Tag Archives: A Fortunate Age

A flower of Ashkenazi frizz

In her last blogs, Joanna Smith Rakoff wrote about some of her favorite books.
In the months preceding its publication, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s Admission received more than its share of tabloid-style hype, all of which focused on, let’s say, the nonfiction aspect of the novel: the glimpse Korelitz offers of the Ivy League admissions process, a subject of rabid fascination for the American middle class. Continue reading here.

Joanna Smith Rakoff: The Smell of Old England

In her last blog, Joanna Smith Rakoff wrote about a family “more identifiably old American than Jewish.”
Here in the U.S., Margaret Drabble’s novels are nowhere near as widely read as those of her older sister, A.S. Byatt, perhaps because they, to a one, seek to explore -– or, perhaps, “interrogate” might be a better word — contemporary British society, in rather the same way Philip Roth probes the uncomfortable corners of the American psyche.  Continue reading here.

Joanna Smith Rakoff: Parallel Lives

In her last blog, Joanna Smith Rakoff wrote about how, in her own way, Jane Austen wrote about being an undercover Jewish writer.

Laurie Colwin
was, in a way, a sort of heir to Austen’s charms, even if her novels are the opposite of marriage plots: Her female characters struggle endlessly with the confines and meaning of contemporary marriage (contemporary, that is, circa the 1970s and 1980s; Colwin died, at 48, in 1992).  Continue reading here.

Joanna Smith Rakoff: The French Revolution

Joanna Smith Rakoff, author of A Fortunate Age and former editor of Nextbook.org, is guest-blogging for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

Copy of jewish-authors-blog2Some years ago, when I was a doctoral student in English literature, my more conservative-minded peers sometimes made fun of the critics who practiced a more theory-based form of analysis — the followers of Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, and, in this case, the movement known as “New Historicism” — by saying, with a sarcastic roll of the eye, something to the effect of, “Right, and in not commenting on the French Revolution, Jane Austen is really commenting on the French Revolution.” Titters would ensue.

They were referring, of course, to the famous lack of historical context in Austen’s much-loved novels, and to the critic Warren Roberts’ then-famous (or, in some circles, infamous) book on the subject, Jane Austen and the French Revolution. Roberts set out to prove that Austen was not just a frippery writer of proto-chick-lit novels about shabby genteel young ladies in search of husbands, but a politically- and culturally-engaged chronicler of the major events of her day, who very much had the French and American Revolutions on her mind while writing Mansfield Park.

As a scholar, I was on the old-fashioned side and, thus, happy to simply read Austen’s novels for pleasure, rather than scrutinizing dialogue for coded ideas about the Napoleonic Wars — which may well be why I dropped out of said doctoral program and began writing my own marriage plots. But, though I laughed along with my classmates whenever that French Revolution comment was uttered, I was secretly attracted to the idea that a writer’s silence on a subject might say as much as her explicit exploration of a subject.

A.Fortunate.AgeAnd so it was that years later, when I took a job as books editor of the Jewish culture magazine Nextbook (now Tablet), that I found myself drawn to fiction that was less than straightforward in its approach to Jewish ideas or, more often, identity. It was easy to discuss the Jewish content of, say, The Counterlife or Bee Season. What interested me more — and still interests me — were the ways in which, for instance, a character’s Jewishness comes into play in a novel (or story) that doesn’t necessarily center on things Jewish.

Thus, over the next three days, I’ll be looking at a few favorite characters from such fiction, characters who, to my mind, say as much about the state of Anglo-American Judaism (in the cultural, if not the religious sense) as those in more explicitly and obviously Jewish fiction, characters from a few novels of recent decades: Laurie Colwin’s Family Happiness, Margaret Drabble’s The Witch of Exmoor, and Jean Hanff Korelitz’s Admission.

Joanna Smith Rakoff’s new book, A Fortunate Age, is available now. She’ll be blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

Looking ahead…

Posted by Naomi Firestone
Happy Friday! As we work our way through another wintery week, we thought we’d cheer you up with goodies to look forward to this Spring…continue reading here.