The Voices of Men in Praise of Jane Austen
Messages on the Bulletin Board - c. Jan. 11, 2000

To Everyone,

I just wanted to say what I didn't get around to saying a couple of weeks ago.  Namely, thanks for a great year of reading at Male Voices In Praise of Jane Austen.  I can hardly overrate the pleasure I have in the discussions.  Even if I don't always have time to write, (I'm a terribly slow writer) I always have time to read and enjoy.  I would also like to thank everyone for the various suggested reading.  (I'm always a number of books behind my purchases so don't give up on me yet.)

From the Meister: We love you, man!

To the Community,

Once again I feel that I may be putting a spoke in the wheel of the ongoing topics and conversations, but I am somewhat surprised that no one has mentioned the passing of the author Patrick O'Brian.

For anyone who doesn't know, Mr. O'Brian wrote a twenty novel series about the naval adventures of Capt. Aubrey and Dr. Maturin. These novels takes place during and after the Napoleonic wars and have quite a loyal following. They have a bit of the boy's adventure novel about them, but they are pretty technically accurate concerning the sailors' life at the time and they are entertaining. I've read three of four of the books and thought they were better than the Hornblower novels, but they aren't profound.

What would be of interest to the Austenites is that the novels give a pretty good illustration of what life at sea must have been like for JA's sailor brothers and Capt. Wentworth & Co. I have read complaints that JA didn't address the issue of the war against the great French Beast, but, if one is so inclined, that lack of knowledge concerning the matter can be effortlessly made up by reading one of O'Brian's novels.

Dear Dave,

O'Brian has not been mentioned much here; in fact, the only postings I can find are 9/8/98, 9/8/98R, 9/10/98, and 10/4/98. Incidentally, his name is spelled with an "a"; I mention that because there are web sites devoted to a Patrick O'Brien and that is not the same person. I don't know much about him except what was said in his obituaries. Apparently, he was actually an Englishman with an Englishman's name and he worked for British intelligence during the war. (I hate guys that don't use their real names - do you agree?)

I wonder if many fictional naval characters lived more adventuresome lives than Jane Austen's own brothers. Francis Austen (later Admiral Sir Francis Austen) was one year older than our Lady and the future Admiral Charles Austen was born three and a half years later. Francis was a fledgling officer and in the Mediterranean when the French were about to capture a significant Turkish vessel; this brother led a commando raid that burnt the vessel and so denied it to the enemy. His biggest disappointment came at Trafalgar. He was part of the blockade that was keeping the combined French-Spanish fleet bottled up at that port. I believe that he was in command of the ship that carried an Admiral's flag. Anyway, it was his turn to go for fresh water at Gibraltar. While in that vicinity, a packet ship brought word that the enemy fleet was about to break out. Francis knew what that meant, but the prevailing winds thwarted all his efforts to rush back to that most famous battle. Was his sister glad or sad? Publicly regretful, I should guess.

Brother Charles died in his seventies just after he had directed his forces in the capture of Rangoon. He was commander-in-chief of the India-China station at the time.

Perhaps you can comment on a lively discussion that took place last spring. Here is the link to that part of the archives. Scroll down to March 17; the debate began with Cheryl's posting on that date and flared up again on several occasions thereafter.

Had a thought today about Mr. Elliot. We as the readers learn through Mrs. Smith that he once thought titles were pointless and undesirable. By the time we meet him he has had a radical change of heart. Is this supposed to indicate his inconsistency to us? That he was not a reformed person but a person capable of changing his mind completely and that he may do so again. That is, he treats Anne well now but what of the future if he married her ...

And thinking about it, doesn't this sound a bit like Henry Crawford? I wonder what inspired Jane to create male characters who appear to reform but are actually still cads and rakes at heart?

Dear Anielka,

I'm very relieved to find that the Indonesians didn't decide to treat you as an honorary Australian, and lynch you just to show you what they really feel about East Timor.  Why couldn't you have holidayed in New Zealand, child, or the local park, and spared me all this worry?

I think Mr Elliot is showing logical progression, entirely consistent with his character. When young and poor, he wanted to be rich, and didn't care how he became rich.  He made a marriage socially far beneath him, and proceeded to cold-bloodedly abuse his wife ('unkind' was an euphanism for 'hit' in Jane Austen's world). Once he had attained wealth, he not unnaturally started to look at other things, and could readily see that becoming a baronet, and thus possessing an hereditary title, was not such a bad thing, after all.  Mr Elliot is much, much scarier than Henry Crawford.  Henry would have tired of Fanny in about ten minutes, but I doubt that he would have beaten her up   Mr Elliot, on the other hand, displays some very unpleasant tendencies in his dealings with his first wife, with Mrs Smith, and with the whole Elliot family. My feeling is that, when Henry Crawford tired of Fanny, she would simply have been left alone while he gallivanted.  Anne Elliot would have scored a fat lip the first time she crossed Mr Elliot.  Anne was quite right to shudder at the thought of the (just) possibility that she MAY have married that man.  Biased as she was, Mrs Smith was nevertheless quite right in describing Mr Elliot as 'cold and black'.  One has only toconsider Mr Elliot's financial history to see how lacking in human feeling the man was.

Dear Anielka and Julie,

Julie's post called to mind something that I thought to pass along. This is from the editor's notes to two of Mary Wollstonecraft's short stories Mary (1788) and Maria (1798, posthumous). The editor is Professor Janet Todd, English Literature, University of East Anglia [Todd-MWS].

Incidentally, those of you thirsting for feminist thinking in Jane Austen's time - the kind of thinking that can be appreciated by the feminist of our day - you will find far more of it in these short stories than you will in Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). That philosophical work was more balanced, more fair, less hateful, less sexist, and far less offensive to men.

Wollstonecraft had written these lines in Maria: "Convinced that the subterfuges of the law were disgraceful, she wrote a paper, which she expressly desired might be read in court: 'Married when scarcely able to distinguish the nature of engagement, I yet submitted to the rigid laws which enslave women, and obeyed the man whom I could no longer love. Whether the duties of the state are reciprocal, I mean not to discuss; but I can prove repeated infidelities which I overlooked or pardoned.52 ...' ". To that, Professor Todd appended this footnote.

"52This is legally irrelevant; though a husband could divorce on the grounds of his wife's adultery, a wife could only divorce on the grounds of incest, bigamy, impotence, or physically dangerous cruelty."

Well, Professor Todd makes her point, but it also seems that, even in those unenlightened times, a wife was not expected to accept a beating.

Dear Sir,

If you flip through your copy of Woodforde, you will find a case in which he describes how a woman was beaten to death by her husband, after years of abuse of which the community was aware. Consider the reality - and consider the meaning of 'physically dangerous':  would a society that accepted the lash as a form of discipline in the armed forces, and vicious beatings in public schools as acceptable for children, be likely to consider a black eye 'dangerour abuse'?  In any case, what was the woman to do, unless she had male relative who were prepared to help?  All the servants were employed by her husband; she did not legally own so much as the clothes on her back; she could be legally forced to return to her husband's home if her case was not supported by the court, and any money she might earn with which to feed herself belonged to her husband.

Its often difficult enough in these days, with laws to protect them, to separate women from violent situations: how much more difficult in past times, when all of the above (and more) was stacked against the woman?  How would a woman in such a situation obtain legal advice, with no money of her own with which to pay counsel?  Unless there were male family members willing to help, and take on her subsequent financial maintenance, a woman in an abusive marriage would be very isolated indeed.

Dear Ashton,

Has it come to this? Must I hide my disagreement with a Meister statement? I cannot. It must not be.

A man could legally correct his disobedient, yappy, insolent, lazy, unfaithful, mischievous, careless (all according to his notions, of course) wife by giving her a good hiding with a stick no thicker than his thumb.

As you see, the world has slid down a long way toward the evils of unruly women. Since then.

Dear John,

I have but two comments to make to those who hit women:
1:  Make your first hit your best, son, because you won't get two
2:  You'll have to go to sleep sometime.

Have you heard of the very interesting chronicle on the introduction of women to the Australian penal colony, called:  'Damned Whores And God's Police'?  I recommend it to you.

From the Meister: "Mother, you
mistake Mr. Darcy's meaning!"

Jane Austen is really one of the greatest writers in the world of literature.. my definite fave is Pride and Prejudice.. she really didn't made any ordinary love story she made a true classic.

Dear Julie,

I do not know how carefully you read my piece on Fanny Price and free will, but seeing that you are very busy, and all, and possibly also not feeling well, I suppose that you did not really read it at all.

Free will is much closer to the self-discipline you have found to be of good stead to your good self. Perfectly free will means that only the best, most honest action can be taken. We all have a will that can choose between good and evil. Error can lead us into doing wrong, preventing the exercise of free will. Liberty and licence do not lead to moral choices, but a perfectly free will cannot choose anything but morally right choices.

If it had  been morally wrong for you to go in to work today (and that possibility is real given the flu that seems to be raging over the world--or any of many other causes) then the exercise of free will does keep you home. But it is the genuine reason that keeps you home, not free will.  Free will merely causes you to make the right decision.

To argue that Fanny Price "allows" the Wards to walk all over her is mystifying to me. Are you saying that a girl in a wardship can tell her guardians to stuff whatever they require of her? I do not often see nonsense on Male Voices, but this argument is incredible to me. Children must do as they are told by their parents and guardians.

Dear John,

No, thank you, I'm in excellent health, and I did read your post:  I feel so well that I chose to stir the possum a bit - in other words, I was joking!  I have never subscribed to the theory that Fanny could have acted differently, as you will see by the comments I have just submitted to Cheryl - but the girl to me exhibits the type of personality that one sees in real life, often being 'picked on' - in other words, if one calls oneself a doormat, one is likely to have people wiping their feet upon one!  Jane Austen acknowledges the faults in Fanny's temperament herself at the end of the novel when she comments that Susan, 'with her more fearless temperament and a knowledge of the characters she had to deal with', becomes later, in all probability, 'the most beloved of the two' (the two being Fanny and Susan).

But I'm afraid I don't have the confidence in my free will that you have in yours - I'm far too prone to misbehaviour to trust myself, most of the time!

From the Possum: HEY! who in
hell is doing all that stiring?

Dear Possum,

Protected species or not, I refuse to be admonished by a nocturnal marsupial in the daytime. Go back to your hollow log, wrap your tail over your nose, and go to sleep.

Ss-ss-ss-ss, gr-rr-rr-rr!

Dear Cheryl,

I too find the Fanny Prices of this world rather too big a mouthful of dead sea fruit (with due acknowledgement to Mr Rhett Butler), but in all fairness, one has to remember that Fanny, at the END of the novel, was only nineteen years old, and during its main action, only eighteen. She was, to all intents and purposes, taken from her own home 'where she had always been important as a playmate, instructress, and helpmeet to her mother' and transplanted into an environment as alien as Mars.  To this one must add the fact that she was sick:  God knows what with (probably worms!), but her comment to her cousin Edmund that 'you know that I am well enough now to walk very well' indicates that she must have been something quite different before - rickety and anaemic, in all probablility.

I don't believe that Jane Austen was trying to give us a religious morality novel rather she was, in Mansfield Park, driving home her concerns about the politics and the society of the day: to be blunt, I believe that Mansfield Park and its inhabitants personify what Jane Austen saw to be good, honest, Tory values, and the Crawfords are an allegory for the Prince Regent and his court.

Religious observance, physical and financial, was a legal obligation of the society of the time, and religion is part of the weave of every Jane Austen novel: that the view of her time was subsequently found lacking is demonstrated by the Evangelical movement, just beginning at the time of her death.  The basis of this movement, too, was political (do, do, please read Juliet Barker's biography of the Brontes - forget the children, and concentrate on the excellent research done by this lady on Patrick Bronte, which gives an astonishingly articulate and detailed account of a working clergyman's life).

And by way of hurling the cat amongst the pigeons (or stirring the possum, as we say here), I will assert that Jane Austen never does draw a 'religious' character.  Her characters are socially observant, certainly, but you will find no Evangelical preaching in her novels, which is fair enough, for, during her lifetime, religion was as much a business enterprise as it was anything else.

When her characters give thanks, they give it to Providence, not to God.

It's a personal gripe that I have developed from visiting "Other" Jane Austen sites frequented by "Americans". Every time the slavery issue comes up they all have to put their personal tuppence (English slang) in about how right-on America was about slavery and how it related to America and wasn't Jane Austen really on the side of "us" reformist Americans? And how can we work something of historical America into our message about Jane Austen? And the answer is, of course, it's hard to work something of America into a discussion of Our Lady. Because Jane Austen didn't really care tuppence about America and wrote virtually nothing about it. She was an English writer and made very few, if any, references to America or Australia. So I'm sorry that I mentioned America - it was an auto-response conditioned by,....that "Other" Jane Austen site.

From the Meister: Don't let Americans bother you. Think of us as big, chubby puppies - clumsy, exuberant, affectionate, over-confident, and sometimes ingenious but always appreciative. It is hard for me to think about that right now because I am upset about the other thing. I mean I hope this is legible - I am so upset that my typing finger is unreliable. Don't get me wrong, I have no right to be upset - you are your own woman and free to - well. I just thought that we had a - well, you know. But that's OK, it's just - well, I haven't been - well.

To just about everyone,

I see I've opened Pandora's box.  I'm going to try to create a systematic open reply to the points brought up by the Fanny-worshiping cult, but bear with me. Incidentally, we in the video industry have been given April 18 as a probable street date for Mansfield Park, here in the US.

Ashton: I might grant you that Fanny was trying to be kind to Mr. Rushworth, but I can't grant you Susan, as Fanny was as interested in securing a tolerable companion for herself and quieting the noise of her parents' house as she was in helping her sister.  Of course her kindness in helping Maria and Henry Crawford deceive Mr. Rushworth doesn't strike me as something to be proud of.  It serves mostly to illuminate to what depths the reader must sink to find even the appearance of kindness real in Fanny.

I definitely don't equate the word "religiousness" with the word "spirituality". When I say religious, I mean containing the credos of a recognized religion.  One can be religious without being spiritual or spiritual without being religious.  And I think you're missing out, maybe even on something positive, if you can't see the strong Christian tone of the novel.  The love story (between Fanny and Edmund) is the weakest of the themes present in MP, which may at least partly account for general disinterest it seems to create among readers.

Julie:  I really must learn to pay more attention:  when I read "dead sea fruit" what came to mind was a mouth full of dead "sea eggs".  Not a happy thought for someone who had to dissect a sea urchin in biology.  Yes, Fanny would have a tough time adjusting to life at Mansfield Park, but once again I have to drag out that old argument that she still has it better off than about 99% of other girls her age, including her own sisters.  Even as recently as many of our parents' generation (great depression era) adolescent children were expected to contribute financially and in other ways to the family income, and risked the very real threat of starvation if they failed.   Fanny is only 18, but more was expected of people her age then than there is now, and they were probably more mature. William for instance, was sent off to sea at (what?) age 11 or 12, to an unbelievably harsh and dangerous life, and no doubt had to give up whatever pittance he might have earned to help the family, yet I'm expected to pity Fanny?  Harrumph!

I've noticed that Edmund is the only one who ever mentions Fanny's many illnesses and weaknesses.  Could it be they were mostly for his benefit, or at least Fanny held on to the mantle of delicate/sickly for the emotional rewards?  After all, don't most children recover from failure to thrive within a months?  At any rate, she sure seems to get a lot of attention extra from Edmund based solely on her claims of illness.

I absolutely agree with your assessment of the main intent of the novel, which is yet another issue I have with what's being said about the MP movie.  The movie seems to imply that Sir Thomas is of that class of men who went out and made their fortune in the colonies then came back to buy up whatever knighthoods were around.  The Bertrams are clearly old money trying to maintain their foothold and moral compass in a brave new world.

John:  You're is the most difficult to respond to, because I can't help but think that to some extent, we're speaking a different language.  First of all, there's a long mile between being a doormat and being a bad or unruly child. You're right, this isn't Hollywood High and there are few either/or choices here. Do you believe that Elizabeth Bennet or Elinor Dashwood would have shared the exact same fate had they been transplanted to Mansfield Park?  Do you find either of them to be disobedient or disrespectful children? My main arguments are that A: Fanny shares some responsibility for her own fate, and B: that as readers and as ethical human being we hold Fanny to the same standards we hold Mary Crawford. Believe me, I have never, ever defended the Crawfords other than to say I find them charming.  And, as Jane Austen points out over and over again, charming is not the same as moral, ethical, honest, or anything else that's good.  But too often Fanny is excused for behavior no better than her cousins or the Crawfords because she's "just a poor relation."

You say that Fanny risks being returned to Portsmouth to her father's beatings.  Surely you don't mean to say that after taking care of her for almost ten years a man of Sir Thomas' upright character would abandon her in that way?  Can you see he or Edmund, or even Tom for that matter, letting Fanny starve in the streets?  Yes, Sir Thomas is less than an ideal father, but he is a good man nonetheless. He may not have been successful in inculcating good principles in his daughters, but he radiates ethics and morality himself.

I agree that all the Austen novels have a strong sense of JA's religious nature in them, but I disagree if you're saying one must be a Christian or even like Christianity to enjoy them. (Remember, I'm also the person who worships the works of Flannery O'Connor as well as Jane Austen.) The difference between Mansfield Park and the other novels is the difference between seeing an individual's religious beliefs through her daily life, and having that individual grab you by the lapels and preach to you.  In this case, I'm willing to put up with the preaching for the other and greater benefits, but I don't have to find it aesthetically pleasing.

Your explanation of free will  baffles me, so I can only assume my understanding of it is wrong (at least in the religious sense.)  By free will I mean that were I to find a wallet full of money and credit cards my basic choices are to A: steal some or all of the contents or B: return them to the owner.  Of course I don't mean to suggest that Fanny's choices are that simple, but they're not so insurmountable either.  "Aunt, I have a headache, may I be excused?" "Uncle, now that I'm older and more responsible, do you think I could be allowed a fire in my grate?"  Is there anything insolent or ungrateful, or  un-Christian  in these questions? Is there any indication that Sir Thomas or Lady Bertram have told Fanny's she'd be sent away for asking such a thing?

Your explanation of free will seems to be that if tomorrow I decide to murder my husband for the insurance money, at that exact moment, I'm no longer exercising free will, because the definition of free will is doing what's moral.  Does this mean I'm no longer responsible for my own actions, or something else entirely?

JA's other heroines are on a journey of self discovery, but Fanny makes no such journey herself.  She journeys only in the eyes of others, becoming beloved of Sir Thomas , Lady Bertram, and Edmund, but in what way does Fanny change?  What do we discover about Fanny that she/we didn't know about herself from the start?   If we look at the Austen works as a series of coming-of-age novels, we see the glaring difference between Mansfield Park and the others. Fanny is a heroine in search of a real obstacle.   Mary Crawford may present an obstacle to Fanny getting every last little thing her heart desires, but she's not the Dashwood or Bennet sisters who face the very real necessity of either marrying well or living in abject poverty. Even Emma's life provides a more serious dilemma because Emma can, and almost does, ruin another person's chances of happiness because of her great influence.  And to someone like Emma, the knowledge that she injured another person in that way would be a life long regret.  But in Fanny's case, even if she were never to marry, she would always have the East room as her own. Not an ideal life, perhaps, but it's not being sent out into service at the age of 12, now is it?

When we start saying that Fanny is excused from taking ANY action, because some courses of action are closed to her or even hinting that everything is always for the best in the best of all possible worlds, isn't that just the same old patronizing attitude toward women, gussied up in a new suit of clothes?  After all, if  inaction is a natural state (to Fanny in particular, and women in general) rather than a choice, then there's no point in creating choices, because they're unnatural, and would be left unexercised anyway.  (Isn't this the same argument that's been used throughout history to deny a given group the rights and responsibilities of equality?) I don't believe that Jane Austen intentionally created any such character anymore than she intentionally created the scheming little minx I see when I read the book. Maybe it would be wiser for me to take Catherine Morland as my personal hero -- no doubt I would benefit greatly from the belief that most people act from the best motives.


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