austen and the haters


The most entertaining episode in western literature’s 200-year-long fight over who loves Jane Austen most took place in 1940, when a psychiatrist and literary critic named DW Harding published an essay called “Regulated Hatred: An Aspect of the Work of Jane Austen.” His argument was simple: “[Jane Austen’s] books are, as she meant them to be, read and enjoyed by precisely the sort of people whom she disliked.” Whether this is an accurate description of Austen’s own feelings towards her imagined readership (I don’t think it is), “regulated hatred” is a perfect name for the feelings Austen lovers often bear towards one another. “Anyone who has the temerity to write about Jane Austen,” said Virginia Woolf, “is aware… that there are 25 elderly gentlemen living in the neighbourhood of London who resent any slight upon her genius as if it were an insult to the chastity of their Aunts.”

more from Richard Beck at Prospect Magazine here.