Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"The Complete Book of Aunts"

"With the contemporary nuclear family splitting and reconfiguring itself into a dizzying number of shapes, it might seem as though the aunt has had her day," writes Kathryn Hughes of The Complete Book of Aunts by Rupert Christiansen, theatre critic for the London Telegraph.
The time when the sister of either a mother or father actually meant something in a child's life has probably gone for good. Instead there's a whole army of pseudo-aunties - anyone from the childminder to daddy's girlfriend - who take on the functions previously carried out by a woman with a Hillman Imp and a dachshund, who could be relied upon to send you a classic novel for your birthday.

Still, says Rupert Christiansen, in this charming, clever and quirky study, that's no reason to let the aunt slide unremembered into the dust box of history. Instead, we should celebrate her while she is still, just about, a figure who means something to most of us. And so he sets off on a wonderful treasure hunt to discover the best, worst, naughtiest, nastiest and most glamorous (not all of them have moustaches) aunts in 20th-century life and literature.
There is no indication this book will be available soon in the U.S. A pity: Jane Austen as aunt--and as a creator of several literary aunts--sounds interesting. Hughes again:
Jane Austen...reveals herself to be a model aunt, treating her nieces as both equals and playfellows, taking their not-very-good writing seriously and urging them on to the sort of love affairs that she never quite managed for herself. Austen's literary aunts, by contrast, fall far short of these exacting standards. Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine de Burgh, is a monster of self-regard, while Fanny Price's aunts Bertram and Norris are, respectively, a passive-aggressive tyrant and a bully. Interestingly, one of Austen's few helpful literary aunts turns out to be that liminal thing, an aunt by marriage. In Pride and Prejudice it is Mrs Bennet's brother's wife, Mrs Gardiner, who is able to give Lizzy the kind of calm, straight-speaking advice in which the species is supposed to specialise.
Click here to read the whole review.

--Marshal Zeringue