Beginning this week of guest posts, we are most pleased to introduce Ben H. Winters. He has arisen from Sub-Station Beta to entertain and delight our readership with a few words on Jane Austen and her influence. Prithee, give Mr. Winters a gracious welcome as befits his station to the Dark Jane Austen Book Club!
If you have not procured a copy of this lovely book, read through the post for a chance to win a copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters!
The whole bit of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, of course, was about contrast: the contrast between the restrained lives of the characters, bounded as they are by the limits of drawing-room decorum, and the outrageous action/adventure material of man-eating jellyfish and bloodthirsty pirates. And also the contrast between my own winking, contemporary sensibility with the (perceived) fussiness and old-fashioned humorlessness of the original.
But that perceived contrast, between funny/silly and serious/canonical, is ultimately illusory. Those of us who know and love Ms. Austen understand that she is anything but humorless. In fact, what I love best about her is how funny she is– and if I can risk a pun (as the guy who took her first masterpiece and placed it fathoms beneath the sea) what I am particularly drawn to is the dryness of her wit.
Austen does not employ a wild Dickensian wit, holding up a funhouse mirror to the human condition, so the eccentrics have named Quilch and Tipplewit and so on, and the villains have hunchbacks and go around wringing their sweaty, evil hands. Austen’s wit is careful, even, and understated: it is enough to show us the true and amusing thing, and unnecessary to beat us about the head with it.
Marianne strenuously avows that she could never marry Colonel Brandon because of his incredible ancientness. He’s, what, twenty-five? This is funny.
Mrs. Palmer is chatty and trivial, while Mr. Palmer is gruff and unaffectionate. What Mrs. Palmer labels “droll,” the reader—and Elinor, our sensible heroine—recognizes as plain distaste for his wife, her friends, and everybody else in the universe. This, too, is funny, and every time those Palmers show up, we know we’re in for the next sly iteration of the joke.
Far from being old-fashioned, Austen’s sense of humor is of the most durable kind: dependent not on temporal in-jokes or elaborate setups, but on a deep understanding of human nature. (For a counterexample, watch a rerun of Seinfeld , which seemed so funny just a decade ago, and try to find something worth laughing out loud over). Austen is matched in this capacity by a few other canonical authors — George Eliot is my current favorite — but never surpassed.
Mandatory entry: please leave a comment on this post expressing how Austen has influenced you, your thoughts on adding monsters to Austen, or perhaps, a brief note of encouragement for our guest poster.
Bonus entries: Additonal entries can also be claimed, please leave a SEPARATE COMMENT for each entry! You may have a total of 5 possible entries!
- Join the Dark Jane Austen Book Club site(you will have access to additional materials and discussions and it’s free!)
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- Tweet the following: I plumbed the watery depths to win SSSM from #DJABC and @DarkJaneAusten and @BenHWinters!
Ben H. Winters is the author of numerous books for children and adults, including Bedbugs, the New-York-Times-bestseller Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the Edgar-award-nominated middle-grade novel The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman. He’s at BenHWinters.com
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters giveaway graciously provided by Quirk Books.