Novelist Curtis Sittenfeld has been getting beaten up by romance writers and readers because she's said that most romance novels are badly written.
This sounds like a classic Publicity 101 attempt to get attention for her own update of Pride and Prejudice: Throw something controversial out there about a whole genre and you might get lots of coverage. That's worked for far more famous authors like Isabel Allende venturing into genre fiction.
Was she possibly thinking of Theodore Sturgeon when he defended attacks on the quality of science fiction by saying that 90% of everything was crud? I know I had to sort through a lot of bad and boring crime fiction when I reviewed it for a decade at the Detroit Free Press.
But is Austen's book really a romance? Yes, there's obviously a love story in it. But the book is deeply satirical in its portrayal of Elizabeth's parents and other characters. It's also obsessed with money, social status, honor and shame as many critics have pointed out. It's domestic fiction, a literary novel, satire, and a novel of manners. Calling it a romance blurs the other essential aspects.
Sittenfeld might have been swayed by the 2005 movie version with Keira Knightly. Remember? It played out like a Gothic romance full of sturm und drang, with the weather as much a character as the people. More than one critic rightly pointed out that it couldn't be more off-base in presenting the period and the novel, down to the clothes Elizabeth Bennett wears.
You can read about Sittenfeld's take on the book in Vanity Fair, not that says much that's insightful. She calls it "perfect" and opines that "there's just something about Pride and Prejudice."
Will Austen fans like Sittenfeld's book? Or will her own readers be the only ones who take to it? Whatever the case, she's goten herself headlines, and that's what counts in publishing.
Lev Raphael is the author of Rosedale in Love, set in New York's fabulous Gilded Age, a revisioning of The House of Mirth with a happy ending.