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No, Jane Austen isn’t getting canceled for drinking a nice cup of tea

We return now to the ongoing culture war. This time we will take a close look at the alleged cancellation of Jane Austen for the crime of drinking tea.

The whole controversy, such as it is, began with a wildly misleading story in The Telegraph last month declaring (in its headline) that “Jane Austen’s tea drinking will face ‘historical interrogation’ over slavery links.”

What is actually going on is that the staff of the Jane Austen’s House Museum in England announced hat they were going to make some changes to their exhibits to reflect the fact that Austen lived in a colonialist country in the age of slavery, and that she and her writings were affected by that. “The slave trade and the consequences of Regency-era Colonialism touched every family of means during the period,” the museum’s director told the Telegraph. “Jane Austen’s family were no exception.”

The director mentioned, as an example, that, as “purchasers of tea, sugar and cotton they were consumers of the products of the [slave] trade.” Which is, of course, true, just as it’s also true that buyers of iPhones are just a teensy bit complicit in modern-day slavery. .

But the issue is bigger than Austen’s love of tea. Her father was the trustee for an Antigua plantation owned by a university friend, thus tying him directly to slavery. Austen, for her part, was well aware of the evils of slavery and recent scholarship suggests that her novel Mansfield Park contained a subtle but very real protest against the peculiar institution.

But for whatever reason the Telegraph editors were fixated on the tea, reporting that Austen found tea to be “a comforting, refreshing, recuperative beverage” and that — quelle horreur! — [b]iographers have also claimed that Austen was the family’s tea buyer and would often buy tea from Twinings.”

This was all it took for the British tabloids to jump on the story and ramp up the manufactured outrage. The Express decried the museum’s alleged “woke madness” while the Daily Mail declared that news of “the museum’s plans have sparked a wave of backlash among Austen fans on social media,” by which they mean that they found a few quotable tweets on the subject to pass along to their readers.

Remember, the basic premise here is that the the folks running the Jane Austen’s House Museum — a museum for Jane Austen fans headed up by people we can only assume are huge Austen fans — were ready to “cancel” her over a cup of tea.

Ultimately, the Jane Austen’s House Museum put out a statement trying to correct the Telegraph and the tabloids.

The plans for refreshing the displays and decoration of Jane Austen’s House have been misrepresented. Jane Austen lived during the era of slavery and the Abolition by Britain of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in 1807. We are increasingly asked questions about this by our visitors and it is therefore appropriate that we share the information and research that already exists on her connections to slavery and its mention in her novels. This information is widely accessible in the public domain.

Then they dealt with the whole tea business:

We would like to offer reassurance that we will not, and have never had any intention to, interrogate Jane Austen, her characters or her readers for drinking tea.

And then they reminded the tabloids that, no, really, they are big fans of Austen, for real.

The overarching aim of this long-term process is to bring Jane Austen’s brilliance and the extraordinary flourishing of creativity she experienced at the House to the heart of every visit. … This will be part of a layered and nuanced presentation which will be based on long established, peer reviewed academic research, alongside Jane Austen’s own words and our collection. We firmly believe that placing Austen in the context of her time at her home will only make her genius shine more brightly.

This seemed to bring an end to the controversy, at least in the U.K., but here in the U.S. the conservative outlet The Federalist has grabbed onto it as part of its ongoing crusade against Critical Race Theory– although there is no evidence that the museum’s project has been influenced by the controversial and widely misrepresented doctrine.

The Federalist’s article is not only late to the party; it’s also the loopiest. Titled “Jane Austen Is The Latest Victim Of Upper-Class Whites’ Obsession With Race,” the piece begins with a sort of threat: “The woke may regret going after Jane Austen.”

Not that the woke have in fact gone after Jane Austen.

The Federalist’s Nathanael Blake describes the museum’s plans as an “attempted denigration of the great authoress,” and treats the museum’s statement correcting the record as a little more than an “excuse” and a sign that they are “backtracking” on their original plans.

The outcry induced the museum to quickly backtrack. It issued a statement protesting that it had been “misrepresented” and that its plans were meant to highlight “Jane Austen’s brilliance” and that “placing Austen in the context of her time at her home will only make her genius shine more brightly.” Even if one buys this excuse, it is nonsensical to evaluate Austen and her work by current American ideological fashions.

There is no reason to believe that the museum’s move to fill in the context in which Austen wrote are an “attempt to evaluate Austen according to the American upper class’s current racial obsessions.” It is an attempt to deal with her as a writer immersed in the issues of her own time.

But Blake has already declared a great victory, and so he celebrates. After a detour through a number of interminable paragraphs devoted not to Austen but to his own not-very-interesting thoughts on Black Lives Matter and critical tace theory, he sums up:

[T]he outcry over the Jane Austen museum shows how this toxic racial ideology may be beaten back. In a word, it is love. People who love Jane Austen do not want a museum dedicated to her to become one more source of insufferable Black Lives Matter posturing.

Indeed, he concludes, “his shows how to defeat this ideology elsewhere.”

Through lies and misrepresentations? Because that’s the technique that the anti-woke movement, such as it is, is already using. That’s how the whole faux conroversy happened in the first place. The right-wing assault on straw men (and straw women) continues. Sorry you had to get dragged into it, Jane.

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38 Comments
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jsrtheta
jsrtheta
1 year ago

This is nauseating. Any effort to place historical/literary figures within the proper context scares the bejeesus out of these false “Federalists”. It threatens their about their perfect world in which icky facts don’t exist and myths reign supreme.

Truth is their Kryptonite – utter it and watch them scatter.

Ninja Socialist
Ninja Socialist
1 year ago

I’m sick to death of these idiots and their whining, bad faith bs. How the hell is talking about slavery a toxic and radical ideology. Give me a break.

weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee

I’m looking forward to the wanna be macho men of the right suddenly performatively stanning Jane Austen.

Kat, ambassador, feminist revolution (in exile)
Kat, ambassador, feminist revolution (in exile)
1 year ago

Oh, what satirical fun Jane Austen would have if she were to pen a novel about these right-wingers!

Also, “authoress”? Nathanel Blake, you are adorable.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kat, ambassador, feminist revolution (in exile)
GSS ex-noob
GSS ex-noob
1 year ago

This was last month’s (I apologize in advance) tempest in a teacup. The Federalist is way behind on their pointless imaginary outrage.

Also, none of them have ever read any Jane Austen. Too girly.

Susan
Susan
1 year ago

He calls her an “authoress”? That is all you need to know about his alleged understanding of/appreciation for this great writer. Autrement dit, Bless his heart.

snowywolf
snowywolf
1 year ago

But for whatever reason the Telegraph editors were fixated on the tea

The man who wrote the telegraph story is british, so its obvious tea is his trigger. That and well it seems creating outrage about nothing is his cup of tea.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/authors/c/cp-ct/craig-simpson/

Actually as writers for the telegraph go he’s not as bad as some.

Daughter
Daughter
1 year ago

The Torygraph strikes again!

Mog
Mog
1 year ago

They really are Austen fans! They want us all to recreate the bit in Mansfield Park where Fanny tries to tries to talk about the slave-trade, and everyone else pretends they can’t hear anything.

The slave trade is mentioned, in passing but definitely critically, in the novels. Why wouldn’t it be mentioned in a museum devoted to the novels.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mog
Battering Lamb
Battering Lamb
1 year ago

I thought facts didn’t care about our feelings or something?

Buttercup Q. Skullpants
Buttercup Q. Skullpants
1 year ago

Instead of bronies, now we have White Knightleys clumsily trying to take over Jane Austen fandom. These same people are probably angry about her use of the word “prejudice”, because it makes them feel attacked.

Victorious Parasol
Victorious Parasol
1 year ago

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a foolish idea, must be in want of better things to do with his time.

Alan Robertshaw
1 year ago

Well Ms Austen herself was all for talking about slavery; so this is that she’d have wanted.

“Did you not hear me ask him about the slave trade last night?”

“I did – and was in hopes the question would be followed by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.”

“And I longed to do it – but there was such a dead silence!”

Alan Robertshaw
1 year ago

Jane does seem to engender a good controversy. Like when she went on the £10 note.

The right protested because she was a woman

https://slate.com/human-interest/2013/07/caroline-criado-perez-is-harassed-because-she-petitioned-to-have-jane-austen-on-the-10-pound-note.html

The left protested because she was white.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/so-you-think-jane-austen-bank-notes-would-be-progressive-we-can-do-better-8674928.html

Austen fans protested because of the inappropriate quote and portrait .

https://www.austenauthors.net/jane-austen-note-bill-10-pound/

And vegans protested because the notes contain animal fat.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/aug/10/bank-of-england-to-keep-animal-fat-in-banknotes-despite-complaints

As a writer it’s nice that she’s still giving other writers so much to write about.

Cygnia
1 year ago

Tempest in a teapot indeed!

Bookworm in hijab
Bookworm in hijab
1 year ago

I am ashamed proud resigned to admit that most of my Greats Of English Literature knowledge comes from reading Jasper Fforde’s novels.

Alan Robertshaw
1 year ago

@ POM

Don’t know if you’re lurking, but if so, saw this and thought it might be of interest to you.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/may/19/why-are-our-cities-built-for-6ft-tall-men-the-female-architects-who-fought-back

Kevin
Kevin
1 year ago

Good old Auntie Jane. Still stirring the pot, as it were, after all these years. Now to brew myself a cuppa.

Chris Oakley
1 year ago

@Kevin:

I’m more of a coffee guy myself.

Moggie
Moggie
1 year ago

@Buttercup:

Instead of bronies, now we have White Knightleys clumsily trying to take over Jane Austen fandom. These same people are probably angry about her use of the word “prejudice”, because it makes them feel attacked.

That’s not a comparison I’d have thought of! I wonder what Janecon would be like in that scenario? Probably loads of merch stands with problematic Lydia Bennet body pillows.

Also, let me nth the distaste at “authoress”. Maybe you could get away with using this when writing about, say, George Eliot, to emphasise her non-dudeness, but even that’s doubtful.

Waywatcher of the green
Waywatcher of the green
1 year ago

My country’s media is so exhausting depressing, its centuries long percolating of Anglo british nationalism into the national discourse is one of the main reasons we’re stuck with endless Toryism on this side of the channel. Also the absurd self destructive nativist paroxysm of brexit.
How are we supposed to change anything for the better when one half of the political spectrum seems to be completely incapable of making a good faith argument?

A Distracted Medievalist
A Distracted Medievalist
1 year ago

I can see John Thorpe in NA as a Manosphere/alt-right type. Casual misogyny, uninformed sneering at women’s cultural preferences, forever banging on about things he doesn’t understand and how everyone else sucks. All to cover up being insecure and too awkward to tell Catherine he likes her.

Banananananana dakry: still fat and deranged
Banananananana dakry: still fat and deranged
1 year ago

@Waywatcher
How are we supposed to change anything for the better when one half of the political spectrum seems to be completely incapable of making a good faith argument?

The cold comfort is, for what it’s worth, we on the other side of the pond have precisely the same problem. If the GOP ever knew the meaning of the phrase “good faith argument,” they forgot it long ago.

1Q84
1Q84
1 year ago

To be a “conservative” is to be an ignorant, racist, sexist, homophobic oaf (even if one is actually a member of one or more of those categories) who is doomed to never enjoy anything, but only drink bitterness and hatred and pretend it’s divine.
Why do they do it? They clearly enjoy not a second of it.

Iain Lovejoy
Iain Lovejoy
1 year ago

Jayne Austen does seem to have been something of an abolitionist:
https://consideringausten.wordpress.com/austen-and-antigua-slavery-in-her-time/

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