Men Reading Jane Austen: Close Writing Across Gender Scripts
What exactly is subversive about men readingand moreover, likingJane Austen? How did Austen come to signify, among male readers, effeminacy? My aim here is not to offer a genealogical account of how male readers of Jane Austen acquired a sissy reputation. Nevertheless, the question of Austens ostensibly destabilized male readership interests me, particularly the robust body of Austen criticism by gay male scholars which has emerged. I contend that these critics open identification with Austen must grapple with their dual position of reading (and enjoying) Austen and also being read as unmanly, resulting in a defensive, uphill battle to navigate and reclaim loaded social scripts about masculinity. This queer cross-gender identification strikes me as an opportunity to re-read/write gender scripts at play in the literature and reception of Jane Austen. How does Austen reconsider and reform masculinity and what are the implications for male readers who cross-identify with Austen, such as D.A. Miller and Joseph Litvak? By means of a close-reading of scenes from Northanger Abbey as well as queer Austenian criticism, I interrogate this explosion of cross-identifications to deconstruct what gendered misreadings, slippages, resonances, and overlaps emerge across the bodies of the text (reader, author, character). I propose that the bond between Spinster woman author and Unheterosexual male reader disrupts the conjugal imperative of the marriage plot. In closing, I consider how we might queerly re-encounter the marriage plot post-legalization of same-sex marriage.