Jane Austen and Anne Frank, by way of Judith Thurman

For the last few days, self has been reading Judith Thurman’s essay collection, Cleopatra’s Nose:  39 Varieties of Desire.  Self really loves this book and tries like might and main to read it slowly.

Self is now on the essay “Not Even a Nice Girl,” which is about the diary of Anne Frank.  It’s in a section called “Rules of Engagement.” The essays in this section seem less kinetic than the ones in the previous section: “The Wolf at the Door” (bulimia, Catherine Millet, the art of making tofu).  But they are still enthralling.

In the essay “Not Even a Nice Girl,” Thurman asserts that Jane Austen and Anne Frank have much in common.  Here are some reasons why:

  • Anne’s nonchalance is a freshness —  a gift for detachment —  like the young Jane Austen’s.
  • Both are comic moralists who take a pitiless view of conventional femininity without renouncing it for themselves.
  • Humor is the ballast for their pride and their romanticism, and the leaven for their despair.
  • The frictions of a narrow world enthrall them.  It is, though, a world in which they feel isolated among their familiars —  lonely in their depth of feeling and their clarity of perception.
  • Writing is their antidote to claustrophobia, physical and spiritual, yet the claustrophobia seems to heighten their natural gaiety.

Thurman then goes on to describe Jane as “a famous flirt and a lover of jokes,” while Anne describes herself “as a frolicsome little goat whose cheekiness drove the adults in the secret annex crazy.”

Gadzooks!  Self never in a million years would have thought of Jane as “a famous flirt” or of Anne Frank as a “frolicsome little goat.”  Once again, self finds herself slayed by Judith Thurman’s writing.

Self would like to add one more thing to Thurman’s list of similarities between Jane Austen and Anne Frank, and it is this:  both women transform themselves into heroines, despite appearing “invisible” (too mousy, too meek, Jewish, female, and so forth) to others around them.  By picking up a pen, each said:  What I do matters, to me if not to anyone else.  They each place themselves front and center in a narrative.  Both are, in a way, feminist heroines.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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