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john blumenthal

john blumenthal
January 05
john_blumenthal (On Twitter)
Curmudgeon. Formidable braggart. Comedy writer. Eight books, 2 movies. Former associate editor at Playboy Magazine. Movies include "Short Time," (major flop), and "Blue Streak" (huge hit, no idea why.) Last three novels were "What's Wrong With Dorfman?" (St. Martin's Press), "Millard Fillmore, Mon Amour," (St. Martin's Press) and "Three and a Half Virgins" (Finalist, International Book Awards.) Latest book -- a spoof of romance novels called "Passing Wind of Love."


Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 10, 2010 3:02AM

Is Jane Austen Overrated?

Rate: 65 Flag

Since 1940, there have been countless adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, some of them films, some theatrical rendtions, some miniseries, and some PBS and BBC productions.


Even a Bollywood version of the novel recently made it to the big screen --- sarongs and Vindaloo instead of corsets and Yorkshire pudding.  How refreshing.


No single Dickens' novel has ever garnered nearly this much attention.


How many books have been written about Jane Austen? Probably hundreds. The most recent tripe to grace the shelves is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The movie version will star Natalie Portman.


Even more astounding is the seemingly infinite number of Jane Austen fan clubs, book discussion groups, gushing websites and adoring blogs, all of which obsess breathlessly over every detail of her life and oeuvre.


I can’t think of another author whose books have received such enduring passion. Perhaps there’s a Melville fan club somewhere –- an odd lot no doubt --- but how many people are that fanatical about Moby Dick? And even zombies wouldn’t be enough to get somebody to buy that estimable book.


Although Pride and Prejudice is Austen’s most famous novel, there have been numerous (read: too many) productions of her other sleep-inducing books --– Emma, Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility, among others.


I’ve read a few of these so-called “classics,” and, in between snores, I’ve concluded that all of them are pretty much the same.


They all take place in 19th Century England, and usually revolve around the landed gentry or landed-gentry wannabes. The pompous blowhards that populate most of Ms. Austen’s books all spend their time knitting, taking walks, pretending to read books, having picnics, writing too many letters, gossiping, matchmaking (ineptly), and attending lavish parties, at which they engage in wooden dances, and wonder cluelessly why the person they “truly love” is boogying with someone else.




Let’s face it – there’s virtually no difference between Austen’s heroines. They all spend their time pathetically pining away for the haughty gentlemen they profess to love, men who are usually spoiled, affluent, and too dense to know that these whining, pouting women have schoolgirl crushes on them. Eventually -- wild guess –- these befuddled chaps (all of whom have excellent postures) see the light shining blindingly in their eyes, and they all somehow blunder into making the romantic connection. (Surprise, surprise.)  


Later, they get married and have sex with their underwear on.


Is it any surprise that the acronym for the novel is PAP?


So why are these books so popular? Simple. They’re all glorified romance novels that have somehow earned the cachet of being “literature,” although for my money, the writing is dull, stilted and plodding and the characters are ordinary simpletons in fancy costumes, but then I’m not the romantic type. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife.


For starters, I would venture to guess that most men- -- with the exception of academics -- don’t have much use for Jane Austen. But then, most men don’t read romance novels either.


(Don’t get me wrong –- I’m not saying these books are lousy because men don’t read them. I’m just saying they’re lousy.)


The fact is, contemporary romance novels sell five times more than all other literary genres put together. That’s a lot of books. Millions of lovelorn, dreamy, unfulfilled women read this dreck because they hope they’ll meet a handsome prince in the produce section and he’ll sweep them off their feet, or because the books just make them horny, probably both.


But reading trashy-looking romance novels on the subway is embarrassing, as it should be. But if you show up with a Jane Austin novel you can delude yourself and others into thinking you’re reading something literary, thus making you appear “educated,” while actually dreaming of gallant princes and getting horny. Suddenly, you’re the weepy heroine longing for the guy in a waistcoat, high boots, and the brain power of lawn furniture.


That’s why I’m capitalizing on this craze with my new novel “Nonsense and Nonsensibilty,” which will be out in October.  The movie version will star Sarah Silverman.   

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In answer to your title question: I found her to be a passionate and willing lover...xox
"...pretending to read books." That was hilarious.

Yep, they ARE glorified romance novels, far from real lit. But those who read Austen still keep the other romance novels by their beds.

Funny and true, rated.
I hope your writing it in your thong. You are, aren't you Jane?
I've read a few classics (they are almost invariably bad) Jane Austin is good, she's readable, clever and funny. I don't think you can put down someone's work as junk if it manages to reach out over centuries.
But, in the interest of full disclosure, I love reading today's junk food novels (paranormal, scifi, fantasy, detective), so it could just be that that is my favorite flavor no matter what century I'm exposed to.
I meant that I hope "you're" writing the book while wearing "your" thong. At least I'm not writing it. It would never sell.
I've read Austen and I totally agree with you. They are competently written romance novels with simple morals and two-dimensional characters. They were fun to read when I was young but I don't feel the need to revisit them, and certainly would not watch a public television production of one. I don't like romance as a rule. I'm a hard-hearted sort of person and prefer the dark and bitter to the sweet, and not just chocolate.
I used to think that way too.

But then, as soon as it dawned on me that Clueless was a contemporary version of Emma, well then I gained a full appreciation of just how flexible Austin can be. Isn't the true test of any work of fiction just how well it can be recycled into a contemporary knockoff?
Austen has withstood the test of time. She's a fairly fantastic writer, actually, as she discusses the difficulties of marriage and relationships of all kinds, including love and convenience and family. And in a fantastically wry tone for the most part.

Of course ... since the subject matter is about love and the situations of daily living, clearly it can't be as important a subject as all those boys and their sleds, yes?

I think you're a great guy, John, but on this one, I'm guessing we disagree. On Melville, on the other hand, I recognize he too has stood the test of time and is a great writer, even if he and his subject matter aren't my cup of tea. It's probably just that. Her subject matter isn't your thing. But that doesn't make her a lesser writer. It just makes it not your cup of tea.
So it is not that I am just a dullard?_r
I realise my manhood will be in doubt after this, but I have to disagree. If nothing else, Jane Austen came up with Mr. Bennett. That alone justifies her status:

Mrs. B: "You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my poor nerves."

Mr. B: "You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least."


Whenever Charlotte came to see them, she [Mrs. Bennett] concluded her to be anticipating the hour of possession; and whenever she spoke in a low voice to Mr. Collins, was convinced that they were talking of the Longbourn estate, and resolving to turn herself and her daughters out of the house, as soon as Mr. Bennet were dead. She complained bitterly of all this to her husband.

"Indeed, Mr. Bennet," said she, "it is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be forced to make way for her, and live to see her take her place in it!"

"My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor."

In short: Let women dream of Mr. Darcy all they want. When I grow up, I want to be Mr. Bennett.

By the way, it's easy to see why they make movies of these books. The screenplay is practically finished. I remember Emma Thompson being a bit embarrassed about getting an Oscar for adapting "Sense and Sensibility", as she only had to grab the dialogue straight out of the book.

I think I'll go and have a good cry now...
One of the happiest weeks of my life was the one I spent after surgery during which I read each and every one of Ms. Austen's gems (and Northanger Abbey, too). Sorry, blu, but I must disagree. Her arch voice is a delight. And I find the search by her characters, who are (regardless of how much income they enjoy per annum) generally ordinary people, trying to figure out how to live good, moral lives to be far more fascinating than the explorations of the dark and deadly mind of a serial killer. Lizzie and Darcy are a Beatrice and Benedick whose verbal sparring is topnotch banter and whose coming together is much more convincing because we see how and why they change and no trickery is involved. And the scene between Lizzy and Lady Catherine is perfect. And any author whose work can inspire Clueless and Bridget Jones's Diary is to be thanked.
John, as always, going for the exposed underbelly and hitting the target. I actually just recently read Pride and Prejudice for the first time and the thing that kept me hooked was not so much the romance, but the language and the detailed description of the prescribed, suffocating social etiquette that steered everyone's behavior, save, it seems, Elizabeth's sister, Lydia.
Having said that, the romance issue you raise is something else entirely. I'm not sure, but I think the female predeliction for romance has something to do with a particular base pair on the second X chromosome. I understand the Human Genome Project is studying the issue. Maybe with a little gene therapy women can have that nasty romance thing gone and we can be just like you men.:-) r
Oops! (predilection)
You did NOT just compare my beloved Jane Austen books to romance novels, did you?! Reading an Austen novel for me is like escaping into a world without the crazy, overwhelming chaos of our modern society. I do agree with you that they all seem to blend together but I love each one of them. I usually prefer angst ridden art (Nirvana) compared to feel-good (Grateful Dead) but her books just work somehow. But then again, there is definitely angst within many of her characters.

I'l be eagerly awaiting Nonsense and Nonsensibility. If Sarah Silverman is not available, try to get Chelsea Handler.
She's like coffee mug art. Monet.
Everybody thinks its great...
well, it WAS, but do we have to see it
on a shower curtain?
I am more than ready to read your new novel. Sarah Silverman is a brilliant choice. And this is, once again, a very funny post.
I have never been able to get through a Jane Austen novel. She bores me to tears. I can't see how anyone could give the slightest hoot about her characters. Then again, I don't like modern romance novels either.
I've always thought her books were a snore. Just not my cup of tea.
This is funny and I applaud your enormous balls. Once fingerlakeswanderer and I dared to say what you've said and were stoned by the adoring masses in the village square. Carry on.
"I’ve read a few of these so-called “classics,” and, in between snores, I’ve concluded that all of them are pretty much the same."

Although my perspective on what Jane Austen has to offer is different than yours, I understand your point of view above. I have always felt the same way about many male writers and the so-called classics authored by men. I don't understand them, find little with which to identify, and consequently find them of little value.
I can't comment personally, since I've never cracked the cover of any of her books, but my understanding is that she's got her characters' social relationships and psychology down pat, which means that her books remain relevant from one generation to the next. "Bridget Jones's Diary" was basically a PaP relaunch, after all, and she basically created the relationship/romance novel genre - for better or worse. This makes her popularity easy to understand (although I still don't plan to read her!).

From anecdotal evidence, it seems women read a lot more books than men; hence the popularity of Austen and romance novels. If I could only work NASCAR into Moby Dick...
I have a couple of friends who simply fall to pieces when discussing Jane Austen. It's fascinating to watch, actually. :)
I thought you were joking about Natalie Portman starring in the Zombie movie . . . but unfortunately you weren't. That book has become so popular that I even saw a copy at Wal-Mart.

Here's a money making idea for someone with the start-up capital to make it happen: literary dust jackets. If you're too embarrassed to be seen reading the latest Twilight in public, simply slide on your faux Dickens dust jacket to conceal the trash you're really reading.

Couldn't you pretty much say the same thing about Charles Dickens? Seems to me, while Jane Austen wrote "romance novels", Dickens wrote what could be called "Poverty porn"

Maybe I'm just a literary illiterate, but I don't see much, if any difference between the two
Having never read them, I can't tell you they suck. Now, the movies based on the books put me to sleep!
My favorite quote about Jane Austen is from Mark Twain: "If a man wanted to start a library and had limited funds, he could make a good beginning by not buying the books of Jane Austen."

Or something to that effect.
I could never get into JA and felt that I was missing something - but that holds true for a lot of, mainstream religion, advanced mathematics, stuff that other people are ga-ga for and some of which is valuable to the human race. Into which category one might place romance novels, either classic JA or contemporary, without which a lot of women would be less likely to get together with men, a totally different species than romance novel heroes...
JB, I'm not sure of the message here. Is it Jane A. you don't like, or romance novels? I can't stand the latter ... but largely my dislike is that they sell so well while the shit (as in genre) I like doesn't. Mysteries, Adventure, War ... Manly-man stuff. Frankly, I've never read Jane Austen; only know her (et. al.) via movies, and without some hardcore sex (ala Lady Chatterly), will probably never read another *period* novel the likes of hers. But I did own an Austin Healy once ... actually two. That ought to count for something. Makes me a fan of sorts.

@Brawer ... you've got a better chance of working Moby Dick into NASCAR, then visa versa. Particularly with Danica P. on board. Word has it she loves Moby. {{{R}}}
Sarah will be perfect! May I play Mr. Non-sense? It won't be much of a stretch.

I'm a Dickens man myself. Almost all my ninth-grade reading was devoted to Dickens.

A college friend had read the works of Jane Austen so many times that she no longer felt compelled to begin reading on page 1. She would just open the book randomly and start reading wherever her eyes landed. I think Austen was her therapy.

Fun post!
actually writing Sense and Sensibility screenplay was much more difficult than just grabbing the dialogue straight from the book. You probably have not read it in a while, there barely is any dialogue. It is mostly narrative and carving out a good story flow acceptable for a movie was no mean feat. Ms.Thompson most definitely deserves her Oscar.
I usually enjoy your posts very much, but here I must disagree. Austen's portrayal of her contemporary society is quite interesting and insightful. It is one of the few women's views on life at the time and because of that it is an important piece of literature. She has something to say and she says it with skill and lovely language. Actually it is quite fun to imitate this language in writing exercises. I am no fan of romance literature at all, but I am a big fan of Austen because of historical aspects of her fiction. So your theory about women reading Austen cause they are horny and want to marry a rich guy does not really hold. And while Emma and Mansfield Park have benefited from being put on screen as they are a bit longish and boring, P&P and S&S are unquestionably great pieces of literature. They are just not your cup of tea as was already pointed out by somebody else here. You want really boring? Try War and Peace. Trust me, I wrote loads of essays on it in school and I still don't like it.
Damn you write good humor!!!

I think there are yawnable moments John, but the language is what grabs me in her work. Not so much the stories which, as you write, are pretty much the same. I have always had trouble with "privilage", but in early 19th Century England you actually see a humane treatment of emotional realism in some of the charachters. And the arguments and other exchanges, rife with wit and logic are down right entertaining......
What Mark Twain said about Jane Austen was that it was a great pity she was allowed to die a natural death. Now that's snarky.

I do violence to my old English lit. major background, but I find I like Jane a lot better once I've seen the movie version. We are so far removed from Jane's time - its manners, customs, assumptions, language - that updating her via film allows us to better participate in and appreciate what she's up to - stories of human beings who must try to achieve personal happiness in a world whose conventions seldom allow for any such thing. Of course it doesn't hurt to have attractive actors, nice costumes, pretty scenery, and a good sound track.

Shakespeare, who of course wrote for performance, also benefits from a good dramatic portrayal. I hope you like you some Shakespeare, John, at least once in a while.
i enjoyed pride and prejudice once i'd already seen the movie version w/colin firth. it helps you to recognize which parts are funny, and it's actually a pretty hilarious work. humor is what i value it for. once you've read p&p don't need to read the others.
Fairytale romance, girl gets handsome guy with big estate. I can see why men aren't Jane Austen fans generally but these things resonate through the years for lots of people, okay women. But I think I must need more imagination if Pride and Prejudice is going to make me horny! Still, I take your point, but Jane's a safe read for a little well-mannered comedy.
Thanks for the laughs, Johnny. I love Austen's wit and the snark she lays about so heavily, but I admit, I read them for the glorified romance. Bodice-rippers are so trashy...
To paraphrase Mr. Knightly: Badly done, John, badly done. A gentleman should not be casting aspersions on such a fine lady.

She has written enduring literature in sparkling prose with characters that jump off the page and are almost real to the people who love them. They are not romance novels. The plot is so centered on finding a good marriage because that was the ONLY option for women back then, who had few rights and were NOT allowed to work except as servants and governesses. That, my dear John, is not romantic, it's tragic. She is a very good chronicler of life, family and the human heart. Not your cup of tea? Fine. But no need to be rude about it.
Nah, I'm with Mary Kelly. Sorry John, gotta disagree. What Jane Austen does better than anyone is create an entire cast of unique characters. Her heroes and heroines are great, but what is even better are the Miss Bateses and Mrs. Norrises that populate her pages--old crotchety aunts and thoughtless sisters and whatnot. She nails humanity in all its ridiculousness better than any author I know.
Guess I struck a nerve, which is usually my goal. But I'm sticking with Twain and his disdain fior Austen.
Here's a question: Was Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" a romance novel?
Chuckel Sarah Silverman as a character from Jane Austen, she defines grace about as politely as a truck driver. I don't know what to make of Jane Austen, if she can make a women into a pint of steel, and make sure that you are aware that those petticoats should'nt be mistaken for an iron girdle then I fear I don't know what else to preclude. It's no mistake that women of a certain grace favor people being in charge of their charades, since Jane Austen has given to torch to all women want to be libbers, by giving them what they had power over all along. That being said, let the gay games begin, yes of course I mean that quite litterally. What else is one left to do after the romping with ones clothes on, and with ones judpurs on, would you intend to do, now that we are aware of our misses and woes, to those who are not aware and fall pray to the folly that beckons, but only leads to glitter that is not gold. So to preserve the image of Jane Austen people should truly try to comprehend the seriousness of the subject at hand, since local gentry may not have a clue and fall right in front of the next bus. Oops, of course with out looking one can get a bit triffled.
Not every novel with a female protagonist is a 'romance'. A label which demeans.
I came to Jane Austen late. My husband erroneously assumed I was a long-time fan, and last year at Christmas gave me a fancy compilation of all her published works as a gift. I wasn't really the fan that he thought I was, although I appreciate her ability to stick to formula without a car chase scene. Beats Short Time.
John, I do appreciate your bravado here, but I think you might consider the clarity of her writing based on when she wrote these novels. She had a real feel for what the critic Harold Bloom would call "personality," which Shakespeare perhaps created first in all literature. She may have been speaking with the voice of a woman of her time, but Austen has stood the test of time, and her works continue to resonate in updated plots. That's alot more than a "romance novel"-- that's literature.
"Madame Bovary" is actually an anti-romance. Emma has affairs out of boredom and vanity, which she mistakes for passion. Her world is bourgeois in its every detail and convention; romance is impossible there. Her suicide and death are gruesome, not ennobling, and the book ends with the triumph of the venal pharmacist, Homais, who is awarded "the cross of the Legion of Honor".
I am not a fan of modern romance novels I find them annoying. I do, however, like Jane Austen. She clearly portrays the way people lived and spoke at that time, and the limited choices women had. She wrote of the world she knew, the social customs and morals of the time. If she were a scullery maid she would have written about looking for love amidst the drugery of kitchenwork. If she were a prositutute she could have written a racy memoir of her clientele and her dangerous life on the street. Oh, wait, most women in that social class couldn't read! We are speaking of an era where education was mainly for the rich. The average person could barely sign their own name. Shop signs often portrayed a picture of what they sold.
Perhaps if she were alive now, she would have less censorship and her novels would be racier and full of sex.
If you're looking for a portrayal of the poor woman's version of life, try "the Dress Lodger." it's raw and tragic, full of nasty things the gentlewomen were protected from by their good marriages.
I will be looking for your version of Jane Austen.
John, if you claim that Austen's work reads like romance novels, you obviously have not read romance novels.
Austin's clever commentaries are in the sub-text of the observations, which is how polite society operated back in the days, when we were polite. It is regrettable that she did not add an explosion or a car chase scene to ward off those snores... :-D
I agree! And what sucks is that if you were an English major in college, like me, Austen is touted as like the female Dickens, when really she's like the Victorian Danielle Steel.
John Blumenthal: The Great Emancipator of Women-Who-Are-Supposed-To-Be-Biologically-Programmed-To-Love-Certain-Books-But-Don't.

It's like shoe shopping and Chocolate Mocha Hagen Daz -- if you have a vagina, you're supposed to like it, or there is something wrong with you.

I've always thought Pride and Prejudice would be way more interesting if written from Wickham's perspective, with his cad-like tail chasing charm. Darcy might have been something new in Austen's time, but the sensitive Bad Boy Who Really Isn't is such a worn out cliche by today's standards.

I'll take a story about a giant, mysterious, man-eating whale and the crazy, obsessed peg-leg captain who pursues him over some silly British girl trying to land herself a Darcy. *yawn*

Leeandra: Actually, I wrote a romance novel called "Love's Reckless Rash,"published in 1984 by St. Martin;s Press, under the pen name Rosemary Cartwheel.
So there!
Wonderful post. It's high time somebody said it.
Thank you for this post. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you...

I thought I was the only one.
Not first class kvetch.
I disagree with you, John, but I laughed my way through your post. You're tremendously funny.

Most (though not all) of Austen is worth not only reading but re-reading. Perhaps many people (mostly women, I imagine) read Austen as romance novels, but as a previous commentor has pointed out with quotes from Pride & Prejudice, while the plots of her novels are often structured around romance leading to marriage, it's her wit and sometimes biting social commentary.

I personally both dislike romance novels and admire romance novelists - it's really, really hard to do something new-feeling and entertaining on a so-often-repeated theme. Modern romance novels seem to me like porn for women (romance-with-sex). Austen doesn't really fit that category.

Two subjects she tackles that wouldn't appear in a romance novel: in P&P, a younger sister's elopement threatens the marital prospects (and hence financial survival) of the four remaining sisters; the protagonist, Elizabeth, has a complete meltdown over it. (Yes, Mr. Darcy rescues the family, but this scene would NOT appear in a bodice ripper - distracts too much from the romance.) And Northanger Abbey is less of a romance than a spoof of the gothic novel (example: a mysterious document found in a cupboard turns out to be a laundry list).

That said, while I disagree, I laughed heartily both at your post and the quotes of Mark Twain. Rated.
*shrug* Something for everyone. I always liked the movies and their various adaptations. This is a great discussion, thanks for starting it, John!
Poor Jane must have been sexually frustrated, and now I know that having sex in her underwear was the cause. I still learn something every day.
I'm with you on the big fat yawn on anything that takes place in 19th century England.

I loved this line: "Later, they get married and have sex with their underwear on." That says it all. :)
Your analysis very much reminds me of a book report on Austen written by a 14 year old who did not understand irony and had no clue that Austen was satirizing the morals and manners of her time.
I've got to send out a boo-hiss on this one. I'm not a romance person, but Jane Austen is a good writer.
Austen's works have stood the test of time better than Twain's. I didn't manage to finish Huck Finn as an adult and I will pick up P&P to read at random -- just about every passage in that book is great.

Austen doesn't make good movies -- not enough action.

Obviously lots of commenters here haven't read Austen or have forgotten what the books are about. I particularly liked this comment, "Fairytale romance, girl gets handsome guy with big estate." Most of Austen's heros were not rich and poor Edward and Elinor in S&S have to live on less than Willoughby spends on his horses. But, right Austen shows (not tells) why Ed and El will be happy and Willoughby miserable for the rest of their lives.
I'm just amazed at how little thought went into this post. If you want to demonstrate that a hypercanonized writer is really just a sacred cow--and I'm fine with that project--put a little effort or brains or something into your analysis. Don't try to dazzle us with sloppy analogies, bankrupt gender stereotypes, and subway psychology. I would say you're better than that, but you have given me no reason to believe you are.

But your cover proves you can never go unrewarded by underestimating the intelligence of the OS editors.
I agree, Austen's books only make me glad to live in a time when 99% of the population is not working to keep the other 1% in lavish party dresses and champagne.

Besides, I find her husband Steve much more interesting. I mean can Jane run 60 miles per hour ?
You are a brave and foolish man, and you're also correct. I'd like to say Plod and Pedestrian couldn't get published today, but the success of crap like the Twilight teen vampire romances suggests otherwise. And I ain't dissin' the ladies -- all I'm sayin' is Stephenie Meyer is no Mary Shelley, and the fact that Frankenstein has been made into so many bad movies doesn't diminish the original in the least.

Or compare Austen to Fielding or Dickens or Twain or one of my favorites of the Romantic era who wasn't a Romantic at all -- Laurence Sterne. Jane Austen's work can be credited as a progenitor of today's soap operas, but great literature? Not so much. I will now escape to the cellar to avoid tomatoes, cabbages and brickbats.
That was the style at the time period. Compare it to Tolstoy who was a complete blowhard. 1500 pages of handwringing angst. Dostoevsky and De Balzac were better for their time. Austin fits in with Dickens and Hugo.
As a commentary on Austen-as-media-phenom, this is priceless. It does amaze me that so much has been, is, and likely will be made of and from Austen's limited but apparently endlessly energizing oeuvre.

That said, I am also a keen enthusiast of Austen's works in and of themselves. She and Wodehouse are authors who never cease to amuse me.

However, for those who want something to bring them down and help them mourn the black soul of humanity, I can heartily recommend the "spoiled child" sections of Eliot's Daniel Deronda. (Avoid the sections about the eponymous hero; they're a bit flaccid.)
Nobody is saying anything about the Brontes -- now there were some sisters who could write.
I wasn't going to read this much less comment but I just couldn't resist. Whether Jane Austin's work is great literature or not, I haven't read enough to judge. But disagree that her characters are two dimensional. There are subtleties and nuances that one has to slow down enough to appreciate.
The answer to the title question is, simply, no. John Blumenthal, on the other hand... ;-)
Thank You, John. Jane Austen always bored the crap out of me. But those Bronte sisters....They could write!
Kill me now.

They're not romance novels. They're social commentary, written with perfect wit and irony. They're about money and commerce and trafficking in flesh and love. They're brilliant.
I don't have to ask your wife, I believe that you're not the romantic type:) No, but I'm actually not as big a fan of Austen as people expect me to be based on my status as a bookish female.
Well! I laffed my ass off reading your review, and am definitely awaiting with enthusiasm the premiere of the movie version of Nonsense and Nonsensibility (I often miss the books), but I'll be damned if I'm gonna jump into this piranha infested pool of commentary. As an aside, I am slogging thru Moby-Dick, something I've put off since toddlerhood, and, while amazed at the lack of discipline Melville got away with with his editors - if he had any - I am chafing yawningly at the bit for the climactic duel. (r)
amyrose: I get the irony and the satire, but they are lame attempts in my view . Not to mention repetetive. The point is, the books are all the same.
libertarius: I thinl you captured the essence of Austen's works with the phrase "...sloppy analogies, bankrupt gender stereotypes, and subway psychology."
MadamRuth: Choose your weapon.
Malusinka: Austen has stood the test of time better than Mark Twain? I beg to differ. Besides, Twain didn't write the same stories over and over again.
You could throw the Bronte sisters in there as well, along with Margaret Mitchell's Southern-fried doorstop.
Rated John. I've always hated Austen too. Interestingly all of her books take place during the Napoleanic Wars and none mention them. I believe there is a reference to a soldier here and there, but that's it. Now Edith Wharton, she could take some gentile 19th century d-bags and tell a story.
Clearly they're wasted on you.
Perhaps those of us who admire Miss Austen should not honour Mr. Blumenthal's remarks with rational opposition.

I've enjoyed a few of the film adaptations, but that's about it. I'd rather read something by Norman Mailer or historical stuff . . hell even mythology. When I want smut or "romancy" type picking, I head to and get my naughty fix.


Okay, I just thought about this some more and I think its important to remember "when" these books were created. Sure, they are not my cup of tea, but apparently even today her work is stirring people . . . . and that can be a positive. Its like Shakespeare . . .which I LOVE . . .some people can't stand it, but even after all this time, the writing still kicks serious ass.

Just a thought.
"I get the irony and the satire, but they are lame attempts in my view."

Smells like revisionism to me. Your post damned Austen's works as "glorified romance novels," evincing not the slightest awareness that they are in fact satirical. Now that a few commentators have pointed out that inconvenient truth, you damn the satire as "lame." To paraphrase your response to me, I think the term "lame" captures the essence of your performance here.
paris pace: I think she invented blond jokes too, didn't she?
Shiral: Clearly she was wasted when she wrote them.
LadyMiko: Shakespeare does indeed "kick serious ass." Austen knocks over teacups.
libertarius: If you're so great at detecting satire, how come you failed to notice that my post was largely satirical?
there is more than one academic who thinks that romance novels are basically "porn for women".... but maybe before you go dissing porn for women.... consider how much there is for men, wink
lets not forget john was dissing Shakespeare just a few posts ago.....
maybe the way to explain jane austens popularity is that a lot of english teachers are female....!!! I managed to escape this scourge as I recall.... I skimmed her books & came to the same conclusions you did....
What's astonishing to me is that a feminist, castrating site like OS would give an EP to a post that criticizes Jane Austen, even in jest.
they're not even good romance novels. no sex. just a bunch of blushing and fanning of bosoms or whatever....
Really? This was satire?
No, but this post is. R. BTW, where's your make believe partner, O'Really? Overly Rated
sixtycandles: "...they get married and have sex in their underwear." No, that doesn't actually happen in Austen novels. Some people have no sense of humor.
Brian: In defense of Scott, it seems to me that the Napoleonic Wars were a tad more significant than the War on Terror, which isn't even a war. Try again.
With all due respect to your word talents, those of us who love and appreciate Jane Austen do not care whether you like the books or not. I am pretty sure that Miss Austen would have been able to handle your criticism with a well written phrase. One suggestion, read some other author and leave Miss Austen to those of us who do enjoy her.
Liberal Southern Democrat: If you don't care what I have to say, why did you read past the title of the post?
Brian: #1: Austen had no romantic life. #2: Beethoven wrote the "Eroica" for Napoleon and you're right, nobody listens to it anymore.
without jane austen, the bbc would simply cease to exist. it alone has parlayed the austen novel, the remake of the austen novel, and the remake of the remake of the austen novel into a multi million dollar industry. (that also includes the wholly owned bbc subsidiary called "the rental of all costumes, props, horses, buggys and hair pieces to merchant-ivory films)
Mr Blumenthal,
you have got to be the most bilious idiot among OS's share of various idiots. How your family (if you have one) tolerates you is beyond me, but happily, how you tolerate yourself is entirely your own problem. You are contrary for its own sake, the opposite of amusing, the very essence of rudeness and intentional uncivility, and saddest of all, totally classless, immature, and very badly (though copiously) educated. Frankly your lack of writing talent is such that you're not fit to wash Jane's underwear let alone to comment on her priceless and, thankfully for the rest of us, immortal prose.
It seems you have picked up more than a few new sparring partners with this post, blu. But none as fun as me. For the record, having sex with your underwear on can be very exciting. Maybe you should wear that thong of yours more often and write your next novel under the name John Austen. Just sayin'.
Jane Austen's novels really aren't that great. They'll never beat out a novelization of "Blue Streak".

That scene where Martin Lawrence pretends to be a pizza man is worth more than all of the words in Jane Austen's ouvre.
I wonder how much this: " But then, most men don’t read romance novels either." affects this: "Millions of lovelorn, dreamy, unfulfilled women."

ha. Silverman rocks.
Byron: I'm glad you liked the post. Thanks for the kind words.
paris pace: Thanks for the levity. I needed some, what with the plethora of negative nellies. Actually, I think the pros and cons are about equal, although the cons seem to be more longwinded.
Brian: I'm giving up on you.
O'Really: There's a thong in my heart. Left ventricle, just below the aorta.
Does anyone else find it humorous that tomreedtoon posted only to brag about his fight against insane teachers in Florida?

Also, 'paris pace' needs to learn some god-damned. "Jane Austen isn't a feminist!" Nice argument, dick. How many beloved and critically acclaimed female authors were there in the 18th-early 19th century? Hmm...

Following paris pace's reasoning, George Eliot wouldn't be considered a feminist, regardless of the fact that George Eliot put many of her male counter-parts to shame in style and content during her time.

All because it doesn't fit a 21st century idea of 'feminism'. Small-minded high-five!
I was almost too bored by this article to comment, so I'll just keep it simple. John, this could have been written by a sixteen year old boy. Just because women are heroes and love is on the line doesn't make them romance novels, just as having a poor kid make good doesn't make a Dickens into Horatio Alger. I guess if you don't like strong fleshed out characters, love stories that take time to unfold, and a young woman who sees justice to be more important than class, then don't like Pride & Prejudice. And if you find yourself compelled to voluntarily read books you don't like, don't bore us with your thoughts on them.

I waited until my thirties to read P&P, and I probably would have found it dull if I were younger and impatient. Instead I found it pretty fucking thrilling on an emotional level (as opposed to a Lizzie captured by pirates level). So, maybe when you grow up, you'll like it, too.
Have you read Pride and Prejudice AND ZOMBIES? :)
I hit send before completing my thought. Here it is "It's classic!"

Anticlimactic now, I know.
Craig: Sounds like you haven't read any romance novels. May I suggest "Love's Reckless Rash," by Rosemary Cartwheel? Great, fleshed-out characters, deep inner-meaning, subtle plot and cartoons.
Brian: I'm not tucking my tail between my legs (last time I looked I didn't have a tail, but the paws are getting annoying). By "giving up on you", I simply meant we could do this all day and get nowhere. And I'm not taking anything you say personally, although I do resent being called passive-aggressive which, ironically, I do take personally.
What people don't seem to get is that, although couched in the style of literary criticism, the piece is partly satirical. The phrase, "Later, they have sex in their underwear" should have been a tip-off. I doubt that a lit crit would have said something like that.
I am primarily known on OS as a comedy writer. If you read some of my past posts, you'll see that there is very litle in this world that I take seriously, including Jane Austen and lit crits. Nuf said.
"Perhaps there’s a Melville fan club somewhere –- an odd lot no doubt." Just envisioning this was enough to put a smile on this face.

I'm in agreement. It's fluff from a long time ago. Because its older fluff, we somehow consider it better fluff. Its the Lifetime movie of literature.
Actually, there have been hundreds of adaptions of Charles Dickens's work, including animated versions and foreign ones.

It seems you're taking a very male perspective on Austen's work. We women outnumber you men (except in China) and we tend to read more fiction than you all do.

So, is she overrated? Maybe. But so are thousands of other male writers, including Dickens.

I also feel sorry for whomever is in a relationship with the guy who is knocking reading romance novels. Which bothers you the most about romance, the romance or the sex?
Have you read her?
Ho, ho! Sounds like you've never actually read Jane Austen. The problem with both Austen and P.G. Wodehouse is that dramatizing them automatically loses the author's satirical commentary, and with it some of the best use of the English language.

Without that, the viewer of the dramatizations gets, yes, a witty romance novel plot without the bodice ripping-- which is boring after you've read three of them. But Austen makes fun of her heroines from time to time, and mocks many of her secondary characters. The novels keep you laughing if you get what you're reading. Austen plays a how-they-met-and-married story line for laughs. And if you are paying attention, you meet the fools from Austen's novels in real life. I've attended the wedding of a Lydia and Wickham pair (Pride & Prejudice) and sat next to a Mrs. Elton (Emma) at dinner. As it dawns on you that you are listening to one of these characters that Austen captured from real life, your eyes glaze over in smiling wonderment. The rattle John Thorpe from Northanger Abbey is a character of the modern age. Aunt Norris from Mansfield Park is found everywhere today. Rarely, maybe never, are these characters accurately rendered on a movie or television screen. Some of the dramatizations are downright unwatchable for the insipid, sugary adherence to the romance story line without any of the satire or fine use of language that makes Austen a good read.

Winston Churchill got through WWII on two things: booze and Jane Austen. Truly, on a visit to the White House, the Roosevelts found him giggling as he read Jane Austen late one night.

And, no, I don't read romance novels. Can't stand them. But if you love language and light, silly satire, Jane Austen is your author. The problem is, of course, that the satire can go right over your head, so just like the tediously over done dramatizations, I suspect that there is a cadre of Austen fans who read the novels for the romantic plot and entirely miss what makes her work really worthwhile. I suppose the litmus test for whether you get Austen is whether you enjoy Wodehouse. Yes, his characters tend to roam the remote world of the English country house, but it is the commentary on human nature that amuses and makes the stories, forgive the term, accessible.

Not everybody has to like Austen, but it would be a relief to both her non-fans and the readers who get her satire if there was a long moratorium on trying to dramatize her books.
Your not being able to stay awake while reading an Austen novel sounds more like a personal problem than an actual slight on her work, as you have apparently never been awake long enough to form a real opinion. You are obviously biased by Jane Austen's image in contemporary pop culture, the female novelist who writes sentimental romance novels. Don't kid yourself into thinking that Austen's female readership doesn't affect your opinion. You are delegitimizing 'romance novels' as merely low, chick lit--a hugely political issue in Austen's day and one to which she speak about in Northanger Abbey. Consider for a moment that in the 19th century, when the novel form was still in its infancy, that women were the most prolific of its practitioners and readers. In other words, the novel form as we know it would not be around today without the help of Burney, Radcliffe, Austen, Bronte, and Eliot. Consider for a moment that whenever female readers show mass interest in something (Twilight, for example) the media shuts it down as silly and feminine. Also consider that Austen and all of the writers I mentioned made a serious contribution to novel writing as a form (Austen created free-indirect discourse/narrated monologue style and one of the most famous satirical narrators who is responsible for the 'truth universally acknowledged' bit). In summation, you have not produced a single original opinion that has not already been parroted by male critics for the past two centuries. WELL DONE!
I too dislike her. The first two thirds of P&P are captivating; in the last third Elizabeth Bennett is severely humiliated and punished for everything we have admired in her, her spirit, wit, independence. I think most readers simply discount this lengthy, painful denouement, as if it were simply the author's obligatory obeisance to convention. On the contrary, Austen is given credit for promoting advanced attitudes that she actually condemns. Even more than following the pattern of the romance novel, her books are children's novels, teaching how to be a good little girl. Emma, too. She presumes to be a woman of agency. She has her own money and no man to guide her, how can she possibly not go wrong.

Another overrated author in my book, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
You parse your words quite carefully -- "No single Dickens' novel" -- to avoid the obvious: that little novella of his, A Christmas Carol. Not that I dispute your premise.
astrodreamer: Gotta disagree with you on Fitzgerald. He captured his Age in beautiful, accessible prose.
I dunno about the comparison with Dickens. Besides the aforementioned novella "A Christmas Carol", there is of course, "Oliver Twist", of which there are innumerable versions, including that gem of 1960's West End, Broadway and film, "Oliver!" And British television, at least has made hay of him...consider 2009's new version of "Little Dorrit".

Personally, I like 'em both, and Melville's Moby Dick at least (Don't get me started on "Billy Budd"...but, of course he didn't finish that one).

I do wonder if your rant has to do with the perceived subject matter rather than the actual writing. Many here have addressed that issue (Norwonk, AtHomePilgrim, parispace and BrianBowman to name a few!) You have not responded, and I do wonder if you've read the books, or just seen the (admitted) profusion of film adaptations.

Do you dislike Eliot, ho writes about similar subject matter in "Middlemarch"...but at more Dickensian length? Or Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights"? (a corker of a 'romance'...but much more as well). How about Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre? It inspired Jean Rhys',"Wide Sargasso Sea" and countless movie versions. Is there a female writer, or writer of more "domestic" content that appeals to you?

As for the necessity of books including atmospheric "historic detail", that's pretty silly. We do have Tolstoy, but not everyone has to include the "big events"...the Brontes don't cover the coronation of Victoria or the Afghan campaigns or the Opium War in China...though each of these was ongoing during their careers, not to mention a nasty cholera epidemic in England!

I will agree that Melville and Dickens are too seldom read, though Dickens' canon is much larger than that of Austen.
a playboy editor and self professed writer of several flops and the (ROFL) esteemed Blue Streak, is going to critique good literature?

i consider it a sign of our regression in modern society that people like you find yourselves so superior. frankly after being forced to watch blue streak by my brother's drunken college friends i find it difficult to believe you can even look in the mirror and take yourself seriously.

your lips smack with the hiss of jealousy sir. you lack creativity and as a creator of crappy pop drama you parasitically leach true talent out of older classics in an effort to gird you wallet.

here's a little anthropology for you. the human brain has been shrinking for about the last 2000 years. each generation has been, according to many anthropologists, declining in brain capacity across the globe for decades now. each passing generation is slightly more devolved than the next. is it jane austen that lacks talent or do you lack the ability to distinguish insight and perspective that humans are more and more unlikely to be able to recognize.
Oh, please, a blow-dried, overly tanned prototypical Playboy writer (male) complaining that a woman of the early 19th century writes about...relationships in the early 19th century?

It is to laugh.

As for the heroines pining for the heros, I am certain that you were not reading the same books I was. The shocking thing to Jane Austen's contemporaries was, more than anything else, the scandalous independence of her heroines. In, for example, P and P, Elizabeth's younger sisters are silly romantics. And her older sister, a noble romantic, walks away from the man she loves, believing that he is looking for a better match. But Elizabeth? She would rather sit and chat with her father than to deal with the nonsense of her sisters.

I do find it amusing that the bulk of the respondents who agree with you are male. How horribly stereotyped of them! I, personally, can't stand romance novels, finding them tediously coy and badly written. But I've had a soft spot in my book-loving little heart for Jane Austen since I was in college, decades ago.

In fact, in the end, I think I should thank you. I'll go down in the basement this evening, and sort through the shelves and shelves of books, from my husband's and my college texts, to children's books from the 80's and all the way through my kids' college texts. Somewhere in there is the Complete Works of Jane Austen that I read, cover to cover, after the birth of my third child.

I definitely need to enjoy her, once again.
What a load of tripe. You only prove that by categorizing it with standard romantic books, that you haven’t really read her material. You can’t go off on a tangent and pan something you haven’t bothered to properly examine. Just admit you don't like or read anything that might even slightly interest women and be done with it--instead of tearing something apart for the sake of funnies.

JA’s works aren’t even remotely similar to modern romance novels… except maybe the backdrops and the Regency period itself that many modern romance novelists like to frame their schlock on. Jane’s works were subtle and brilliant satires of romantic notions. Her characters are deliciously three-dimensional—almost to a fault. I read your article and found example after example of how little you really know about the subject you’re mocking.

Just because people sit on the subway reading JA instead of Crichton or Brown or some other crappy novelist doesn’t denote a sense of superiority; it just means that JA is an engaging, good freakin’ read. It’s as simple as that. Would you be happier if they had a novel with Fabio on the cover? Feel less condescended upon?

If someone doesn’t resonate to JA or they find the language too flowery or too British to follow… then it’s simply a matter of taste. JA’s books haven’t managed to carry themselves as best-sellers for two centuries because she’s ‘a Victorian Danielle Steele’ as someone so eloquently blathered (it’s the Regency period by the way). I’d like to see Danielle Steele accomplish that. Hah! Please.

And FYI: Women did not wear underwear during the Regency period. They wore pantalettes that were crotchless.
Sooooooooooooo true - Austen is unbelievably tedious chick lit masquerading as "literature". Nodded off on every page of PAP.

The most disturbing part of it is that the mercenary focus of these relationships seems to strike such a chord with contemporary women - despite decades of feminism it seems a lot of women still yearn to be parasites who 'marry up'. The pining for high status, wealthy, arrogant males like Darcy who "can be changed by a good woman" is a dysfunctional template. I mean, Austen was atrocious at understanding & writing male characters -- in real life a jerk like Darcy would be banging all the chamber maids & the flower girl within two weeks of marriage - think of a 19th century Tiger Woods, Letterman (or any of the 2,000 Congressmen who have been in the news in the past year ... )

This has all been put far better than I could ever do in this post:

The Darcy Syndrome
(AKA – you women are nuts)
I am African American, and I have tried to read Sense and Sensibility a number of times. I've only gotten half way through so far. I've often wondered what was so great about so called "classic" novels written by white novelists, and I decided to start reading a number of them. I read Edith Wharton's "Age of Innocence." I sort of enjoyed "Madame Bovary." I wasn't that crazy about "Great Expectations" by Dickens. But my favorite author is Thomas Hardy. I do not know why I like Thomas Hardy. I loved "Tess of The Durbeyvilles," and "Jude The Obscure." This was a major surprise for me. Had I never ventured out I would never have discovered Mr. Hardy. I once even considered reading his biography (I haven't gotten around to it yet).
I have a feeling if I stick it out with Jane I might really like her books also.
Though would you believe it one of these geeks has never read a Jane Austen novel, but ... Jane Austen only wrote six novels, but they’re the kind of novels you’ll want to read over and over again. Plus you can watch all of the films till they start skipping and you have to buy a new one. great relief You can collect things like the Jane Austen Action Figure with writing desk and quill pen! You can even dress up in long gowns and go to Jane Austen balls.
Over the years I've enjoyed all of the BBC adaptations of Austen's works. Even sat through some US versions with actors such as Keira Knightley and Gwyneth Paltrow as unconvincing leading ladies. Wasn't really a fan. Then BBC put out a mini-series, 'Lost In Austen' and I was hooked! It's a spoof on Austen and 'Pride and Prejudice'. I'd never read any Austen books but I wanted to understand all of the humorous underlying references in 'Lost In Austen'. So I found the free online version of 'Pride and Prejudice' and read the book. The first chapter was disappointing, it was almost simple in structure, and I wasn't used to the style. I didn't really like it, but I read on. By the third chapter I was into the storyline and the characters. Although I knew the storyline from television and film, I read on expectantly, as if I didn't know what was going to happen. It was weird. There is humor in her writing, a sarcastic streak, that is delightful to read. I enjoyed it more than I'd expected and now I consider myself a fan. And it wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for 'Lost In Austen'.

One thing did surprise me, though, is how each television or film version is nearly word for word of dialogue from the book. I think someone else mentioned that in the comments, how easy it must be to adapt because the book can be used as its own screenplay. There was one thing I missed in the book. Maybe I didn't read it thoroughly, but I don't recall the whole Mr. Darcy taking a dip in the pond thing, and strolling along like a male version of a wet t-shirt contestant. That scene is an integral part of every film version but I don't think the book mentions it. Did I miss it? Maybe I have to reread the book.
I've never read a romance novel, because why would anyone do that, but I love Jane Austin. She painted a perfect picture of a specific time and place, and the language is deliciously witty and dense. Just because women love it doesn't make it lame.
I do agree that Austen seemed to have had only one novel in her, but she is very witty and witty in a way that romance novels never are.

I'd rather read (or have written) one good novel (say Pride and Prejudice) than lots of mediocre novels (say a good deal of Hemingway).
hey dude looks like someones on the block with a contrary opinion, you two should debate each other haha ginny tonic can a book that turns you on still be great literature .. you two think so much alike I think you should date her :p