Deborah Yaffe

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Riding high

By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 11 2019 02:00PM

By now, Jane Austen has made so many top-novel lists that it’s hard to come up with anything new to say when she makes yet another one. (Indeed, you’ll note from the links that half the time I can’t even come up with an original headline.)


But it’s always entertaining when Our Jane strays into unexpected company, as she does on the BBC’s latest Book List Designed To Court Controversy And Thus Pump Up Viewership. Oh, sorry – I meant the BBC’s list of “100 Novels That Shaped Our World.”


Apparently, the network decided to celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, arguably the first English novel, by putting together a panel of writers and critics and inviting them “to choose 100 genre-busting novels that have had an impact on their lives,” divided among ten categories with titles such as “Adventure” and “Identity.”


Pride and Prejudice has been placed in the “Love, Sex & Romance” category, even though it could surely have qualified for “Coming of Age,” “Class & Society,” “Family & Friendship,” or even “Rule Breakers.” But I will not cavil, because by putting P&P here, the listmakers have created a delicious juxtaposition.


Yes, Austen’s novel of manners, more or less synonymous in the popular mind with buttoned-up propriety, is right next to Riders, Jilly Cooper’s steamy 1985 bestseller set in the world of competitive show-jumping.


I have not read Riders, although I hear it’s pretty good, at least as voluminous, sex-filled, guilty-pleasure romance novels go. I have, however, seen its cover. It is a classic of the snarky-yet-sexy genre, deserving of an entire category all to itself. It shows a male hand resting on a shapely, jodhpurs-clad female posterior. Oh, and there’s a riding crop. It is not a cover that will likely ever make you think of Jane Austen.


Really, this whole list is worth it just for reminding me of that cover. Sometimes I miss the '80s.


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