Links, and Abbreviations
For the Male Voices Web Site
Jane Austen's Writing Desk
Jane Austen wrote six major novels and one novella (Lady Susan). There are also an unpublished play, "Juvenilia", two unfinished novels, and a collection of verses, prayers etc. As I wrote my own postings, I assumed that you had read all six major works or were about to do so. I used the following abbreviations when referring to Jane Austen's writings, and invite you to do the same.
[S&S] Sense and Sensibility
[P&P] Pride and Prejudice
[MP] Mansfield Park
[NA] Northanger Abbey
[LS] Lady Susan
[SCG] Jane Austen's "Sir Charles Grandison", transcribed and edited by Brian Southam ; foreword by David Cecil. Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1980
[Other Works] Margaret Anne Doody and Douglas Murray (editors) Jane Austen: Catherine and Other Writings Oxford University Press (1993)
[Family Poetry] David Selwyn (editor) The Poetry of Jane Austen and the Austen Family University of Iowa Press (1997)
You can find e-texts of most of these works on line; begin at the Great Books Index for Jane Austen. Also, you can find interesting discussions of the novels at Austen.com. Pick up Selwyn's collection to better understand Jane Austen's intellectual environment—it was considerable.
Comprehensive reviews of the novels appear at this web site. Start here for a review of Pride and Prejudice, and here for a review of Mansfield Park. All of the novels are reviewed with emphasis on the "passionate passages"—that starts here.
Biographies: Jane Austen
I depend quite heavily on biographical material and upon the analysis of some people like C.S. Lewis. I give credit, in my postings, with references to the following list of books and essays. I show abbreviations in brackets. Again, I will use these abbreviations in my postings and ask you to use the same ones. Obviously, this is not intended to be a comprehensive list, merely a short list sufficient for my postings. Consult any of the Le Faye references or the links at the Republic of Pemberley for far more comprehensive lists.
My personal favorite is the biography of Elizabeth Jenkins.
[Aunt] Caroline Mary Craven Austen My Aunt Jane Austen: A Memoir (1991)
[Memoir] James Edward Austen-Leigh ("Edward") Memoir of Jane Austen (1871)
[Life] William Austen-Leigh and Richard Austen-Leigh Jane Austen, Her life and Letters: A Family Record (1913)
[Brabourne] Edward Brabourne, first Lord Letters of Jane Austen, 2 vol.s (1884)
[Cecil] David Cecil A Portrait of Jane Austen (1978)
[Honan] Park Honan Jane Austen: Her Life (1987)
[Sailors] John H. Hubback and Edith C. Hubback Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers (1906)
[Jenkins] Elizabeth Jenkins Jane Austen (1938, 1972)
[LeFaye-89] William Austen-Leigh and Richard Austen-Leigh and Deirdre Le Faye Jane Austen: A Family Record (1989)
[LeFaye-97] Deirdre Le Faye (Editor) Jane Austen's Letters (1997)
[LeFaye-98] Deirdre Le Faye The British Library Writer's Lives—Jane Austen (1999)
[Tomalin-JA] Claire Tomalin Jane Austen: A Life (1997)
You can find the e-text for James Edward Austen-Leigh's biography at this site. He was Jane Austen's favorite nephew and his is the first biography of his famous aunt—it is very well written. The Brabourne Collection can be found, on line, at this web site.
We have made annotations or comprehensive reviews of several of these biographies and portraits. Here are links to reviews of [Cecil], [Honan], [Sailors], [Jenkins], [LeFaye-89], [Tomalin-JA], Here is a link to Cheryl's review of Jane Austen: A Life by David Nokes.
Criticism: Jane Austen
I am not well versed in criticism, it is like a foreign language to me. However, these few references might be of some use to you. (Notice that I include Jenkins's biography in this list.)
[Jenkins] Elizabeth Jenkins Jane Austen (1938, 1972)
[Lewis] C.S. Lewis A Note on Jane Austen In Essays in Criticism (1954)
[Roberts] Warren Roberts Jane Austen and the French Revolution Athlone, London and Atlantic Highlands (N.J.), 1995
[South-68] B.C. Southam (Editor) Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage (1968)
[South-87] B.C. Southam (Editor) Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage, 1870-1940 Volume 2 (1987)
[Waldron] Mary Waldron Jane Austen and the Fiction of her Time (1999)
For me, Elizabeth Jenkins's interpretations of the novels are in first place. Mary Waldron has many useful, new ideas (some insightful and others inciteful.) For example, Ms. Waldron has particularly useful things to say about Jane Austen's Juvenilia. Her first chapter includes a survey of all the trends in criticism of our Lady's novels over the years, and that will be useful to anyone first venturing into that discipline. Here is a link to some more of my observations about Ms. Waldron's efforts.
Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley
Works and Biographies:
The Search for a Context for Jane Austen
The other featured players at this web site are Mary Wollstonecraft, her husband William Godwin, and their daughter, Mary Shelley. Useful material is contained in the following.
[MW-memoir] William Godwin Memoirs of the Author of 'The Rights of Woman' (1798)
[Tomalin-MS] Mary Shelley Maurice or The Fisher's Cot, editing and introduction by Claire Tomalin (1998)
[Todd-MWS] Janet Todd (editor) Mary Wollstonecraft's Mary and Maria, and Mary Shelley's Matilda (1992)
[Tomalin-S] Claire Tomalin Shelley: And His World (1980)
[Tomalin-MW] Claire Tomalin The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (1974)
[Rights] Mary Wollstonecraft A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
[Travels] Mary Wollstonecraft A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796)
We all seek a context for the study of Jane Austen; my guess was to study Mary Wollstonecraft because she was a contemporary that provided such a remarkable contrast. Wollstonecraft came from a dysfunctional family and was a classic overachiever. She was an urban intellectual, a revolutionary, and a radical feminist; she associated with lower-class intellectuals. Mary called herself an "incendiary". I believe that she was bisexual and many other things that Jane Austen was not. And—well—I like her.
Claire Tomalin's biography is beautifully written and detailed. It is at once more severe and more sympathetic than my posting. However, it may be that I am more sympathetic to the woman while Tomalin displays more understanding of the woman's cause. You will find there, an extensive list of other biographical and related materials. You will also find that Ms Tomalin is ironic and puckish; can a stronger recommendation be made to a reader who loves Jane Austen?
There must be many other ways to find context. I will mention ten. Three of those come from good authority, Julie Grassi, who made these posts on James Woodforde and the Parson Woodforde Society: 4/28/98, 5/2/98, 10/25/98. Our friend's references are included in the following list.
[Aunt] Caroline Mary Craven Austen My Aunt Jane Austen: A Memoir (1991)
[Painter] Elizabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) Memoirs available online at this site.
[Byng] John Byng (Viscount Torrington) Rides Round Britain: 1782-1793 The Folio Society, London, 1996
[CMCA] Deirdre Le Faye (editor and introduction) Reminiscences of Caroline Austen: 1805-1880 (Niece), The Jane Austen Society, Great Britain, 1986
[Parson] David Hughes (editor) The Diary of a Country Parson: The Revd James Woodforde (1740-1803) The Folio Society, London, 1992
[Governess] Martin, Joanna (editor) A Governess in the Age of Jane Austen: The Journal and Letters of Agnes Porter: ca. 1750-1814 London; Rio Grande, Ohio: Hambledon Press (1998)
[Pool] Daniel Pool What Jane Austen ATE and Charles Dickens KNEW Simon and Schuster, New York, 1993
[Porter] Roy Porter English Society in the Eighteenth Century Penguin Books, New York, London, revised edition, 1990
[Roberts] Warren Roberts Jane Austen and the French Revolution Athlone, London and Atlantic Highlands (N.J.), 1995
[Shopkeeper] Thomas Turner The Diary of a Village Shopkeeper: 1754-1765 The Folio Society, London, 1998
Caroline Austen was the youngest child of Jane Austen's oldest brother, James Austen. Her "reminiscences" have very little to say about her famous aunt, but there is much about our Lady's neighborhood, neighbors, family, and social conditions. These are only a set of disorganized notes arranged in chronological order, but Caroline had the Austen gift for expressing herself and she seems perceptive and wise.—Don't miss this one.
James Woodforde was a country clergyman contemporary with Jane Austen and kept a diary for something like forty years. That should give you more than a glimpse into Jane's home life. Thomas Turner was a shopkeeper, at about the same period, and gives us insight for a slightly different social class. Captain John Byng traveled about the Britain of our Lady's time, and described his impressions for us in great detail.
Actually, the only link you need from me is to the Republic of Pemberley, because from there you can link to nearly everything else I can imagine. That is to say, you will find few links here that are not available at that site (but, of course, my discussion is more thoroughly opinionated and specialized—and is a more pointedly masculine viewpoint.) However, I will indicate links, regardless of how redundant that may be.
There is little doubt that the place on the web, with the most detailed information about Jane Austen, is Henry Churchyard's Jane Austen Information Page. For example, Churchyard, has placed the 19th-century, "Brabourne collection" of Jane Austen's letters online for you, and he has compiled a list of Jane Austen's Literary Allusions.
Here are links to The Jane Austen Society (UK), and to The Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA).
More generally, you can link to excellent web sites devoted to the Regency Period. See especially the sites maintained by Cathy Decker and Jack Lynch. Oh, and while you are there, check out Ms. Decker's excellent survey of women writers of Jane Austen's time. Also, look under "Regency Period" in the index where you will find links to a number of other surveys.
Actually, what would the web be without links? I mean the web is like the human mind with all those connections ("links") that remind me of synapses. Everyone talks about "surfing" the web, but that doesn't seem an apt metaphor to me. I suspect that a better metaphor is reverie because one seems to drift through the web, and where he ends up is unpredictable and depends upon all the choices made at the individual synapses. The surfer always ends at the beach. A still better choice might be Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song.
There is a very nice site devoted to the filmed versions of Jane Austen novels, and I downloaded a number of images from there in order to illustrate my postings. A source for images of the Austen family etc. is this one. Visit the Hampshire County site for images of the Austen family homes and surroundings.
I sometimes used Francisco Goya's paintings to illustrate my postings. I have visited the web site of Carol Gerten-Jackson for the purpose of finding such images. Ms. Gerten-Jackson is a heroine of the web who has scanned over 4000 works of art for your amazement and mine. And she has displayed them beautifully in the bargain. I have respected her request and have downloaded less than ten images for use here.
Another good site for portraits from Jane Austen's time is Kevin J. Kelly's web site affectionately devoted to the French painter, Elizabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842). Here is the link to that. (Her memoirs are available online at the University of Pennsylvania.) In particular, I downloaded four portraits of Lady Hamilton as well as a number of self-portraits from Kelly's collection. Both women were knock-outs. You will also find a section devoted to portraits of Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) at that site, as well as links and biographical information for fans of Vigée Le Brun. Le Brun was a monarchist—was on the wrong side of history—and that may be why we have not heard more of her.
Here is a link to some information on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. I am unqualified to evaluate that site.
You can find many more links by browsing our archives. See, especially, under "S" for "surprise links."
[Lefaye-97] completely subsumes the Brabourne collection of Jane Austen's letters but I will reference the Brabourne Collection wherever possible because that is available online—the copyright is run out. I also recommend The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen by Penelope Hughes-Hallet (1990), primarily because it contains a large number of relevant and wonderful illustrations.
[Honan]: If you are going to read only one biography of Jane Austen, then I would recommend either Park Honan's or Elizabeth Jenkins's. Honan's writing, however, takes some getting used to; for one thing, the writing someplaces tends to degenerate into what I would call stream-of-consciousness biography—very odd. It seems that Park Honan wants us to know everything and he wants to tell everything at once, in the same paragraph, but only if he cannot cram it into one sentence. Also, the editing is not perfect; for example, in his preface he says this in regard to Jane Austen: "As W.H. Auden said, she was 'unshockable'". I was shocked because what Auden actually said was the exact opposite: "She was not an unshockable blue-stocking;...". This work also shares one of the defects of Claire Tomalin's biography; at some places, it is too imaginative. However, unlike Tomalin's, his reviews of the novels are excellent.
I found the biography to be well written as a whole, and it is informative, interesting, and entertaining. For example, Honan seems to be quite familiar with the letters of many other important persons in the life of Jane Austen and uses that knowledge to give a full picture of events and relationships. He supplies fascinating technical details about the publication of the novels and gives a good accounting of Jane Austen's influences. I know of no other biographer who seems so fully informed. He is also the biographer that best provides an historical context for the various periods in Jane Austen's life.
The best feature is that the biography is written from a masculine point of view. Honan says this about Marianne Dashwood: "Marianne is one of the most interesting and appealing characters in English fiction. She is also naive and funny. ..."—Amen. Also, he attributes the greater share of both the "pride" and the "prejudice" to Elizabeth rather than to Darcy. And he views Pride and Prejudice as the story of Elizabeth's evolution of thinking while most women readers believe that it is Darcy that changes the more profoundly—go figure! Honan loves Jane Austen first and her novels second and he loves the novels very well—bravo. In her biography, Claire Tomalin uses reason, logic, and documentary evidence to indicate that the descriptions of Jane Austen's appearance are so contradictory that we must not have any idea what she really looked like. Nonsense! With no apparent need at all to refer to dry facts, Park Honan is able to consistently tell us the truth that is intuitively obvious to any man: Jane Austen was pretty. So, it is now clear that she was tall and slender; with curly, long, auburn hair; and her beautiful face had a high natural coloring to set off those fine eyes. It is easily inferred from that last bit that Jane Austen's mouth was naturally rose-colored. One of those nice pink varieties I should think. Yes, this is a very satisfying and definitive picture—and accurate.
[Tomalin-JA]: I will devote this space to a scrutiny of Claire Tomalin's biography of Jane Austen. I do that because I like this biography and my sense is that many others will as well. I anticipate that many editions of this work will appear. A good 95% of this biography is excellent and speaks for itself—I would only spoil things by adding my barely articulate praise of that part. Unfortunately, Ms. Tomalin writes so very well that the other 5% does not speak for itself; and so, I have appointed myself to speak for it. I somehow knew that you would not object.
Ms. Tomalin offers an independent line of research and a quite entertaining biography in the bargain. There is far more substance than style in her work, and there is a great deal of style. She is willing to speculate and that makes her a crowd-pleaser, but I suspect that this habit keeps her works off the bookshelf of the scholar. However, I am only a face in the crowd and so I applaud and recite her speculations when they conform to my own—that happens often enough. However, she goes too far out of bounds—even for me—in her Chapter 17 (Manydown). This is the chapter in which she describes the events and aftermath of Mr. Bigg-Wither's proposal: She says too much, things she simply can neither know nor infer. Who does she think she is? A web meister? I am not saying that the account is implausible or it is not entertaining, I am saying that these events are too important to allow the biographer's imagination such freedom.
Ms. Tomalin offers a synopsis and an analysis of every one of Jane Austen's writings—major and minor. In every case, I learned something new and important. In every case, with the possible exception of her treatment of Lady Susan, her overall effort is a failure. In her introduction, she says that she shares a love of Jane Austen's work with her daughter. I would not have guessed that—she writes nothing that demonstrates her love—not a hint. The most colossal failure is Ms. Tomalin's treatment of Mansfield Park. Characteristically, that chapter begins in an excellent manner as we learn of the social context in which this novel was written—fascinating. What follows is one of the worst interpretations that I have ever read even though the general attitude is typical—Fanny and Edmund are insipid fools and Henry Crawford doesn't seem so bad (neither does the devil, that is why he has so many invitations to dinner and to bed). I have described my own view of Mansfield Park and will not repeat that here except to say that I throw in with Jane Austen on this one.
Some of Claire Tomalin's other attitudes are fairly typical as well. One example is her insistence that Jane Austen was impoverished before she began to receive some income from her published novels. The refutation of this idea lies, barely discernible, within the biography itself. Ms. Tomalin informs us of the incomes of a number of occupations—a farm worker at between 7 and 8 shillings/week, an exceptional mill worker at 22 shillings/week (rare), and the Austen women's cook was paid 8 pounds/year (about 3 shillings/week). Ms Tomalin seems to forget those numbers when she turns to discuss Jane Austen's allowance of about 50 pounds/year (about 20 shillings/week). Those other folks needed to support themselves and their families on their incomes while this was JA's personal allowance. I join Ms. Tomalin in her distress that JA didn't have access to more money; however, the farm workers, mill workers, and cooks will not join us in our grief. The curate at Chawton will not join us either; Ms. Tomalin informs us that his annual salary was 52 pounds (exactly 20 shillings a week). Miss Jane was given spending money equal to the income of the curate but she was to have nothing like his considerable responsibilities!
Apparently Jane Austen spent about 40 of these pounds on clothing and other personal necessities and the other 10 on gifts, charities, and entertainments. For Ms. Tomalin this means she had nothing left—further evidence of Miss Jane's poverty. Excuse me, I don't think so; obviously, she had 10 pounds, fully 20%, left after she paid for her personal necessities. That was more than the annual salary of the cook! We cannot know why JA never chose to save any part of her surplus; a logical guess is that her confidence in her brothers was such that she knew that there would always be another 50 pounds in the next year. I agree with one of Jane Austen's nieces that brother Edward, although he did a great deal, could have and should have done even more. On the other hand, brother Francis (Frank) offered to do even more than he could afford; at least, that was the judgment of his mother who made her calculations and decided to accept only half of what he offered.
Jane Austen's brothers gave her more than just the fifty pounds per year, they gave her security and leisure, just what she required in order to write those novels. Do you feel obligated to those men?—I do.
Ms. Tomalin, quite properly, attempts to understand that period of time when Jane Austen wrote nothing—that period from age twenty-three to age thirty-five. Her thesis is that JA was depressed and she brings together much circumstantial evidence to prove her theory. I am unconvinced and I suspect that Ms Tomalin found JA's family to be a bit boring and assumed that JA did as well, bored to the point of depression. Her argument is most vulnerable to attack in her Chapter 17 where she describes Jane's letter to her brother Frank to inform him of the death of their father. She characterizes Jane's attitude as "detached" in the writing and her general demeanor during those times as one of a "dryness and coldness about her heart". (Umm—what does a "dry heart" signify?) This is in perfect accord with her thesis about the depression.
I noticed that Ms Tomalin did not reproduce the letter and I believe that if she had, her purpose would have been defeated. I am going to show you part of that letter and allow you to judge for yourself if there is a detachment, a lack of sincere and deep-felt sorrow in this communication.
"I have melancholy news to relate, & sincerely feel for your feelings under the shock of it.—I wish I could better prepare you for it. But having said so much, your mind will already forestall the sort of event which I have to communicate.—Our dear Father has closed his virtuous and happy life in a death almost as much free from suffering as his Children could have wished for.—He was taken ill on Saturday morning, exactly in the same way as heretofore, an oppression in the head, with fever, violent tremulousness, & the greatest degree of Feebleness ... Heavy as is the blow, we can already feel that a thousand comforts remain to us to soften it. Next to that of the consciousness of his worth & constant preparation for another world, is the remembrance of his having suffered, comparatively speaking, nothing. Being quite insensible of his own state, he was spared all the pain of separation, & he went off in his Sleep.—My Mother bears the Shock as well as possible; she was quite prepared for it, & feels all the blessing of his being spared a long illness ... Adieu my dearest Frank. The loss of such a parent must be felt or we should be Brutes.—I wish I could have given you better preparation—but it has been impossible."
We must be sensible of all the feeling, consideration, and concern communicated in this loving letter or we should be brutes.
Finally, I would observe that we cannot expect every female author to be a Barbara Tuchman or a Jane Austen; Ms. Tomalin is not gender-neutral. She does not like Jane's brothers and her reasons seem more like prejudice than reasoned indictment. As a result, Ms. Tomalin compares oldest brother James to Mr. Collins and favorite brother Henry to WICKHAM! This reader's mind rebels.
[Memoir], [Sailors], and [Life]: The Austen-Leighs, Lord Brabourne, and the Hubbacks are direct descendents of one or another of Jane Austen's brothers. The Hubbacks' effort is the closest in spirit to that attempted at Male Voices. These authors, understandably, believe that Jane's relationship with her brothers is understated in most discussions and attempt to rectify at least part of the picture. More importantly, they point to the numerous, lengthy, and important descriptions of loving brother-sister relationships in Jane Austen's novels. That is their Chapter I—don't miss it!
The book has its disappointing aspects: We learn a great deal about Sir Francis and too little about brother Charles. Also, Hubback's mother was the daughter of Sir Francis and we learn nothing about her. The biggest disappointment for me is that we are told nothing about Martha Lloyd, the second wife of Sir Francis and the long time companion and house-mate of Jane and Cassandra Austen. Surely, the Hubbacks were in an ideal position to shed light on those relationships.
Charles Austen married the sister of his deceased wife and there was a time when that was considered incest (even though it was perfectly proper to marry your first cousin). Everyone in the family agreed that those attitudes were old fashioned—even at that date—but one thinks they did protest too much. (Charles's mother was glad "they wouldn't be living in the neighborhood".) I wonder if this is the reason for the Hubback's neglect of Uncle Charles.
[Memoir], [Life], and [LeFaye-89]: In one sense, these are the same book, just updated every fifty years or so. (The Austen-Leighs had passed away before Ms. Le Faye's latest update of 1989.) Given that, you might think that you need only read the latest update. In fact, that is the case if you are only going to read one biography. You won't be disappointed because Ms. Le Faye is a scholar with the British Museum and has established herself as an important and reliable Jane-Austen authority. Also, unlike family members, she is willing to admit that Jane and some of the other Austens may—on rare occasions, surely—just may have had a bubble or a blemish. That is a very useful attitude. [LeFaye-89] may be the most complete and most informative biography; however, the family members carried the genetic codes and cultural influences for writing and composition and, so, I strongly recommend the first two versions as well. A fun part is that each version is written for an audience in a different and particular cultural period. For example, "Edward" [Memoir] is writing for Victorians, and it shows. By the bye, Edward is the Austen-fruit fallen closest to the tree, so his version is the best written and best composed biography—by far—even if it is the least informative.
I have some final comments on the memoirs of family members—in any context. Clearly, there is no substitute for the testimony of someone who was actually there. These things, especially when corroborated, can correct a lot of misinterpretation. However, I wonder if there might not also be some negatives. There are some things that I hide from my nephews and nieces, and I am easily the most candid person in the family—easily. I wonder if that is not also the case in other families. Let me expand a bit. Edward applied to his sisters for their recollections to place in his Memoir. His sister Caroline sent him an essay but appended this observation
"I am very glad dear Edward that you have applied yourself to the
settlement of this vexed question between the Austens and the public. I am
sure you will do justice to what there is—but I feel it must be a
difficult task to dig up the materials, so carefully have they been buried
out of our sight by the past generation."
My point exactly! Also, they may have been neighbors who knew the truth and who are perfectly willing to pass it on to their own descendents, and—eventually—to people like Deirdre Le Faye.
Another thing is that nephews and nieces might tend to idealize and romanticize the previous generation. Not for any insidious reason, but merely as a natural process. Here is an example: in Chapter I of [Sailors], we read this in reference to the Austen family.
"... In a family of seven all turned out well, two rose to the top of their profession, and one was—Jane Austen."
This number, "seven", is consistent with the family memoir published thirty-five years earlier [Memoir, Chapter I] where we are also told that James was the first brother and Edward was the second etc. This is not true of course, and it is only in [Life, Chapter II] that the family admits the truth—admits the truth nearly one-hundred years after Jane's death! There were eight children in the family and the second brother was George and not Edward who, in fact, was the third brother. George, apparently, was epileptic and may have been deaf and dumb as well. He simply was not allowed to join the family in their home. None of Jane's existing letters mentions him—not one single time. (In spite of his infirmities, he outlived Jane by at least ten years!) Now, there is something to give one perspective on "first-hand accounts".
[Waldron]: I made my own amateurish attempt to survey Eighteenth century novels in order to find Jane Austen's influences. What is worse, I actually posted it. In order to rectify matters, I thought I had better link you to at least one professional, academic source for the same thing. By the end of 2000, Mary Waldron's book had gone through three printings since it was published in 1999. Three printings in two years tells you something—and, remember this is a subject on which there already may have been dozens of books. I like the book but not so well that I am going to take my own effort off the board. I mean, I see a few things that I disagree with.
The book reads like a Ph.D. dissertation; the opening chapter has a literature survey, a critique of the works of others, and a clear and precise explanation of how her own thesis differs from anything gone before. (More books should be written in this style.) You might fall in love with Ms. Waldron where she explains,
"... I shall show in this study that it is possible to construct a unifying critique of the novels based on Austen's own view of what she was about and her knowledge of society in which she found herself, without either straying inappropriately into peripheral historical-cultural detail or insisting on single authoritative readings. ..."
Take Jane Austen's word for it?—What a concept! And I, for one, was also impressed with Professor Waldron, where, in her discussion of Anne Elliot, she observes that,
"... But for chance, and a certain compromise with the most extreme rules of female reticence (which may have existed only in fiction), Anne would have remained unmarried for the rest of her life. ..."
What?—the supposed, former submissiveness of women more fiction than history?—Can it be? I was still more gratified and thankful a few paragraphs further on where the Professor goes on to say,
"... Confusion of character discourse with the authorial voice and a predetermined moral programme for the novel often cause this speech to be interpreted as a conclusion, but ..."
You will find that set down in a narrow context, but I think it true more generally; I have had several heated debates at this web site when I was convinced that my opponent was "confused" in exactly that way and his thinking the slave of just such an agenda or "programme".
I suspect that if you like Mary Waldron's book, you will be comfortable at this web site. That is not to say that the book and the web site are the same, they are not—each offers much that the other does not. However, the two are compatible. The good Professor takes Jane Austen seriously—deadly serious—she many times points to passionate passages and romantic innuendo, and she takes pains to distance herself from feminist-revisionist interpretations. For example, in another part of her interpretations of Persuasion, Ms. Waldron observes that,
"We are not to suppose then, that when [Anne] is drawn into a conversation with Captain Harville everything she says is the result of measured, logical thought, or that any of it represents the author's position on 'female difficulties'. ... So, what was Austen up to in Persuasion? In my view she makes no generalised statement in the novel about society—..."
In my view as well!—Bravo!
My own impressions are such that I find Ms. Waldron at her best when analyzing Persuasion or the Juvenilia. (Oh, and don't miss the conclusions set down in her final page!) What she so astutely points out about the Juvenilia is that these indicate the literary forms that the adolescent Jane Austen found most worthy of parody and ridicule. The critic is able to apply her expert knowledge of the fiction of that period to make her points. (That is a knowledge I will always lack.) At first I thought the point overstated, but I came to find the approach quite compelling and I will go back to it from time to time. However, she goes where I could never follow when she then adopted her central theme, that all of Jane Austen's influences were negatives; I mean, the remainder of the book sounds the single note that our Lady's novels were written entirely to correct the literary errors of fiction up to her time. That's kind of startling if you think about it.—I don't yet feel comfortable with this central theme. Of course, if correct, it shows how wrong-headed I had been in looking only for positive influences. There is a great deal that is good and new in Ms. Waldron's thesis, but I suspect she goes too far in this aspect of her work—surely.
The remainder of the book is devoted to discussions of the individual novels. Ms. Waldron is intelligent, clear-headed, and knowledgeable—and it shows. She says much that is innovative and astute. My main complaint is of an attitude that runs throughout the discussions—you may not join me in this. It seems to me that Ms. Waldron has a problem with a certain type of person, and where she meets that type in a Jane Austen novel, she attacks. Ms. Waldron doesn't care for people who think or act in such a way as to explicitly express disapproval of someone else's poor behavior. For example, she does not care much for Elinor Dashwood, Mr. Knightley, or—of course—Fanny Price.
Understand, this is not that low-brow, internet bashing of Fanny Price, that we all see so often; this is an educated, thinking-woman's brand of Fanny-Price bashing. I mean that Ms. Waldron marshals a great deal of text to back her claims and many will be persuaded of—more likely, feel confirmed in—the iniquity of the selfish Miss Price. Her basic principle here is one I find very strange. Ms. Waldron thinks that everything is Fanny's fault. If she had only made the effort to improve Mary Crawford to the point where she could have been a good wife, and if only she had accepted Henry Crawford in order to keep him out of trouble, then all of the characters at Mansfield Park would have ended happy. In other words, that selfish, little, Portsmouth biddy did not appoint herself the Crawfords' guardian and, so, was not as good as she thought herself—she ruined everything. Now, it seems to me that the Crawfords were already full grown, and so confirmed in their attitudes that they were beyond the repair of this proposed step-mother. Like all Fanny-Price bashers, Ms. Waldon fails to take notice of any of the sins of the Crawfords and of the extremely weak social position of Fanny in the family and elsewhere. Well, you may very well find Ms. Waldron's position far stronger than mine; but, in spite of that, I strongly recommend her book to you.
For me, the chapter on Mansfield Park is the weakest part of the book; although, even there, there are useful things to be seen. An odd aspect is that Ms. Waldron knows the truth about Fanny Price and says so in print, but not in the chapter on MP—no, the critic makes a correct observation in the next chapter devoted to Emma. There, Ms. Waldron is discussing Knightley's reaction to the relationship of Emma and Frank Churchill:
"This misunderstanding renders Knightley both vulnerable and powerless. He is like Fanny Price in that he has to stand silently by while he watches (as he thinks) the girl he now loves give herself up to a shallow and insensitive man, in whom he shortly discovers evidence of even worse qualities. ..."
And yet, in the previous chapter, Ms. Waldron had advocated the sacrifice of Edmund Bertram to just such a woman and Fanny, herself, to just such a man!—very curious.
Ms. Waldron's chapter on Emma is a mixed bag, some good and some bad.—mostly good (I really do recommend you read this short book.) The author has a keen perception of—and a good mind for—detail. That is a prerequisite for reading Jane Austen—others need not apply. The one failing is a portion of her treatment of Knightley. For example, she considers him overbearing and domineering where he confronts Emma about her separation of Harriet Smith from Mr. Martin. Ms. Waldron's argument, even here, is good, interesting, and irrefutable on many aspects of that conversation; however, her observations on Knightley's attitude are wrong. Ms. Waldron would not have made this mistake if she had remembered one thing, a simple fact that Knightley pointed out to Emma: Harriet Smith had encouraged Mr. Martin! And we don't have to take Knightley's word for it—there are plenty of confirmations in the novel that Harriet had tender feelings for Mr. Martin, and those feelings neither left her nor diminished. Knightley's fury is justified because his Emma had intervened in—likely ruined—a love match. I was furious with her myself in that part of the novel—Shame! Emma.
Overall, Mary Waldron's are the best treatments of the novels since Elizabeth Jenkin's (1938). Waldron is an academic and Jenkins was a novelist in her own right. They are similar in one respect though, they are both Janites.
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