fiction, it’s often all or nothing. who really wants to read marx nowadays, anyhow?

  18. Hermes says:

    Her work was excellent in its day and is excellent now. The difference is that people’s tastes have changed. Jane Austen’s novels are social commentary of the England she lived in. They’re also very wittily look at the problems with it. Most of the people who come here are youngish guys, I would imagine, so most of us won’t enjoy it as much as, say, women or older readers. My girlfriend loves both her books and the mini series, and Austen does still have a huge readership. There’s a reason she’s a ‘classic’ author, and a reason why it’s on the syllabus. Someone spoke about market research and sampling, but think about the sample of people who are discussing it on this site.

  19. SpaceBumby says:

    Interesting how some people posting here have fallen into the trap of thinking that because they don’t like a book, it must suck. That’s ridiculous logic.

    I’m going to take a wild guess and say that most of us who read this blog like science fiction and fantasy. I’ll take a further leap and imagine that at some point, everyone here has had someone say “you’re reading THAT?! That’s such crap!” about some excellent piece of speculative fiction. And I’m sure you immediately responded to that comment by giving up your disgusting habit and becoming a John Updike fanatic. No? Oh, you mean whoever said that about a good book just didn’t know what he was talking about? Yeah, I thought so.

    Not liking a particular book is completely up to you and your personal tastes. Deciding that just because you don’t like it or don’t get it, it’s crap –which is an *objective* judgement and applies to how everyone should view the book–is just dumb.

    For the record, I hated A Tale of Two Cities and every other novel Dickens wrote. Being paid by the word did him no favors, in my opinion. But crap? Don’t think so.

  20. food4worms says:

    I’ve been (re-)reading Austen’s novels over the last couple of years. The thing I noticed most often is how she has a tendency to explain a conversation rather than write out the dialog. Readers, now, will find that hard to concentrate on. And for that reason alone, the novels would be rejected by publishers.

    That being said, the social commentary about the marriage game at the time is wonderfully sarcastic. How money was trumping rank and beauty was the great social elevator. Pride and Prejudice takes place when England was at open war with Napoleon, but what are the girls doing? They’re looking for husbands. Brilliant.

  21. HeatherRae says:

    I love Jane Austen’s works.

    I’ve read Pride and Prejudice many times, and I rent the PBS miniseries everytime I go to Blockbuster (really, I should just bite the bullet and buy the damn thing at this point). I enjoyed Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility (especially the movie version – how can you not enjoy a movie with Alan Rickman?!), Emma, and Northanger Abbey.

    I don’t find her works boring at all, but rather fascinating, actually.

  22. M says:

    In high school, I was forced to read both “Ethan Frome” and “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, and I have never since held much respect for so-called great literature.

    “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is great literature, even today. Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” books will be read centuries from now, if there are still books around and people to read them.

    There are far too many works that have made it into Literature with no apparent reason beyond their being melancholy.

  23. Faith says:

    Let’s not forget a salient point here. Out of these literary giants of the world, editors, agents, et cetera, only one could recognize Jane Austen when it was right in front of them. I mean, her writing is pretty distinctive: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” How can you not recognize that?

  24. Shadow Wolf says:

    This was discussed on the Writer Beware blog a couple of months ago. In summary, the rejections were all likely for good reasons:

    1) Not all publishers handle all genres. The cover letter identified the package as a romance – if the publisher doesn’t do romances, there’s no reason to even read the material. (Worse, it was identified as a Regency Romance – and just about *no one* publishes that sub-genre anymore – it’s dead as a doornail.)

    2) Most publishers no longer accept submissions except through an agent. All such publishers are very clear about these policies.

    3) As noted above, 19th century prose is going to be rejected by *any* modern publisher. Language changes.

    4) Just because they got a standard rejection doesn’t mean the person didn’t recognize the plagiarism – writing a real letter pointing out that this is Jane Austen’s writing takes a lot longer than simply filling in a standard rejection letter. Given how large the slush pile (at those few publishers that actually *accept* slush) is, there’s no time for anything but a standard rejection.

    (Not sure how to link on this blog, so here’s a plain-text link:)


    That said, Jane Austen *does* suck. Mark Twain had some rather scathing remarks about her works: “Jane Austen? Why, I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

  25. Mike says:

    You have to keep Jane Austen in context. The same with Thomas Hardy, bad to have to read, okay if you are really trying to find something to read by an author of the period about the period. Tess bored me to tears, so did Northanger Abbey, but Far from the Maddening Crowd and Persuasion were fine after a little warming up to them.

  26. dubiousdave says:

    I agree with Hermes. I think the problem with Austen is that most readers are too lazy these days to appreciate the classics. If there’s no sex/violence/new tech every couple of pages, it sucks. We’re losing our attention spans, looking for a quick fix of entertainment. I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, but I loved the PBS miniseries, and I like Dickens and Hemingway, but I hit my limit at Melville. I’ve never been able to make it past the first page of Bartleby the Scrivener, which, as I recall, was all one sentence saying nothing. Does it mean that Melville sucks? Probably not, though I can’t get far enough to find the good.

    I hope that the publishers who rejected rehashed classics recognized them for what they are but didn’t call the “authors” on it because they wanted to avoid the hassles and liability that an accusation would bring. The other thing to consider is that you can easily take Shakespeare’s work and recycle his plot while destroying his brilliant word choice, with the double and triple entendres, and your result will, indeed, suck. His plots were ancient when he used them, and he was well aware of it.

  27. Blackbird71 says:

    Frankly I found Austen’s works to be rather repetitive of each other. I enjoyed my first encounter with her works and dreaded each one thereafter. It always seemed to me that she had one idea for a novel and kept re-writing it.

    I think that too often the works we deem as “classics” only achieve such status becasue of the limited availability of works/authors from the time periods. It is no wonder that many of these works would be written off in this day and age amidst the plethora of styles and media available. The irony is that in all this variety, it often seems that everything has been done. Update the language and reread Shakespeare and you’ll have the plot for the latest soap opera. When everything feels the same, publishers and producers are often seeking for something new and different. The rejection of Austen’s work in this experiment more than likely has something to do with the familiar feel, bringing about a sense of “been there, done that.”

    In short, I believe that in a time when there are few authors and fewer publishers, Austen’s works could rise to fame. In modern times, she’d just be one in the herd, and few would give her works a second glance.

  28. dishuiguanyin says:

    Faith @ 25 says:
    “Let's not forget a salient point here. Out of these literary giants of the world, editors, agents, et cetera, only one could recognize Jane Austen when it was right in front of them. I mean, her writing is pretty distinctive.”

    Um, no. Not at all. If you read any of the blogs written by editors /publishing people (and you can find a lot of them if you look) you’ll quickly discover that a) this stunt is pulled by journalists all the time and b) every single one of those editors is capable of spotting one of the most famous works of English literature.

    It got a rejection letter. Rejection letters get sent for multiple reasons including a) this is a terrible book b) we don’t publish this kind of book and c) this book is blatantly plagiarized. Just because the rejection letter doesn’t explicitly state, ‘This was blatantly plagiarized,’ doesn’t mean the editor didn’t know it was blatantly plagiarized. It just means they couldn’t be bothered getting into a fight with some nutjob who thought he could submit Jane Austen’s novels and get them published.

    Other commentators have left plenty of links to the publishing world’s answer to this persistent journalistic scam, but my favourite comes from Making Light (Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, two well-known editors from the world of speculative fiction):

  29. Bill says:

    mmm…Like some other people I’m not wildly keen on Jane Austen’s romantic novels, but I do rather like Alexandre Dumas’ near contemporary action adventure nonsense.

    You don’t think it’s because I’m a bloke do you?

  30. Carl the Bold says:

    Speaking of good writing, this is the link to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest 2007 Results. You know, the bad writing thing. . .One of my favorite annual things to read.


  31. Space Ace says:

    Maybe Jane Austen *is* boring by modern standards. I can’t say I’ve ever read one of her books, and the only classic literature I’ve read consists of two old Dutch works (one of which was a “remake” of a play by the Roman Plautus), the first medieval and the second renaissance. Oh, and the Ancient Mariner, which only really payed off when watching Serenity.

    Anyway, attitudes change, and just because something is a classic, doesn’t mean it’s readable. For instance,most Dutch literature isn’t. And I’ve yet to meet someone who has enjoyed Lord of the Rings.

  32. Andy says:

    For those who don’t know, Jane Austen was an incredibly progressive writer for her time. She came from a period when women were married almost exclusively out of convenience in order to shore up their family’s social and economic status, did not receive a proper education, and were expected to remain vapid and respectful. They had a place.

    Austen’s women were strong-willed, plucky, defiant, intelligent, precocious and opinionated, which was almost universally frowned upon at the time. She also dared to suggest that love and passion were desirable qualities in a marriage, another attitude that was not prevalent at the time. Some have called her the first feminist.

    Without that context, it’s probably hard for a lot of people to appreciate why characters like that became so popular 200 (who was it who said 300?!) years ago. And yes, she wrote in a high style that most of today’s readers aren’t very familiar with. And she’s not for everyone. But Austen’s themes are still relevant, and if you’re one of those people who can read high literature without thinking about how hard it is, you may find some entertaining reading there.

  33. Maddyanne says:

    I reread Jane Austen’s novels every couple of years. She doesn’t write romantic novels. They are about getting married. They aren’t especially romantic.

    Twain has more of the romantic, honestly. I think part of his problem with Austen may be that she isn’t. He loved Anne of Green Gables. Not that there’s anything wrong with Ann of Green Gables. But it is romantic, yes.

    Jane Austen is a cold and astringent writer. Also very funny in a nasty way.

  34. Maddyanne says:

    Oops. Left out the final “e” in the second Anne. The character would be so angry about that.

  35. Rebecca says:

    What’s with the Austen bashing?

    I’m going to theorize that most of the bashers are male, and clearly haven’t developed the complex brain structure necessary to appreciate it. :)

  36. Shawn says:

    As a male, I’d say I found the movie of Pride & Prejudice entertaining enough, and the book painfully boring. But still, I find Jane Austen less obnoxious than Emily Bronte or MFing Emily Dickenson.

  37. JungianYoung says:

    23 HeatherRae: Robin Hood with Kevin Costner. That rape scene, played for laughs, made me cringe.

    Most older literature is hard to read because we’re not used to reading it. 90% of your brainpower is trying to translate the language, so it’s hard to “get” what the author is saying. A reader from the same time period is used to that kind of prose, and would be reading it as easily as you or I would read a paperback.

    My old lit prof tried to make us read Chaucer in the original Olde English on the first day. Impossible? The trick was to read it out loud, and fast, like you’re in a conversation, and glide through all the words and idioms you don’t know. Works great on Austen and Dickens, too. (Hegel or Kant, not so much.)

  38. Nape says:

    37 Rebecca: I don’t find implications of male inferiority to be amusing in the slightest. I ask you not to make such jokes in the future.

    Juuuust kidding. :D But I bet everyone’s souls sank for a moment.

  39. Erik Lund says:

    Uhm, yeah. Jane Austen. Alasdair MacIntyre says that girls do philosophy differently from guys and she is the greatest female philosopher. (Main difference between men and women is that women can write great social novels, and all men are good at is making stupid sexist generalizations.)

  40. Jeff says:

    I just want to say I still love the Sherlock Holmes novels, they’re still great to read through.

  41. Germelia says:

    Anyway, attitudes change, and just because something is a classic, doesn't mean it's readable. For instance,most Dutch literature isn't.

    Oh gods, don’t get me started on Dutch literature. There was only one book on my high school reading list I actually enjoyed. The rest sucked.

    Anyway, back on topic. I really like jane Austen’s work, for as far as I’ve read it. Mansfield Park is my favorite :)

  42. ngthagg says:

    Some points:

    In my part of Canada, Austen and Austin are pronounced exactly the same. The e/i is pronounced as a schwa (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/schwa).

    I take exception to this statement: “I go with the “times change” approach, myself – “classic” literature exists as an indicator of what was popular in its day, and shouldn't be taken as an indicator of greatness now.” (And other similar sentiments.)

    Classic literature exists specifically because it transcends generations. A book being widely read 300 years after being published is clearly a great book. Head into the fiction section of any bookstore and take a look at the titles on the shelf. How many of these will be there in 10 years? What about 20 years? Or 50? I think the list will be getting pretty slim by that point, and a good chunk of that list is made up of books that have already been around a while. Although it is true that being popular in your day separates from the pack, being popular 300 years later puts you in another class entirely. The fact that any of us can head into a bookstore and buy a Jane Austen novel indicates that these are great works.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that it is easy to pick up such an old novel and read it. I find the biggest difference is pacing. Austen takes her time in Pride and Prejudice (the only one I’ve read), and the book is pretty light on events. But the characters are impressive and detailed. It takes effort to read and understand older works such as this, but the time is worth it.

  43. MissusJ says:

    @ Germelia (#43): Mansfield Park is my favorite too! :)

    @ m (#24): I also had to read Tess of the d’Ubervilles and Ethan Frome in high school and hated them too. (The joke about Tess was that it contained 5 chapters about cows- but then, she WAS a dairymaid…)

    I have enjoyed all the Austen I’ve read, never expecting it to be more than a description I read of Austen’s work- that it was like a miniature painting of life in that part of England at that time. She does her characters well, and the story is about their interactions, rather than things that happen to them- for the most part. They are not big books that have lots of action and location, and when I want that they fit the bill.

    And Shamus, I love Emily Dickinson too- she chooses her words with such care, and each one is very important to the message. Even her punctuation is important, hence all the dashes. Then again, I also enjoy e.e. cummings, so you can imagine what my poetry is like when I write it. ;p

  44. Rebecca says:

    @ 44: A lot of dialects actually don’t distinguish between in and en in most minimal pairs, but I wouldn’t call that sound a shwa. It’s more of a nasalized short “i” sound. I’m one of those that doesn’t distinguish, and I find it hard to hear the difference even after I had some ear-training. Speech is hard!

  45. Rich says:

    Don’t a lot of publishers reject unsolicited manuscripts without opening them? My guess is that explains most of the rejections.

  46. Matt Harris says:

    Hmm…I enjoyed Pride & Prejudice, but I can see why it would be rejected. It is a classic, but the art & craft of writing has come a long way in 200 years. I am one of the few men out there who reads romance novels and the best romance novels tend to be very, very good – much better than one of the classics that inspired the genre in the first place.

  47. NobleBear says:

    I am a guy, I am also somewhat younger, so since I believe that Austen’s works are largely a matter of demographic appeal,it is not surprising that I have not read any of them nor have they had any draw for me.

    In defense of her canon though I’ll say that her works are only alike to me in that all romantic metaplots tend to be alike or that all movies or music from a particular genre tend to be alike. I have not read Pride and Prejudice, as stated before, but I have watched the A&E 6-part miniseries adaptation of her work and found it watchable and mildly interesting.Sometimes adding sight and sound to an experience makes it more digestible and dives home context and some dynamics more; though I may only be speaking for myself when I say that.

    Concerning those sighted as classics I’ll add that many of those I have read, including Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein,were very poorly written because they were any combination of 1)stilted, 2)unfocused, 3)passive in its narrative style or, 4)highly contingent on the audience having intimate details of what was then considered current events. (it is this last reason that I wont pick up Dante’s inferno again until I can find an annotated copy.) In their defense, however, I’ll say that 1) I believe that writing as an artform was still at an immature stage and made necessary mistakes to serve as the basis for the better writing we have now; 2)and perhaps more importantly, the Ideas. There were notions that were discussed and explored in many classic works that had not been elaborated on before.Without some of these seminal works we may not have as strong an understanding of literature or ourselves otherwise.

    That being said to all those who bemoaned the drudgery of pouring over these texts line by line, I sympathize greatly. Just because a work is considered classic should not let educators off the hook to find more interesting ways of conveying the message and ideals of the works as opposed to just plopping a fifth generation hand-me-down text onto a students desk and espouse some platitude by way of justification.

    Thank you for hearing me out, please take my opinion for what its worth.

  48. TalrogSmash says:

    at some point all the classics will have to be dealt with the way we deal with chaucer or the bible, put down the original text with a translation next to it. including cliff’s notes in the translation helps. Forcing someone who isn’t a post grad to read Austen in the original in high school only fosters poor sentiment. Teachers are supposed to be fostering learning, not torturing needlessly and driving students further from the written word.

  49. TalrogSmash says:

    and noble bear said what i was trying to say while i was typing. What he said.

  50. gahaz says:

    Just on a side note, I think there is a large difference in the number of what we would consider “classic” novels being put out today from the resulting boom of writing in the modern age. In the past, such as when this young lass was writing, to get a book out and well read was slightly difficult. Commercially sold books were usually sold at stores where the owner sold what he wanted to, or would send off for books people asked for. The “paperback generation” was still far off and these things were exspensive and still mildly difficult to make. This being said, the result of getting your story out, and the word of mouth needed was exceptional, but a way to bypass that was being strange or contreversial to a small point so as the people down the street would tell you, “Did you hear about the Austen woman’s book? Shes writing snarky about marrige!” “Preposturous, I must fetch a copy today!” And that trickles to today, so that the few “popular” novels from that time period are “classics” now. But in our time and culture we have a GLUT of literature. Not a small collection of successful titles, but everything that someone can slap together and get to a cheap publisher. I mean, people love Mr. King nowadays, but do you think in 300 years people will be flying around in their hovercars thinking “Wowzee dish that froopy dude, his speculation on the interaction of childhood and evil clowns really jazzes the realativity of the young mind!”

  51. Davey says:


    I think Mr. Scalzi (with some comments from one of Tor’s editors) said it best.

  52. This made my List of Idiocy awhile back:

    NUMBER TWO: Some idiot plagiarized Jane Austen and then submitted the work to eighteen major publishers. This would be pretty stupid in its own right, but the bloke receives something of a reprieve because it was, in fact, a stunt. He typed out the manuscripts, using a pseudonym that cleverly alluded to Jane Austen’s early pen-name, and submitted them to see what kind of reaction he would get.

    So why does this guy deserve a prominent spot on The List of Idiocy?

    Because he actually thought that this would be some sort of meaningful demonstration of the difficulty of getting a novel published.

    Wait. It gets better: Moron boy here actually uses the boilerplate rejection letters he receives as “evidence” that the publishing industry wouldn’t publish a piece of classic literature if it arrived at their doorstep.

    Think about it for a second: If you’re reading a manuscript (one of many dozens that you receive every day) and you quickly realize that what you’re reading is, in fact, the plagiarized opening chapter of a Jane Austen novel, would you bother writing out a lengthy response explaining that you would publish this novel if it were not, in fact, plagiarized? Probably not. You’re just going to grab your standard rejection letter, stuff it in this moronic plagiarist’s SASE, and stick it in your Outbox.

    Or you’ll simply dump the whole package into your trash bin, which is what many of the publishers apparently did. (And, hilariously, this too is used as “evidence” that Jane Austen couldn’t get published today.)

    The only thing this “experiment” manages to “prove” is that someone blatantly plagiarizing Jane Austen can’t get published today.

    Now, if you want to talk about the possibility that short-sighted publishers are rejecting manuscripts which later go on to be huge successes with massive readerships… well, you don’t have to look too far. A sequel to The Hobbit was requested by the publisher, who then rejected The Lord of the Rings twelve years later (before a fortunate chain of events led to the book being published). Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times before it was published. More recently, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by at least a dozen publishers before being purchased by Bloomsbury.

    Is it possible that there are authors just as talented as Jane Austen who have never been published and whose work has been lost to the misty tides of history? Almost certainly. Has this somehow become more prevalent in recent years? Almost certainly not.

    For example, let’s take Jane Austen herself: She originally sold Susan (the novel which would later become Northanger Abbey) to an extremely minor publisher in 1803, four years after it had been completed. This minor publisher never actually got around to publishing the book, however, and it was not until 1811 that Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published… at her own expense.

    That’s right, Jane Austen herself was originally published by the 19th century equivalent of a vanity press.

    So even if we were to accept this idiot’s premise that submitting blatant plagiaries of Jane Austen’s work demonstrates anything at all about the likelihood of escaping the slush pile, the only thing he’s demonstrated is that absolutely nothing has changed in two hundred years. (At least, when it comes to editors being gifted with some unique insight into what will or won’t be embraced by the public.)

    (But, on the flip side, he intended it as a publicity stunt: And that has, apparently, worked.)

  53. Roy says:

    @44 – Classic literature exists specifically because it transcends generations. A book being widely read 300 years after being published is clearly a great book.

    I don’t entirely disagree, but I think that there’s some truth in both sides. Sometimes a book is a classic because it really is a great work that “transcends time”, but sometimes it’s a classic because it changed the face of literature in some way, even if it’s not necessarily a great book in and of itself. That is, sometimes books are classics and are remembered because of what they led to, rather than for what they are. In a case like that, it really is a matter of “times change” and a great book might be considered a great book because of what it mean at the time it was published.

    @1 Sometimes I feel that people who gush over old novels, the classics, are just trying to share their pain with others. The more pain they can inflict, the less their own seems.

    To take this in a geeky direction that most of us can appreciate: think about classic video games.

    Sometimes a classic game is classic because it’s still a great game. It’s still fun now, despite being old and dated by modern standards.

    Sometimes a classic game is classic because of what it was at the time. It could be that it’s not nearly as much fun now- it might not really be that much fun at all- but, because it changed the face of gaming in some way, it becomes a classic.

    Super Mario 3 strikes me as being an example of the first. Even today, it’s still a pretty fun game. It’s rather obviously from an earlier time of gaming, and it looks dated, but it’s still fun, and I don’t think that you need to have grown up with it or have a huge appreciation for the history of games to think that it’s fun (imo).

    I think that something like Pole Position is more like the latter. It was an important game and helped define racing games as we know them today, but it’s just not that much fun to play now, and I think that it’d be tough to get a kid today to play it and find it particularly enjoyable.

    Or so I think.

  54. Blackbird71 says:

    Bill said:
    “mmm…Like some other people I'm not wildly keen on Jane Austen's romantic novels, but I do rather like Alexandre Dumas' near contemporary action adventure nonsense.

    You don't think it's because I'm a bloke do you?”

    Heh, I actually thought about Dumas as I was reading this thread. For some reason, I found him incredibly difficult to follow. The characters kept ending up in places or situations and I found myself asking “wait, whent did they go there?” Then I’d turn back several pages and try to retrace their steps, often ending up more confused than before. And this is from someone who read Lord of the Rings at 12. Oh well, I always just chalked it up to the translation.

    Rebecca Said:

    “What's with the Austen bashing?

    I'm going to theorize that most of the bashers are male, and clearly haven't developed the complex brain structure necessary to appreciate it.”

    What’s with the male bashing? I’m sorry Rebecca, that just was not funny, and not appreciated. I’m male, and as I stated before, I enjoyed my first encounter with Austen’s works. At first I found her depth and complexity of character to be fascinating. It was my second experience with her works that soured me, it seemed that she had merely slapped new names on the same characters and plot and called it a new work. It disappointed me that someone who could be creative enough to design these characters couldn’t come up with a new story. It also made me wonder whether the design of the characters really was that creative on her part, or if many of them were merely contemporary stereotypes which I was unfamiliar with. Honestly, I felt as I did when I was young and came to the realization that every “Hardy Boys” book I had read in my childhood had the exact same format and plot structure and that the stories that had so intrigued my young mind were so entirely predictable as to what would happen in each chapter (as I recall, every book had an 18th chapter with virtually the same title). I felt cheated that I had essentially read the same book about 30 times.

    ngthagg said:

    “Classic literature exists specifically because it transcends generations. A book being widely read 300 years after being published is clearly a great book. Head into the fiction section of any bookstore and take a look at the titles on the shelf. How many of these will be there in 10 years? What about 20 years? Or 50? I think the list will be getting pretty slim by that point, and a good chunk of that list is made up of books that have already been around a while. Although it is true that being popular in your day separates from the pack, being popular 300 years later puts you in another class entirely. The fact that any of us can head into a bookstore and buy a Jane Austen novel indicates that these are great works.”

    Well, now what we have is a contradiction. Because if what Andy said in post#34 is true (and I believe it is) that Austen’s works achieved such status because they were a comentary on the social situation and challenged the norms of her time, then by your definition her works are not classics. They do not transcend time or generations since their greatest impact could only be felt in the time they were originally written! The social environment which made her works so different does not exist in modern times, and I think this is why there are so many who don’t appreciate her works. Nowadays, they come across perhaps as well written novels, but the social component has a much lessened impact, because few modern readers have experienced the same situation to the full extent. It was designed to be thought provoking in its time, causing people to challenge the way they viewed their own culture (which it apparently achieved or it would not have been so widely read). But can it be considered a classic if it is unable to be as thought provoking now since the situation does not apply? Merely being “on the shelf” is not enough, it has to mean something more than that, or we could start calling dictionaries “classics.”

    More and more I find that a large number of people who praise “classic” social commentaries as being applicable in our time are those who think that modern social injustices can hold a candle to what has been experienced in the past. I’m not saying that we don’t have our share of problems or that those problems shouldn’t be improved, but some people really need to get some historical perspective.

    gahaz (#52), I couldn’t have said it better myself!

    The short sum-up of my opinion on Austen and her works? Excellent writing skills. Limited imagination. Revolutionary for her time, now just another book on the shelf.

    A true classic should mean something regardless of when it is written or read, that is the meaning of timeless and transcending generations.

  55. Kristin says:

    I’ve never read Austen. Or Hemingway.

    I loved Emily Bronte, consider my complete Works of Shakespeare the second-best thing in my library (first being Tolkien), quite enjoyed Heart of Darkness the second time through.

    Grapes of Wrath is the only book from high school/college I never finished. Gatsby was just plain dull and pointless. Chaucer’s worth the work – Morte D’Arthur not so much.

    The only book that’s ever made me want to shoot someone for making me read it was Tale of Genji. Aside from the hilarious look on classmate’s faces when Genji gets rejected by a girl he wants to sleep with and decides to sleep with her brother instead, that had to be the most boring thing I’ve ever read.

  56. Scott says:

    I’m coming late to this, so I won’t comment all that much about the relative merits of Austen other than to say that the significance of her work is, I think, best understood against the backdrop of the history of the English novel. Otherwise, the transformations she’s making aren’t apparent–and to a modern reader who’s been brought up reading nearly 200 years of novels influenced by her, the novels likely seem pretty boring and trite. But that is sort of like reading Shakespeare and being upset that he’s full of cliches…without realizing that he’s coining most of them.

    I would recommend Northanger Abbey as a fine introduction to Austen, but you won’t get most of the jokes unless you’ve read a good chunk of 18th century Gothic fiction (especially Anne Radcliffe’s big novels).

    But about the rejection by a modern publisher: there’s a story that Faulkner, when he was a struggling poet, once despaired to a friend of his that all his work kept getting rejected. The friend, to illustrate a point, sent in a Coleridge poem to a publisher…who rejected it.

  57. Telas says:

    I hear Ford’s going to re-release the Edsel.

    Think it’ll sell?

    (yeah, yeah, I know…)

  58. Lord of Fools says:

    Aye, I was never a big fan.

  59. bigandscary says:

    I have read most of the classics and I want people who consider them to be boring, wordy and not entertaining to understand something, they are. If you want to enjoy one of these, read it slowly and savor what is written. In “A Tale of Two Cities” Dickens writes on and on, using twenty words when he could use five, since he was, as previously mentioned, payed by the word, but every sentence is pure gold. Just read the first paragraph, which is mostly a run on sentence, and imagine the world as Dickens portrays it. When reading “Pride and Prejudice” think about the subtext, the wit and sarcasm. When I read it I could see how good it was and I enjoyed reading it, but I simply could not read for more than 20 or 30 minutes. Has anyone here read Chaucer? It is amazing how a man can write, line by line, limited to a few words, yet convey an idea with so many layers that it takes a week to digest a paragraph. If you try to read the classics two quickly you will miss out on half of the book. A while ago I read “Oliver Wiswell,” a piece of shear genius, but it took me a month to read it. Right after it a I read a book of similar length, a fantasy novel, and the writing was crappy in comparrison, but I burned through it in a week because it was exiting. I would suggest to all readers that they read atleast one long difficult classic for every, um… four other books they read. When you finish “Harry Potter”, read “The Last of the Mohicans.” It will open your mind and make you appreciate quality writing more, both past and future.

    Another important note about classics. I know someone who recently read Tolkien for the first time and when he was finished he said he was “dissapointed by how common it was…he didn’t even develope an origional story.” We read all the copies of the classics and then wonder why the classics seem so predictable. Also, there are a vast number of literary devices that are common today found in rudimentary form in classical works. If a modern reader analyzes Chaucer’s work they might notice that some of his characters are introspective, as are many of Shakespeare’s. The reader would then compare these to modern writng and often call them archaic and crude, but there is a reason for that. Those writers invented these devices, created new forms of writing from scratch. New writers might do it better, but that is because it has been developed over hundreds and thousands of years by countless writers. These people were brilliant not because they wrote the best things in the history of literature, but because they invented their type of writing. It is just like the invention of the vanishing point in Rennesiance paintings.

    Also, I don’t know if anyone else called maehara on this, but Austen was two hundred years ago, not three.

  60. Blackbird71 says:

    Scott Said:
    “I'm coming late to this, so I won't comment all that much about the relative merits of Austen other than to say that the significance of her work is, I think, best understood against the backdrop of the history of the English novel.”

    This is exactly my point: Austen’s work had great significance in her own time, but few aspects of it “transcend generations” to have an equal impact and significance in the modern era.

    “…Otherwise, the transformations she's making aren't apparent”“and to a modern reader who's been brought up reading nearly 200 years of novels influenced by her, the novels likely seem pretty boring and trite. But that is sort of like reading Shakespeare and being upset that he's full of cliches…without realizing that he's coining most of them.”

    Actually, as I believe another poster pointed out, Shakespeare wasn’t coining the cliches, they were old when he wrote them, and he knew it. Shakespeare is not celebrated for his originality of plot, but rather for his skill at word crafting. It was the poetic language in which he wrote that earned him his reputation.

  61. […] roles was as the deliciously sweet, but sinfully seductive Cher in the 90s fashion extravaganza and Jane Austen retelling known affectionately to 90s movie fans as […]

  62. Hei says:

    I found Pride and Prejudice boring initially when I read it because it was the first time I read a classic novel. However, after progressing, I realized I actually enjoyed it.

    If you actually practice reading them, at some point, it won’t be torture anymore. It’ll be the same as reading any other regular books.

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