Just lately, I listened to “Satisfaction and Prejudice” by Jane Austen on Audible. Savoring each phrase, I used to be transported to nineteenth century, Regency-era England. Immersed on this planet of Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy and formal balls, I virtually escaped from our troubled twenty first century universe. As I sipped tea, racism, transphobia – previous and current injustice – slipped from my thoughts.

Till a headline from The New York Occasions flashed on my display screen: “A Jane Austen Museum Needs to Talk about Slavery. Will Her Followers Hear?”

This Jane Austen fan is listening. Nothing pricks up your ears greater than seeing one in every of your favourite authors (a literary icon, no much less) linked with slavery.

Final month, Jane Austen’s Home, a museum on the life and work of Jane Austen, stated that it will replace its shows to incorporate info on Austen’s and her household’s connection to slavery. (The museum within the English village of Chawton, has been solely open just about throughout the pandemic. It reopens for in-person guests on Could 19.) Austen, who lived from 1775 to 1817, resided in Chawton from 1809 till shortly earlier than she died at age 41.

The displays reveal that George Austen, Jane Austen’s father, earlier than he grew to become a pastor, was a trustee of an Antigua sugar plantation. The shows word that Austen and her household, by consuming tea, consuming meals with sugar and sporting clothes manufactured from cotton, loved merchandise of the Atlantic slave commerce.

Data is included on Austen’s views of abolitionists: Some students imagine that Austen was in opposition to slavery. In 1807, the slave commerce ended within the British Empire when King George signed the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Commerce into legislation.

Response to the brand new displays was quick and livid, The New York Occasions reported. “Woke insanity,” thundered The Categorical. The Day by day Mail stated the museum had launched “a revisionist assault” and a “BLM-inspired interrogation” of Austen’s ritual of imbibing tea.

When you imagine these rants, you’d assume that Jane Austen’s Home was making an attempt to cancel Jane Austen: that we should always cease appreciating her work as a result of she drank tea and her household was linked to the slave commerce.

After all, this isn’t the intention of the museum that celebrates Austen’s work. Guests more and more ask about Austen and her household’s connection to the slave commerce, Jane Austen’s Home says in a press release. “It’s subsequently applicable that we share the data and analysis that already exists on her connections to slavery and its point out in her novels,” the museum says.

It’s tempting to dismiss this dust-up as a tempest in a teapot. However that will be mistaken.

This controversy calls our consideration to one of many urgent problems with our time: How will we study the prejudices of our icons, and will we cancel them and/or their work?

I’m fascinated by two LGBTQ icons: Walt Whitman, born on Could 31, 1819, and Adrienne Wealthy who died on March 27, 2012.

In his poetry, Whitman embraced democracy and inclusion. For his time, he wrote with outstanding openness about sexuality. When you’re queer, you are feeling represented in his poetry.

But, in his later life, Whitman believed racist pseudo scientific claims. He known as Black folks “baboons” and “wild brutes.”

Few poets are as beloved by the LGBTQ group as poet Adrienne Wealthy. Her poems have been a lifeline for queer ladies and homosexual males.

But, Wealthy suggested Janice Raymond, who, in 1979 wrote the transphobic e book “The Transsexual Empire.” Raymond wrote that transgender folks “colonize feminist identification, tradition, politics, and sexuality.”

Within the face of racism and transphobia present facet by facet with genius, Whitman’s dictum concerning the self containing multitudes and contradictions rings painfully true.

I’d be mendacity if I stated I had an answer to this muddle.

But when we’ve discovered something since George Floyd’s dying, it’s that all of us have aware and unconscious biases. If we cancelled artists who’ve prejudices from racism to transphobia, what artwork could be left?

But, if we don’t confront our cultural heroes’ prejudices, how will we reside with ourselves or work towards justice? What kind of artwork could be created?

I solely know: we should reside and wrestle with these vitally necessary questions.


Kathi Wolfe, a author and a poet, is an everyday contributor to the Blade.

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