Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Against “Jane”

The novelist Howard Jacobson, on why readers should not refer to Jane Austen as “Jane”:

[I]t is more than an impertinence; it is singularly cloth-eared, considering the precise forms that address takes in Jane Austen’s work. It isn’t only manners that are at stake when one person trespasses on another’s privacy and distance, it’s morality.

In novel after novel, we see how disregard for the niceties of respect will lead to what is described in Mansfield Park as “too horrible a confusion of guilt, too gross a complication of evil.” Outside the barriers that ceremony erects, “barbarism” lies in wait.

And if that sounds altogether too prim and unforgiving a view of human society, then you haven’t read Jane Austen.
See also: museum docents who talk about “Emily.”

comments: 6

Fresca said...

Well, yes. I totally hate when museum docents and the like are disrespectful like that.
(I wonder how many would cozy up to a male writer like that. "Our mutual friend, Chuck.")

But there's also the fan who is well aware of the power of forms of address, and feels they have the right to that intimate form.

Rudyard Kipling, among them!
You know?
Kipling's story “The Janeites” [1] is about a group of soldiers in World War I who form a secret Austen fandom.
One soldier in the story says that Austen’s books “weren’t adventurous, nor smutty, nor what you’d call even interestin...”.
But another says,
“There’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight place.”

I'd say some Austen readers have earned the right, as it were, to call her Jane.
Everyone else should show respect.

P.S. Confession: I didn't read the article you linked to--maybe they make that point too.

[1] Rudyard Kipling, “The Janeites,” originally published in Story-Teller (May 1924), reprinted by the Jane Austen Society of America, courtesy of the Rudyard Kipling Society, at

PPS. I wish Blogger had a footnote feature. :)

Michael Leddy said...

The Kipling is wonderful. It reminds me of a brief story on This American Life about Marines watching Gilmore Girls in Iraq. I’d agree — those soldiers have the right.

Yes, the article makes that point about Charles, Franz, and Joseph (Dickens, Mr. K., Conrad).

I have to acknowledge though that some student writers will refer to any writer by first name, or maybe any writer other than Shakespeare. In other words, “William” instead of “Yeats.” Maybe because in high school last-name-only is disrespectful? “Who’d you get for Algebra?” “Yeats.”

Michael Leddy said...

“That point”: I meant about sexist standards of address.

The Kipling story seems to have gone missing from that website. It doesn’t seem to be available from Google Books. To the library (when it’s cooler).

Michael Leddy said...

Oh, wait: here’s the story. I searched for kipling janeites pdf.

Slywy said...

When I was in high school, last name only was a sign you were one of the cool kids. Hey, Smith, how you doing?

Michael Leddy said...

That was one of many shocks for me when my family left Brooklyn for New Jersey. It was like all these suburban kids (sixth-graders) were white-collar workers. But referring to a teacher by last name only — that was at least a little disrespectful.