On Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen and the Masturbating Critic

By Adam Roberts

CONSTANCE READER: And let me begin by saying that I do not merely like Jane Austen’s books. No, I love Jane Austen. I know all of her novels, and I reread them regularly. Indeed, reading is one of my chief pastimes. I have many favorite authors, but Jane occupies a special place in my affections.

PROFESSOR ACADEMICUS: I am pleased to hear it, madam. As a salaried university professor of English Literature, I have built my reputation as a scholar of the early years of the nineteenth century, with a number of articles and monographs on Austen’s novels. I share your approbation of her writing.

CONSTANCE READER: And there, sir, is precisely my problem. I do not believe that you, and your kind–

PROFESSOR ACADEMICUS: My kind? Madam! What do you mean?

CONSTANCE READER: I mean the type or species of academic critic–I cannot believe that any of you truly understand what it is about Austen that makes her worthy of her readers’ love. I know what I love about her writing.

PROFESSOR ACADEMICUS: And what is that?

CONSTANCE READER: I love her portrayal of love. All of her novels tell the same story, all follow the same broad narrative arc, and this is a plot that speaks to one of the deep human narrative needs: girl meets boy, an obstacle is placed in the way of the love between girl and boy, the obstacle is overcome, girl marries boy and everybody lives happily ever after. Ten thousand such love stories (“romances”) are produced  …

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