Praise of Jane Austen
Male Voices Newsletter
|Volume 1, Number 1||September 1, 2002|
Edited by Linda Fern
Ta da! Here is our First Issue! [I thought some fanfare was merited!]
first edition of P&P
I do have one item that I noticed didn't even make it to Pemberley that I saw: a first edition, all 3 volumes of Pride and Prejudice was found in a Scottish castle last year and auctioned in July for 40,000 pounds! It was expected to get 12. Another bit of news is Possession starring Gwenyth Paltrow, Jennifer Ehle, and Jeremy Northam opens tomorrow.
I'm currently re-reading Mr. Kipling's Army which is about the British Army from the Indian Mutiny of 1856 (I think it was'56) until Aug. 1914. It is truly fascinating. I can't remember what it was that got me started on reading it again. From there I'll probably go to something called The Hinge Factor that Roy brought home. His constant whining about how bad it is has got me intrigued. At any rate, I may try to submit a review by the end of the month, though god knows I haven't gotten much else accomplished lately
Work continues at the web site, if at a much slower pace. I have added key words to all the postings files, and I am updating the index. None of that shows on the surface. I will complete that house keeping by the end of the month. I will then turn to updating the pages on "What Famous Men Said About Jane Austen" That should be ready for the beginning of the fall semester. Does anyone have any requests or suggestions for the web site?
I bought a batting tee for my grandson and that is working out rather well. He still cannot peddle a bike, but he loves to sit in the child carrier on the back of my bike. I am pleased because I am weaning him away from the computer; he spends five to six hours every day printing and playing games (he was four—yes I said FOUR—in April.) That is just too much time—way too much. He is beginning to teach himself to read; but, fortunately, he lacks the skills in that regard to go on line by himself. However, he has learned to pressure his mom to find some things for him there. (He explains to her "Noggin is spelled N-O-G-G-I-N.")
I could use some help. Does anyone know where I can download a search engine for the web site? All the real web sites have search engines and I want one too. On a more important matter, does anyone know how to rid one's mind of this sort of thing?
It was that siren Bree who tempted us, "unleash your wild doggerel!"
"Follow me," she wooed, "Or not—it's your funeral."
And then the siren-poet said, whilst munching chocolates in her bed,
"Remember, fun is like justice—rare and ephemeral."
Jane Austen's Life and Times
Cheryl recommended The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan due to my interest in the French Revolution and the 'revolutionary age'. Fortunately, my library has a copy. It is extremely interesting, even though I haven't gotten to the Revolution part yet. I think it will prove to be good for setting up Jane's time period in a way that I had not considered before, including perhaps the world of her Sailor Brothers. While grabbing that book from the shelf, I noticed the book next to it—The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester with a subtitle William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology. Well, what has that got to do with us, you ask. Please allow me to quote from the dust jacket:
In 1793 William Smith, a canal digger, made a startling discovery that was to turn the fledgling science of the history of the earth-and a central plank of established Christian religion-on its head. He noticed that the rocks he was excavating were arranged in layers; more important, he could see quite clearly that the fossils found in one layer were very different from those found in another. And out of that realization came an epiphany: that by following the fossils, one could trace layers of rock as they dipped and rose and fell-clear across England and, indeed, clear across the world. Determined to publish his profoundly important discovery by creating a map that would display the hidden underside of England, he spent twenty years traveling the length and breadth of the kingdom by stagecoach and on foot, studying rock outcrops and fossils, piecing together the image of this unseen universe.
In 1815 he published his epochal and remarkably beautiful hand-painted map, more than eight feet tall and six feet wide...
This happened in Jane's lifetime, you see. However the man fell on hard times, his work was plagiarized, and it wasn't until 1831 that he received the recognition he deserved. The words that really caught my eye were: turned "a central plank of established Christian religion-on its head." That is what I have to find out about when I can get around to reading the book. The story of the man himself is quite interesting. The material point being that, as you will see from my discussion of Wilberforce & others a tremendous amount of activity was happening at that particular point in time. It was "revolutionary" in more ways than one. There were some major forces at work including Wollstonecraft and Co. as covered by Ashton.
Some time ago Cheryl said she had read Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes upon my listing it as a library sale 'find'. That prompted me to pass this on from a post at RoP by Kimberly Joan.
I mentioned earlier (at least I think I did) that I have begun working in a new place. It's called Historic Rugby and is located in Rugby, Tennessee. It was a sort of Utopian Society founded by Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown's School Days as well as some other books, statesman, and social reformer (Christian Socialism). I am thrilled to be here. I spent my first night in Rugby staying in a place called Pioneer Cottage which was the first frame structure in Rugby and the place Thomas Hughes stayed on his first visit to this town. His 83 year old mother moved here as well as his niece, Emily. Besides Thomas Hughes home, there are several other places of great interest to me, especially the 1882 library with virtually every original book that was donated to it. It is, as is my understanding, among the best collections of Victorian literature in America. The dates range from the 1600s to 1899. I have been fervently searching to locate the Jane Austen books. I have only seen one (although I am sure there are others) but I cannot find a publishing date inside. It is Emma which I feel was not the most popular, so the others must be in there somewhere. I imagine that the lack of publication date was due to the fact that most of the books in the library were donations from publishers and may have been their own copies of the books. I have not learned nearly all that I would want and who knows what all is in there. I think the grand total is 7000 volumes which was quite a site in this rural location.
I would really like to see that library, and it is not that terribly far away. To verify the above information I found THIS WEB SITE, which I will have to find time to read in its entirety.
In the August 4, 2002 issue of the Sunday Parade magazine I noticed a comment that Russell Crowe's next film is Master and Commander, a nautical tale of the Napoleonic wars. It will be interesting to see how that turns out. I wonder what Andrew Davies is doing these days.
Recently at a huge neighborhood flea market, I went looking for books, of course, and found, among others, A Sea of Words—A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O'Brian's Seafaring Tales. I will admit that upon seeing the title, I audibly gasped and realizing I might have embarrassed myself, hurriedly looked to see if anyone heard me. It is like new and goes for $14.00, but I got it for one dollar, not to mention the 10 other Oxford World's Classics—like new and also a dollar apiece. I felt like a thief!
Sure enough 'slop-book' was in there and bears out Cheryl's explanation. However, I am too embarrassed to quote the definition of 'Spanish fly' and will only say that it was intended for medicinal purposes. I hasten to assure you that it was only by accident that it caught my eye as I flipped through the pages!
What does William Wilberforce, the politician, have to say? Surprise, surprise!
His name keeps popping up from time to time as being a prominent abolitionist of Jane Austen's time. That was about all I knew about him until a post on the Life and Times board at RoP stated the title of his book A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in the Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity. [How's that for a title?] Needless to say that title struck a chord with me. I had to find out more. The 1829 edition I purchased has an "Introductory Essay" of some 71 pages by Rev. Daniel Wilson, Vicar of Islington. The Essay itself is worth every penny of the book's cost because it was written within the lifetime of Wilberforce and covers the 'times' and the widespread and immediate (if not lasting), effects of the book which sold many copies. I, mistakenly, thought that Wilberforce was a minister, until I discovered he was a politician (MP). The fact that he was a politician and not a minister seems to have made his message carry more weight, especially since he had friends in high places. So far, I am up to Chapter 3 and get goose bumps as I read each page. He tells the truth, period IMHO. Now, my friend who keeps speaking of Wilberforce, the abolitionist, asked me if he approved of novels. Not waiting to finish the book, I checked the index and Lo and Behold, there was an entry. What he had to say about novels blew me away. Please allow me to quote the passage, though there may be other comments elsewhere.
I will try to put his comments in context with the following preface. His 'novel' comments are in Chapter 6, titled: Brief inquiry into the present state of Christianity in this country, with some of the causes which have led to its critical circumstances.—Its importance to us as a political community, and practical hints for which the foregoing considerations give occasion. The particular page is listed in the Table of Contents with the following: The peculiar doctrines of Christianity, at length almost left out of the system: this position confirmed by an appeal to our best novels, &.page 373. Here follows the passage—emphasis mine in UNDERLINE:
Towards the close of the last century [c. 1700], the divines of the established Church (whether it arose from the obscurity of their own views, or from a strong impression of former abuses, and of the evils which had resulted from them) began to run into a different error. They professed to make it their chief object to inculcate the moral and practical precepts of Christianity, which they conceived to have been before too much neglected; but without sufficiently maintaining, often even without justly laying, the grand foundation of a sinner's acceptance with God, or pointing out how the practical precepts of Christianity grow out of her peculiar doctrines, and are inseparably connected with them.1 By this fatal error, the very genius and essential nature of Christianity was imperceptibly changed. She no longer retained her peculiar characters, or produced that appropriate frame of spirit by which her followers had been characterized. Facilis descensus. The example thus set was followed during the present century, and its effect was aided by various causes already pointed out. In addition to these, it may be proper to mention as a cause of powerful operation, that, for the last fifty years [c.1750-1800], the press has teemed with moral essays, many of them published periodically, and most extensively circulated; which, being considered either as works of mere entertainment, or, in which at least entertainment was to be blended with instruction, rather than as religious pieces, were kept free from whatever might give them the air of sermons, or cause them to wear an appearance of seriousness inconsistent with the idea of relaxation. But in his way the fatal habit, of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines, insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight; and, as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment, began to wither and decay. At length, in our own days, these peculiar doctrines have almost altogether vanished from the view. Even in the greater number of our sermons, scarcely any traces of them are to be found.
But the degree of neglect into which they are really fallen, may perhaps be rendered still more manifest by appealing to another criterion. There is a certain class of publications, of which it is the object to give us exact delineations of life and manners; and when these are written by authors of accurate observation and deep knowledge of human nature, (and many such there have been in our times) they furnish a more faithful picture, than can be obtained in any other way, of the prevalent opinions and feelings of mankind. It must be obvious that novels are here alluded to. A careful perusal of the most celebrated of these pieces would furnish a strong confirmation of the apprehension, suggested from other considerations, concerning the very low state of religion in this country; but they would still more strikingly illustrate the truth of the remark, that the grand peculiarities of Christianity are almost vanished from the view. In a sermon, although throughout the whole of it there may have been no traces of these peculiarities, either directly or indirectly, the preacher closes with an ordinary form; which, if one were to assert that they were absolutely omitted, would immediately be alleged in contradiction of the assertion, and may just serve to protect them from falling into entire oblivion. But, in novels, the writer is not so tied down. In these, people of religion, and clergymen too, are placed in all possible situations, and the sentiments and language deemed suitable to the occasion are assigned to them. They are introduced instructing, reproving, counseling, comforting. It is often the author's intention to represent them in a favourable point of view, and accordingly he makes them as well informed, and as good Christians, as he knows how. They are painted amiable, benevolent, and forgiving; but it is not too much to say, that if the peculiarities of Christianity had never existed, or had all been proved to be false, the circumstance would scarcely create the necessity of altering a single syllable in any of the most celebrated of these performances. It is striking to observe the difference which there is in this respect in similar works of Mahometan authors, wherein the characters, which they mean to represent in a favourable light, are drawn vastly more observant of the peculiarities of their religion.2
1 Vide section 6th of the fourth Chapter, where we have expressly and fully treated
of this most important truth.
2 No exceptions have fallen within my own reading, but the writings of Richardson.
I am convinced that Jane must have read this book as I hope you shall see.
If I have the gist of what Wilberforce is saying correctly, it is that the people were given moral lessons without the 'why' or basis, and BOTH are necessary. It is like telling a child 'eat your vegetables because I said so' without informing him of the benefit received from the food's vitamins and minerals (the principle or doctrine of good nutrition). The 'why' Wilberforce calls 'Christianity's peculiar doctrine'—I had to decipher that as the principles and laws laid down in the Bible itself, as opposed to the doctrines laid down by some denomination or other, because he is saying that the denominations are at fault by leaving out the Bible principles (doctrines). He also says that the 'press' (including novels) is guilty of the same thing. His premise is summed up with his statement: "the fatal habit, of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines"
However, it appears that he does not condemn novels per se, but recommends them, if used to their best advantage, IMHO. I love his description of the ideal purpose of novels: "it is the object to give us exact delineations of life and manners; and when these are written by authors of accurate observation and deep knowledge of human nature" Does that not sound exactly like our dear Jane's writings? Those failed writers of whom he speaks remind me of all those who wrote Gothic tales that Jane made light of. The one I did read, "Udolpho", has a theme of 'first impressions', and it will be of interest to me to read "Pride and Prejudice again with this in mind to look for the addition of principles.
In the next UNDERLINED section beginning "But, in novels, the writer is not so tied down" it is as though Jane read those exact words and heeded the admonition. Her clergy are presented as having faults and very human depicting the way Wilberforce said they were in real life, preaching and living without heeding Christian principles. One example is Mr. Collins who exhibited no forgiveness (with or without Lydia's repentance) or Christian charity where she was concerned. The other novelists created the goody two shoes just like Wilberforce said; and they were real but lacking the doctrine. I will assume this, for I have only read a very few others without looking for this particular aspect. Wilberforce's concern was that this major fault led to the ills and the state of moral decay in society with which I agree.
I ran across another example in Thursday's (Aug. 29) newspaper. On the editorial page there is a comic strip called "Mallard Fillmore" who deals out social commentary. It goes like this: in the first picture Mallard (the duck with mortarboard) states "Mallard's Back-to-school Prediction #45... Following the current trend toward trying to teach kids "character" without "imposing Western, Judeo-Christian values on them"....[the second picture has a teacher with this caption: Progressive educators will soon decide: "We need to teach kids to READ.....without imposing all that "ALPHABET STUFF" on them." Sounds like Wilberforce to me!
Talk about influences, that second footnote is the icing on the cake. Richardson, whom Jane admired, is the exception, of all people! Now to put a cherry on top of the icing, I have made a possible connection between Wilberforce and Jane via a poem that William Cowper wrote about Wilberforce in 1792. We all know that Jane admired Cowper, too. The poem can be found HERE.
THIS SITE provides a short description of Wilberforce's 'circle of friends' and their activities. What really saddens me is that upon 'googling' William Wilberforce, I found another site on modern slavery.
Wilberforce's book also led me to two more persons—the Rev. Sydney Smith and Mrs. Elizabeth Fry, both of whom were reformers and contemporaries of Jane's. Two short articles about Smith can be found HERE and HERE.
Mrs. Elizabeth Fry was an amazing woman—from a wealthy Quaker family whose friend introduced her to the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft, Tom Paine, and William Godwin. A brief article can be found HERE describing her very active life [she makes me look like a lazy bum]. THE HOME SITE FOR THAT LINK IS HERE and appears to be a good one for "history".
Lastly, to add another 'connection', Anna Barbauld wrote a poem addressed to Mr. Wilberforce found HERE. It appears to have been a small world after all.
The latest issue, Summer 2002, of "The Female Spectator" has a brief description of these lesser known female writers: Mary Villiers Herbert Stuart Howard, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, 1622-1685; Hannah More, 1745-1833; Mary Tighe, 1772-1810; Anna Seward, 1742-1809; and Mary Russell Mitford, 1786-1855. And all this time I thought the women of old were simply doormats with nothing to say. It has finally sunk into my consciousness that there are lots and lots of them from the higher and middle classes to be found on the Celebration of Women Writers site.
THE MATERIAL POINT BEING: I have been looking at Jane's novels as isolated writings coming out of nowhere, but what I have discovered is—the world was in a violent turmoil at that time and people were busy doing things. I never 'connected' all those events in history. I may wake up one day and find the world out there.
Reply to Cheryl: Mr. Kipling's Army sounds extremely interesting! As far as getting anything accomplished goes, we managed to get the school room set up, supplies bought, and schedule almost done. We are making progress one step at a time. My other daughter is threatening to come over on Tuesday after Labor Day to give me the whole day off, and I have at least two weeks worth of things 'to do'. It will be interesting to see how much I can squeeze in.
Reply to the Meister: Yes, I do have a request and a suggestion, together. Simply put, on the Home Page and/or the Table of Contents page I would like a link to the top of each of the other essay pages. From the Table of Contents page one can navigate to the 'innards' of the other pages, but I want to be able to hit the title at the top of each page of your essay sections. That is so it is easier for me to 'save' each one to file. If a link is already there, it is hard to identify.
On behalf of your grandson, I will recommend two books my daughter has read recently and highly recommends. 1) A Mind at a Time by Melvin Levine and Bringing Up Boys by James Dobson.
I will recommend 'Google' as a search engine for the site. On their home page there is a link called 'search solutions' that I believe takes you to a place that tells you how to do that. And as far as that earworm you have, you are on your own, sorry.
Finally, the Meister has snuck in some information that has caught me unawares on the Jane Austen Contemporaries page that I highly recommend and should scrutinize next.
There! I hope this will do! By now you should see why I needed to do the newsletter—I just had to share! Have a nice Labor Day.
This First Male Voices Newsletter is dedicated In Memory of the First 9/11 Anniversary.
Love from Linda
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