Deborah Yaffe


Curricular matters

By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 17 2016 01:00PM

Once again, Jane Austen has been roped into something that she might better be left out of.

Judging from my daily Austen Google alert, our most recent tangentially-Austen-related teapot tempest, this one courtesy of our friends in the UK, centers on remarks that Jenni Murray, host of a daily BBC radio show called Woman’s Hour, made last week at the Cheltenham Literary Festival.

Asked about the prevalence of Internet porn, Dame Jenni – yes, she’s a titled radio host – suggested a rather surprising addition to the high school curriculum.

“We give our kids Jane Austen to read and we say, ‘OK let’s analyze it,’ ” Murray said. “Why not show them pornography and teach them how to analyze it?”

Leaving aside the merits of Murray’s proposal – and I think I could come up with one or two counterarguments – let’s just note the way in which she evokes “Jane Austen” as an implicit stand-in for all things staid, decorous, high-brow and academic. You know – the opposite of the stuff kids really want to consume, like Internet porn.

Sigh. This is why it’s so hard to convince non-readers of Austen that she’s actually funny. And even -- dare I say it -- kind of sexy.

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