Praise of Jane Austen
Male Voices Newsletter
|Volume 1, Number 3||November 1, 2002|
Edited by Linda Fern
Did Jane Austen commit armed robberies in Ireland?
Don't kill the messenger! But, the answer to the question is definitely, "yes". There is no record of an arrest, but, remember that Cassandra burned all those letters! However, there are many other letters, still in existence, in which our Lady confesses that she was a Celtic highwayman, and she even implicates other members of her family in her crimes. We can only speculate about what other acts of rapine, assassination, and illegal parking accompanied her confessed, nefarious acts. I will explain the indictment against your favorite author and that will be our segue to a discussion of the politics of Jane Austen's time.
There were two political factions in Jane Austen's time, the Whigs and the Tories. The Whigs were supporters of Parliament. The Tories were "the Kings men". Gradually, the former became "liberals" and the latter "conservatives". Each faction's name was a pejorative term bestowed by its worst enemy. "Whig" was a pejorative term first applied to Presbyterian elders and derives from the fact there were close ties between English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians especially during the English Civil War. "Torie" was an old Irish term for a scurrilous highway-robber. And yes, Jane Austen often confessed that her family was a good ol' Torie family with good ol' Torie values.
OK, so it seems to make sense that the Austens were Tories given that Papa, James, Frank, and Charles owed their livelihoods to appointments in the Church or Navy. Mm-mm-mm, not exactly; I mean if things were that simple, they would not be interesting. Things got a lot more interesting at the beginning of the Georgian period—about 70 years before our Lady's birth. That was when that first German, George I, came to the throne instead of a good ol' Scottish Stuart. At that time the "King's men" were relentless supporters of a Stuart succession and that meant that it was the Whigs who found favor with the new King. Add to that the fact that every George, Prince of Wales, thereafter hated his father. So, each Prince favored the faction not favored by the King. In Jane Austen's time, George III favored the Tories (don't ask), so the Prince of Wales hung with the Whigs—liberals. (One member of his entourage even wore an American uniform in public during our revolution.) Later, when King himself, George IV reinvented himself as a devout Torie.
So, when Jane Austen confessed her crimes against civil order, was she reminding her correspondent of her conservative values or was she taking a stand against the Prince of Wales? (It is certainly clear that she detested the man.) Don't look at me—I am sure that I don't know the answer.
Marianne Dashwood died in the same year as Jane Austen. Had she lived, she would have been the Queen of England.
Except that Marianne's name was Charlotte—Princess Charlotte. Let me explain. Last time, I told the story of Jane Austen's Prince of Wales and his Princess Caroline. I mentioned that he slept with her for about a week after the marriage, fathered an heir to the throne, and never stayed with her again. I didn't mention that the "heir" was actually an "heiress", the Royal Princess Charlotte. Charlotte was born in 1796 but died in 1817, in the same year as Jane Austen. (One interesting point is that by our Lady's time, there was no need to produce a male heir. In fact, Charlotte's cousin, Victoria, would eventually take the throne.) Charlotte died before her father, George IV, and so she never became Queen. The relevance here is that Charlotte was a Janite through and through. She wrote this to a friend,' "Sense and Sencibility (sic)" I have just finished reading; it certainly is interesting, & you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne (sic) & me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c, however remain very like. I must say it interested me much.'
Sadly, this was all too true, Charlotte was a shameless flirt and suffered the consequences. So like Marianne, imprudent and not so good. Charlotte would marry—a German, of course—but she would die only a few months later. I suspect an interesting story in that life—I must say it interested me much.
Last time, Linda correctly pointed out that Twain said that the "source of Humor" was "sorrow" and not anger as I said in my flight of fancy. In that our editor is entirely correct. It is an important difference that more closely describes Twain's meaning and—yes—is more likely the source of Jane Austen's humor (humour). That the word became transmogrified in my mind probably says more about me than I would have wished to make public, but there it is.
What made Mark Twain tick?
Ash's comments on Mark Twain in the October issue sent me on spree to find out what made Mark Twain tick. Since then I have read Susy and Mark Twain—Family Dialogues edited by Edith Salsbury and today (Oct. 29) Mark Twain to Mrs. Fairbanks arrived and I took a peek at it. By now I am beginning to know him a little better, and thereby, why he said what he did about our dear Jane.
Susy, his eldest daughter at age 14, sums it up quite nicely:
"Papa can make exceedingly bright jokes, and he enjoys funny things, and when he is with people he jokes and laughs a great deal, but still he is more interested in earnest books and earnest subjects to talk upon, than in humorous ones.
When we are all alone at home, nine times out of ten, he talks about some very earnest subject, (with an occasional joke thrown in) and he a good deal more often talks upon such subjects than upon the other kind.
He is as much of a Pholosopher [sic] as anything I think. I think he could have done a great deal in this direction if he had studied while young, for he seems to enjoy reasoning out things, no matter what; in a great many such directions he has greater ability than in the gifts which have made him famous."
IMO his humor was his shield for either his sorrow—his Father died when he was 12—or the attention he craved or somesuch. The fact that his formal education was scanty and he was mostly self-taught by extensive reading and travel says a lot for his natural talents. I found this in Mark Twain to Mrs. Fairbanks:
"In Hawaii in 1866 he had met Anson Burlingame, going out to China as minister, and received from his lips counsel by which (said Clemens in old age) "I have lived for forty years." In effect the elder man told him, "Avoid inferiors. Seek your comradeships among your superiors in intellect and character; always climb."... the impulse toward self-improvement was fed by these and similar exhortations."
Hmm... that must be why I joined Male Voices! Well, whatever! In reading the Family Dialogues, he did just that even though his humor always remained on the rough side. What he said about Jane was in keeping with this roughness that he also applied to others which leads me to agree with what Ash said about him on the MV page:
"Actually, Jane Austen herself unwittingly composed the perfect reply [to Twain] when she wrote these words for Fitzwilliam Darcy in Chapter XI of Pride and Prejudice.
'The wisest and best of [wo]men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.' "
"I must have been insane when I wrote that speech"
There was one instance at least where this 'roughness' backfired on him. This instance was also portrayed in the Ken Burns series on Mark Twain. This incident is reported in Susy and Mark Twain [emphasis mine in BOLD]:
NARRATOR: The Christmas season lacked the usual sparkle for Sam and Livy; their thoughts were occupied with the tragic Whittier dinner which had taken place on December 17th . Sam had been invited to make a speech at a dinner held in Boston in honor of Whittier's birthday. He improvised a ludicrous scene in which a California miner encountered three disreputable tramps who claimed to be Longfellow, Emerson and Holmes. The venerable poets, who were all present, were quoted and misquoted to the accompaniment of cards and liquor, and the results were disastrous, at least in the eyes of Sam and of Howells, who had introduced him.
SAM: My sense of disgrace does not abate. It grows. It seems as if I must have been insane when I wrote that speech and saw no harm in it, no disrespect toward those men whom I reverenced so much..
That is why I believe the way I do—that he really liked Jane Austen, but it was his 'way' to trash those whom he reverenced. John's post on Mark Twain says the same thing, and if I have the straight of it, Ashton begins to come around in his post of 1/28/02 HERE, (please scroll down to find it).
Joan of Arc
That 'trashiness' appears to be his public persona, but privately he had a serious side and desired to do some serious writing. He was quite sincere about his work Joan of Arc. I won't vouch for its accuracy, but he did write it to be a serious piece for which he did a lot of research.
Rudyard Kipling met Mark Twain
Twain was quite famous and sought after in his day. He traveled world-wide and met everybody who was somebody. To prove my point, here is what a 24-year-old unknown Rudyard Kipling from India said after visiting with Mark Twain at his home in Hartford circa 1889 [emphasis mine in BOLD]:
"The thing that struck me first was that he was an elderly man ; yet, after a minute's thought, I perceived that it was otherwise, and in five minutes, the eyes looking at me, I saw that the gray hair was an accident of the most trivial. He was quite young. I was shaking his hand. I was smoking his cigar, and I was hearing him talk—this man I had learned to love and admire fourteen thousand miles away.
Reading his books, I had striven to get an idea of his personality, and all my preconceived notions were wrong and beneath the reality. Blessed is the man who finds no disillusion when he is brought face to face with a revered writer.
You are a contemptible lot over yonder. Some of you are Commissioners and some are Lieutenant-Governors, and some have the V.C., and a few are privileged to walk about the Mall arm in arm with the Viceroy; but I have seen Mark Twain this golden morning, have shaken his hand and smoked a cigar—no, two cigars—with him, and talked with him for more than two hours!
Once, he put his hand on my shoulder. It was an Investiture of the Star of India, blue silk, trumpets, and diamond-studded jewel all complete. If hereafter, in the changes and chances of this mortal life, I fall to cureless ruin, I will tell the superintendent of the workhouse that Mark Twain once put his hand on my shoulder; and he shall give me a room to myself and a double allowance of pauper's tobacco.
To my mind he was the largest man of his time, both in the direct outcome of his work, and, more important still, as an indirect force in an age of iron Philistinism."
After Kipling's visit, Mark had this to say:
"He is a stranger to me but he is a most remarkable man... They [Sue and Susy] often spoke wonderingly of Kipling's talk afterward and they recognized that they had been in contact with an extraordinary man,... His was an unknown name and was to remain unknown for a year yet, but Susy kept his card and treasured it as an interesting possession. Its address was Allahabad."
One more thing and I will shut up about Mark Twain. He and Livy had a very loving relationship and a good marriage. They had lots of money thanks to her inheritance and his earnings. They had at one time seven servants to help run the household. But the end was very sad. As Ash said elsewhere he was not careful enough with the money and it got away from him. His eldest daughter, Susy, died in 1896 at 24 years of age. He was devastated. His wife died in 1904. His youngest daughter, Jean, died in1909 a few months after the middle daughter was married and sailed to Europe. He was left alone—read and weep what he wrote about The Death of Jean before he died a few months later in April, 1910.
Some new links
Ashton has certainly given us some 'food for thought'—it will take the rest of the month to mull all that information over. In case you find yourselves with nothing else to do, here is a link to A Memoir of Jane Austen by her nephew (J.E. Austen). Or if your interest lies elsewhere, here is a link to the Memoirs of Madame Vigee Le Brun (shown here with her daughter). See Ashton's comments on this French painter.
Elizabeth Louise Vigée le Brun
BREE assures me that she is quite busy at the moment and hopes to have more time during the holidays for literary stuff. Otherwise she is enjoying our carryin' on while she goes about her teaching duties.
CHERYL is probably still basking in the afterglow of her anniversary vacation, so we will have to wait until next month to get a full report on the number of fish caught, etc.
Come next January I will be officially on the 'retired' list drawing a pension though I will still be working full time at home with the grandchildren. I guess it never ends. Since I will be set for life, I am setting my sights on attending the Conference on Women's Writing in Britain 1660-1830 jointly organized by the University of Southampton English Department and Chawton House Library that will take place 15-17 July 2003. The Conference will mark the official opening of Chawton House Library. You are all cordially invited to make it a merry party indeed if you care to go with me.
If all goes well the family and I will trek to Baton Rouge for the holiday. Ya'll have a HAPPY THANKSGIVING and see you next time.
Love from Linda
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