The Unfathomable Miss Austen

Gentle Reader, I am in the beginning throes of a project about Miss Austen and Mrs. Gaskell, my two favorite writers from the nineteenth century.  This project requires me to read Every. Bloody. Thing. Ever. Written. about both of the writers, as well as to travel to England to get a sense of place and space.  In preparing for this trip, however, and reading said Every. Bloody. Thing. Ever. Written., I have been thinking, not surprisingly, about writing.

What makes an author timeless?  What makes a work Capital “L” Literature?  A question I ask my students in every literature class.  Why are we still adapting and rewriting Austen and Gaskell today (Austen, admittedly, moreso than my beloved Mrs. Gaskell)?  Even farther and even faster, William Shakespeare, Beowulf, and other tales of wonder and splendor.

Why do we cling to fragments and failures?  There are entire books dedicated to ephemera by both of these women: letters, scraps, ideologies.  I have made my life’s work about the seemingly meaningless: fashion and culture in nineteenth-century literary works.  I have examined bits and pieces of lives over the past two hundred years, to discuss fictional women’s fictional clothing, written by dead women no one hardly reads.

Why do we blog?  Or Tweet?  Or Facebook?  Why are we so insistent on saving these bits and scraps of thoughts and lives?  What do blogs and tweets and Facebook posts–letters, ephemera, of the digital kind–add to the literary marketplace?  The milieu around us?

Why did I need to put these thoughts down not on paper, but in digital form, for you, Gentle Reader, to find and digest?

Fragments of thoughts on a rather fragmented, cold day.


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