Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 15 2015 01:00PM

Ianthe Broome, the protagonist of Barbara Pym’s 1982 novel An Unsuitable Attachment, is a quiet, self-effacing woman. "She saw herself perhaps as an Elizabeth Bowen heroine -- for one did not openly identify oneself with Jane Austen's heroines," Pym writes.

Well, Ianthe, those days are over.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 26 2015 02:00PM

Over the weekend, my daily Google alert called my attention to artist Carmen Medlin’s rendition of Elinor Dashwood. . . as a mouse.

I find the drawing rather sweet, but more to the point it got me wondering about animal-world equivalents of our favorite Austen characters.

Suggestions, anyone? I’m thinking Wickham as a fox, Henry Crawford as a snake (Garden of Eden reference very much intended) and Lady Bertram as a three-toed sloth. Mr. Elton as a weasel? Sir Walter Elliot as one of those chest-beating gorillas? Mrs. Jennings as a motherly but somewhat dim manatee?

All of a sudden I’m looking forward to the animated Disney version of Pride and Prejudice! (It can’t be worse than the zombie flick.) Somehow, though, this Austen-animal game seems much easier to play with the caricature-like secondary characters than with the heroes and heroines, whose personalities are more nuanced.

Although if anyone’s a mouse, it’s surely Fanny Price.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 21 2014 01:00PM

The UK’s Independent newspaper just asked one hundred people working in the arts – writers, publishers, actors, directors – to pick their favorite literary characters. (Actually, I only count ninety-nine selectors, but never mind).

The choices range widely, from childhood favorites (Harriet the Spy and Anne of Green Gables are represented, along with British faves by Enid Blyton and Richmal Crompton), to books that just about every literate English-speaker has probably cracked open at some point (Great Expectations, Hamlet), to difficult modernist masterworks often left unfinished on the bedside table (Ulysses, The Magic Mountain).

Naturally, we Janeites are above such vulgar matters as noticing who won Most Mentions in a totally random newspaper survey, so this is just for the record: Jane Austen won. Nyah-nyah. Told you she was great.

Five Austen characters – one from each of the novels except Northanger Abbey – were chosen as favorites: Elizabeth Bennet (no surprise there), along with Emma Woodhouse, Elinor Dashwood, Anne Elliot and Mrs. Norris. (Once again, poor Fanny Price gets dissed in her own novel. And by evil Aunt Norris, no less.)

Austen edged out Dickens, with four nominations (three from Great Expectations, one from Oliver Twist); Philip Roth (three nominations, from three different novels); and Joseph Heller (three nominations, all from Catch-22). Seven other writers, all men, garnered two nominations apiece, and Flaubert’s Emma Bovary was picked twice, if you include all the selections of novelist David Mitchell, who insisted on choosing four beloved characters instead of just one.

Only 19 of the 83 authors represented on the list are female, as are only 27 of the 101 characters mentioned, which may tell us something about the patriarchal domination of English literature, both on and off the page. Incidentally, these statistics also tell us that Austen created 20 percent of the female characters singled out as favorites by the Independent's arty types.

But who’s counting?

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