Jane Sighting – The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon ReaderThe Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

“The librarian at Windsor had been one of the many who had urged on Her Majesty the charms of Jane Austen, but being told on all sides how much ma’am would like her books put ma’am off altogether. Besides, she had handicaps as a reader of Jane Austen that were peculiarly her own. The essence of Jane Austen lies in minute social distinctions, distinctions which the Queen’s unique position made it difficult for her to grasp. There was such a chasm between the monarch and even her grandest subject that the social differences beyond that were somewhat telescoped. So the social distinctions of which Jane Austen made so much seemed of even less consequence to the Queen then they did to the ordinary reader, thus making the novels much harder going. To begin with, at any rate, Jane Austen was practically a work of entomology, the characters not quite ants by seeming to the royal reader to much alike as to require a microscope. It was only as she gained in understanding of both literature and human nature that they took on individuality and charm.

Feminism, too, got short shrift, at least to begin with and for the same reason, the separations of gender like the differences of class as nothing compared with the gulf that separated the Queen from the rest of humanity.

But whether it was Jane Austen or feminism or even Dostoevsky, the Queen eventually got around to it and to much else besides, but never without regret. Years ago she had sat next to Lord David Cecil at a dinner in Oxford and had been at a loss for conversation. He, she found, had written books on Jane Austen and lots besides, and these days she would have relished the encounter. But Lord David was dead and so it was too late. Too late. It was all too late. But she went on, determined as ever and always trying to catch up (74-5).”

Lord David Cecil’s books on Jane Austen
– Jane Austen (1936)
– A Portrait of Jane Austen (1978)

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