The Voices of Men in Praise of Jane Austen
Messages on the Bulletin Board - c. Oct. 12, 2000

Dear Voices,

Here is a quote I found from the JASNA meeting, Oct. 11-13, 1996 in Richmond, Virginia.

"Brian Southam's talk had JASNA members in their seats early on Saturday. Mr. Southam, who is credited with identifying Jane Austen's Sir Charles Grandison as a play she authored rather than a transcription of the book, described how the mystery of the manuscript was solved. While at Oxford University in the 1950s, he came across a reference to the play in a book by Constance Hill. But authorities such as R.W. Chapman and Lord David Cecil had no knowledge of it and Mr. Southam dropped his enquiries. In 1977, he received a call from Sothebys saying a manuscript play had been discovered that was thought to be authored by Anna Lefroy, Jane's niece. Helen Lefroy, now editor of the British Jane Austen Society newsletter, found the play in a cupboard after the death of Louise Lefroy, a grand-daughter of Anna Lefroy. "Evidently, Sir Charles Grandison was the product of an adult mind," Mr. Southam said. He said early pages in the 53- page manuscript are Jane's childish hand, later pages are written in her adult style. The Richardson novel was also important for Jane Austen's development as a writer. It was the model for the novel of manners, and her juvenilia is sprinkled with Grandison jokes. 'Richardson was the first to portray women who were psychologically interesting,' Mr. Southam said."

Kids are up, got to hurry.

Regards,
Linda


Dear Voices,

Here is a card-catalog citation for Linda's reference:

Austen, Jane, 1775-1817, 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, c1981. xiii, 150 p., [4] leaves of plates : ill. ; 20 cm.

The only library copy in my town is out on extended loan. Our local bookstores can't find it on the lists for "books-in-print". HELP!!


Dear Voices,

JA was at Godmersham and other stately homes often enough to see a fair bit of the aristocracy, yet she does not dwell on that, any more than she dwells on the fact that she was related by marriage to a French victim of the Revolution.

I suspect that she would (like the statesman Burke) have felt that Rousseau and Voltaire were indirectly responsible for all that slaughter.

JA could easily have brought in more aristocratic minor characters than Hon John Yates, Lady Catherine, and the Dalrymples into her big six novels, but perhaps she thought that discretion was the better part of valour.


Dear Voices,

The Meister summed it up very well. It would take a dissertation to catalog all my thoughts about the book.  Instead I will make some general observations.

The Meister equated the Duke de Nemours to Mary Crawford.  I would also add Henry Crawford, because I notice the Duke's selfishness in only thinking of his feelings without regard or consideration for the Princess' feelings.

At first, it seemed that all those "extra" characters were unnecessary, but in retrospect, I now see that they add to the wide moral gulf between the Princess and themselves.  Our dear Jane did have the talent to accomplish the same end with a lot fewer characters.

The Meister mentioned "morality" - most importantly is the morality of the Princess.  The word that comes to my mind is "noble" (adj. -of an exalted moral character or excellence).  I do not recall ever consciously taking notice of that trait in a fictional character before. "Noble" did not enter my mind when Darcy "saved" Lydia (though it was very nice of him to do so without expecting any "return").  But then JA can even make "noble" actions to appear as every day occurrences  - as they really should be!

I will say no more to give away the plot and let you make your own conclusions.

There is so much more to be said.  In addition to JA's books this is one that I will reread several times, mainly because this kind of nobility is so rarely seen.  And also, when I started to reread specific pages to make this "report", I kept finding things which I had "overlooked" on the first reading - just like a JA book!


Dear Linda,

Madame de La Fayette
Madame de La Fayette

As I suspected, you and I see things the same way on this matter. I want to respond to your most recent posting as well as yours of 10/18/00. As I look for Jane Austen influences, I have my criteria - I wonder how close my list is to yours? I look for impeccable logic: I want to be able to trace every event back through the novel and be satisfied that every little detail is justified by what went before. I look for plausibility: I can only find that where I agree with the author's view of human nature. I look for a consistent and attractive morality - I look for passion. I found all those things in The Princess of Cleves.

And I do not find those things in anything else I have read that predates Jane Austen. - Well, not the complete list. That is not to say that many such novels do not exist, because my reading is limited. Indeed, I expect to find many others because I believe our Lady's appeal to be very general, and so her vision must have been expressed by many others - just with far less art.

Let me call your attention, once again, to what Frank O'Connor said about Jane Austen. I think there is a little something to what he said about Jane Austen, but his thoughts apply very well to the authoress of The Princess of Cleves. What say you?

I have run on to some things that are intriguing. I read, somewhere, that The Princess of Cleves is an early example of a "roman-à-clef". The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that this literally means "a romance (novel) with a key." - as in a cipher key. More explicitly, it is "a novel in which actual persons or events appear under fictitious names." Apparently, Madame de La Fayette's own lover is the person so represented. Does this mean that the author was in bed with the real Duc de Nemours? I don't know - I hope not.

In your post of 10/18/00, you passed along the suggestion that Jane Austen's cousin, Eliza de Feuillide might have passed along the novel to our Lady. What you really are getting at is, "do we even know if Jane Austen ever read The Princess of Cleves, let alone became influenced by it?" I can't answer the main question except to tell you that neither "Madame de Lafayete" nor "The Princess of Cleves" appears in the index of any Jane-Austen biography I own. I will be pursuing that point.

In the mean time, I can't resist repeating some gossip about Cousin Eliza. This cousin was a bit older than the Austen children - in her late teens when Jane Austen was only a child. She was a good English girl, born and raised in India. Her mother was Jane Austen's paternal aunt nee Philadelphia Austen. Some biographers warn that Eliza's father may not have been Philadelphia's husband. That is fueled by the fact that the local English Governor gave Eliza 10,000 pounds (perhaps worth as much as $6,000,000 in today's purchasing power). - rather generous, wouldn't you say? The adolescent Jane Austen once watched this vivacious cousin drop the love bomb on all of the Austen brothers while she was organizing the production of a play during one of her visits to Steventon. The enterprising Philadelphia took Eliza to France and married her to a man whose claim to a noble title may be as dubious as Eliza's paternity. After the husband was beheaded during the revolution, Eliza was courted by several Austen brothers before finally deciding to end her London high-life by accepting the offer of our Lady's favorite brother, Henry. The most interesting apart of Eliza's story comes when she convinced her new husband, Henry, to accompany her to France in an attempt to recover part of her departed husband's fortune. They succeeded only in managing to be in France when Napoleon escaped from Elba and ordered that all English citizens were to be placed under house arrest. The story of the escape of our favorite couple reads like something created by Dickens.


Dear Ashton,

I believe we do see things the same way in the end, though we may take different roads to get there!

Your criteria: "I look for impeccable logic: I want to be able to trace every event back through the novel and be satisfied that every little detail is justified by what went before. I look for plausibility: I can only find that where I agree with the author's view of human nature. I look for a consistent and attractive morality - I look for passion."

That is exactly what I notice!  We differ in that I did not consciously look for it, but I did notice when something was illogical, implausible, and lacked morality and passion - it would grate on my "literary" nerves!  I say "did not" because, I lacked the literary training to label what comes to me naturally!  Now that you have brought those terms to my attention, I will consciously know what is bothering me.

Yes, I think Frank O'Connor's thoughts could very well apply to Madam de Lafayette.  Bruce's thoughtful summarization "O'Connor's theory about Austen is that her novels are all about a battle between the imagination and reason ­ between sense and sensibility. ... O'Connor theorizes that Austen sees the danger of poetry and plays not because she disliked these forms of imaginative entertainment, but because she liked them too much.  In order to practice her art (his theory goes, and the theory is, I think based on her novels, not on any knowledge of her life), she had to restrain her imaginative tendencies, and discipline herself (as do her heroines) to realism."  The idea of imagination (emotion) versus reason is a category of passages which I have been marking.  The moral substance being, that we women have not been taught to listen to our "reason"; we have been allowed to follow our "passions".  But that is another book waiting to be written!  (If it has already been written please let me know.)

O'Connor also says, " ... that astonishing woman invents an entirely new technique ... ".  The same idea occurred to me when the Meister brought up the subject of influences.  Surely there are influences - but it behooves us to realize that some of her techniques, ideas, etc. come from her own inspiration, invention, and nature.  Even so that is not to deter us from searching for those "influences" - which I find very interesting.

You said: "What you really are getting at is, 'do we even know if Jane Austen ever read The Princess of Cleves, let alone became influenced by it?' "

Exactly.  Since the time that question arose, I was astonished to learn that The Princess of Cleves is mentioned in The History of Sir Charles Grandison in Volume VII, Letter XLII which we know she read.  (This reference needs to be studied.)  I stumbled onto this connection with the help of a RoP friend, who also alerted me to the fact that Jane wrote a play, Jane Austen's Sir Charles Grandison - see my post on 10-25.  In addition, considering Jane's ability to read French (there seems to be some controversy on this point) and the Eliza connection (including her vivacity and history), IMHO, I strongly feel that it is almost a certainty that Jane read it.

Next you said: "I can't answer the main question except to tell you that neither 'Madame de Lafayette' nor 'The Princess of Cleves' appears in the index of any Jane-Austen biography I own. I will be pursuing that point."

I am not surprised and had suspected as much.  I am glad you will look into it.  My point being - they might have missed it, among other things like Jane's "passion"!

I did find La Princesse de Cleves in French on line and printed out several pages to compare the English translation to the original French.  As far as I went the translation IMO was well done.

I might add that I was extremely pleased with your post - it was something I could sink my "literary" teeth into.  Now if I could just get you to expand on your meaning of "subtlety".  I am dense sometimes  I could tell you how dense, but it is too embarrassing.


Dear Ashton,

I have just finished reading The Princess of Cleves.  I am so touched by what I have read that I cannot even express my thoughts and feelings.  I will send you a "report" when I have command of myself.

I could definitely see "Jane Austen" and the characters as you referenced them.  Now I am glad that I, and thereafter you, stumbled onto Rousseau to discover the "Princess".

Thanks for recommending it.
Gratefully,
Linda


Dear Linda and Ashton,

Through numerous tries this morning, I was unable to get The Princess of Cleves to print.  Apparently, this had something to do with the fact that the system refused to recognize my email password as this evening I was able to get my email and print up the first 25 pages, which I will try and read tonight or tomorrow morning.  I must insert a disclaimer here ... I am a definite Francophobe, so bear with me.   Also bear with me as I rush to get my newly erected greenhouse ready for habitation before the first frost.
Cheryl

From the Meister: CHERYL!! Where in hell have you been?! You are going to thank us for this one. You can overcome your typical, American affliction by learning to think of the French as an offshoot of the Cajuns. Besides, in a fair moment, you do have to admit that they are pretty - and stylin'. Oh - and remember that other Lafayette!

Dear Ashton,

In a discussion on the MP board at RoP, Barbara suggested that the connection of The Princess of Cleves to JA might possibly be Jane's cousin, Eliza de Feuillide.

It seems to be a very good idea especially since Eliza was associated with the court circles of France herself (I think?).  Eliza might have told her about it or recommended that Jane read it.

After reading the book I see that as a distinct possibility.  Something you might want to explore, Ash?

Also, Barbara and Caroline said they have the book in French which makes their opinion of special interest.


Dear Voices,

Well, I finally saw the new Mansfield-Park movie this weekend and I was very disappointed with it.  It followed the book only very loosely and it somehow managed to convey the impression of evil all throughout it.  I didn't understand why Sir Thomas was portrayed as this evil slaver and acted like he was trying to get Fanny into bed after he came back from Antigua.  The whole house just seemed wrong somehow.  And why was slavery such a big part of the movie?  I don't recall it being mentioned in the novel at all, though I could be wrong because it's been a few months since I read it last.  And the sexual themes were completely unnecessary. What was up with the whole lesbian theme between Fanny and Mary Crawford?  Also, some members of the cast seemed totally wrong for their roles.  The woman who played Mary Crawford seemed about 15 years older than the man who played Edmund.  There was much more wrong with it but I'm sure you're all aware of the flaws so I guess I don't need to mention any more.  It's a shame really.  The movie wouldn't have been so bad if I wasn't so familiar with the novel.


Dear Laurie,

I do agree with your assessment of MP-the movie.  We have said quite a bit about it on this board, so if you have the time, just poke around.

It really was a shame.  I was so upset that I came down on Rozema a lot harder than you did. But it is best to be silent upon that point.
Linda


Dear Voices,

I was stumbling around the www and found on line a book Jane Austen and Her Times by G. (Geraldine) E. (Edith) Mitton first published in 1905.  She says some nice things about our Lady, but some things I can't agree with (she thought Jane "passionless").

However, in Chapter 5 she had this to say:

"Perhaps the most remarkable tribute to her genius lies in the fact that, though her books are simplicity itself, dealing with the love-stories of artless girls, they are read and admired not only by girls and women, but more especially by men of exceptional mental calibre. It has been said that the appreciation of them is a test of intellect."

I can only add that, IMHO you are some of the best guys I have "met"!  Have a nice day!
Regards,
Linda


Dear Folks,

I strongly suggest that you pick up Madame de La Fayette's The Princess of Cleves, (1678). The size of this "novel" is somewhere between a short novel and a novella. However, I have an abominable reading rate, so it took me three sittings to finish - most of you will require only one. Just do it.

I will say a few things about the novel in order to pique your interest and, hopefully, to begin the discussion. However, I won't take much from the text of the novel itself because it is too delicately woven, and I lack the gentleness or finesse to do anything other than harm the impression by discussing details of the book myself.

My first impressions were all negative - I didn't think this was an influence. For example, this is a seventeenth-century novelist writing a book set in the sixteenth - a Jane-Austen no-no. And, some of the important characters are famous; there is Mary (Queen of the Scots), Henri II (King of France), Catherine de' Medici (Queen of France), to name just a very few. Many actual historical events mark time; there was the marriage of the King's daughter to the King of Spain, Philip II, and the accidental death of the King in a jousting tournament. All this sounds more like an influence for Scott's Ivanhoe than for a Jane Austen novel. - but, just be patient. Also, there are some extraneous matters thrown in (for which, nevertheless, we are grateful.) For example, there are two or three pages of gossip about Anne Boleyn that bear no relation to the story or character developments. However, I enjoyed reading that - well, I guess I don't actually enjoy gossip - of course not. Finally, the morality seemed all wrong - or so I thought at first. It seemed that everyone was sleeping with everyone else. Surely, the type of morality is not a consideration when searching for the influences for many authors, but is, I think, in the case of Jane Austen.

The main characters are the "Princess", Madame de Cleves, her husband, Monsieur de Cleves, and the man she loves - and who loves her - the Duc de Nemours. Perhaps the basic story is at least as old as the King Arthur legends. Certainly the story would be echoed in The Sorrows of Young Werther and Anna Karenina. While we may have difficulty establishing Madame de La Fayette's influence on Jane Austen, we should have no trouble establishing her influence on Goethe and Tolstoy.

I don't read French - I had to read the novel in translation, so I don't know if the writing is beautiful. It is a bit choppy in translation, but the subtlety shines through nevertheless. After a bit, you start to see Jane Austen in the tight logic and the evocative passions - YES, I wrote passions! And, ultimately, the morality is definitely Jane Austen's - and, therefore, incomprehensible to many persons of our generation. If you have issues with Fanny Price or Edmund Bertram, you will certainly find Madame de Cleves eccentric.

I mentioned Goethe and Tolstoy, but I could have compared Madame de La Fayette's triangle with the one Jane Austen formed at Mansfield Park. In that analogy, the moral equivalents are,

Of course, different relative-values are assigned in the two novels, and events play out quite differently. However, it is the moral equivalency that is most important in my view. - that, the logic, and the exquisite subtlety. Of course, Madame de La Fayette was not blessed with Jane-Austen's wit (who was?). And Madame de La Fayette imagined that someone could die for love while Jane Austen explicitly declared that impossible - forgetting, perhaps, her own Marianne Dashwood.


Dear Ashton,

I just read your post on The Princess of Cleves.  It does sound very interesting.  I found it online here and have printed out the first pages.  I will read the whole thing.


Dear Ash,

Geoff Chapman, DU student number 2000223481 (on medical leave),
and a member of, or visitor to, JASM, JASA & JASNA.
742 Canterbury Road,
SURREY HILLS  VIC  3127 Australia.
Monday 08/MAY/00, last revision 11/MAY/00.

Dedicated to 'Darling Jane.'

Oh, be by muse with back to me,
and help my letters roll true and free,
with wit and mirth and observation,
though yours was a very fettered station.

Women read you, but men too know
that yours is irony and even though
we argue, dispute and contradict
each other on feminism and Benedict
Arnold is the name of anyone with any
'truth' or shame in how we spend a penny,
I come back to manners, "brass" and even
a romantic close with happiness that you
did seek and maybe in a small way I rue
that my plots will never be as true.

I've seen your grave, and College Close,
but sadness was elusive at most
while quotes and liftable sticks
came back while peering at every stick
that lay in my way on the way to the church
of Chawton's Saint Nicholas. Let us pray.

Requiesceant in pace, auctoris feminosa ille,
pastoris Geogii Austenii filia secunda,
et Cassandrae duae et fratores, Georgius ipse,
"viae mediae" viatores,
qui docent omnes meum bella littera.

Geoff Chapman.

The "ille" is masculine and should be feminine in agreement with the subject, Jane. Or should it? Jane wrote a letter from Darcy to Elizabeth that is so realistic that it seems she could look inside men's thinking of her time. IMO there is a little bit of the masculine at times in JA's style--possibly she got that from reading lots of Dr Johnson and even Richardson.

Johnson liked to build his prose using rounded sentences stylistically just short of Latinisms, then resolve the discussion quickly using a contrast. Austen does this too at times, I think, particularly in Emma.

All the best,
Geoff Chapman.
trollus@connexus.net.au


Dear Geoff,

Thank you for your wonderful contribution. I hope that you will have the time and inclination to post further here.

Would you be so kind as to translate the Latin for us. All of us would be grateful for more of your reflections on Johnson's influence on Jane Austen. But, what is a "rounded sentence"?

I most emphatically agree that Jane Austen understood men, but I suspect that had more to do with her upbringing than her reading. Our Lady had six, rambunctious brothers and her father's pupils lived in the Austen home.


Dear Meister,

I enjoy your site very much and learn from it a lot, thank you. I read about the new version of NA on JA Centre page. (click on 'News' on the left side of the page.) It looks like we won't have a new NA.
Regards,
Ana


Dear Ana,

You dash our hopes - but, maybe that is not entirely your fault. No, it is not your fault at all - I can see that now.

You are very welcome here. I hope that you will join our discussions. Thank you for the URL to such an interesting web site. Is it just my imagination, or has there been a new round - a new proliferation of Jane-Austen web sites?



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