I don’t often raise my blood pressure reading fings wot people say on the interweb but this week my curiosity was piqued by a You-tube clip headed Reflections on Austen featuring Fran Lebowitz, oft-quoted American writer, photographer, friend of Warhol, lover of Sontag etc etc.  As ever Lebowitz made some pithy comments, commencing with the notion that many readers, including those in Hollywood, love Our Jane for ‘the wrong reasons’ i.e. not for her social satire, ‘corrosive irony’ and feminist wit but for the bonnets, frocks and weddings.  Austen is popular, says Fran, because of her adolescent appeal, ‘the worst kind of girlishness.’
As a literati, Lebowitz’s role is to challenge and promote debate so I was intrigued to find out what reactions she’d provoked. I was even tempted to add my thoughts on J.A. working on different levels at different phases in the reader’s life, on her genius in combing truth-saying with best-selling.  I clicked ‘Comments’.  Big mistake. An hour later I am very cross and railing against the way in which the internet gives any fool licence to pronounce and pontificate ( yeah and even blog….).
First we get the usual crop of morons who don’t know who Fran Lebowitz is and are, I suspect, a bit hazy about Jane Austen.  There’s insightful literary analysis from a bloke called James who’s probably stuck in traffic on his Blackberry – ‘Mostly bullshit mixed with platitudes.’  Deep. Then there’s Susan, the indignant, ‘I don’t give a flying bleep about what whomever this Fran is thinks or doesn’t think. It isn’t important to me.’  Try ignoring it, Sue.
Next come the intelligentsia who feel it necessary to show off and say ‘I have read all Jane Austen’s books and…’ Yeah all six of them. Mary Beth admired her ‘whit and the way she shows us diferent cultures of the historical time,’ while Mary Anne thinks ‘Austen is awesome…Why does everything have to be over thought?’ No danger of that with you, Mary Anne.
Other irate readers swiped at Lebowitz’s ‘arrogance’, her delusion that only she knows the right reasons for liking Austen, and, inevitably, her dress sense and sexuality – Diane: ‘Only the smart girls who wear no makeup and men’s suit coats, who appreciate Austen for the “right” reasons, are allowed?’  Debbie railed at Lebowitz’s ‘lesbian uniform’, failing to realise that Lebowitz invented the look so maybe it’s uniform for other lesbians but for Fran it’s just what she wears. (OK so be-suited, wild-haired Lebowitz did look a bit like Tiny Tim after a particularly hard night tiptoeing through the tulips but that doesn’t invalidate her opinion any more than modelling a froufrou mini-dress would.)
Ruth’n’Pieters, a happy duo presumably, berated Lebowitz for her soulless lack of romance – ‘hasn’t she ever been in love?’ Haven’t they ever seen Leibowitz’s moving photographic elegy to Susan Sontag chronicling her death from cancer?
Let’s give the last word to a Robin Williams – ‘Is she hating on Jane? Omg how stupid!’, and Jane herself – ‘The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not had the pleasure of a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.’* The reverse obviously doesn’t apply but we’ll forgive Austen – she’d never been on facebook.
Ardella Jones
* Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey
Fran Lebowitz Reflections on Austen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujjJlT9cCts