I’m late to the party regarding this video, but wanted to share it with fellow latecomers. Humorist and raconteur Fran Lebowitz riffs about Jane Austen for the Morgan Library’s exhibit, “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy,” which closed earlier this year.
With her signature sneer, Lebowitz skillfully debunks the contemporary understanding of Jane Austen as an 18th-century Candace Bushnell. For Lebowitz, Austen’s enduring popularity can be traced to the “enormous extent to which she’s misunderstood.” Implicit to this critique, no doubt, are the endless film adaptations that have recast Austen’s enduring classics – “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense & Sensibility” and “Emma” to name a few – as chick-lit romances, while ignoring the writer’s uncommon intelligence and deft sense of irony.
But Lebowitz reserves the full force of her disdain for contemporary readers who look to extract “life lessons” from fiction. Calling such impulses “philistine” and “beyond vulgar,” she reminds us that, “A book is not supposed to be a mirror, it’s supposed to be a door.”