After reading this article of hers, Jane Austen Does Not Adhere To Your Ideology, I contacted Sarah Seltzer, writer. I had to “Talk Jane Austen with ...” her!
Welcome at My Jane Austen Book Club, Sarah. It’s a great pleasure to have you here. Thanks for accepting to talk Jane Austen with me! This is my first question for you: You defined yourself a self-avowed Janeite. Could you tell us something more about your fondness for Austen’s work?
I first read Pride and Prejudice at age 11 or 12, and within the next three or four years, I had read “all six of them”--all of Austen’s completed novels and then the unfinished ones. I still re-read her works periodically and have yet to find another author who combines her sharp observations, her emotional accessibility, her perfect prose and her humor (that last one is the secret ingredient that makes Jane the best).
Jane Austen has now become a highly – successful market brand. Do you think that’s because her writing can be easily appreciated by anyone, anywhere, at any time or more because her work has been misinterpreted, if not manipulated to answer some urgent demand?
I think it’s both. Virginia Woolf said of Austen that her work stands very much by itself like a web whose spinning is invisible just like Shakespeare’s, and I agree. I believe people can easily project themselves into her texts--whether that’s misinterpreting it or just loving it, it depends on the reader. But mostly I think that’s a sign of her talent: her characters are lively and open to different takes and opinions--much like real human beings!
Do you think the movies, the TV series, the fanfiction (sequels, spin-offs, mash-ups, prequels, what – ifs, modernizations) contributed to popularize her work respecting its peculiarities or they have more produced a deviation from the original?
I think it’s both--some of them capture her spirit and some take so many liberties with her text that I think they fail her. But I know disagreeing about the adaptations is as big a pastime among fans of her work as disagreeing about the nature of the work itself.
What is it that most bothers you as a true Janeite?
Sometimes individual Austen interpretations make me angry--like when the author of “The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After” swears that Austen can be used as a model for conservative virtue. But overall the fact that everyone wants to claim Austen for themselves shows how powerful she is, so I try to just be amused and imagine how much pleasure she would have gotten making fun of some of her biggest fans.
In a recent post here at My Jane Austen Book Club, I proposed a discussion about a video of Fran Lebowitz talking about Jane Austen’s popularity : do we read Jane Austen for the right reasons?
The focus of contemporary readers is often on the love stories so much that one of the most unromantic writer has been turned into a champion of romance. What is that due to? Do you agree with Lebowitz?
I think it’s complicated. The love stories in Austen are as much about growing up as about “love” in the uber-romantic sense: finding partners who will be real partners, not burdens, and help bring out the best in us.
I find that one of Austen’s greatest achievement was satire and with it social criticism. What’s your opinion?
I absolutely agree. But her satire was so sharp that it wasn’t, as sometimes satire is, directly tied to her social surroundings.
Was she a feminist in any sense?
In a sense, her books shine a light on the worst restrictions on women’s lives--the problem of entailment, for instance, shows up over and over again. She also hated the silliness of “feminine” culture--she preferred sturdy pragmatic ways of being female to flighty man-obsessed ones. But she wasn’t an advocate for change as much an expert at showing things the way they were, and letting readers draw their own conclusion.
What is it that you most appreciate in Jane Austen’s writing?
I appreciate how I can come back to her books at different stages of my own life and get new things out of them every time. I understand Emma so much more now as a younger adult than I did as an adolescent, because the whole book is mocking the adolescent mindset.
Did she influence your own writing somehow?
Absolutely--I play around with “free indirect speech” in my own fiction which is the style she used of flitting in and out of her characters’ heads.
What’s your favourite novel among the major six? Why? Your least favourite one?
A: My favorites are Pride and Prejudice because of its perfect structure, Persuasion because of its simplicity and emotional content and Emma because of its complex narration. Different favorite on different days. My least favorite is Mansfield Park because Fanny is such a prig, but I still enjoy it tremendously.
Who is her most modern heroine?
Probably Emma...it’s not a coincidence that Alicia Silverstone nailed her in Clueless.
What do you guess Jane would have done if she had lived nowadays? Journalist? Blogger? Indie writer? Or something totally different? What would she have appreciated the most in our world?
She definitely would have been a blogger--but the novel was her form. She invented it, mastered it. I’d hope she would be writing novels at her computer all day long.
What are you up to as a writer at the moment?
I am a practicing journalist and blogger myself, and I’m beginning my career as a fiction writer. I’m polishing a short story collection that I worked on in my MFA grad program. It’s a linked collection of stories that show different perspectives on a young woman’s sudden death in New York City. I also have a novel begun about female friendship at a private school. And you know that novel-in-a-drawer that every writer has? Mine is a modern update of “Persuasion” set among American expats in France during the Bush administration.
We'll be looking out for your books then, Sarah. Let us know when the first of them is out. We'll be glad to support your efforts. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. It's been a real pleasure to "Talk Jane Austen with ..." you!