In The Divine Jane, Fran Lebowitz says, “Any artist who has that quality of timelessness has that quality because they tell the truth. Obviously, details change. . . . Her perceptions don’t date because they are correct. And they will remain that way until human beings improve themselves intrinsically; and this will not happen.”
Witness Sir Walter and Miss Elliot confronting their financial situation at the beginning of Persuasion: “. . . he had gone so far even as to say, ‘Can we retrench? does it occur to you that there is any one article in which we can retrench?’—and Elizabeth, to do her justice, had, in the first ardor of female alarm, set seriously to think what could be done, and had finally proposed these two branches of economy: to cut off some unnecessary charities, and to refrain from new-furnishing the drawing-room; to which expedients she afterwards added the happy thought of their taking no present down to Anne, as had been the usual yearly custom.”
Oh yes, Jane knew what happens when people who have a lot have to face having less.
Do our times make us hunger for truth? Escaping the truth? Both? Lately I’ve read some interesting articles on desire for truth: truth in the bodies of models who walk the catwalk, the eroding and perhaps gone-forever truth of our photographs, the uncanny valley of avatars who look so like the humans (or monkeys) that they are not. Escapism is thriving too, of course—”reality shows,” alcohol sales, zombies, Mafia Wars, and Farmville, to name a few.
I like reading fiction because it’s easier than non-fiction. In non-fiction, you have to always be evaluating what the author says: is this true? Or does the author have some agenda? But in fiction, you just know whether it’s true: if it isn’t, something cracks, and you put the book down. Or did Jane actually teach me what is true in human relationships? This is possible. And in fiction there is of course the element of escapism: the characters seem to have so much time, and servants, and barouche-landaus. Their problems do not affect your life (except in certain modern adaptations.) The problems of non-fiction are all too depressingly real.
Do you read Jane Austen to find truth or to escape reality? Or both?
Photo credit: ©2009 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.