The Voices of Men in Praise of Jane Austen
Messages c. February 15, 2000

Reference: John's 2/16/00

Dear John,

It's true that Ms. Rozema has won awards, but the amateur/independent film festival audience will forgive those things which cannot be excused in a feature film.  To make a baseball analogy, I don't care how many games a pitcher has won in high school, he's still too inexperienced and immature for the big leagues.  That doesn't mean he's without potential, just that it hasn't been realized yet.   I don't deny that Ms. Rozema has made a "beautiful" movie, but a series of beautiful images do not a good movie make.

"Mansfield Park" has all the most common faults of a director's "first feature film."  It tries to tell too many stories.  Had Rozema chosen one movie to make, either "Mansfield Park" or a fictionalized biography of Jane Austen, or even the old fathers and sons at logger heads, the film would have had at least some of the focus it so badly needs. Another amateur's vice assuming the audience knows as much about the story as the storyteller.   It requires the viewer to fill in too many blanks.  It's hard to understand what all the fuss is about when Mr. Crawford's flirtations with Julia and Maria are never show on camera. This leave Fanny (especially) floundering about saying mysterious, nonsensical  things about Crawford's character and acting ability.

As a writer, Ms. Rozema falls in love with her heroine and succumbs to the temptation to make the hero into herself. It's a fatal mistake, especially  when dealing with someone else's characters.  For instance, having re-written Edmund as herself, (deliberately or not) Rozema leaves us with nothing of him that is recognizable -- where is that solid core of faith and righteousness  that makes him such a pain in the ass, not to mention a perfect husband for Fanny?

Your remark that "Perhaps [ I ] think she cannot be both a woman and a great film director?" does less to reveal what you assume to be my prejudice than your own good-old-boy condescension. Yes, I think women can be and are great directors.  But I won't lower my standards just because a director is a woman.  I won't say a good try is a success because no more can be expected of my sex.  The question is, can you say the same?

Dear Frankenstein-ites,

Yesterday, in a spirit of community, I started re-reading "Frankenstein" for the first time in 20 years.  This is the book to have on tape as the constant repeating of the same feelings, day after day, page after page,  probably works when spoken aloud, but becomes tedious when read.  I have just reached the trial of the beautiful servant girl Justine.

Mary Shelley has created her own artificial life form:  Walton and Frankenstein are female in world view, feelings, attitudes about friendship, and just about everything else.  (What a novel she could have written had she really been able to drop convention.) Frankenstein's reaction to his creature is too artificial, more like the horror a woman would feel at giving birth to a dead or deformed child.  His cowardice is more the sort of cowardice a woman would find excusable in a man. (Women expect moral cowardice in a man, but physical cowardice is something else.)

The theme of rejection/abandonment is replayed throughout the novel. Walton abandons his family and fortune to make a name for himself.  Elizabeth is abandoned by two families.  Victor's mother abandons her family rather than let others nurse her adopted daughter.  Victor then abandons his family for University and later his obsessions. He abandons his creation.  Justine Moritz is first rejected by her mother, then blamed for the deaths of her siblings.

And I'm only half-way through the book! Will capital vs. labor rear its ugly head soon?  Or will I be forced to conclude that by presenting the uncertainties of pregnancy and motherhood to men in male terms, Mary Shelley touched the male psyche with the ultimate horror?

From the Meister: I must say that you have been making some
good points lately - well, except for that last sentence in your
second paragraph. You know, Mary published that novel when
she was only twenty one, and she started on it at age eighteen; so,
have a heart. I don't think she was ever a good novelist but I think
she wrote some great novels - interesting I mean. Do you think
that possible?

1     Is this a holy thing to see
2     In a rich and fruitful land,
3     Babes reduc'd to misery,
4     Fed with cold and usurous hand?

5     Is that trembling cry a song?
6     Can it be a song of joy?
7     And so many children poor?
8     It is a land of poverty!

9     And their sun does never shine,
10   And their fields are bleak and bare,
11   And their ways are fill'd with thorns:
12   It is eternal winter there.

13   For where-e'er the sun does shine,
14   And where-e'er the rain does fall,
15   Babe can never hunger there,
16   Nor poverty the mind appall.

WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827)

Dear John,

I believe your posting is a defense of the statement you made on 2/15/00: "Blake wrote about the dark satanic mills." There seem nothing of mills mentioned; in fact, there is no sentiment expressed here that you will not find in either the Old or New Testaments. You will agree that neither Mathew, John, nor Luke was warning of the down side of the Industrial Revolution. More to the point, there is nothing expressed in Holy Thursday that Jane Austen does not express in the actions our Lady assigns to Emma Woodhouse, Mr. Woodhouse, or George Knightley. In fact; I don't think that Blake was even referring to the urban poor; if he was, then "bleak, bare fields" and "thorns" make mighty poor similes.

This discussion began after I voiced my skepticism that Mary Shelley lived at a time when she might have written Frankenstein as an allegory of the creation of the industrial proletariat. My skepticism only grows. I believe that Jane Austen did not express a concern for the industrial proletariat because that group was not the significant fraction that it would become shortly after her death. Let me say it this way, I honestly believe that had Karl Marx been a contemporary of Jane Austen and Blake, there would have been no Das Kapital. We must look elsewhere for the interpretation of Frankenstein.

Dear Ashton,

I am not certain that I know just what in my purpose was not served by the Blake poem.

My purpose was and is to distinguish between romantic and Romantic. Also, by way of differentiating between the Gothic romances (unrespected by Jane Austen) and Frankenstein, it was my intent to show that Frankenstein was not Gothic but Romantic. Only for that reason did I introduce the Industrial Revolution into my discussion. As Jane Austen ridiculed the artistic wrongs of the Gothic novel, so Mary S______ exposed the great wrongs of the Industrial Revolution already manifest, although not yet the full horror that they were to become. The Romantic Movement was not restricted to the Industrial Revolution.

The definition of the Romantic Movement that I offered came from the Cambridge on-line dictionary and another.

All houses in villages and towns had their own gardens to raise some food for the pot. Literary images need not be exclusively urban or rural simply by their nature. The really poor could not afford to grow much more than edibles, very unlikely sufficient for the family. Blake is saying that nature is bountiful but that that bounty is denied to many, and the denial comes from all of those with power over the poor. He is not in the slightest interested in making a distinction between rural and urban: there were hungry children in both places.

Here is a link to Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal of 1729. It was written in response to the plight of the Irish poor who were starving in their land because the agricultural richness of Ireland was sold for much more than the poor Irish could afford, most of it going to England. Some nice ladies in Bath wrote an angry denunciation of this seemingly monstrous proposal, thus proving that they did not understand what Swift was saying. The agrarian revolution had provided the starvation enjoyed by the Irish. I especially like Swift's giving his anonymous letter writer the disclaimer in the last sentence.

Charles Dickens was born into one of the manorial houses south-east of London (the garden of England) but his father suffered some sort of reverse, lost "Strawberry Hill" (?), and the very young boy was put out to a blacking business where he filled tins and boxes with shoe-blacking among the strange sort of characters found in some of his novels. He did not think it any life for a young gentleman.

References: 2/2/00, 2/15/00, 2/15/00-a

Dear Ashton,

You must read more Blake, you know.  You of all people will adore him.  And the burgeoning discussion of imagination vs. reason is right up his alley.  He's on the side of balance, but if you're going to tip it at all, lean toward imagination.  Blake's God is imagination.

Meanwhile, what did Austen grow in her garden?  Anyone?  It is time (in this hemisphere) to plan the plots and beds, you know.  This year, a delightful little park where Lady Catherine can chew us out is just the thing.

Oh yes, I can MAKE the following discussion relevant.

Of course the tomato is a North American plant.  When I was trying to determine if Mr. Payton’s Raleigh idea fit what I knew about tomatoes, I found scholarly writings on the net (all mixed in with scientific charts about DNA and stuff so I mean scholarly) which said that historic evidence proves that Moors and Turks introduced the plant to the Mediterranean.  That was what I had thought, but I didn't put that in my posting because it isn't really relevant to this site.  But then I saw your other totally unrelated posting about North American plants in Europe, and I thought, is it lunchtime around here, or what?

So here's something to chew on:  The "tomatl" arrived in Europe and was re-dubbed "pomme de Mores" (apple of the Moors) or, a name which sounds the same but sexier, "pomme d'amore." While lots of poisonous plants are related to edible ones, I theorize that the Church thought "love apples" were an aphrodisiac (indeed evidence exists to support this, too) and promptly condemned them as poisonous so that no one would eat them (no evidence for this, and of course the nightshade thing has more than a foothold here).  Everyone else came to similar conclusions regarding the aphrodisiac qualities and did eat them.  Or so my theory goes.

I am delighted to hear about your CD of Austen airs. I want it.  But what we need for this posting, is an Austen recipe book so that we can determine what her favourite pizza toppings were. I think I recall some recipes handed around in the correspondence, and they weren’t all for disguising mutton on the seventh day in a row that it has been served.  Am I imagining things?  (Of course I am, but on this point, am I imagining things?)

And now, I'm going to go eat.

Dear Heather,

She was fond of syringa, we know, and wanted one in the garden 'for Cowper's line: "syringa, ivory pure" ' She was also fond of elm trees.  I'll have to rat the letters for more, but I seem to remember her liking spring bulbs (who would not?) Julie

Dear Heather,

I take your point: God is imagined and that says a lot because imagination is God.

Both men, of course, were contemporaries of Jane Austen, but it was Mary Wollstonecraft's company they would seek.

Dear Ashton,

I just want to say that if I must be Coleridged, you picked my favourite of his poems to do it.

I would much rather be Blaked, and his Tyger poem is a great choice for a quick Blaking. But his longer poems are where he really shines out as the eccentric genius he was.

Neither man genius enough, apparently, to hang out with Our Lady.  Well, but it was she of course, who chose not to hang out with them, and that’s a horse of a different colour, as we say here in Oz.  No, the other Oz.

By the by, I wish to acknowledge your hard work in keeping this site up-to-date. It's so well-maintained and you give it those nice little extra touches like linking to past postings. My life is such a shambles at times that it just feels good to come to this orderly site, kick my shoes off, and have a dejeuner sur l’herbe. With or without sweater. All of this is just to say thanks, and to let you know, just in case you think we don’t notice, we do.

Dear Heather, Julie, and Ashton,

First things first, in the movie,  I believe the squishy thing Shakespeare was sticking his quills into was an apple, rather than a tomato. I suspect that if such a thing were actually used, it would have been cooked in brine to make it both more forgiving on the tip of the quill and less nauseous.  Having been introduced to the  uncivilized flies of Western Australia, I hardly think Shakespeare could have opened the door let alone moved about in the room had he set a rotting tomato or apple on his desk in Elizabethan London. Artsy-looking or not.

Virtually all of the solanaceae, (henbane, for instance,  [seeds available from Richter's]) of Europe are poisonous, so we don't have to look too far to find a reason for suspicion of the tomato.  In addition, when potatoes were brought back from the new world, Queen Elizabeth's chef threw the tubers away and cooked the greens.  Thus, European history was nearly changed forever, and had boiled potato greens actually tasted good, Elizabeth and most of her court would have died.  As it was, she was ill for many days. I refer you to a book I read years ago which may have been called "Solanaceae, King of Plants" which contains the chapter "How to spend a quiet evening at home with a potato."  Many "heiloom" open pollinated varieties of tomatoes are also called "potato-leaved," for obvious reason.  Costoluto Genovese and Banana Legs being two I've had in my garden.

By the end of the American Civil War, tomatoes were popular here in the US, but, until the turn of the century, I understand that they were still to be avoided, particularly in the summer, by Brits. I would suggest this has less to do with the Catholic Church than the fact that Americans were more forward looking and less dependent on concepts like sympathetic magic (red tomatoes heated the blood.)

My husband and I have a worse than usual case of spring fever as, while at the Seattle Garden Show, we purchased a green house!! Our current living arrangement is that the passion flowers, the Brugmansia (tree datura) and the bay tree occupy the picture window,  the cardamom-plant-from-hell occupies the south patio door, and plant shelves occupy everything else. We have a series of islands in the middle which allow us to eat, sleep, shower, and watch TV. We also start all our own vegetable and flower seeds each year, which means that from March to May, we don't even have the islands.  When we get to the point of putting plant lights over the kitchen table, things have gotten out of hand.  Realizing the need to tie this in properly to Jane Austen, I refer you to General Tilney's hothouses, and will say that my garden contains such Austen-friendly plants as thyme, sage, costmary, madder, wormwood, and a medlar tree. Apothecary's rose is slated for this year.

Dear Voices,

Laurie: I agree with you concerning the ET S&S.  It looks to me like Bravo intends to air Rozema's MP. I'll try to catch the beginning of their promo to see what's what and when.

Bruce:  I cannot agree with Frank O'Connor.

Julie:  I don't know the connection between the Leighs and Austen, but I do know that Lord Byron's daughter, Ada, Countess Lovelace, is the world's first computer programmer and that the official US government computer programme, Ada, is named after her. What do you know about Babbidge and Ada?

Cheryl:  Patricia Rozema had won many international awards for her films before Miramax invited her to do MP. She is no neophyte. Perhaps you think that she cannot be both a woman and a great film director? I was certain that I would see a beautiful film when I sat down before the big screen. I did not expect the time to vanish so completely. I think it a great film.

By the by, the actress who played Mary Crawford in the BBC mini-series acted, looked, and sounded exactly as I had imagined Jane Austen's creation.

While you were watching MP on the big screen, I was watching either Part 1 or Part two of the 262-minute mini-series.

And Now for Something Completely Different:

Heather and the Meister: The Romantic Movement is the artistic and intellectual movement arising in Europe in the late 18th C., in rebellion against classicism, in which freedom and creativity, individual feeling, mystery, and individual value are stressed.  It idealized and exalted conceptions of (ordinary) man and nature.

It is only coincidence that Byron and Shelley took the deaths of friends as some of their subjects. Byron principally wrote English Bards and Scotch Reviewers to beat up the Edinburgh Review. He could hardly have believed that the Review's patronizing criticism of Keats' book was the cause of Keats' death. Compared with Wordsworth, these poets are pretty minor--although they rank much higher than many of their contemporaries. For a considerable time, the book by Wordsworth and Coleridge was regarded as the introduction of Romanticism into English literature, but Wordsworth himself gave the precedence to Robert Burns. Whether or not he also gave precedence to Blake is beyond my ken. Other very important Romantic writers were Goethe and Hugo.

In painting, Turner and Constable led the Romantic way; in music composition, Beethoven, Schumann, and Chopin.

Anne Radcliffe wrote romances, unrealistic depictions of people and their adventures. Not all her skill in describing picturesque places is enough to rank her with the great artists of the Romantic Movement. In NA, Jane Austen's satire is expressed in creating a realistic young woman, Catherine, who is not a heroic figure (and doesn't even like history books) and a young man, Henry, who doesn't even think of Catherine for himself until he sees that she is in love with him. (There you are Elizabeth; there you are Jane; way to go, Charlotte the wise and observant.)

Mary Shelley had read Ovid's Metamorpheses and Milton's Paradise Lost. Prometheus was chained and tortured by Zeus for stealing the sacred fire from Olympus and giving it to his creation, man. Both Adam and Lucifer had rebelled against their creator. In the Greek myth and in Paradise Lost (and in the Bible), the creator creates out of love for the creation. Prometheus' creations are grateful; Lucifer and Adam are not. (The ingrates!)  The monster should have been grateful if he had been treated kindly.

Shelley called her novel The New Prometheus, not Prometheus All Over Again. And certainly not Genesis Deja Vu. Frankenstein had no love for his creation. To him, it was a thing. That is what Mary Shelley created.

To call her a Gothic writer is as silly as calling Blake a mystic. They were both realists who used controlling metaphors. Frankenstein is not a mere character in a novel but a metaphor for the new science which was created by men uninterested in any outcomes. For example, Watt invented his steam engine with the same kind of mindset that he used in discoursing on German metaphysics, or art, or music. He was a polymath, expert in nearly everything. He made no secret of his improvements but published them for the world. The new industrial and agricultural class was certainly represented by the monster. Although the French Revolution was a revolution of the middle class, not the working class, it cannot have done anything but served as a powerful warning to Mary Shelley that the mistreatment by its masters of a numerous and potentially powerful underclass must have dire consequences.

I think that it was Toynbee who discussed in detail the rapid growth in population from 1750 (no reliable statistics before that date, approximately) and the rapid shifting of population growth to the towns. I do not mean that it was Toynbee and not Malthus who wrote on population changes. Toynbee weighed the estimations of three men, as a piece of political science, that is all. He writes uncommonly clearly about this dismal science. BTW, I am not a Malthusian. You do care, do you not?

When you remember that Wordsworth, Coleridge, and others were under secret service observation because of suspected possible disloyalty and that Robert Burns fell into danger of losing his job in the Customs because he wrote a brief poem about William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, it ought to be understandable that Jane Austen and others left out of their writings much that we should otherwise find interesting. Wink, wink; nudge, nudge.


Dear Miss Heather and Ashton,

Miss Heather: All I can say about your mental image of me is that I'm flattered and about the only part that you got right is that I do have a hunting print on the wall of this room.

As far as the baseball cap question goes, I rarely wear them, but when I do I wear them with the bills facing forward as God intended. It also keeps the sun off my beak.

I checked my Encyclopedia Britannica about tomatoes. It said that the tomato was introduced to Europe in the first half of the 16th century, probably from Mexico. It does not state, though, for what purpose (i.e., food, decoration). I was taught in grade school that the Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony did not eat tomatoes because they thought them poisonous.

Ashton: Could you please give the title of the Songs of Jane Austen CD again? I checked several .com booksellers in search of the CD and could not find anything that quite fit the description you gave.

Thanks for the Blake material. He was an interesting man with a bad theology (of course, I'm speaking for the Anglican viewpoint). It must be interesting to be able to sit naked in one's garden and hold conversations with angels. I do regret, though, that you didn't, as a sop to Luddites like Jonesy, Julie and myself, chuse to offer the poem, Jerusalem. Of course, it is a poem that sings better than it reads and it would almost make one think that God is an Englishman.

To anybody: This may be obvoius to the deeper thinkers among the Janeites, but I must bring up the question. Is it possible that Lydia Bennet's fondness for playing lottery is meant to be an indication of her mindlessness? If I remember correctly, she is the only one of the Bennet sisters to play lottery and she is the sister who seems to operate the most from impulse instead of thought. Lydia almost seems to be JA's slap at the idea of the "noble savage." But I'm probably just full of hot air.

From Ashton: Here is the way it was described
in our order confirmation from
1 of "Jane's Hand - The Jane Austen Songbooks / Baird, Newman"
  George Frideric Handel (Composer), et al; @ $5.67 each
     Usually ships in 24 hours
I hope this does it for you. Enjoy!


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