Poor, Unpublishable Jane Austen

Yet another why-don’t-publishers-recognize-good-writing story (“The author and the Austen plot that exposed publishers’ pride and prejudice,” by Steven Morris, The Guardian). I’m shocked, shocked that contemporary publishers don’t want to publish something that seems as if it was written 200 years ago. Even if they didn’t recognize that it was Jane Austen, they may have realized that it was Jane Austen-like, and therefore something that had already been done.

(And they may not have recognized it because the people who open the mail are probably 22 years old. But anyway, is it truly a crime if people haven’t read Jane Austen? If so, I guess the police are coming for me — I always preferred Dickens.)

I’d write more, but I think the best response was written by Grumpy Old Bookman (“Notes from a long weekend“):

Ho hum. This is, frankly, very boring. The last time someone did this, I wrote about it at excessive length, giving, in a footnote, full details of several other occasions on which exactly the same thing was done with the same results.

This time I think I’m going to ignore it.

If you follow the link to his earlier post, he does indeed go on at some length, entertainingly (and, of course, grumpily), about why the story doesn’t matter — and why it says more about newspapers’ need for recyclable stories:

Well, we could go on all day about this. But let me say that my sympathies are entirely with the agents and publishers whose time was wasted in this futile exercise. Secondly, I want to make it clear that the experiment does tell us some useful and interesting things about publishing, but not the things that the Sunday Times reporters seem to think it does.

One last thought: if we had a time-travel machine and took a handwritten manuscript of, oh, say, The Road, to Jane Austen’s publisher, would we expect him to recognize the book’s timeless qualities and rush it into print? Or to reject it as being an odd thing not quite right for the tastes of the times? We still read Austen because her books are a part of literary history, not because it speaks to our psyches better than contemporary fiction does.



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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