9/6/99 John - An arrested development

Dear Ashton,

You reported the other day that an American had been recently arrested in England for being in possession of a really bad accent ("Cheerio, y'all.")

What is the development following this arrest?

Id est: What developed from this arrest?

9/6/99 Ashton - Male-Voices Staff report

Dear John,

Our legal representatives have been able to determine that the report of an arrest was greatly exaggerated. In fact, the report is untrue. The subject in question is now resting comfortably at Pemberley where he is pampered and fought over by Nordic Jane Austen.

For some background, see Ray Mitchell's postings of 5/18/99 and 6/18/99.

9/2/99 Ashton - Some thoughts after reading Barnaby Rudge

Dear Folks,

I have just read Charles Dickens's Barnaby Rudge. I picked up the novel for two reasons; first of all, it is one of only two novels that Dickens set in Jane Austen's time; and, secondly, I wanted to read of the anti-Catholic riots in the London of 1780. The riots are the central event of the novel, and I was enthralled by the treatment by Dickens. Jane Austen was four and a half years old at the time of the disturbances and so must have been aware. In fact, the central figure, Lord George Gordon, did not die until Jane Austen was eighteen and he had remained a notorious character until that time.

I have so much to say and to ask. As always, I do not speak with authority and I hope to learn much from our commonwealth correspondents about the event and about comparisons of our Lady with Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens was five years old when Jane Austen died (1817) and the novel was published in 1841. That was not too late, perhaps, for Dickens to have interviewed people who were children during these events. And after all, Dickens had had some experience as a journalist.

I begin by confessing that I like Dickens very, very much even though Jane Austen's great strength is Dickens's glaring weakness; Charles Dickens never invented a single plausible character - not one! A small percentage of passages in any Dickens novel will be so devoid of nature or probability that they are embarrassing to read. (In Rudge, he even invents an implausible character for a raven!) And yet, somehow, he managed to write great novels about human nature. I know that sounds like a contradiction so I must, someday, learn how to say it better. I don't know, it seems that if you read a Dickens novel through an intellectual dark-glass - If you slightly smear and average, if you concentrate your peripheral vision on the community of characters, then it all comes into a sensical focus and you are rewarded with the master's insight. To write so profoundly of human nature without care to the detail of a single character is the Dickens magic - how does he do it? I don't know - for one thing, his narration is superb. Of course, Dickens is a great storyteller.

Here is a summary of facts. Lord Gordon was a MP who opposed the granting of legal rights to Catholics. He was a fourth-rate thinker with a first-rate speaking ability who accumulated an impressive popular mob-support. He decided to present Parliament with petitions and asked for a demonstration of six thousand outside while he made his submission. Forty thousand showed up. The House of Commons was in one of its more tolerant periods and soundly defeated Gordon's efforts. The mob began to riot. And then it began to burn and loot. The riots lasted for a week and gained intensity if anything. First, the homes of prominent Catholics were burned, then the homes of Catholic supporters, and then the homes that merely promised quality loot. Over seventy grand homes were burned along with four jails including Newgate. The civil authorities were paralyzed and the uninvolved citizenry were fearful and hesitant. The military knew what to do, but their offers were resisted until a week had passed and matters had gone from bad to worse. Then the military was given a free hand and the shooting started. Two hundred rioters were shot dead in the streets and hundreds more died in hospital. Many others perished in their own fires. The riots stopped and the executions began. Men, women, and children - mostly men - were hung in public.

So, an ignoble cause was it? An example of religious intolerance was it? I don't think so, and neither did Dickens. Something else was going on here and you begin to suspect that when I tell you that some of the condemned rioters received their last rights from Catholic priests. The riots and their aftermath are the subject of the final third of Rudge, the first part is a development of the nature of those who would become rioters - bastard sons, half-wits, and disaffected servants and apprentices. And, not one of them was religious. Dickens saw this as an uprising of the poor and disenfranchised whatever the excuse. He convinced me. The riots began with "No Popery!" and gained momentum with "Burn, baby, burn!" There may have been some true religious sentiment in a few of the leaders such as the lame-brained Lord Gordon. This great Christian leader had lost faith in the Parliamentary system just as, within a few years, he would lose faith in Christ and convert to Judaism. You want to read about Germany in the thirties, about the Chinese Red Guard in the sixties, about the current American militia movement? Read Barnaby Rudge.

The timing of the riots is interesting to me. The year 1780 was just past the midpoint of the American Revolution and was a year that went very, very badly for my forebears. I suspect that this is the reason that most Americans, like myself, are ignorant of these events - when we study that year, we have even more serious things to think about. (In fact, one of the main characters in Rudge had just returned to England after losing an arm in that war.) The more important thing, perhaps, is that the riots occurred nearly a decade before the French Revolution. I wonder - is it possible that the example of the riots was such an anathema that it was a factor for preventing an outbreak of violent revolution in England? What do our correspondents say?

How did all this affect the budding Jane Austen? Don't look at me. Except, I can't help thinking of something that the adolescent Jane Austen wrote about a decade later. I am thinking of her History of England that she wrote to amuse her family. (It was illustrated by her sister Cassandra and is now available in bookstores.) If you haven't read it, do so as it is absolutely hilarious - so young and already capable of such hilarity! The thing is that I have been fascinated by the staunchly pro-Catholic stance taken in that part of her juvinalia. She worships Mary, Queen of Scotland, and vilifies Elizabeth I - always, of course, in the most hilarious of terms, "...my principle reason for undertaking the History of England being to prove the innocence of the Queen of Scotland, which I flatter myself with having effectually done, and to abuse Elizabeth..." She makes very clear her pro-Stuart sympathies and then this beloved daughter of one Church-of-England clergyman and the loving, beloved baby sister of another has the audacity to say "As I am partial to the roman catholic religion,..." Jane Austen's were interesting times.

9/3/99 Julie Grassi - [banya@onaustralia.com.au] Dickens

Dear Sir,

Sorry, mate, but I can't help you here:  can't stand Dickens - never could.  I think I've read most of them, many years ago, but I find his novels, as you say, populated by caricatures rather than characters - a sort-of written down kind of cartoon.

The Rev. Patrick Bronte remembered the religious riots in Ireland when he was a child, and campaigned for rights for Catholics when he was living as an Evangelical clergyman in England - wrote several very good letters to newspapers on the question, which showed some courage, given his position.  He felt that it emancipation were not granted, it would be riots all over again.

9/3/99 Ashton - More on Jane Austen's History of England and Dickens's Rudge

Dear Julie,

Did you say B- B- B-; I say, did you say B- B- (haachk, haachk).

Never mind telling me about Irish Catholics; there are forty million Americans of Irish-Catholic descent including my wife's family. We know all about them. We expect them to riot.

Did you never wonder about the pro-Catholic sentiment in Jane Austen's History of England? For the longest time, I thought that maybe it was due to the fact that the Austens derived from Scotland. But that may not work because the Scotland of Jane Austen's day was very different from the land of the Stuarts. In fact, many of the Lord-Gordon demonstrators were Scots and, later, when he went on trial for treason, a good portion of his defense fund came from Scotland. I now wonder if that sentiment might not have been a liberal response of the youthful Jane Austen to the Gordon riots. You know the truth, but you will not tell me. You are very cruel - I have explained that to you before.

Incidentally, do you enjoy the History as much as I? Maybe we should all post our favorite parts; I will start. Our young Lady informed us in this way about Lady Jane Grey:

"...Lady Jane Grey, who tho' inferior to her lovely Cousin the Queen of Scots, was yet an amiable young woman and famous for reading Greek while other people were hunting. ... the King died and the kingdom was left to his daughter in law the Lady Jane Grey, who has already been mentioned as reading Greek. Whether she really understood that language or whether such a Study proceeded from an excess of vanity for which I beleive she was always rather remarkable is uncertain. Whatever might be the cause, she preserved the same appearance of knowledge, and contempt of what was generally esteemed pleasure during the whole of her Life, for she declared herself displeased with being appointed Queen, and while conducted to the Scaffold. she wrote a sentence in Latin and another in Greek on seeing the dead Body of her Husband accidentally passing that way."

(As you know, Jane Austen's rule for "i" before "e" was "never!" I reproduced that idiosyncrasy in this quote.)

Let's continue with this historian theme. The men in Dickens's Rudge smoke or use snuff. That seems consistent with what we read in the Parson Woodforde Diaries. (What about the other contemporary accounts that you have read?) Yet, can you point to a single mention of the word "tobacco" in any Jane Austen novel? Another thing, Dickens's regency-era gentry carry weapons, sabers or pistols. I wonder if that is right - do you know?

For sure, Dickens got the part about hanging right. He details some of those executions and details the actions of the great crowds that gathered to watch this spectator sport: "... even little children were held up above people's heads to see what kind of a toy a gallows was, and to learn how men were hanged." That is consistent with my posting of 7/7/99. (See the "March 13, 1775" entry of the Parson's diary.) Dickens writes the real reason for the riots in one of the last sentences of a condemned, poor man: "... 'What else should teach me--me, born as I was born, and reared as I was reared--to hope for any mercy in this hardened, cruel, unrelenting place!' " And no Greek or Latin sentences were written there.

9/4/99 John - Tobacco, swords, histories, wars, and twits

Dear Voices,

It may be time to speak of many things-or not.

Ashton asks why Jane Austen has no tobacco in her novels and Winston Churchill wondered why, during WWII when he had been ordered to take a rest of some months and first met her, Jane Austen did not deal with the Napoleonic Wars. In both cases, I think, she was governed by artistic integrity.  None of the great paintings, no great poem, no great architecture, no great musical composition, no great prose or plays have anything extraneous in them.

Ashton worries about tobacco's (and likely many other things) not being mentioned in the Austen canon, Churchill worries about a war because he is conducting the greatest war in history and he had been a journalist and historian (and would be again).  Ashton also wonders about swords and Jane's History of England and Julie wonders about twits.

None of the things deemed missing had anything to do with the development of the very great works of art written by Jane Austen. Her readers were expected to be aware of everything transpiring outside the neighbourhoods in which she had set a novel that would have a general or particular effect on the characters or action of the settings. For example, in Pride and Prejudice a battalion of militia was quartered on the good people of Meryton and officers of that regiment play a prominent role in the novel and the great spring encampment at Brighton, with not merely a battalion or even a brigade of three or four thousand men under canvas in neat, military lines but likely a division of twelve or fifteen times as many men as at Meryton, all in redcoats, was more than enough to spin off her shoulders the head of thoroughly frivolous fifteen-year-old. But without the Napoleonic Wars, there would be no militia at Meryton or anywhere else. The regular army would remain in existence. Her readers were expected also to know everything that must be a normal part of every-day life of upper middle class (and therefore rural) England, including resorting to "Town" and Bath. Jane did not mention the remarkable invention in Cornwall of the steam train because it played no part in her stories. The Napoleonic wars are in the background of most of her novels.

Gentlemen were expected to carry swords (not sabres, which were the weapons of cavalry, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines). Until WWII and some extent after it, gentlemen carry side arms once these devices had been made to hold more than one or two rounds and become more accurate. Lesser breeds within and without the law could find themselves in serious trouble for carrying any kind of weapon for their personal use. There were exceptions, of course.. It may be interesting that the distance between the government and opposition benches in the House of Commons is equal to two swords length. There was a time when the gentlemen in the House wore their swords, but I have heard that the practice has fallen into disuse. In the TV and film productions of the canon, the gentlemen are not shown wearing swords or carrying firearms, but this depiction is an anachronism.  A real Darcy would not depend merely on a large dog for protection from robbers. Robert Hardy's outriders, footmen, and the guard beside the coach driver would all have been heavily armed in Northanger Abbey. That is what Jane's readers would understand.

Austen's History of England is a parody of Goldsmith's History of England. To see what Jane meant in her hilarious romp through English history, you will have to read the Goldsmith text, followed by a re-reading of Jane's History. It seems likely to me that Cassandra and Jane had to read Oliver Goldsmith's History when they were away at school, and that this book was among the histories that Jane has in mind when she has Catherine deplore torturing little children with dull histories that had not even any women in them, not to speak of. Jane was very modern in her educational philosophy. I think that if you read Goldsmith you will see that Jane makes fun of what she obviously implies is a biased account. I think that I know what she thinks of Goldsmith, but I have no idea at all what she thinks of any of the items in his history--or hers.

Julie's judgement that Edmund Bertram is a twit and that Fanny Price leaves much to be desired causes me some sadness. Edmund did spend some years at Oxford where classes were conducted in Latin and he sat at the feet of such great Latin writers as Julius Caesar whose commentaries taught him much and the great Greek writers who had a way with words, histories, and stories. Spending time with the masters of Antiquity is not a complete substitute for travel, but there was a war on, something alluded to by Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey when he says in astonishment to Catherine: You've been abroad, then! during the walk to Beechey Cliff. Travelling without reading is similar to travelling blind-folded. Not all those who took the Grand Tour were at home in Classical Rome and Greece but then they took tutors or hired guides. I cannot consider joining a college at Oxford and being years in residence there as having been nowhere and done nothing. For one, at least I should be willing to cancel engagements to spend some weeks with Edmund and Fanny.  I should not cancel an engagement with Her Majesty to visit the Bertrams, but plenty of other engagements could go by the board in exchange for the delightful hours I should expect to find in their company. So, hate me  I yam what I yam.  I should certainly have reported myself so sick that death was imminent if I could not be carried off to a quiet country home to be cared for the kind, young Bertrams if I had a choice between the Prince Regent and that young couple. The Prince Regent partied too hard for me.

Fanny Price spent the first ten years of her life in Portsmouth and then another two months when Edmund's father decided to make her straighten up and fly right. It is more likely that she would have to shield Edmund from knowledge of life on the docks too horrible for even a clergyman's eyes and ears. And in his parish, he will learn everything about everyone.  He is no sporting parson.

Well, I've said it now and I am not repentent.

By the way, although I am deeply moved by the lyrical and almost Blake-like quality of the images and actions in Mansfield Park and dear Friends live at Longbourne, Lucas Lodge, Netherfield, Pemberley, and Gracechurch Street, I must confess that at the moment my favourite novel is Northanger Abbey, which is laugh- right-out-loud funny.  You know, there is a board elsewhere where someone said that Henry Tilney was a twit because he had never considered Catherine for himself until she evinced great interest in him. (Remember the Charlotte Lucas advice to Elizabeth concerning Jane and Bingley?) The same person also wrote that Darcy was a twit also. Jane took great delight in so pointing out the standard man-sees-woman-across-a-crowded-moat, instantly falls in love, rescues her from two or three dungeons populated with psychopaths, expresses his unlikely undying passion for her (Cheers, y'all!!), sweeps her on his horse non-stop to Rome, where he deposits her at the feet of the Pope, and asks for immediate blessing of their marriage, thus astonishing the heroine who has not caught breath since the last dungeon, does not know that they are betrothed even, and in any case knows that the Pope will be firm about the banns, parental approval, and some i.d.  But you and I know Jane Austen, and those writers are no Jane Austens.

If all the Austen characters who seem perversely to avoid doing what we know that they must do, what we should like them to do, were brought together in one place,we should have a Winchester Cathedral and the Abbey, too, no doubt, full of characters, but we should also have the six great novels.  If these behaved as we should like in the plots' unfolding, then we should certainly have no twits--but no novels either.  Not one. None. Have I ever lied to you? Jane Austen sees and hears all and she tells us, but she does not tell her characters. They must muddle through as though they were real people.  We are like the spectators atop the heights during the charge of the Light Brigade:  we shout and swear because the light brigade ought to have wheeled and attacked the guns ought of sight them but clear to us.  We say what are you doing this is madness you are going to be stormed at with shot and shell you will return but as the six hundred.  And if the brigade had wheeled and merely recaptured some British guns, who would remember them?  They should have had life but no glory. Do you see what I mean?

9/2/99 John - Charlotte Lucas: Disapprovals

Dear Julie, Cheryl, Ashton, and All,

The problem in coming to terms with the marriage of Charlotte is one of chronicity:  it is unhelpful to impose attitudes from only one-and-a-half years before the end of the Twentieth Century upon the England of the end of the Eighteenth Century.

There has been a change in beliefs.

What Charlotte promised Mr. Collins was what was contained in the marriage ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer. Those promises and injunctions contained in that public ceremony were faithfully observed by Charlotte.  Mr. Collins did not ask for anything more.  His great joy seems to lie entirely in his knowledge that he had been successful in carrying out Lady Catherine's instructions. Charlotte's disbelief in his professions of love are entirely reasonable. Willoughby could be wildly in love with Marianne in a brief period, but Willoughby had not just two days before been on bended knee before someone as desireable as Elizabeth Bennet and professing to her his passionate desire to spend all of his days with her. It was very common for marriages to be arranged: the kind of passion of a Hollywood film or some very successful pulp fiction was not the usual case two hundred years ago. Not until after the marriage, that is. Most of us live in societies in which parents in effect permit their children to walk into disastrous relationships and marriages. So did the English upper middle-class, but at least there was strong advice offered.  Mr. Bennet gave his blessing to the Bingley/ Jane betrothal (she was of age), but he gave his consent to Elizabeth because although he advised against the marriage she would soon be of age and could marry where she would.

It is interesting that Frank Churchill and Willoughby were constrained by women in loco parentis who controlled the purse strings.  We cannot say that Willoughby would have done the honourable thing and married Colonel Brandon's ward had he been financially independent, but we do know that Jane Austen took great delight in giving Willoughby a life of regret over Marianne.  Do not give him pity. His life with his wealthy wife, dogs and horses was a happy one.

Marriage was and is a solemn contract to live together as man and wife for the rest of their days.  As Catherine said to Henry Tilney, in marriage the couple must go and keep house but in dance the connection lasts only for a few hours. Henry agrees with her, but teaches her (no, she did not need such instruction) that for the time contracted, a half hour in the dance or a life-time of marriage, all other men must not trespass. Elizabeth Bennet might refuse to marry except in the case of deepest love, but such emotion is not necessary to a happy marriage.  Jane Austen may joke that a momentary lapse had led Anne's mother into becoming Lady Elliot, but marriage to a very handsome, even dashing young man who is willing to be governed by her in some important matters need not be regretted.  As a pre-Romantic poet wrote, "I could not love thee dear half so much loved I not honour more." How could Sir Walter love Lady Elliot as she deserved if he did not love above all things else the true beauty that he saw in his mirrors?  His pretty little head could not understand thinking only of his wife without first of himself.

Mrs Tilney did indeed put up with much from the General, but her complaint that he had married her only for her money was a joke.  There is no evidence that she regretted the marriage.

In terms of her religion Charlotte was a loving and faithful wife.  Even Darcy remarked to Elizabeth that Hunsford seemed a comfortable house and Elizabeth agreed. Charlotte had achieved her goal of a comfortable home and all those who loved and valued her, including Darcy, must be glad that she and Mr. Collins had slipped into an agreeable life. Please do not make me speak to "irksome".  Is it not obvious?

But, given a free choice, I should still choose Mary Crawford.

9/3/99 Julie Grassi - [banya@onaustralia.com.au] Given a choice ........ choosing Mary Crawford

Dear John,

Yes, indeed.  I would be a Mary before I would be a Fanny, any day. Perhaps Mansfield Park is from Jane Austen's blue period?  Mansfield Park is perhaps best appreciated by considering that, perhaps, Jane Austen in this case was making a social and a religious point, rather than creating and developing characters.   I don't much fancy the conjugal life of Mr and Mrs Bertram:  Fanny, despite Edmund's assertion that she has 'the age and sense of a woman', also has a paralysing incapacity to interact with people.  Is the man to be forever content with sheltering his wife, and filtering the real world through his book of Common Prayer, so that it becomes acceptable to her?

Mansfield Park really does give us a picture of two alien cultures, at a time when there were many cultures existing disparately on the small island of England.  I feel that Mansfield Park is the most allegorical of Jane Austen's works: she didn't like or dislike the Crawfords, or the Bertrams.  She was using the characters as vehicles, by which she voiced her concern about what she saw as the looseness of modern society.  In Mansfield Park, alone of Jane Austen's novels, the characters are secondary to the values they represent.  I mean, honestly, let's face it: who the hell would cancel all engagements in order to spend an evening with Edmund and Fanny Bertram?  Edmund, all ordained, and all of twenty-six, been nowhere, done nothing, has the good fortune to be so unusual as to attract a woman of Mary Crawford's intelligence, and what does he do?  He spends time with Fanny, analysing Mary's dinner table conversation! The pompous twit reassures Fanny by his criticisms of Miss Crawford's voiced opinion of the Admiral, but that doesn't stop him hanging around, palely loitering, Miss Crawford's skirts, and neglecting his cousin in a manner that he does not hesitate to criticise, when he sees it done by others.  He had not the courage to take on Mary Crawford, but he was man enough to be flattered by the preference of this clever, beautiful woman.  When it comes to the crunch, however, he hides behind his prayer book.  In terms of characterisation, I would prefer honest, stupid Mr Collins, avowedly in search of a wife, to Edmund's priggishness.

All of which is irrelevant to the novel. In this one work, Jane Austen, I believe, was examining her society, and the fears she held for the erosion of the values by which her family lived.


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