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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Death of an unabashed Janeite

Martin Amis’ death last month at the age of seventy-three didn’t hit me as hard as it did the legions of bookish lads who fell for his writing back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. As blog readers may recall, I was never an Amis fan.

Still, though I avoided his novels, I retained a soft spot for the man himself, solely because of his unabashed love of Jane Austen. Back in 2014, he told the Guardian that a timely dose of Pride and Prejudice, administered by his stepmother, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, had rescued him from aimless, unhappy adolescent drifting.

In his adult years, Amis retained his love of Austen. In 1995, the New Yorker published his detailed, if sometimes tendentious, review of the BBC’s iconic adaptation of P&P; in 2009, his essay on the novel was included in A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen.

Still, it’s the story of Amis’ first encounter with the book that most perfectly captures the hold that Austen has over those of us who love her – what Amis called, in a reminiscence published after Howard’s death, “the reader’s abnormally fierce desire for a happy ending.” It's also a story that touchingly sketches the bond between teen-age boy and literary stepmother.

“After an hour or so I went and knocked on the door of Jane [Howard]’s study,” Amis wrote. “ ‘Yes?’ she said, leaning back from her desk. ‘I’ve got to know,’ I said. ‘Does Elizabeth marry Mr. Darcy?’ She hesitated, looking stern, and I expected her to say, ‘Well you’ll have to finish it and find out.’ But she relented (and in addition she put my troubled mind at rest about Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley).”

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