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"The passions are perfectly unknown to her"

Whether you get fired up about 19th century English literature or not, there’s a pretty good chance you’re familiar with the works of Jane Austen.

Pride and Prejudice has sold over 20 million copies, spawned multiple film adaptations, and made its way onto many a high school reading list.

Pride and Prejudice book cover

Emma is #9 on The Guardian’s 100 greatest novels of all time.

You can’t please everybody, though.

Writing about Austen in 1850, the author Charlotte Brontë said

She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her …

Mark Twain was weirdly aggressive in his criticism:

… her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy … Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

It’s not just her contemporaries and colleagues that find her intolerable. GoodReads user Peter had this to say:

I am sitting here eating a tootsie roll, a Halloween left over, and I can’t help notice the similarities between it and the novel Pride and Prejudice … I’ve been at this for a while and now that I finally got it down, I have to wonder why I put it into mouth to begin with.

What you’re working on this week could simultaneously be one of the greatest creations of our age, and also widely mocked - by experts and amateurs alike - for centuries to come.

In fact, if it is a great creation, it will be mocked. It’ll make some people angry.

It might even make some guy so angry he wants to dig up your shin bone.

Doesn’t matter, don’t let it hold you back. In the dispassionate words of Jane Austen:

Angry people are not always wise.

    © 2024 Brian David Hall