For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn? --Jane Austen
Mark Twain is my brother's favorite author. I had heard once that Mark Twain didn't enjoy Austen's writings. Since Twain is to my brother as Austen is to me, I decided to see if this was true. I'm still not sure.
Twain certainly said some...unpleasant things about Austen. At first glance, you get the feeling that not only did he not like her, he downright despised her; as though there was some terrible feud between the two that only ever came out in his criticisms (yes, I realize they lived in different time periods).
"Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book."
"To me his prose is unreadable--like Jane Austin's [sic]. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane's. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death."
"Whenever I take up "Pride and Prejudice" or "Sense and Sensibility," I feel like a barkeeper entering the Kingdom of Heaven.... Jane Austen ...makes me detest all her people, without reserve."
"I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."
So that's it, right? He hated her writing. But look at the last two quotes... (my brother pointed this out to me, so I can't take the credit here) "Whenever I take up 'Pride and Prejudice' or 'Sense and Sensibility'" ... "Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice.'"
He read her books more than once! I don't know about you, but when I don't like an author, I tend to read only one of their books--and I would never dream of reading the same book over again! So my theory is, either Mark Twain secretly liked Jane Austen and was afraid to admit it, or he had a strange desire for self-inflicted pain. :)
There have been articles written about this, which I intend to read. Here's one: http://www.vqronline.org/articles/1999/winter/auerbach-barkeeper-entering/ (I haven't read it yet so I can't say if I recommend it or not).
Edit: I read the article now, and it's very good--well written and researched.