We speak of them as they were
Male Voices in Praise of Jane Austen
|Volume 2, Number 3||March 1, 2003|
Edited by Sophia Sentiment
Announcement: if you please: In keeping with our tradition of "Mary Wollstonecraft Day" on May 1st each year at Male Voices, it will be our pleasure to accept your contributions, whether praise or complaint, for our May issue of The Loiterer. Since I may possibly be in the midst of my son's wedding, our co-editor, Cheryl, will be taking your contributions during the month of April at firstname.lastname@example.org/ashton for the May issue.
You can read about what sort of thing is expected at this original announcement of our annual Wollstonecraft celebration. The day has been celebrated at this web site since 1999. You can link to those examples by scrolling down to "Mary Wollstonecraft Day" in this section of the index.
There are so many domestic and international issues in the forefront of our thinking these days that this might be the best ever MW-Day in the history of this site.
I'm afraid everything I had written for this month has been locked up by the new firewall program we installed. All our "Word" documents are trapped in some sort of computer limbo and I won't try to reconstruct them today.
This month I read Flu, what I would call a "popular science" treatment of the search to identify the 1918 influenza strain and figure out why it was so deadly. For the most part it's pretty interesting reading, although the author (whose name escapes me and the spousal unit has the book at work for lunch time reading) spends way, way too much time on the personal histories and various professional squabbles of the main players in the drama. Rather interestingly, there were actually 2 influenza outbreaks that year—one in the spring, with a low mortality rate—then the deadly "Spanish" influenza in the fall. For whatever reason, the second outbreak hit the 18-40 year olds hardest and killed most of them within 3 days.
Band of Brothers
I also watched Band of Brothers for the first time this month (I'm too cheap to get cable) and I'm glad I did. It's probably the most compelling "entertainment" I've seen. I definitely need to get the book. There's a local connection by the way: one of the men, Earl McClung is a "local." (Our definition of local here includes anyone on the rez.)
Last, and certainly least, my list, in descending order of probability, of who will be killed in Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix:
- Sirius Black
tied with ...
- Albus Dumbledore
- Ron Weasly
- Ginny Weasly
- Remus Lupin
Gary Oldman has been picked to play Sirius Black in Prisoner of Azkaban, which is a serious disappointment to those of us who were hoping they'd save him for Lord Voldemort. (Though I have to admit he's perfect for Sirius too.)
Dear Ashton: I can hardly believe you made it far enough into that book (Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History) to bring us those extraordinary quotes. I particularly like the one about the famine in India during WWII which is not only wrong, but one of the most racist diatribes I've read in ages."...and finally the 'divide and rule' policy of giving the various Indian provinces control over their own food stocks."
Because everyone knows a bunch of wogs couldn't be expected to manage their OWN rice stocks, right? And to let them do so is a deliberate attempt to starve them? How does this sort of thing get published and why doesn't anyone call the author/publishers on it?
I notice that in context, the author mentions "Japananese controlled Burma" but makes it seem as if the British simply sanctioned Burma rather than that the Japanese Army occupied it and took every thing that wasn't nailed down. That "cashed-up" (or does he mean cached?) Calcutta is pure nonsense as well. No amount of cash gets critical food supplies out of the country ... there has to be enough extra to sell.
The facts were that in the Bengali province, the British were worried about a panic over food supplies and tried to centralize distribution in the area. Unfortunately, this fed the panic. Although plenty of rice was available, a black market sprang up and the rumor that there wasn't any food in the government graneries kept many people from going to get food there.
It's pretty clear what the author thinks about "market forces." No doubt the grand success of trying to kill off "market forces" in the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Venezuela escapes the author's attention.
As much as it pains me to praise it, the National Rifle Association showed us what could be done about such books. It managed to get The Arming of America taken off the shelves and its author fired and his book award revoked in January. His own univerisity was forced to admit he simply made up his own data and even (this is the amazing part) that lying about data is a serious academic issue; not merely an exercise of free speech.
Your bravery at reading this book for us deserves our praise and thanks. On a more practical note, I give you this recipe:"Fill a bathtub with lukewarm water. Add one 16 ounce box of baking soda and 1/4 cup bleach. Stir until baking soda is desolved. Bathe in this mixture for 15 minutes"*
* Adapted from a recipe to remove skunk odor from dogs
and other pets. Sounds like you could use it though.
P.S. Having been forced to listen to the Grammy nominees' CD at work, there's no question in my mind the Norah Jones deserved her multiple Grammies. I'm not overly fond of that sort of music, but it's a good CD.
"May You be Plagued with a Maiden Sister": A Message from Sophia the First
I am so glad that Linda has accepted the new format for the newsletter; I mean the format for the "The Loiterer—A Newsletter". That made me wonder about the accessibility to the original "Loiterer" published by Jane Austen's brothers, James and Henry, when they were at Oxford. In particular, I wondered about the contributions of "Sophia Sentiment". There is some disagreement among the experts about the true identity of Sophia, but I strongly agree with those who believe that Sophia was Jane Austen—wishful thinking? (She would have been about thirteen or fourteen at the time.) My goal here is to pass on what little I do know.
I have not found very much on the Internet: here are links to #1&2 and to #3&4 of the original Loiterer. The problem is that the main Sophia-letter appeared in #9 of The Loiterer. Here is all I have found about that. This is from Chapter 5 of Park Honan's biography, Jane Austen, Her Life. That is the chapter titled Sexual Politics: The Loiterer, and headed with this quote from Sophia's letter:
"Let the lover be killed in a duel, or lost at sea, or you may make him shoot himself, just as you please; and as for his mistress, she will of course go mad."
letter in James and Henry Austen's The Loiterer
by "Sophia Sentiment"
"For Jane [Austen] at thirteen "The Loiterer" was a lively, absorbing school. Its stories slightly improved from issue to issue, and she could anticipate talking about their methods with the authors--mainly her own brothers. Perhaps because the early stories were about men, and lacked female viewpoints, she seems to have sent James a funny letter signed 'Sophia Sentiment', which he printed in No.9. 'You', Sophia wrote with a cool boast,"
'know Sir, I am a great reader, and not to mention some hundred volumes of Novels and Plays, have, in the last two summers, actually got through all the entertaining papers of our most celebrated periodical writers ... My heart beat with joy when I read your publication.'
"But having pumped up James's pride, she burst it. 'I am sorry however,' added Sophia,"'but really, Sir, I think it the stupidest work of the kind I ever saw. ... Only conceive, in eight papers, not one sentimental story about love and honor ... No love and no lady.'
"She explained how Henry's last story would have been saved if the hero had run off with the French nun. 'You', she told the editor, 'neglect the amusement of our sex, and have taken no more notice of us, than if you thought, like the Turks, we had no souls.' Unless James prints stories for ladies awfully soon,"'may your work be condemned to the pastry-cook's shop, and may you always continue a bachelor, and be plagued with a maiden sister to keep house for you.'
'Yours, as you behave,
Well, obviously, Honan believes as I do that Sophia Sentiment was, in fact, the adolescent Jane Austen. The humor and style is too much like that shown in our Lady's Juvenilia. It is too much to believe that the Austen brothers could have known two such persons. However, not all the experts agree. A significant dissent is registered by Claire Tomalin in her biography, Jane Austen: A life. Ms. Tomalin has earned our respect and so her ideas must be examined."... The claim has been made that Jane Austen was the 'Sophia Sentiment' who wrote to 'The Loiterer' for 28 March 1789—two months after its first issue—complaining that it did not cater for women readers, and recommending that they should run 'some nice, affecting stories' about lovers with 'very pretty names' who are separated, or lost at sea, or involved in duels, or run mad. The trouble with attributing this to her is that the letter is not an encouragement to 'The Loiterer' to address women readers so much as a mockery of women's poor taste in Literature. 'Sophia Sentiment' is more likely to have been a transvestite, Henry or James."
Apparently, Ms. Tomalin thinks that Jane Austen never would have put to paper "a mockery of [some] women's poor taste in Literature." Oh really! then how might we explain the central theme of Northanger Abbey or a milder form of the same thing in Emma? Does Ms. Tomalin think that Jane Austen never would have criticized women?—only men?
I guess that it is only next to my degree of bewilderment over Mark Twain's brain cramp, that I might wonder about Claire Tomalin's. In every other way Ms. Tomalin exhibits a finely honed sense of humor and irony. And yet, every time this fine English thinker and researcher touches something Jane Austen, she is transformed into a 19th century Prussian—she is turned to stone. (I can only imagine that this is some cruel twist of quantum mechanical fate.) I mean, how can someone of Claire Tomalin's intellect miss the teasing irony in the quote from Sophia Sentiment?
For me, the telling sentence is Sophia's mock insult, "... may you always continue a bachelor, and be plagued with a maiden sister to keep house for you." Now, if Jane Austen wrote that, then it is very funny—a very teasing thing to say to an older brother. But, if one of the brothers wrote it, it is disgusting, an insult to the sisters he dearly loved. And what would have been the purpose if one of the brothers had written it?
Well, as I have said before, Claire Tomalin's interpretations of Jane Austen's novels are among the very worst I have ever read. I am not calling them unconventional, on the contrary, but they are among the most wrong-headed to be found. (The surprising thing is that her biography of our Lady still has great value in spite of all that.) Also, for some unexplained reason, Ms. Tomalin does not like the members of Jane Austen's family, especially the brothers. Given these observations, I am not surprised that the biographer would entirely miss the point of a Jane-Austen joke and would, instead, interpret it as a brotherly insult.
Seizing the Reins: A Mare's Nest at Princeton?
In the last newsletter, Linda began her discussion of Claudia Johnson's book, Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel Normally, we should wait for Linda to complete her study and presentation, but I simply can't wait to begin my questioning. Perhaps the source of my bad manners is the prejudice engendered in me by Professor Johnson's incomprehensible defense of Patricia Rozema.
I once "proved" that Jane Austen was a French spy and assassin. I did that to illustrate just how easy it is to make up any damn thing about Jane Austen and make it seem plausible. I call such a thing—I mean such a thing is commonly known as a "mare's nest". I can construct such things. I can do it, you can do it, professors at Princeton do it, film makers do it—try it—it's fun. But, it is not an activity for an adult person. So, let us be adult for a bit today; I mean, let us examine the facts.
Begin with those passages in Persuasion to which the Princeton professor refers. The set-up begins with a remark by Captain Wentworth during a walk with Anne Elliot and several members of the Muscrove family.
" ' What glorious weather for the Admiral and my sister! They meant to take a long drive this morning; perhaps we may hail them from some of these hills. They talked of coming into this side of the country. I wonder whereabouts they will upset to-day. Oh! it does happen very often, I assure you--but my sister makes nothing of it--she would as lieve be tossed out as not.'
'Ah! you make the most of it I know,' cried Louisa, 'but if it were really so, I should do the same in her place. If I loved a man, as she loves the Admiral, I would always be with him, nothing should ever separate us, and I would rather be overturned by him, than driven safely by anybody else.'
It was spoken with enthusiasm."
[Chapter X, Volume 1]
Clearly, Wentworth found an amusing way to remark on his sister's devotion and on the quality of the Crofts' marriage. It is a theme that Louisa picks up on "with enthusiasm" even though her understanding of Wentworth's intent is a bit askew. And what of Jane Austen's intent? That is interesting and affecting. Our Lady makes this exchange a laceration of Anne as that sweet heroine must listen to this praise of a woman who sticks by her lover regardless of the danger or turmoil, a women who does as she, Anne, did not. It's excruciating for Anne and it is doubly so for the reader.
The crucial passage come a bit later when the party meets the Crofts in their carriage. Anne, somewhat reluctantly, allows herself to be handed into the carriage by Wentworth in order to give her some rest. After a bit of conversation between the Crofts and Anne, they are interrupted by this sudden event—Mrs. Croft exclaims,
" '...--My dear admiral, that post!--we shall certainly take that post.'
But, by cooly giving the reins a better direction herself, they happily passed the danger; and by once afterwards judiciously putting out her hand, they neither fell into a rut, nor ran foul of a dung-cart; and Anne, with some amusement at their style of driving, which she imagined no bad representation of the general guidance of their affairs, found herself safely deposited by them at the cottage"
[Chapter X, Volume 1]
It is this fine illustration of a loving, cooperative marriage that the Princeton academic attempts to turn into a gender-war power-struggle. Nonsense! And the Princeton professor attempts that in this way:
"... Austen does not, it is true, explicitly invoke the French Revolution; but from the 1790s-the formative years of her career-until the end of her career, she is constantly evoking the tradition of fiction in England to which it gave rise: from ... the staging in Mansfield Park of lnchbald's version of Lover's Vows, featuring a woman's proposal of marriage, and finally to Mrs. Croft's untroubled insistence in Persuasion that women are "rational creatures" who can and indeed who must seize the reins lest the carriage overturn. Austen may slacken the desperate tempos employed by her more strenuously politicized counterparts, but she shares their artistic strategies and their commitment to uncovering the ideological underpinnings of cultural myths."
The only "strategies" in evidence here are those of Professor Johnson. The simple truth is that the French Revolution had degenerated first into The Terror and then into the reign of Emperor Napoleon by the time Jane Austen began publication of her novels. And her brothers had been thrown into harm's way in the wars with France while England was under a constant, creditable threat of invasion. English radical thinking from an earlier time, that had favored the Revolution, already had been discredited and the radicals themselves had evolved into good establishment boys. The suggestion that Jane Austen's novels conveyed themes from all that is absolutely ludicrous.
My first question is why in the world would anyone select Mrs. Croft when there are so many better examples of Jane-Austen, female characters who were, "... 'rational creatures' who can and indeed who must seize the reins lest the carriage overturn."? Far better examples are
- Lucy Steele
- Lydia Bennet
- Mrs. Bennet
- Lady Catherine
- Charlotte Lucas
- Miss Bingley
- Mrs. Elton
- Mary Crawford
- Aunt Norris
- Isabella Thorpe
- Mrs. Clay
Any one of these characters did a great deal more "seizing [of] the reins". And any one of those characters made Mrs. Croft seem a wimp by comparison. Maybe that list is unacceptable to some because those characters are all unattractive and should have left the reins in the hands of others. That's too bad, but the truth is that some small proportion of assertive women are self-serving or wrong headed and Jane Austen knew the truth. But, for the sake of discussion, here is another list of Jane-Austen characters who took control of matters to a far greater extent than Mrs. Croft and who are generally considered attractive:
- Emma Woodhouse
- Elizabeth Bennet
- Jane Bennet
- Mrs. Jennings
- Louisa Muscrove
- Marianne Dashwood
- Anne Elliot
I suppose the only name that might be challenged on this list is that of Jane Bennet. But, remember, Jane went to London and then to the Bingley residence in order to encourage Bingley. How many women of today might do that? I would call that assertive, certainly more assertive than any behavior displayed by Mrs. Croft.
Even in the context of her own novel, Mrs. Croft's assertiveness is subordinate to those of Louisa Muscrove, Mrs. Clay, and—yes—that of Anne Elliot after her arrival in Bath.
And what about the literary context for Jane Austen's novels? I mean what sort of fictional women were contemporary readers finding in the novels of other writers? Well, again, these other fictional women were far more assertive than Mrs. Croft—one might say far more assertive than any of the women that Jane Austen wrote about. Here is a small sampling that you can read about at this web site:
- Daniel Defoe's "Moll Flanders"
- Henry Fielding's "Maria Western"
- Samuel Richardson's "Charlotte Grandison"
- Sir Walter Scott's "Rebecca of York"
- James Fenimore Cooper's "Cora Munro"
- Maria Edgeworth's "Harriet Freke"
- Fanny Burney's "Mrs. Selwyn"
If you will select only one name from this list, then make it "Charlotte Grandison".
Finally, just how independent and dominant is Mrs. Croft—I mean Jane Austen's Mrs. Croft, not Professor Johnson's. Here is a telling passage from an earlier chapter. Anne and Mrs. Muscrove are in awe of Mrs. Croft and her adventures on her admiral-husband's war ship. They wonder that she could have felt comfortable and safe. The worldly woman puts them at their ease in this way:
" '...The only time I ever fancied myself unwell, or had any ideas of danger, was the winter I passed by myself at Deal, when the Admiral (Captain Croft then) was in the North Seas. I lived in perpetual fright at that time, and had all manner of imaginary complaints from not knowing what to do with myself, or when I should hear from him next; but as long as we could be together, nothing ever ailed me, and I never met with the smallest inconvenience.'
'Ay, to be sure.—Yes indeed, oh yes, I am quite of your opinion, Mrs. Croft,' was Mrs. Muscrove's hearty answer. 'There is nothing so bad as a separation. I am quite of your opinion. I know what it is, for Mr. Muscrove always attends the assizes, and I am so glad when they are over, and he is safe back again.' " [Chapter VIII, Volume 1]
The truth is that this, Jane Austen's last novel Persuasion, is full of expressions of women's love for men, and of wives' love for husbands. Mrs. Croft is, perhaps, the best example.
Let me try to answer my own question—why is this particular character in this particular novel the focus of a Claudia Johnson? It might be that this professor intentionally passed over so many better examples of feminine assertiveness in order to pervert the interpretation of Mrs. Admiral Croft's actions and intentions. So, just as Patricia Rozema would alter, even reverse, Jane Austen's intent in Mansfield Park in order to besmirch family men, Claudia Johnson tries to deflect our attention from Jane Austen's story of the love of women for men. Her attitude reminds me of the great "L-word" controversy that erupted at this web site. (You can begin to learn of that from this LINK.—Better yet find "the L-word" in this section of the Index.) I think all this says something about the collective state-of-mind of the American women of our time and nothing of Jane Austen's.
I believe I can say—I flatter myself—that I made a far better case for the spy/assassin thesis.
FROM OUR SISTER SOPHIA:
My own "mare's nest"
Speaking of "mare's nests", I am going to take Ashton to task re his next-to-last statement, to wit: "I think all this says something about the collective state-of-mind of the American women of our time." That, Kind Sir, is a broad, all-encompassing generalization. [Am I being overly redundant?] Be that as it may, you have done me a service, because you have expressed the heart of my present study, namely, "what is the state-of-mind of American women and how did it develop?" Thank you for putting it into words for me. Answering this question will be a tremendous undertaking and will be the focus of my Mary Wollstonecraft Day comments.
That said I will add the following comments to throw "a very little" more light on Johnson's book.
In your discussion of Fanny Burney's Evelina you use the term "cultural context" which is what Johnson is applying (or trying to) in her book. My problem is that I have not even read the books you mention (some are on my shelf), much less the very large amount of books she mentions. The key works out of many that Johnson uses are Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and its sequel, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791).
I am afraid that I left you and other readers with a very wrong impression. She is actually taking the critics, past and present, to task for what they said about Jane Austen and how they "got it wrong". She has nothing but praise for Jane Austen and how she "got it right" in comparison to most of the other women writers of that era. Everyone is allowed one mistake in life, and Ms. Johnson made hers with what she wrote about Rozema. In order to redeem myself, here is something nice she said about Lizzie."In endowing attractive female characters like Emma Woodhouse and Elizabeth Bennet with rich and unapologetic senses of self-consequence, Austen defies every dictum about female propriety and deference propounded in the sermons and conduct books which have been thought to shape her opinions on all important matters. Although many novels written from the beginning until the end of Austen's career referred positively or negatively to "The Rights of Woman", no allusions were necessary to remind audiences that female characterization, such as Emma's or Fanny's, was already a politicized issue in and of itself, and Austen's handling of this problem is perhaps the most independent of all her contemporaries."
Johnson also talks about the context of Elizabeth's famous "dirty petticoat":
"But exactly what a "lady" can say, and just as important, how it can be depicted in fiction are riddles Emma cannot answer. If those gaps in Austen's novels indicate any authorial inability, it is only an inability to crack the ironclad logic of female delicacy, according to which a proper woman openly and ardently avowing intense personal desire can scarcely be imagined, much less represented. Accordingly, although Austen, like Brunton, is, happily, rather unusual among her contemporaries in declining to create a ridiculous female philosopher, she too dissents from conduct-book moralizing about women by subversively using motifs that already have a political resonance to them. For example, when Elizabeth Bennet muddies her petticoats by running through the countryside to visit her sick sister, Austen is alluding to an incident in Memoirs of Modern Philosophers where Bridgetina Botherim does the same while taking a vigorous walk. The issue in both cases, of course, is not cleanliness, but rather the unseemliness of female "energy." In Hamilton's novel, Bridgetina's "energies" are laughed off as yet another Godwinian absurdity. But in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth's exercise brings a flush of vitality to her face which the gentlemen find sexually attractive, and if Darcy concedes that he would never allow his sister to traipse around like that, Bingley allows that Elizabeth's run bespeaks an amiable concern for her sister's health. By quietly reassembling what had previously been unambiguous and politically sensitive material about female conduct, Austen and Brunton, like the more conspicuously politicized sister-novelists-elists from whom they draw, are challenging repressive anti-Jacobin dicta about women without fuss or fanfare."
If, as we have seen, women novelists were able to appropriate a reactionary type in order to advance modest but distinctly reformist positions about female manners, they developed other narrative strategies to examine Burkean premises about marriage and patriarchy while eluding the accusation that they favored a radical reconstitution of society. Both the subtlest and the most radical of these is the use of ironic parallels or multiple plots which belie, rather than underscore, didactic contrasts between good girls and bad girls, good families and bad families, good attitudes and bad attitudes, and which, by thus decentering the prescriptive thrust of the plot, call our attention to moral problems Burkean conservatives minimize."
Emphasis mine. Her reference is similar to my comments on the influence of Udolpho found HERE. As I have probably said before, because I am not as familiar as I would like with Jane's society and the books she read, I am at a terrible loss to understand all the intricacies of what she wrote. These details are what I am picking up from Johnson's book - not necessarily "feminism". Maybe this will shed a little more light until I can write a report when I finish her book.
Reply to Cheryl
Both books you recommend sound interesting to me. Since I discovered in my family genealogy research that there were some family members who died circa 1918, I am interested in what is in the book, Flu. As a matter of fact, I just checked and my libraries have 3 copies—the one by Gina Kolata. Goodness gracious, the library also has the book and movie of Band of Brothers! My lucky day, indeed! And as we Janites say, "Take every opportunity of enjoying yourself".
Bree assures me that she is still busy with the task of "living"—as we all are! Where has the time gone?
In a note to your editor about the upcoming vacation, Cheryl said:
"We're kind of on the pre-trip cusp: early enough to start worrying about things, too early to do much about them. I think we'll start filling fishing reels with line, getting the rods packed, etc. this weekend. The problem of course is that this is also the time to start spraying our fruit trees, start our garden seeds, dig up the hardwood starts and deal with the seeds we've been stratifying over the winter. And of course find someone who'll come by and water them while we're away. As always, our list of garden and landscaping projects is long enough to keep a full crew occupied all summer."
"I've still got to get a prescription for motion sickness patches (one patch works for a week!) Luckily, there's no malaria where we're going. We've also been buying some field guides: bird of Panama, mammals of Mexico & Central America, fishes of the Pacific coast; and such. And I've been lifting weights for some upper body strength—don't want catching a marlin to be misery instead of fun."
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