Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education a rather hyper-sensitive blogger seeks to take the Alt Right to task. But not for the usual reasons.
You see, this time it has to do with appropriation, no not of internet memes or 80s New Wave bands, instead it focus on a famous English author: Jane Austen. It seems as if The Chronicle blogger has uncovered a nefarious scheme of internet racists who are using Jane Austen to further their “White supremacist” agenda of crafting an “ethnostate”.
From The Chronicle:
This view of Austen as an avatar of a superior bygone era is linked not only with fantasies of female retreat from the sexual whirl, but also with calls for white separatism. On the popular blog of the alt-right publisher Counter-Currents, the world of Austen’s novels is extolled as a prototype for the “racial dictatorship” of tomorrow. One commenter wrote, “If, after the ethnostate is created, we revert back to an Austen-like world, we males ought to endure severe sacrifices as well. … If traditional marriage à la P&P [Pride and Prejudice] is going to be imposed, again, in an ethnostate, we must behave like gentlemen.”
Yet if shared heritage is the key to incentivizing gentlemanly comportment, why are there so many cads in Austen’s world? Also, Austen’s protagonists express little of the populist boosterism and preoccupation with ethnic heritage that foster an ethnostate. Fervent patriotism is invoked sardonically rather than earnestly proclaimed: Upon his first visit to his father’s estate in the small town of Highbury, Frank Churchill archly states that he will prove that he “belong[s] to the place” and is a “true citizen.” Emma playfully replies, “I do admire your patriotism,” and Churchill parries by saying that Emma has witnessed “the very moment of this burst of my amor patriae.”
Other alt-right partisans pay backhanded compliments by emphasizing Austen’s singularity as a celebrated female novelist. In a post that debuted in 2012 on Alternative Right and has since been lauded as an alt-right “classic,” the “manosphere” blogger Matt Forney mentioned Austen as an outlier from the norm of female mediocrity: “Virtually all great leaders, thinkers and artists were men. Aristotle, Galileo, Michaelangelo [sic], Napoleon: all men. Not to say that all women are incapable of artistic, scientific or military talent; every so often, we get a Marie Curie, a Jane Austen or a Joan of Arc.” Here the alt-right finds common ground with the literary gatekeeper Harold Bloom; in his best seller The Western Canon (1994), Austen is one of four women on a list of 26 most influential authors. According to this formulation, Austen is not a trailblazer for the female authors who followed in her wake, but rather a rebuke to women who have not reached her level of achievement.
What an intensive conspiracy. In fact, it’s fevered anger like this that brings to mind one of Austen’s earlier novels, Northanger Abbey which plays which pokes fun at the popularity of “gothic” novels its time by having its protagonist see murder and danger around every corner, much the same way progressive bloggers vent about the comment sections of Alt Right articles.
Indeed, the Jane Austen outrage didn’t just stop with The Chronicle but has now penetrated into other elite purveyors of liberal discourse via The New York Times and The Paris Review.
From The Times article “Jane Austen Has Alt-Right Fans? Heavens to Darcy!”:
But it has prompted the most sustained chatter among Austen scholars, a more reliably liberal bunch who, like Ms. Wright, emphatically reject white nationalist readings of her novels.
“No one who reads Jane Austen’s words with any attention and reflection can possibly be alt-right,” Elaine Bander, a retired professor and a former officer of the Jane Austen Society of North America, said in an email.
“All the Janeites I know,” she added, “are rational, compassionate, liberal-minded people.”
That’s right! Rational, liberal minded people! We all know those Alt-Right buffoons aren’t reading books. Just look at how few references to Harry Potter they make!
In recent years, scholars have tried to find diversity in the seemingly all-white world of Austen, digging into subjects like Miss Lambe, a character in her unfinished final novel, “Sanditon,” described as a “half mulatto” heiress from the West Indies. (Yes, there is a scholarly paper with the title “The Silence of Miss Lambe.”)
But Ms. Wells said scholars teaching Austen at schools with “substantially multicultural students” still wrestled with a truth that must, perhaps, be uncomfortably acknowledged.
“Her characters are white, and her world is white,” she said. “What do you do with that?”
Of course Jane Austen comes out of a White world. This is why the commentary on the original Counter Currents article were so relevant. Because Jane Austen as a European writer speaks to peculiar conditions of European man, the same way Langston Hughes and Chaim Potok speak to their respective black and Jewish readers. All of Austen’s work takes place in a world where European identity, and in particular, regency English countryside identity, were presupposed.
The Paris Review, not to be out done, rehashes many of the same points, but includes the fact that we have also appropriated Barbour jackets (welcome news to me!):
First the white nationalists took that haircut—you know the one, an arty variant on the Marine’s high-and-tight buzz, endemic to white guys in gentrifying neighborhoods circa 2013. Then the white nationalists took Barbour field jackets, depriving a whole generation of the joys of waxed canvas. Now the white nationalists have come for Jane Austen, in whom they mistakenly see a love of tradition, and it is up to us to say: enough. Let them claim some other, lesser Regency writer—an E. T. A. Hoffmann, maybe, or even a Sir Walter Scott—and leave us to read Persuasion in peace, the animals. Jennifer Schuessler writes, “Some alt-right admirers hail Austen’s novels as blueprints for a white nationalist ‘ethno-state.’ Others cite her as a rare example of female greatness … A post on the website Counter Currents called ‘The Woman Question in White Nationalism,’ for example, includes a string of comments debating how the vision of marriage in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice fit with the ‘racial dictatorship’ necessary to preserve Western civilization. ‘If traditional marriage à la P&P is going to be imposed, again, in an ethnostate, we must behave like gentlemen,’ one commenter wrote.”
This kvetching brings to mind a line from Whit “WASP Woody Allen” Stillman’s movie Metropolitan, which has its earnest young socialist protagonist Tom Townsend debate the merits of Jane Austen with conservative young debutante’ Audrey Rouget. Upon pronouncing the concerns of Austen to be ridiculous for our times, Rouget caustically responds with “Has it ever occurred to you that today from Jane Austen’s perspective would look even worse?”
No one knows this better than the Alt Right.
“Has it ever occurred to you that today from Jane Austen’s perspective would look even worse?” https://t.co/eTZ0jAPEup
— Richard ? Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) March 13, 2017