We speak of them as they were
Male Voices in Praise of Jane Austen
|Volume 2, Number 7||July 1, 2003|
Edited by Sophia Sentiment
Here is the surprise link for this month.
Winchester - Chawton Conference Update
My plans are coming along very well. I might just make it after all. In case you have not yet checked out the PROGRAMME, here is a partial list of speakers that you may or may not recognize: Brian Southam, Claudia L. Johnson, Paula Byrne, Marilyn Butler, Isobel Grundy, Jocelyn Harris, and John Wiltshire. I wanted to alert Julie about Paula because she wrote the book that Julie lately recommended. I will act the tourist and gather some autographs and pictures, if possible. If you have any questions for any of these people let me know and I will try to get answers—or any other requests or suggestions for the Winchester-Chawton area.
Yours, as you behave,
Contents of this Issue
Sophia Sentiment: Winchester-Chawton
Alison Sneider: Lady Austen by Romney
Ashton Dennis: Reply to Julie: Charlotte Brontë's Biographical Notice
Lady Austen by Romney
I'm looking for information on a print entitled Lady Austen by Romney. I've spent a good deal of time on the Internet looking at paintings and such by the artist George Romney, and I believe this print is his. (I found it in my mother's bedroom closet while cleaning out her house.) Do you know anything about this print, or where I could get more information on it?
Here's a more complete description of my print:
The print itself is 5 3/4 inches wide by 7 3/4 inches high. It's in muted colors, with a very dark background. Most prominent is "Lady Austen's" face, which is pale, but with rosy cheeks and dark red lips. She is posed to the side, with the right side of her face toward the viewer. (This is the reverse of the etchings/drawings from the web site link you sent me earlier.) She has dark brown wavy hair under a scarf much like the one in the web link (her shawl/collar is also similar&$151;white and gauzy-looking). The inscription on the mat reads "Lady Austen" on the left and "Romney" on the right.
For all I know, it could be something that was mounted from a calendar. It's hard to tell without taking it out of the frame, and I'm loath to do that without knowing anything else about it to begin with.
Hope this helps. Thanks again for all your help.
AlisonFrom the Editor: I hope you or someone finds an answer because I, myself, would like to know more about "Lady Austen".From Ashton Dennis: I became excited, at first, because it occurred to me that this might be one of the wives of Jane Austen's brother, Sir Francis Austen! But, no, George Romney died in 1802, too soon to paint a Lady Austen from our "Lady's" family. Romney was a well-known painter even in his own time, but Jane Austen was an obscure, country woman even after the publication of her first novel in 1811.
Reply to Julie: Charlotte Brontë's Biographical Notice
Julie Grassi has contributed valuable content to this web site and we, all of us, are very grateful for that. Her postings and letters are literate, lively, and informative. However, Julie has two blind spots, any matter concerning Fanny Price or the Brontë sisters. When the subject is a Brontë sister, Julie's contributions occasionally tend to wishful thinking and defense of the indefensible. (Um-m-m, I mean that in a good way.)
One of Julie's recent letters is a defense of Charlotte Brontë from my assault on Charlotte's Biographical Notice written shortly after the death of her sisters. Julie summarizes her main theme this way:"I feel Mr Dennis' complaints regarding the Biographical Notice are based on ignorance of the facts of the Brontë's lives, and of the dramatic public reaction to the publication of their novels."
Implicit in this is a very modern attitude, which, carried to its extreme, is the attitude that demands we withhold judgement of Hitler until after we know about the manner in which he was weaned from his mother's breast, or about the mean things that might have been said to him while he served as an army corporal in WW I. I am old school—not so modern—because I find this widely accepted tenet not very compelling. I am so old school that I might even apply this principle of personal responsibility to a woman, even a famous woman. I mean I think that it is perfectly proper to hold Charlotte Brontë's feet to the fire based on what she said in a publication without knowing how things went for her at her first dance. Perhaps Julie should be praised for her modern attitudes and I should be condemned for my other kind.
Julie writes,"In her Biographical Notice Charlotte was attempting an explanation and justification of her sisters' novels, in the face [of] the great criticism that followed the publication of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall."
I don't think so. This is wishful thinking on Julie's part, that is what Charlotte should have done. Instead, Charlotte Brontë did something else, something reprehensible. Charlotte, in fact, agrees with the critics, even amplifies the criticism, and tries very hard to distance herself from her sisters and her novels from theirs. That's disgusting.
While Julie demands that we take into account biographical and literary contexts, our Australian friend neglects to mention the most important context of all—where Charlotte's essay appeared. Charlotte's essay appeared as addendum to the second edition of Emily's Wuthering Heights. Now, if you read Jane Austen's letters you can find some griping about family members; for example, you will find her complaints about brother James's wife, Mary Austen. We all have family members who deserve a good sorting out once in a while, so I am neither disappointed nor surprised at Jane Austen's condemnations. On the contrary, I would have been disappointed to learn that Jane Austen was always willing to suffer fools. However, Jane Austen's complaints were set down in private letters to her own sister, whereas Charlotte's invective was published for the entire public to see. And, of all places, her poison-pen Notice was placed as a defacement of sister Emily's only published novel. Am I the only one to be astonished and repulsed by this?
Julie's lonely assault on the dark forces of ignorance is commendable—that goes without saying—but why did our friend go to so much trouble? It seems to me that a careful reading of Charlotte's essay give sufficient information about some of the negative reception of the Brontë novels and about the nature of Charlotte's sisters; so why pull out a bunch of references? Incidentally, the criticism of the Brontë-sister novels could not have been all that universal because the novels have never gone out of print; in fact, Charlotte's essay was addendum to a second edition of Emily's masterpiece—that tells you something. Still, it suited Charlotte's purpose (and Julie's?) to make it seem that the novel had been universally panned.
Perhaps this disagreement is all my fault because, as Julie says,"I'm not sure what Mr Dennis finds objectionable in Charlotte's description of her sisters' education and habits of life, but her view was certainly shared by others who knew them."
If Julie is "not sure", then, apparently, I had not been explicit enough. I had assumed, wrongly, that Charlotte Brontë's words spoke for themselves. So, I will be far more explicit here and point to specific passages in Charlotte's Biographical Notice.
First of all, I can point to Charlotte's thoughts on sister Anne's novel:"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Acton Bell [Anne Brontë], had likewise an unfavourable reception. At this I cannot wonder. The choice of subject was an entire mistake. Nothing less congruous with the writer's nature could be conceived. The motives which dictated this choice were pure, but, I think, slightly morbid. She had, in the course of her life been called on to contemplate, near at hand, and for a long time, the terrible effects of talents misused and faculties abused; hers was naturally a sensitive, reserved, and dejected nature; what she saw sank very deeply into her mind; it did her harm. She brooded over it till she believed it to be a duty to reproduce every detail (of course with fictitious characters, incidents, and situations) as a warning to others. She hated her work, but would pursue it. When reasoned with on the subject, she regarded such reasonings as a temptation to self-indulgence. She must be honest; she must not varnish, soften, or conceal. This well-meant resolution brought on her misconstruction, and some abuse which she bore, as it was her custom, to bear whatever was unpleasant, with mild, steady patience. ... "
Julie has decided that this is "explanation and justification"—well, I give her "explanation". Actually, I will even concede "justification" if Charlotte's term, "entire mistake", falls into that category. (Incidentally—I can't resist this—I notice that Charlotte decided that her sister's "morbid mistake", her "unreasonable misconstruction", was a result of family experiences.)
I suppose that if one speed-reads Charlotte's Notice, or stops reading after the first few paragraphs, he might think that Charlotte actually praises Emily's novel. But, Charlotte is very explicit about her sister Emily's misadventure in this way:"I have just read over Wuthering Heights, and, for the first time, have obtained a clear glimpse of what are termed (and, perhaps really are) its faults; have gained a definite notion of how it appears to other people—to strangers who knew nothing of the author; who are unacquainted with the locality where the scenes of the story are laid; to whom the inhabitants, the customs, the natural characteristics of the outlying hills and hamlets in the West Riding of Yorkshire are things alien and unfamiliar. ... Where delineation of human character is concerned, the case is different. I am bound to avow that [Emily] had no more practical knowledge of the peasantry amongst whom she lived, than a nun has of the country people who sometimes pass her convent gates. My sister's disposition was not naturally gregarious; circumstances favoured and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church or to take a walk in the hills, she rarely crossed the threshold of home. Though her feelings for the people round were benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought; nor, with few exceptions, ever experienced. ..."
So, Charlotte explains that Emily didn't know what the hell she was writing about, and perhaps the fault-finding that some critics found with the work "really are" deserved, or so Charlotte concludes. Well, if Emily had no idea of what she was talking about, then how did she come to conceive the plot of Wuthering Heights? Charlotte answers that obvious question in the following sentences, which you might find amusing or slimy or both."... Hence it ensued that what [Emily's] mind had gathered of the real concerning [the peasantry] was exclusively confined to those tragic and terrible traits of which, in listening to the secret annals of every rude vicinage, the memory is sometimes compelled to receive the impress. Her imagination, which was a spirit more somber than sunny, more powerful than sportive, found in such traits material whence it wrought creations like Heathcliff, like Earnshaw, like Catherine. Having formed these beings she did not know what she had done. ..."
In other words, Emily was a gossip and had based her characters on what she had learned in that activity. Nice, Charlotte—that's a nice way to talk of your recently departed sister.
Mark Twain on the treatment of women
I suspect that a person is defined to some extent by his enemies and detractors. That is why I have encouraged so much discussion of Jane Austen's detractors at this web site. I mean, if we know what the detractors were like, we might learn what kind of mind is at odds with our Lady's and that might be informative.—Maybe not—it's too late to change now.
Many detractors have been identified at this web site. Here is a list with links.
- Charlotte Brontë
- Maria Edgeworth
- George Eliot
- D.H. Lawrence
- Alice Meynell
- Madame de Staël
- Mark Twain
There are at least two others that I have not tracked down and trashed as yet: those would be Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). But, not to worry, I will get them too—the buggers. To my mind, all these folks are vulnerable except two: George Eliot and Mark Twain are unassailable, much to my chagrin. (Although Charlotte Brontë is vulnerable enough to more than make up for my loss in the other two cases.)
Explanation of Mark Twain's mind cramp is an especially difficult problem for me because I like him so much. And, my respect for him grows daily. My only explanation was set down in a previous Newsletter, where I noted that Jane Austen's reputation may have been collateral damage in Twain's main attack on Oliver Goldsmith's.
You will be relieved to learn that I will conclude my remarks on Twain's Following the Equator today. I had to include these last excerpts because they are Twain's reflections on the treatment of women laborers during his time. The scene is this: Twain was zooming along on one of his many train trips across India when he was struck by an observation that allowed for a comparison with his trips in European countries. As you will see, the comparison is favorable to India. He begins with an observation about the Indian countryside seen from the window of his train."... We fly through it mile after mile, but it is always there, naked men and boys, plowing in the fields. But not a woman. In these two hours I have not seen a woman or girl working in the fields."
Twain then contrasts that with his European observations drawn from his diaries. First he quotes from those sections written while he was in Bavaria."We took a long drive today around the lovely country roads. But it was a drive whose pleasure was damaged in a couple of ways: by the dreadful shrines and by the shameful spectacle of gray and venerable old grandmothers toiling in the fields. The shrines were frequent along the roads—figures of the Savior nailed to the cross and streaming with blood from the wounds of the nails and the thorns. When missionaries go from here do they find fault with the pagan idols? I saw many women seventy and even eighty years old mowing and binding in the fields, and pitch forking the loads into wagons."
Twain continues with this memory:"... In Munich I saw gray old women pushing trucks up hill and down, long distances, trucks laden with barrels of beer, incredible loads. ..."
Then, he quotes from his Austrian diary.
"In the fields I often see a woman and a cow harnessed to the plow and a man driving."
"In the public street of Marienbad to-day, I saw an old, bent, gray-headed woman, in harness with a dog, drawing a laden sled over bare dirt roads and bare pavements; and at his ease walked the driver, smoking his pipe, a hale fellow not thirty years old."
But all that was only Twain's segue to what he observed in France. Again, he quotes from his European diaries. The weather was dreadful, very cold and the rain fell in torrents.
"With the exception of a very occasional wooden-shod peasant, nobody was abroad in this bitter weather—I mean nobody of our sex. But all weathers are alike to the women in these continental countries. To them and other animals, life is serious; nothing interrupts their slavery. Three of them were washing clothes in the river under the window when I arrived, and they continued it as long as there was light to work by. One was apparently thirty; another—the mother!—above fifty; the third—the grandmother!—so old and worn and gray she could have passed for eighty; I took her to be that old. They had no waterproofs nor rubbers, of course; over their shoulders they wore gunny-sacks—simply conductors for rivers of water; some of the volume reached the ground; the rest soaked in on the way."
"At last a vigorous fellow of thirty-five arrived, dry and comfortable, smoking his pipe under his big umbrella in an open donkey-cart—husband, son, grandson of these women! He stood up in his cart, sheltering himself, and began to superintend, issuing his orders in a masterly tone of command, and showing temper when they were not obeyed swiftly enough."
"... The cart being now full, the Frenchman descended, still sheltered by his umbrella, entered the tavern, and the women went drooping homeward. ... When I went into the public room, the Frenchman had his bottle of wine and plate of food, ... and was enlightening himself with the histories of French saints who used to flee to the desert in the Middle Ages to escape the contamination of women. For two hundred years France has been sending missionaries to the savage lands. ..."
And now you might read Tess of the D'Ubervilles to learn of the similar treatment of English farm women in that same time frame. That novel now might have a special poignancy, you can know that Thomas Hardy did not exaggerate about the life of his sweet Tess Derbyfield. You can know that because Mark Twain was a witness and Mark Twain has testified.
I am a bit curious about one point, how is it that a French woman could be treated as Twain describes, then survive to her eightieth year, and still be able to work that hard? Perhaps the women were much younger than they appeared to Twain—that would make some sense.
Reply to Julie: Fanny Price and Jane Eyre
Julie Grassi has taken issue with several points I made in my comparison of Jane Austen's Fanny Price with Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.
Julie's basic approach is axiomatic. In her first letter, our friend decreed in this way:"I will not attempt to comment on any comparisons between the characters created by Jane Austen and those of the Brontes, because I do not believe that any comparison exists. ..."
That axiom was repeated in Julie's second letter:"... I don't think that comparisons of the two books is likely to be useful, as they are books of different genres written in different eras."
I guess the principle is that one may not compare things that are similar but different in some ways. It's an odd principle. This axiom is a great disappointment to me because I was just about to compare today's Big Macs with those fine, locally produced hamburgers I bought for girl friends back in the fifties. But, no-o-o, Julie won't allow that because the snacks are from different eras. Phooie! I mean I can't even compare Shakespeare's Julius Caesar with G.B. Shaw's. The biggest surprise of all arose from the fact that I had thought I actually had done a darn good job of comparing Fanny Price with Jane Eyre.
Still, I do not withdraw my essay and I even confess the tiniest bit of pride in it.
Julie pointed to two factual "errors" in my essay. One of those actually is an error. I remembered Charlotte Brontë's stay in Brussels as a stay in France and that was an inexcusable error on my part—the correct designation would have easily been made if I had simply checked my memory of the facts. I now have made a small adjustment to my essay, and I am very grateful to Julie for pointing to that mistake. I will leave it to Julie to remind us of which language Charlotte spoke in Brussels (I bet Julie will say "Dutch"), and to explain Charlotte's Brontë's statement of her first-hand knowledge of European peasants: "... I have seen paysannes and Bauerinnen;...".
However, Julie errs where she claims I accused papa Brontë of domestic violence. I know too little of that family to attempt such an accusation; but, I did raise the question and that is quite something else. I did that because of the pervasiveness of domestic violence in the novels of the Brontë sisters. I merely asked for the advice of the more knowledgeable on this matter—I had Julie in mind. Julie assures us that nothing of that nature happened in the Brontë family. OK, but how does Julie know that? If someone had written of abuse, we would know the facts; however, silence does not mean that abuse did not occur—a cover-up is often characteristic of domestic violence where it does exist.
The novels of the three sisters might, in fact, represent a break in just such a silence. How does Julie explain away the overarching domestic cruelty and violence in the novels of the Brontë sisters? Our suspicions are further aroused when we read something that Charlotte said in her Biographical Notice. Charlotte is discussing sister Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall when she lets this slip:"... [Anne] had, in the course of her life been called on to contemplate, near at hand, and for a long time, the terrible effects of talents misused and faculties abused; hers was naturally a sensitive, reserved, and dejected nature; what she saw sank very deeply into her mind; it did her harm. She brooded over it till she believed it to be a duty to reproduce every detail (of course with fictitious characters, incidents, and situations) as a warning to others. She hated her work, but would pursue it. When reasoned with on the subject, she regarded such reasonings as a temptation to self-indulgence. She must be honest; she must not varnish, soften, or conceal. ... "
What are we to think, especially when that is combined with Charlotte's observation that Anne was a recluse?
On the other hand, I find Julie's accusation of domestic violence on the part of Jane Austen's Mr Elliot to be far-fetched—unconvincing and unsupported.
Julie's criticism of my comment on anti-Semitism puzzles me. Our friend writes,"To take issue with Brontë's comment on the 'Jew-usurer' is simply to take an anachronistic view. George Eliot in Daniel Deronda, which was published in 1876, was writing a revolutionary book dealing with the Jewish question; most of her generalizations would be totally unacceptable today."
What was so revolutionary about Daniel Deronda? I have sampled the anti-Semitism in the books that the young Jane Austen was reading and I then showed that Jane Austen, herself, took a more progressive attitude—an attitude that would pass all tests of today. I then detailed the wonderfully progressive attitudes about ethnic prejudice displayed by Sir Walter Scott in his most famous novel. My point about Jane Eyre is that Charlotte Brontë's attitude was regressive because she put anti-semitism into the mouth of her heroine.
I believe that my point about Charlotte's description of landscape prior to her passages on the outbreak of sickness at Lowood School comes through this debate unscathed.
Excellent article, but I'm still of the opinion that the Brontes collectively were the Jacqueline Suzanne's of their age. I also stand by my previous post: Jane Eyre could take Fanny Price and you pick the venue: WWF, Greco-Roman or Freestyle.
Dear Ashton: Neo-conservatives
I'm afraid your assessment of the neo-conservative movement is a bit out of whack. "Neo-conservative" is the epithet applied to Democrat turncoats (to the Republican Party) of the early and mid-sixties. These days it's generally accepted as anyone who began life as a liberal, but grew more conservative with age. (There's an excellent article in the Economist magazine.) I think your characterization of white Southerners turning to the Republican Party is a bit simplistic; race certainly played a factor, but the Democratic Party lost the South on two issues which aren't amenable to slow change: abortion on demand and gun control.From Ashton Dennis: We may meaningfully debate the definition of "Neo-conservative". (Incidentally, I think that "liberal" is a word that never should be applied to someone after 1969—Dr. King and Hubert Humphrey were the last liberals). However, I can guarantee you that "abortion on demand" and "gun control" were political issues not even dreamed of in the forties and fifties when the Democrat's break with the south occurred.
Dear Ashton: affirmative action
"Perhaps neo-conservative Republicans actually have mended their ways on race relations to some extent. The conservatives of the Bush administration have done a far better job than the liberal administration of the Clintons' in the race to introduce diversity into the executive branch. Bush appointed Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and has been rewarded with service well above the average for public servants in their positions. Perhaps that duo someday will be judged as one of the best of all time. The Clintons chose to focus primarily on upper-middle-class, white women for the high profile jobs and we all were disappointed in their performances. (That focus was too narrow and was misdirected in the sense that it could do nothing to heal the breach that has long existed in our nation.) Janet Reno may have been one of the worst Attorney Generals of all time. The Clintons' first nominee for Attorney General was a middle-class, white women whose ethics were so questionable that the Senate refused to ratify her appointment."
You've grabbed the tail of the snake there, though I think you've mistaken it for the head. The Clinton administration appointed women without regard to their abilities simply because they were women. The Bush administration has been "rewarded" by its choices of Powell and Rice because they were chosen as the best people for the job. This is the crux of the current debate about affirmative action, which I don't want to get into, but I think serves to highlight a fundamental difference in thinking not so much between the Republican and Democratic Parties as political ideals, but the difference between the individuals who are guiding the parties. It's the only thing (aside from my personal conspiracy theory that the DNC is currently being chaired by a Republican sleeper agent) that could possibly explain the stupidity behind the idea that anyone is going to vote for Hillary Clinton just because she's a woman.From Ashton Dennis: I can see how my cryptic remarks could lead you to this reaction. But, the truth is that you and I agree on nearly every issue here, except that I see a good deal of value in affirmative action (but not for upper-middle-class, white women). So, you believe that no one "is going to vote for Hillary Clinton just because she's a woman" do you? You have to get out more.
Dear Ashton: French revolution
I enjoyed your observations about the French Revolution. I confess an un-Austenish lack of interest in the affairs of France; probably because there's no one to root for. A slime ball, ineffectual monarch; an even worse aristocracy; and a murdering mob using public executions to settle petty quarrels. Good lord, it's the Russian Revolution in a nutshell, isn't it? I guess the French really were ahead of their time.
The Fall of Japan by William Craig
This book details the US actions which led to the Japanese decision to surrender and the nuts and bolts of making that surrender happen, both on the American and Japanese side. As it was written in 1967, before certain documents were declassified, it can't be considered in any way definitive, but does a good job with the information that was available at the time. My major criticism is that the author treats the Japanese military leaders more as tragic heroes than history warrants. The case can be made that civilian statesmen, many of whom were assassinated or survived such attempts, were doing their best for their country and its people; but the same cannot be said for the men of Japanese Army and Navy who usurped civilian authority and lead the nation to ruin in a genocidal war.
All of the information about attempts by various military officers to block the surrender was new to me. One group got as far as taking over the Royal compound before dissolving in a rash of suicides. The Atsuki airbase, where the US occupation forces first landed was still being held by anti-surrender forces only hours before the first planes arrived. All in all a good effort, though again, now that more information is available, I'm sure there are more comprehensive studies of these events available.
The Potato in World History
I've been reading a few pieces in What If? 2, which includes a piece about how the Peruvian potato changed the course of history. The potato of course was used to feed the slaves that mined the silver that Spain used to rule the world; and which set off the European economic revolution It fed her sailors on the way back from the new world. And it spread from southern Italy, which Spain controlled at the time along the old Roman roads to the Low Countries, spurring population growth and industrial revolution as it went. The author of this piece theorizes that had the potato made it to southern China, there might have been two industrial revolutions instead of one. It kept southern Ireland Irish because the English colonies, which raised wheat, failed in the cool Irish weather. Of course it also killed millions of Irish later on, because Ireland became a one-crop country.From Ashton Dennis: Another excellent reference here is Alfred W. Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, Greenwood, 1972.
The Chatsworth exhibit
A friend from RoP and I toured the Chatsworth exhibit at the Dixon Gallery in Memphis recently. I should have taken a note pad to keep exact details, so this report will be sketchy. There were paintings, but none by Le Brun, I am sad to say. The books and manuscripts were amazing. There were several on architecture with intricate drawings. The pictures in the books were elaborate and plentiful. The artifacts included globes, furniture, very large vases, jewelry, a gown, and sculptures. There was a 20-minute film narrated by the present owners that was very well done. It gave one a sense of the size of the estate. It was like taking a step back in time. I wonder if Jane ever saw it.
Mark Twain on Jane Austen
In my adventure/quest to exonerate/explain Mark Twain's opinion of Jane Austen, I have made some discoveries. I was happy to see Ash say: "Explanation of Mark Twain's mind cramp is an especially difficult case for me because I like him so much. And, my respect for him grows daily".
Likewise, my opinion has changed through the years. As a teenager, I thought he wrote books for boys, and therefore I could care less about them. It has been only since our study of his comments on this site that I have taken a serious look into his works and life. I offer the following comments which I hope will shed a little enlightenment per Ash's statement: "... if we know what the detractors were like, we might learn what kind of mind is at odds with our Lady's and that might be informative ..."
Recently I wondered if there were any of his own personal books written by Jane Austen that may possibly have some marginal notes that would exonerate his terrible remarks as quoted. I made inquiries and found that his surviving daughter had sold, auctioned off, and gave away (as did he before he died) his books. I was devastated, but nevertheless trudging on, I inquired of the personnel in charge of The Mark Twain House in Hartford, CN about the books in their pictures of his library. I was told that they were from that era but not Twain's own, but they did have some of his books that were kept in a separate room to be preserved and to see them one has to visit the house. Those lovely Ladies checked among those and still did not find a Jane Austen book, but they recommended Alan Gribben's Mark Twain's Library, A Reconstruction in two volumes. Thanks to Interlibrary Loan I have those and can tell you what I found. Before I get to Jane Austen, let me say that I was amazed to find a great number of women writers who wrote on a wide variety of subjects included in his library.
There are two and a half pages about Jane Austen. The first sentence is:
"Mark Twain did not mention Jane Austen in his correspondence, literary works, or notebooks before 1895, but during the last fifteen years of his life he displayed an unrelenting contempt for her novels that astonished and amused his friends."
Scouring my MT books, I noted that in the year 1895 due to his collapsing finances he was compelled to make that round the world trip for money. He bid a sad farewell to his home in Hartford and left two daughters behind. He was 60 years old.
According to the sources quoted in the book, Twain had, like Huck Finn, "some larger distrust of social structures themselves". Also, Gribben's says, "Evidently his [MT] critical standards required the creation of at least one character with whom he might identify and sympathize; finding none, he lost patience with Austen's novel of manners and its emphasis on dialogues from an earlier English society." Humph, he should have loved Mr. Collins! As for Goldsmith, Twain spoke kindly of him prior to 1895, but thereafter began his ugly remarks.
I am basing my very humble opinions on the impressions left by my research that includes a couple of books containing some of his personal letters as well as information from various web sites. I find it odd that his rants seem to have begun in a specific year (1895), and so late in his life. I was impressed by his great love and respect for his wife and children, his guilt about his business failures, and the neglect in some areas he thought where his children were concerned. About this time he was depressed, according to Livy, and suffering with minor ailments though he kept up his schedule.
I sensed his disillusionment with the state of the world reflecting a difference between his "religion" and Jane Austen's. She had a "hope" and a sense of Christian goodness in spite of the current events of her era. Allow me to interject here, my own sense of Jane Austen's "religion". I have detected from her writings that she was indeed a true Christian in every sense of the word. In contrast, I sensed in him a feeling of "hopelessness" for world improvement, because he had lived a great many years and witnessed world governments in action or inaction. Without the influence of Christian "hope" I can envision his disillusionment and/or bitterness especially towards those who do have hope and "see" a different world.
I am fairly sure he believed in a God, but, because of the religion taught in his day, he did not know my loving, fair, just, and sovereign God. He saw much wrong in the world and did not have a reasonable explanation or solution. His many financial mistakes did not sit too well with him either. In those years previous to 1895, his beloved Livy was ill a lot. In 1896 his darling eldest daughter passed away at 25 years of age. A supposition of mine is that he might have felt that she was robbed of her future achievements, maybe even being another "Jane Austen". He was devastated and blamed himself for their troubles, etc.
Add up all the negatives and you get Mark Twain, as he was in later years—cantankerous. Knowing all this, I am not surprised anymore at his remarks. However, I still think he should not have said them. But then that is just the way he was. Hopefully I have put his comments in some sort of understandable context—maybe not. After all is said and done, what I learned (so far) from this exercise is that the provocation for his remarks was Mark's state of mind and body as well as his naturally irreverent attitude towards almost everything in life when it "may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke." This exercise also brought to my notice the sharp contrast in basic Christian attitudes which reinforced and acted as a second witness to my idea of Jane's "religion". Well, there you have my very humble opinion, but don't confuse it with the facts. It gives me comfort, so kindly allow me to believe it!
Goodness, after writing the above I stumbled upon this from Ash in his comparison of Jane Eyre and Fanny Price: "A major difference is that Jane [Mark Twain] becomes hardened and resolute while Fanny [Jane Austen] remains open and hopeful." Please note the substitutions. That is exactly what I was trying to say about Mark and Jane Austen! Correct me if I am wrong ... please.
Reply to Ash: Mark Twain on the treatment of women
Thank you for that report. And yes, it has been my experience that such "slavery" does age one prematurely. Twain's words were personally painful, but cathartic, for me to read and perhaps might have redeemed himself for his remarks about our darling Jane—well, almost.
A strange similarity occurred to me the other day—that as a teenager I only read Pride and Prejudice of Jane Austen's novels and Jane Eyre out of all the Brontës novels. Back then I was not even aware of Jane's other novels, though I had heard of Wuthering Heights. The only reason being that no one was around promoting them—not even our English teachers. In view of Charlotte's Notice wherein she says, "She [Anne] brooded over it till she believed it to be a duty to reproduce every detail (of course with fictitious characters, incidents, and situations) as a warning to others.", I am glad that I did not read them. However, I may have learned something and saved myself some pain. Now I will have to make a point of noticing all those things when I do read them. Of special interest to me would be to make a comparison of their works to Anne Brontë's poem A Word to the Elect. Somehow it does not compute—another mystery to solve.
Have a safe and happy Fourth!
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