D.A. Miller: Jane Austen or the Secret of Style

I do not own this image, I only added the text.
I decided to read this book as part of Austen in August, as well as my personal project (rather, attempt) to read more literary criticism. I think this is my first *official* lit crit book, so bear in mind that this review pours from the inexperienced pen of a half-formed Reader. Still, I criticize. I may be in a particularly snarky mood today, as well.

Miller makes some interesting observations about Austen’s narration and use of free indirect speech to create an extraterritoriality for herself as narrator (or rather No One as narrator, for Miller’s argument is that Austen Style has no gender, status, or any other ontological marker), thus becoming  god-like universal entity with the ability to criticize and see beyond her characters. However, I didn’t entirely enjoy this book or agree with everything Miller said about Austen. Neither did I trust this author or find him a pleasant figure (I believe the former, at least, is an important factor in reading). On the contrary, as much as Austen (as he himself argues) excludes herself from her narration, Miller wants to inject his ego into everything he writes. Even the damn footnotes!

My second major criticism is that even as Miller stresses Austen’s cathexis of Emma as the fulfillment of her own desirous “Personhood”, he ironically displays his own cathexis of Austen’s spinsterhood. He obsessively tries to read it into the narration of Persuasion, as if Austen couldn’t be a single woman and not desire the matrimony she bestows on her characters!

Overall, I found Part Two of this book the most interesting, insightful and least problematic. I can only describe Part One as strange and even unnecessary. While I found Miller’s analysis of Robert Ferrars’s “non-heterosexuality” curious, I did not see the need for the comments on male Austen readers hiding their homosexuality. I even checked the publication date. 2003. Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I’d like to think by that time people stopped dubbing male Austen readership as gay (publicly, at least). Did I read Miller wrong?

And Part Three brutally unveiled Austen’s deterioration of style in Sanditon and fell into pinning the badges of spinsterhood and oncoming death onto the author previously likened to god. All this while devoting a good page or two to Miller’s appraisal or his own style and literary perfectionism.

Despite all, I would be lying if I said I did not learn much from this book or even enjoy various parts of it. I am equally interested in finishing up Tomalin’s biography of Austen & comparing whether her assessment of the Woman validates Miller’s claims about the Author.

3h

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