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Terry Castle stands by Jane Austen review
In the August daze of Britain's "silly season," when the Parliament and courts are in recess and the Royals aren't doing their bit for naughty headlines, the press of Fleet Street annually mount a watch for scandalous stories. Reality is checked at the door.
This summer it was Terry Castle, Stanford professor of English, who landed in the tabloid snares with her review of a newly annotated edition of Jane Austen's letters. When her front-page essay was published in the "London Review of Books" Aug. 3 -- bearing the headline "Was Jane Austen Gay?"
-- reporters leapt on Castle's subtle depiction of Austen's relationship with her older sister, Cassandra.
Although the review commented widely on the family gossip and trivia of everyday life that are found in Austen's letters, headline writers zeroed in on a few select phrases. Castle's references to the "passionate nature of the sibling bond [the letters] commemorate," her suggestion that Austen's physical descriptions of women could be read as "a kind of homophilic fascination," and her exploration of the "underlying eros of the sister-sister bond" were seized upon by reporters for the Daily Telegraph, Independent and Observer. Reuters also ran with the story, and soon editors from Time and Newsweek were on the phone to Castle, to ask her if she'd said Jane Austen was a lesbian.