Jane Austen claimed as a hero by America's 'alt-right' movement

Barney Henderson
Jane Austen claimed as a hero by America's 'alt-right' movement

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that America's 'alt-right' is attempting to take possession of one of Britain's most-loved authors

The "alt-right" movement, which is accused of comprising white supremacists and is credited with helping to propel Donald Trump to the US presidency in last November's election, has a surprising fondness for Jane Austen, it has emerged.

"Alt-right" websites and blogs frequently reference the great British author, praising her apparent marital traditionalism and claiming her writing supports their views on racial purity and subservient wives.

Nicole Wright, an assistant professor of English at the University of Colorado has found there are "several variations of alt-right Jane Austen: 1) symbol of sexual purity; 2) standard-bearer of a vanished white traditional culture; and 3) exception that proves the rule of female inferiority."

The populist "alt-right" movement, which has been criticised for being racist and made up of white nationalists, was associated with Mr Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. One of the president's closest advisers is Steve Bannon, who formerly ran the Breitbart news website. Bannon described Breitbart last August as “the platform for the alt-right”. 

Donald Trump and Steve BannonCredit: AP

Wright, in her essay Alt-Right Jane Austen, argues that Austen is promoted by the "alt-right" over "the nightmare Germany of Hitler and Goebbels" to present a vision of a "cosy England...a better, bygone Britain".

"Such references nudge readers who happen upon alt-right sites to think that perhaps white supremacists aren’t so different from mainstream folks," the American academic writes.

Andrew Anglin, a white supremacist blogger for the far-right The Daily Stormer website, apparently uses Austen in his portrayal of Taylor Swift as a "Nazi idol".

Describing the singer as a "pure Aryan goddess", he compared Swift to fellow pop star Miley Cyrus.

"She (Swift) is the anti-Miley. While Miley is out having gang-bangs with coloured gentlemen, she is at home with her cat reading Jane Austen," he told Vice.

The "alt-right" Counter Currents website features a blog post titled The Woman Question in White Nationalism, with a debate in the comments section about "traditional marriage" as presented in Pride and Prejudice.

“If traditional marriage à la P&P is going to be imposed, again, in an ethnostate, we must behave like gentlemen,” one comment states, explaining the need to create a “racial dictatorship”.

Austen is cited by "alt-right" blogger Matt Forney as being, in his opinion, one of the few women to have made an impact on history.

"From the time of Sumer up to the 20th century, virtually all great leaders, thinkers and artists were men," he writes.

"Aristotle, Galileo, Michaelangelo, Napoleon: all men. Not to say that all women are incapable of artistic, scientific or military talent; every so often, we get a Marie Curie, a Jane Austen or a Joan of Arc. But by and large, it has been men who were responsible for making history."

Meanwhile, Milo Yiannopoulos, the disgraced former Breitbart journalist, revised the famous first line of Pride and Prejudice to mock "ugly" feminists in his controversial Dangerous Faggot speaking tour.

"As a Victorian novelist might have put it, it is a truth universally acknowledged that an ugly woman is far more likely to be a feminist than a hot one," he states (unfortunately, as Wright points out, confusing the Georgian and Victorian eras).

Austen experts, however, were quick to stress the gulf between the author's world view and that of the "alt-right".

“No one who reads Jane Austen’s words with any attention and reflection can possibly be alt-right,” Elaine Bander, a retired professor and a former officer of the Jane Austen Society of North America, told the New York Times.

“All the Janeites I know are rational, compassionate, liberal-minded people.”

Austen herself, of course, was dismissive of both pride and prejudice.

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