Monday, November 21, 2005

Peter Drucker loves Jane Austen

On November 19th 2005 the Economist published an obituary for Peter Drucker. Amongst the extensive reviews of Drucker's thinking about Management Theory there is also this wonderful quote: "he preferred reading Jane Austen to doing multivariate analysis".

Jane Austen's cultural presence is pervasive today, yet she got off to a shaky start. Claire Tomalin's 'Jane Austen- a life' mentions in the Postscript that by the 1850s her work was appreciated only within 'a small circle of cultivated minds' (Jane Austen died, aged 41, on 18th July 1817). By the turn of the century, she was on the up, but the mass market for Austen had to wait until the mid-twentieth century.

Austen now seems to tower above other 19th century novelists. Still, many people find the old-fashioned, rather stately English a little impenetrable, while men in particular are inclined to write her work off as 'girlie'.

Taking the trouble to actually read and get into the stories is a revelation - Jane is a satirist! Her work mocks all those self-important and slow-witted individuals who populated the cultural wasteland she saw around her. There is a kind of wilful, intelligent fury which drives her work, which she mostly keeps under an iron discipline: Lady Susan being the exception.

Didn't anyone notice, you think, that she was subverting the establishment under the guise of describing it in miniature? The answer is that some did, and many did not. And Jane knows how to write, although her plotting is sometimes a bit awry, especially at the denouement - think 'Sense and Sensibility'.

We live in an age where disrespect is rampant, but where the intelligent disrespect called irony is also appreciated. Fertile ground for Jane Austen's real intent, even when all that rather well-done 'girlie' stuff has been discounted.

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