Sunday, April 01, 2007

What did Jane Austen look like? Who cares?

Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote in today's NYT:
I never wish I knew how pretty Austen was or how she dressed or how her voice sounded. (On the other hand, I wish intently that modern publishers did not care how handsome or beautiful their authors are.) But let me put it a different way. I would like to know how anyone who lived 200 years ago talked or sounded or dressed or ate or felt.
Well, he could just get himself a copy of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England by Daniel Pool. Jane Austen and Charles Dickens wrote about universal themes, but you will get much more out of reading them if you read Daniel Pool's book, too.

While a student at Berkeley, I visited my mom's house on break with a copy of Persuasion. When I left, I couldn't find it. The next time I visited her, I found the book on her bedside table. I asked her what it was doing there. She said that she found it somewhere around the house and started reading it.

I asked if she found the nineteenth century English difficult to comprehend. She replied that it wasn't especially difficult. Mom found the novel hilarious. She said that the English aristocracy was just like the Taiwanese aristocracy. And people wonder why Ang Lee made Sense and Sensibility.

While we are on the subject of looks, think about the number of female actors who started out as models. Now name male actors who did the same. Can a novelist get a book contract anymore without glamorous head shots? A coworker wants to know why female classical musicians need to display SA on their album covers and male musicians don't. (Read Agatha Christie if you don't know the meaning of SA.)

Verlyn Klinkenborg was so right. Read this press release from the LA Times.

"The redesigned BOOK REVIEW will be more visual, featuring portraiture and enhanced photography"


  1. Okay...Josh Duhamel. Taye Diggs. Chris Carmack. Tom Welling. Ashton Kutcher. Pretty much the entire cast of Lost: Ian Somerhalder, Josh Holloway and Matthew Fox are all models-turned-actors.

    I am sure that violinist Joshua Bell sells plenty of albums by being cute. On the literary side, Yann Martel is way hotter in person than in his book photo.

  2. FYI, Jane Austin is not an Edwardian author; rather, she is considered eighteenth century and thus included with other writers such as Fielding, Richardson, Smollett, Goldsmith, Defoe and the like. It is true that her work crosses into the early nineteenth century, but still one hundred years earlier than the Edwardian era.

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  4. Maribeth is right. That's why she is a trivia champ and I am not.

    Jan is right. When I wrote it, Edwardian didn't sound right. But I was in a hurry and lazy in my research.

    The LA Times issued a press release on 3/26/07.

    Enough said.

    "The redesigned BOOK REVIEW will be more visual, featuring portraiture and enhanced photography."

  5. Anonymous18:11

    I'm quite the Agatha Christie fan, but I can't remember any mention of "SA" in the novels? What is it?

    Jane Austin is wonderful, isn't she?

  6. SA = s*x appeal
    Her characters used SA in conversation, but she never spelled it out for the reader.


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