The intemperate letter by Carol Elliott (Book Review, Aug. 11) demands a reply. In defending Jane Austen she was performing a worthwhile service, as all right-thinking persons will surely agree. However, her castle of defense was built almost entirely upon sand.
" 'Tee hee! She's an old maid!' is the substance of many male assessments of Jane Austen's genius, whose readers are slurred as Janeites, " Elliott writes (emphasis mine). On this point, she is 100% wrong. Janeite is an ancient and honorable term denoting an ardent admirer of Jane Austen. In the proof that I herewith submit, be it noted that the early admirers cited were males--two of them authors otherwise noted for celebrating macho-type adventures.
The proof is found in "Long, Long Ago," a book by Alexander Woollcott (Viking, 1943). "The first notable Janeite was Sir Walter Scott, whose diary for March 14, 1826, contains this entry: 'Read again, for the third time at least, Miss Austen's finely written novel of "Pride and Prejudice." That young lady has a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with.' " Again, "I myself (Woollcott) have been a faithful Janeite for 30 years and in that period have read through the entire shelf about 15 times." Finally, "We Janeites were so named by the greatest of us all, Rudyard Kipling."
THEODORE H. JOHNSON