Austen lovers and haters

In his 1954 essay “Mansfield Park,” Lionel Trilling, one of the 20th-century’s greatest public intellectuals and literary critics, writes:

Few writers have been the object of an admiration so fervent as that which is given to Jane Austen. At the same time, she had been the object of great dislike. Lord David Cecil has said that the people who do not like Jane Austen are the kind of people “who do not like sunshine and unselfishness,” and Dr. Chapman, the distinguished editor of Jane Austen’s novels and letters, although dissenting from Lord David’s opinion, has speculated that perhaps “a certain lack of charity” plays a part in the dislike. But Mark Twain, to take but one example, manifestly did not lack charity or dislike sunshine and unselfishness, and Mark Twain said of Jane Austen that she inspired in him an “animal repugnance.” The personal intensity of both parties to the dispute will serve to suggest how momentous, how elemental, is the issue that Jane Austen presents.

— The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent: Select Essays


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