The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature by Elizabeth Kantor, Ph.D.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature

by Elizabeth Kantor, Ph.D.

When my brother first gave me this book in the PIG series, I had little suspicion that I would be tempted to review it for this publication. The time given to Austen, however, and the strong sense of the writer that Austen, and the great literature of which she is a part, is key to civilization, merits at least a cursory review here. The premise of this work is, essentially, that many leftist centers of higher learning have eschewed the teaching of canon literature in favor of theory-based “readings” that, when all is said and done, demean the works of literature that come from patriarchal, racist, homophobic, and otherwise problematic eras and cultures. Dr. Kantor argues that theory-based instruction robs students not only of the pleasure of reading the stories on which Western civilization was founded, but also of the “moral education” we so desperately need.

Jane Austen gets a lot of space in this book. Kantor blasts the often-touted claim among people who simply don’t understand what Austen is saying, that the patriarchal system is what oppresses women, who need to break free from it. As we know, Austen was a religious Tory, a person who valued order and making the best use of the system to find true happiness. She mocks ridiculousness and smallness of moral stature in individuals, but she does not mock the system that holds this society together. Kantor persuasively argues, in fact, that, in Austen’s works, the “chief causes of women’s unhappiness” are “the failure of female self-control, on the one hand, and men’s abdication of their proper responsibilities, on the other.”

Kantor offers fresh and compelling evidence for her views about Austen’s perspective, and, to the delight of Janeites everywhere, regardless of political standpoint, uses Austen as a touchstone for moral education throughout the text. The conclusion of the book, which offers both an easy-to-digest review of the “greats” in English and several strategies for how to engage in literary analysis despite the current focus in education on “contextualizing,” is a fitting return to Austen. Kantor encourages us to gossip with our friends about the characters we meet in novels and plays we share, and to treat these characters “as if they were real people”—because “that’s just what Jane Austen did.” Good enough reason for me.

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Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 9:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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