Mark Twain on Jane Austen

I've occasionally mentioned Mark Twain's brutal, and completely accurate, review of Cooper's 'Leatherstocking' tales. I also knew that Jane Austen was not universally loved by American authors -- Emerson didn't care for her ("Suicide is more respectable," he wrote of her work), but who cares what Emerson thinks? Still, I hadn't realized until this morning that Twain had written occasionally about his dislike for her work.
"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."

"I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

"All the great critics praise her art generously. To start with, they say she draws her characters with sharp distinction and a sure touch. I believe that this is true, as long as the characters she is drawing are odious."
There are a host of great author-on-author put downs here. If any of you are Austen fans horrified to find that Twain held her in such low regard, there's an essay here that examines his comments in greater detail from a pro-Austen perspective.


Texan99 said...

If Twain were a character in an Austen novel, she'd like him grudgingly but put him through the wringer for being such a juvenile, then marry him off to a lesser heroine after he'd been shaped up a bit. If Austen were a character in one of Twain's novels, he'd never "get" her, so he'd completely fail to provide a believable characterization.

I enjoyed the author-on-author denunciations. I noticed that I was either ignorant of one or both authors in each exchange, or liked one very much more than the other (but not necessarily the one doing the denouncing). I can't think of a pair both of whose work I enjoyed at all equally.

Some of them were just a hoot. Imagine Shaw thinking he could hold Shakespeare's coattails. Will people be reading Shaw in 500 years?

Grim said...

If they do, it'll only be as a footnote to the ancient Greeks: they might look at his Pygmalion or Arms and the Man as characteristically modern reflections on ancient themes.

This game you've invented sounds fun, though. What would one famous author look like written as a character by another? I think we could have lots of fun with that!