Pride & Prejudice & Pedantry: My Reponse on HuffPo

Huffington Post invited me to submit a rebuttal to the article by Alan Elsner that I mentioned in passing late last week. Mr. Elsner took a stack of romances from the library, read them, and pronounced the entire genre as absolute crap.

My response is now up over at Huffington Post’s book section: Pride and Prejudice and Pedantry. An excerpt:

In response, I refer to that book he holds in such high regard, “Pride and Prejudice”, by Jane Austen:

“You have insulted me in every possible method. You can now have nothing farther to say.”

A shabby, patched-up survey of books with no curation involved, let alone curiosity, does not an expert make. I invoke Smart Bitch Law #1: Thou shalt not diss the reading material of another person merely to elevate one’s own. By doing so, thou art passing the buck, and verily thou art being a douchebag.

I wonder if the comments will be as intricately moderated for mine as for Mr. Elsner.


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Rose says:

    Excellent rebuttal, Sarah! I’m a researcher and if ever I tried Paul Elsner’s methodology, I’d be out of a job. It’ll be interested to see what sort of response you’ll get.

    I’m a bit surprised you chose Smooth Talking Stranger out of Kleypas’s contemps – it seems as though most people (myself included) preferred the first two.

  2. 2
    JaneDrew says:

    WOOT! I was hoping that this would happen—including the reading list, which I will be fascinated to see if Mr. Elsner actually bothers with. I think you got it spot-on when you diagnosed his “research methods” as the result of a guy waking up in the middle of the night panicked by

    the prospect of genre-writing-related girl cooties

    the thought that people might—gasp!—think that he had written a romance.

  3. 3
    Kati says:

    Oh, well played, Sarah. Well played indeed!

  4. 4
    katiebabs says:


    Do we know if Elsner has read a romance and what type he read?

    Oh yes, Lord of Scoundrels definitely is a must. I would have picked Blue-Eyed Devil also to read due to the emotions felt as I read.

  5. 5

    You go, girlfriend.

  6. 6
    liz m says:

    I’d have gone with Passions of Emma by Penn Williamson for an Austen snob. But I have no quibble with an article that can be summarized – “you sir, are a tool.”

    On a more serious level, it is the Right Of Men to have confidence on the Lack Of Value in things that Are For Women, because Woman Are Vapid Creatures, and learned men are Knowledge Laden.

  7. 7

    Perfect response, Sarah—a dignified bouquet of diplomacy with a refreshing hint of snark. We couldn’t ask for a better ambassador for the genre.

  8. 8
    ghn says:

    Elsner has a comment up – the first one – and he has already very loftily elevated himself above the fetid swamp of femininity that is the Romance genre.
    Sucks to him!!
    (And I notice that he didn’t mention just what books – or even how many – he had read)

  9. 9
    MichelleR says:

    I’m stuck in moderation, I’m being oppressed. ;)

    Great job.

    I think that he’s listed as a journalist is one of the things that fascinates me the most. What a different piece it would have been with research and talking to some folks. He probably still would have had some issues, but it would have been a more interesting piece.

  10. 10
    orangehands says:

    I wonder if dissenters will have an easier time in the comments…

    I’m glad they put up a rebuttal, not so glad I had to read Elsner’s article in the first place. I like debate; I do not like having to read the same uninformed drivel each time someone wants to boost themselves up.

  11. 11
    Kristin says:

    Way to go Sarah.  I have to say that your article came across as being put together by a much more thoughtful and intellectual person than his did.

  12. 12

    Oh, I love the tone of your response Sarah! I mean, while you totally call out his faulty approach and reasoning, you elevate the discussion to a spirit of thoughtfulness and open-mindedness. I love your last bit:

    So, in the spirit of the happy ending for which romance is rightfully famous, I offer the following reading list and invite anyone who has dismissed the romance genre to rethink any hastily-drawn and inaccurate conclusions.

  13. 13
    MichelleR says:

    With guest bloggers, it all gets moderated.

  14. 14
    Becky says:

    Elsner has a comment up – the first one

    That’s a comment, it’s a quote from his original article.  I made the same mistake at first.

  15. 15

    Excellent rebuttal, Sarah.  Thanks for stating the case for romance novels so eloquently.

  16. 16
    Becky says:

    NOT.  That’s NOT a comment.  Sheesh.

    done22:  Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t click “submit” until I’m sure I’m done.

  17. 17
    ghn says:


    My bad! It _looked_ like a comment! I now wonder if Elsner is going to dare to stick his head out…  ;-)

  18. 18
    MichelleR says:

    Elsner has shown a certain avoidance of the wimmenfolk—he probably fears we have cooties.

  19. 19
    jody says:

    Did anybody read the Twitters at the end of the article?


    Captcha:  I KNEW it!

  20. 20
    jody says:

    AND, wonderful rebuttal, Sarah.  You do the Bitches proud.

    (I meant to say that before.  Guess I was laughing too hard)

  21. 21
    Stacia K says:

    Great post, Sarah!!

  22. 22
    GrowlyCub says:

    I’d just thought I’d point out that his first name is Alan, not Paul.

  23. 23

    Poor Elsner. Not just rebutted, but annihilated… and in a far more engaging writing style than his own. Oh the cruel hand of fate.

  24. 24

    Thanks for writing that, Sarah!  I finally got so grumpy and fed-up about the whole thing I just had to put it out of my mind and go drink hot chocolate. 

    I’m all better now.

  25. 25
    Aemelia says:

    Great article, Sarah!

    know64: as in Sarah knows 64 different ways to express disdane, without being profane!!!

  26. 26
    AQ says:

    Hey, Smart Bitches, make sure you comment on the HuffPo blog. If there’s enough traffic then it’s possible that HuffPo might run more entries that are romance positive. Who knows maybe we’d find our very own SBSarah with a regular column. From my POV, that would be the best possible “revenge” and outcomes for that romance negative article.

    Nice job, Miss Sarah.

    Off to create an account.

  27. 27
    LaniGirl says:

    Excellent response! Eloquent and to the point… take that all ye haters of romance!

  28. 28
    Gwynnyd says:

    For all that Mills & Boone/Harlequin is a powerhouse in the field, there are lots of “romance” novels that are not formulaic, and even in the “category” section most are not plot-less drivel or thinly disguised she-porn. The perception still seems to be, if it is well written and I like it, it can’t be “romance” because all “romance” is trash. 

    If romance is defined by the HEA, would Pride and Prejudice have been a book more worthy to be called “literature” if Darcy never got together with Elizabeth and she ended up a bitter and impoverished old maid, because, god-forbid, a happy ending would make it a “romance” and we can’t have any of that trash cluttering up the classics? 

    The only thing that a “romance” genre novel has to have is a couple and a happy ending – or at least the expectation of a happily ever after for the people involved. How they get there is up to the author. Following Clarke’s Law, 90% of it is still crud, but then, you know, 90% of everything is crud. To point to the bottom 10% (like the worst sex scenes awards – is that writing actually definitive for the class “literature”?) and say “that poorly-written she-porn over there defines “romance”, therefore I will dismiss the better 90% that can be included in the genre”  is ridiculous and pretentious at best.

  29. 29
    nate says:

    i think you misquoted pride & prejudice.  i’ve never read it myself, but thought it was curious ms. austen had used “farther” when she should’ve used “further”.

    and with reference to your community in defense of the genre—just ‘cause smart ladies also like book porn doesn’t in any way elevate it, it just means it has broad appeal.  but i have no problem with it, chicks need porn too.

  30. 30

    i’ve never read it myself, but thought it was curious ms. austen had used “farther” when she should’ve used “further”.

    That’s Miss Austen to you, bucko.

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