The Morgan Library and Museum: The divine Jane

If you are really a truth-teller you’d better be funny. (Fran Lebowitz)

Jane Austen's desk with quill

Austen's desk, Chawton. (Courtesy: Monster @

The Morgan Library and Museum, in New York City, is currently running (as I write, that is) an exhibition titled A woman’s wit: Jane Austen’s life and legacy (November 9, 2009 to March 14, 2010) which displays their collection of Austen letters and manuscripts. Accompanying the exhibition are some videos. I’m not sure how long they will be maintained by The Morgan, but I will post links here. If they break, well then, I’ll remove them.

The main video is The divine Jane: Reflections on Austen – click here. It runs for about 16mins and comprises comments from 6 writers, philosophers or actors on their response to Austen, particularly but not only in relation to seeing the Morgan’s Austen collection. The people are (and I’ve attached links to their individual videos) :

Fran Lebowitz doesn’t beat about the bush and is well worth watching. You can quickly see why she likes Austen! I like her statement on why some works date and others don’t (from the main video):

Any artist who has that quality of timelessness has that quality because they tell the truth. Jane Austen’s 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.

Her argument is that those works which date do so because “their ideas are wrong” not because the details date. All details date she says. In her individual video she says that “I don’t think Jane Austen is popular for the right reasons”. Now there’s something we could all discuss!


5 Responses to The Morgan Library and Museum: The divine Jane

  1. jaterry1 says:

    Virginia Woolf’s astute comment that Jane is ‘difficult to catch in the act of greatness’ sums up her genius.We often, in a first reading, miss the subtleties of her wit which, of course, is the reason we all read and reread and continue to enjoy the six novels as well as the Juvenilia and the unfinished later novels.

    I also enjoyed Toibin’s reference to her demonstrating ‘the inwardness of good behaviour’ – think of the Misses Steele and their superficiality and their fawning on those who can, and do, patronise them. There is no inwardness of good behaviour there, only sheer cunning and avarice though I suppose we must make allowances for two penniless, young women whose lives and lifestyles are rather precarious. Who knows how much inwardness of good behaviour we would acquire if we had to live by their wits as they have to do.

    There is much meat for thought in this film of interviews and it will be of considerble use to me in preparing for our study of ‘Mansfield Park’.

  2. They’re great videos aren’t they. I’ve not watched to them all yet but Siri Hustvedt, herself a novelist and so charming, describes JA’s writing as “no fat, swift and lean” she says. I think we can come back to them several times.

  3. juliae says:

    I enjoyed this very much as well … thanks, Sue, for bringing it to our attention. As far as

    • juliae says:

      the inwardness of good behaviour goes, we can look at the Bertram daughters: they had every advantage (unlike the Steeles) but no real sense of good and virtuous behaviour.
      Colm Toibin’s reflections on writing in general also absorbed me.
      I also enjoyed looking at the rest of the site, and was interested to be informed that the MS of Lady Susan, which the Morgan also possesses, is the only surviving complete JA MS.

  4. What a shame New York is so far away, eh? I love the range of writers they got to comment. I feel quite inspired now to read Siri Hustvedt …

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