Monday, October 22, 2007

Jane and Ursula

Over the weekend I saw the movie The Jane Austen Book Club, which is based on Karen Joy Fowler's novel of the same name. The only man in the book club, which is "all Austen all the time," spends a lot of effort trying to get the woman he's interested in to read Ursula LeGuin. She, like so many misguided people, looks down on science fiction. But eventually she reads The Left Hand of Darkness and The Lathe of Heaven and loves both of them (plus him).

Austen and LeGuin are two of my very favorite authors. Their pairing at first seems odd: What could Jane's world have in common with the hermaphroditic, dour society of LeGuin's planet Winter? But I think for me the attraction lies in the fact that both writers are realists, not romantics. Austen knows that her heroines face limited options, that a happy life requires at least a minimal income, and that you can't always get what you want (Marianne Dashwood doesn't get Willoughby; Edmond Bertram doesn't get Mary; Catherine Moreland is disappointed in Isabella's friendship). LeGuin knows that, too. Genly Ai pays a price for his year on Winter (alienation from his own kind, nearly freezing, the death of Estraven) and at the end there's no guarantee that Winter will join the Ekumen or that things will improve for the oppressed citizens of Orgoreyn. Austen is clearly more light-hearted than LeGuin (it's hard to be light-hearted about freezing to death), but Austen, too is a realist. They both deal in emotion as strong as any of the Romantic writers, but emotion doesn't conquer all; conscious choices do, backed by effort.

Also, they both write like angels. And the movie's good, too.


bluesman miike Lindner said...

Nancy, here's an ah-deer. Perhaps you rate Ursula and Jane as highly as you do because they are =women= writers. Yow! Put that laser pistol down...please. But I'd bet big mucho plenty, women see things in another woman's writing men don't notice. The way men haven't a clue about womens' interaction in a social setting.

Make any sense?

Nancy Kress said...

Well, you ARE opening a can of worms! But I also like Somerset Maugham, Gene Wolfe, and Michael swanwick, to name just three wildly diverse male writers.

none said...

I was disappointed in "The Jane Austen Book Club", which I bought for the title alone. When I opened it, I was amazed at how much big type and white space had been used to make it appear a decent length. Had it been that length, the love affair might have convinced me; it didn't, unfortunately. The whole book felt superficial.

I read commentary on "The Left Hand of Darkness" long before I read the book, and I suppose that may have coloured my expectations, as it wasn't as good as I hoped it would be. I prefer "The Dispossessed", but I also sometimes wonder if Le Guin doesn't shine most brightly in her short stories. I would love to have a big fat collection of them, a log fire, and endless time....

Austen kills me with the swipes she takes at her characters, who somehow manage to avoid becoming caricatures. So funny.

Steven Francis Murphy said...

Nancy doesn't use lasers.

Nancy uses tanglefoam and nervewash. :)

I've mixed feelings on LeGuin (TLHD isn't my favorite) but I liked The Dispossessed and Lathe of Heaven.

Oh, and I like Nancy's stuff. Obviously.

S. F. Murphy

Miggy said...

Hey bluesman. You sound like a Tom Clancy reading, lumberjack wearing, spittoon spitting, only good for opening pickle jars, Jeff Foxworthy kind of guy. Put that sledgehammer down...please. If Nancy reviewed a new film by a male writer with a (hard to believe, I know) male protagonist, and then compared that male writer to another male writer, would that make that review male centrist?

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

To open the can of worms even farther, I think Bluesman's comment and Nancy's answer point out something. It's a generalization, it's true, but I think it's valid. Women readers and women movie-goers tend to be wider in their ranges than men. It's easier to find a woman who reads Jane Austen and John Gresham than a man who reads both. Women will go see OCEANS 11, 12, & 13 and SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. If a guy goes to see a romantic comedy, it's often because he's hoping it will put his partner in the mood.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Miggy, I was asking what I thought was a legit question. Nancy didn't take offense. Why did you?