Our colleague over at mmetroland.wordpress.com has a draft critique of the ongoing Jane Austen/Alt Right controversy, which should shortly be published elsewhere. While the article is exhaustive, not to say tiresome, I’ve noticed that a few press references from March 20-26 escaped MMetroland’s eye.
Most of these are little more than copypastas of what appeared in the New York Times and Chronicle of Higher Education, but each has its own little quirk. The Huffington Post gives the kicker “She’s the Pepe of Regency-Era Fiction,” which is strangely witty for HuffPo, just as the writeup, by Claire Fallon, is unusually fair-and-balanced (though she sinks to using the 1950s Daily Worker/Civil Rights Congress expression, “white supremacist” to indicate anybody right-of-left-of-center).
Contrariwise, the formerly witty and balanced Independent (London) is now lost forever to the fever-swamp Left. “Jane Austen has alt-right fans who have clearly never read her work properly, scholar suggests,” goes the Indy’s hed, but the story describes no such scholar, nor in fact anyone else, making such a statement. The Daily Telegraph (London) isn’t much better, basing its writeup entirely on the original Chronicle story and its expansive endorsement by Jennifer Schuessler in the New York Times.
The Times’s (London) coverage, picked up in The Australian (Sydney), is even worse. Hack Ben Hoyle arranged his sensationalist bilge to showcase an old throwaway remark from Andrew Anglin that does not all pertain to the issue at hand. No doubt the fact that it’s a quote from America’s highly entertaining “top hater” made it irresistible:
In a post for The Daily Stormer, which has been called the “top hate site in America” by The Southern Poverty Law Centre, a white-supremacist approvingly described pop star Taylor Swift as “a secret Nazi”, whom he imagined “sitting at home with her cat reading Jane Austen”, while her contemporaries indulged in loose sexual behaviour “with coloured gentlemen”.
Following the local style-book to spell “Southern Poverty Law Centre,” though it’s a proper name, is also a funny touch, as is the respelling of “coloured” which should not be Briticized since it’s in a direct quote.
The Guardian’s Danuta Kean, despite her piece’s Commie jargon, is breathtakingly original by comparison. She actually did a little research on this one, and got some entertaining quotes:
Fellow Austen scholar Bharat Tandon, who edited the Harvard University Press edition of Emma, is sceptical that Austen’s fans on the far right have actually read her books. Citing Ayn Rand, another of the far right’s favourite female writers, he said: “[Austen] would have had Rand for breakfast. That rootsy post-Randian demagoguery that they all follow would have been completely alien to the society Austen chronicled.”
According to Tandon, the only character in Austen’s work who could possibly have voted for Donald Trump would be Mrs Norris, Fanny Price’s cruel and snobbish aunt in Mansfield Park. “She’s a nasty, greedy and abusive piece of work,” says Tandon. “Trump would speak to her.”
Claire Tomalin, whose biography, Jane Austen: A Life, revealed a woman more radical in her roots than her popular image allows, doubts the writer would find anything in common with white supremacists. “[Austen] loved the poetry of William Cowper, who was opposed to hunting and shooting,” she says.