The Voices of Men in Praise of Jane Austen
Messages on the Bulletin Board - c. March 1, 2000

Dear Folks,

I recently recommended a CD devoted to the songs of Jane Austen. I am proud to announce that I have an impressive confirmation of my taste - that of my twenty-month-old grandson. He was enthralled the first time he heard it and I play it frequently for him. I played it most recently last night just after his bath. He was standing there bare-chested with his still-wet, long, black hair in curls as it always is after a bath. He was staring at my CD player and his arms were folded behind him with the hands together and the palms facing outward. He seemed like some beautiful, mythical sea-creature come to be enchanted by the clear, sweet soprano voice - either that or he was trying to find the power-off switch.

Dear Grandpa,

You DO have a bad case of grandfather-itis, don't you!  Good for you.  I can see that this damp little tyrant has you in his clutches - and you probably think you are the soul of impartial fairness and discipline!

Could you give me the details of that CD, please?  I'd like to order it.

From the Meister: The CD was produced by a company called "Victoria" and
it was described this way in the confirmation of our order 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

Dear Ashton,

Last night I saw Rozema’s Mansfield Park, so here’s my tuppence (short version).  In spite of the fact that I felt like Ray Mitchell in England, searching for Jane Austen and not finding her, I was highly entertained.  Two intimate moments between Mary and Fanny afford an opportunity to seek out lesbianism.  Lesbians would be disappointed.  Strong emphasis on the slave trade and it’s connections to "the female condition."  (Egads, get off that horse and tell us the story already!)  A heavy-handed, un-Austen, yet interesting interpretation.  While Enlightenment décor must be expected to be Spartan, the set was a little too much so.  I should think the Bertrams lived under much more luxurious conditions, however, a sense of cold reserve comes across very clearly.  Very good casting, but: Fanny conflated with Austen, makes for a much more likeable Fanny, though not Austen’s Fanny, Edmund less of a milquetoast, Henry Crawford redeemable in Fanny’s hands, Tom Bertram a sensitive artist(?!), Sir Thomas a ham-fisted, despicable, lecherous patriarch(?!!), Mary Crawford spot on.

Dear whoever can help me,

I need help from everyone who understood the story and Jane's character because I need to create an award to "give her". Please any suggestions - I'd truly appreciate. Thank you!

Dear *Amber,

Sometimes young people confuse "Jane Austen", who was a real person who lived two-hundred years ago in England, with Jane Eyre, who is a fictional character in a book written by Charlotte Bronte. It is not clear which you are referring to in your posting.

If you truly mean Jane Austen, then here is a link to what a number of men said about her and here is a second link. From those remarks, you may be able to invent an award for her. If it were me, and if I was in a big hurry, I would give her The Greatest Novelist Award - Human Nature Division because Miss Austen wrote six great novels about human nature.

Dear Amber,

I would be most happy to help, if I can, with either Jane Austen or Jane Eyre, or Jane Fairfax or Jane Bennet for that matter.  If your request concerns Miss Eyre, however, help must be given in private, to avoid local prejudices.

More information, please?

Ok, I need to create a make believe award that could be given to Jane Bennet for a project in my English class. I have some ideas but I didn't understand the story too well so if anybody could give me sugesstions for an award that would suit Jane Bennet, I'd be truly greatful. Like along the lines of "most...".

Dear Amber,

Some English teachers have a lot to answer for.  But I promised to help, so I'll try.  What about 'Most Beloved Sister'?  That's a quote from the novel, incidentally, said by Elizabeth Bennet.  If you want to get cute, you could try 'Most Candid', and then have fun explaining to your teacher the original meaning of the word 'candid', which did not mean outspoken, as it does now, but rather 'honest, but always trying to see the best'.  It's from the Latin word for 'white'.

Then, I suppose there is 'Most Hilarious Statement After Becoming Engaged', when Jane tells Elizabeth she is going to tell their mother:  'I would not on any account trifle with her affectionate solicitude......' now, I like Jane, I really do, but I think that's a bit of a mouthful for private conversation - and it will impress your teacher, as it will show him/her you have read the text.

If this lot is no good, get back to me, and I'll see if I can come up with a few more.

Dear *Amber,

Does you English teacher wear tweed?  (Well, someone had to ask it!)  Anyway, I agree with Julie's suggestion for "most beloved sister" as it is a from a quote in the book.  Also, I would suggest re-reading Pride and Prejudice in a few months or a year to see if more of the book makes sense to you.  Take it from someone who is probably about the same age as you - Austen's work takes time to digest.  The more times you read the book, the more it makes sense and the more you enjoy it. Trust me, it's worth it! Good luck with your project and I will try to think of more awards if the ones already suggested by Julie and others don't work out for you.

Dear Ashton,

I have noticed that you have no mention of Kipling's short story The Janeites on the bulletin board. As you probably know, the two Kipling poems you have on the site originally sandwiched the story.

I just got the Everyman's Library edition of Kipling's collected stories in which is printed The Janeites. I have not read it yet, as I am just finishing up Lewis' That Hideous Strength. The Kipling story is about a group of military men who are Jane Austin fans and it may give some insight as to the appeal that JA has for men.

By the way, the title page of the story contains the following poem:

The Survival

Securely, after days
Unnumbered, I behold
Kings mourn that promised praise
Their cheating bards foretold.

Of earth-constricting wars,
Of Princes passed in chains,
Of deeds out-shining stars,
No word or voice remains.

Yet furthest times receive
And to fresh praise restore,
Mere flutes that breathe at eve,
Mere seaweed on the shore.

A smoke of sacrifice;
A chosen myrtle-wreath;
An harlot's altered eyes;
A rage 'gainst love or death;

Glazed snow beneath the moon;
The surge of storm-bowed trees-
The Caesars perished soon,
And Rome Herself; But these

Endure while Empires fall
And Gods for Gods make room...
Which greater God than all
Imposed the amazing doom?

Horace, Ode 22, Bk V

Dear Ashton,

I just re-viewed the BBC Mansfield Park because I was very depressed (I'm bi-polar, and either extremely elated or extremely suicidal), and it cheered me enormously!!! Thank you, Jane!!! I think I love Fanny Price more and more each time I hear her. But I just can't understand why Mary and Henry Crawford were so obvious, yet nobody in Jane's world recognized them for what they were. It's been a while since I last read the novel (I apologize, but I'm really busy crocheting and writing web pages), but I don't remember Jane as being so "obvious" and so I don't trust the video adaptation totally. Still, I don't think I would like the most recent version...

From the Meister: I hope you will read Cheryl's post of 2/28/99. In particular, I hope you will react to her quote from Edmund Wilson. I am very sorry to hear about your condition; although, it seems to me that you have chosen exactly the right author and exactly the right bulletin board - we will perk you up.

Dear Cheryl et. al.,

"Speaking of Jane Austen" is my favorite book on Austen. It's written by Sheila Kaye-Smith and G.B. Stern, both well known novelists (from between the wars) in their own rights. Kaye-Smith's Joanna Godden has been revived by feminist critics, and is now available in many bookstores.  It's well worth reading, although the second half meanders a bit.  The last paragraph of (I think) book 1 is stunning.

Stern and Kaye-Smith also wrote another Austen book (I can't remember its name). "Speaking of..." is not literary criticism.  It's a gossipy, fun "appreciation", with chapters on what food is eaten, what clothes are worn, and which characters are failures.  In fact, this chapter, entitled "You must not expect a prodigy" (as Mr. Weston says about Frank) is typical of discussions on this and other Austen boards.  Stern sees Austen's most important failures as Brandon (he's a bore),  Eleanor Tilney (why didn't she protect her friend better), and Lady Catherine (a caricature).  Kaye-Smith disses Lady Russell.

This book was written in 1944, and it's hard to find, although I own a copy.

Dear Folks,

February 29th - do you know what a rare day this is? You might be tempted to say, "not so rare, it happens every four years". Mm-mm-mm, no - in fact, this sort of day can occur only every four hundred years. In fact, if you are a citizen of the Commonwealth or the United States, this sort of day has never occurred in the entire history of your nation. If you are an Italian, this sort of day occurred only once, in the year 1600. For all of us, this kind of date will not occur again until the year 2400. (Will there be a United States then? Will the political boundaries of any Commonwealth country be as they are today? An objective reading of human history makes the best guesses "no" and "no".) So, show your appreciation!

Here is the explanation. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII adopted what we now call the Gregorian Calendar. The idea was to make March 21 always fall on the vernal equinox - for one thing, the equinox marks a specific point on the earth's orbit. The problem is that the year is 365 days long, but only approximately - it is nearly a quarter day longer than that. The solution was to make most years, called common years, 365 days and every fourth year, leap years, 366 days long. (Incidentally, in successive common years, a specific date, say December 16, occurs one day later in the week; however, in a leap year any date after February 29 will "leap" to two days later in the week.) O.K. that is all review - everyone knows that. Here is where it gets interesting. The inventors of the calendar knew that the year is a tiny bit less than 365 and 1/4 days, so they devised this solution: century years (years ending in 00 as in the present year) would be common years rather than leap years. Well, that didn't quite do it either, so a final adjustment was that any century year divisible by 400 would revert back to a leap year. So, 1800 and 1900 were common years but 2000 is a leap year. The rest of Europe adopted this calendar only gradually. In fact, Britain did not adopt this calendar until 1752. Now, in 1752, Jane Austen's father, George Austen, was twenty-one years old, and her mother, nee Cassandra Leigh, was thirteen. (Oh, and another British lad, also named after his King, was twenty years old - that would be George Washington.) The British did two other things at the time; they made January 1 the first day of the year, and they adjusted things so that Good Friday would be observed at the exact same place in the orbit where Jesus was actually on the cross. They calculated that they where 11 days too slow in the latter case, so it was decreed that the day after September 2, 1752 would be September 14, 1752. Think about it - that must have been fun. Anyway, we have something on the Austen parents - we are witness to the first leap year during a century year in the English-speaking world. Pat yourself on the back.

Dear Ashton (and all),

A short trip to Portland last week has resulted in a wealth of booty.  At Powell's bookstore(s) I found a copy of Elizabeth Jenkin's biography and also picked up one by David Noakes for a bit of balance. I also found something called "Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays" edited by Ian Watt and containing articles by Virginia Woolf and Kingsley Amis among others, as well as the legendary pamphlet "Jane Austen In Bath" by Jean Freeman, published by the Jane Austen Society.  And these were only my Jane Austen finds.  Mark Twain's "Letters From Hawaii" and "Captain Sam Grant" were there on the shelves.  I even found an excellent book on cheese making.  The chapter on goat cheese makes me feel well-prepared should I find myself in the Wilds Of Tasmania, surrounded by gallacidal goat herders.

The book of essays has already provided an interesting new perspective. In an essay by Edmund Wilson:

"I believe that, in respect to Jane Austen's heroines, the point of view of men readers is somewhat different from that of women ones.  The woman reader wants to identify herself with the heroine, and she rebels at the idea of being Fanny.  The male reader neither puts himself in Fanny's place nor imagines himself marrying Fanny any more than he does that nice little girl in Henry James's "What Maisie Knew," a novel which "Mansfield Park" in some ways quite closely resembles.  What interests him in Miss Austen's heroines is the marvellous (sic) portraiture of a gallery of different types of women, and Fanny, with her humility, her priggishness and her innocent and touching good faith is a perfect picture of one kind of woman."

I don't know how well this reflects the general man, but I think it's darned accurate about women.  He's discussing another book "Speaking Of Jane Austen" which, from his description, appears to be the prehistoric print version of what we're doing right now. Dedicated Austen lovers talking about the books.

I hope the biographies will help me make more sense of the letters, which I got for Christmas. To be honest, I'm a bit lost in the who's who and the biographical index isn't organized to be much help, at least for me.  If I can get around and finish at least one of the books I'm reading, I'll sit down and put everything into the family tree software and print myself up a nice diagram.

Has anyone had the opportunity to see "Titus" yet?  I'm waiting with 'bated breath to see Shakespeare's goriest and most violent play, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, on film.

Dear Cheryl,

I will be especially interested in your reaction to the Jenkins biography. I hope you will post on that, at the very least. However, all that other stuff sounds interesting as well. Do you want to tell us about Virginia Woolf's thoughts on Jane Austen? I ran across them when I was preparing my What Some Women Shouldn't Have Said About Jane Austen and quickly decided that Wolf's thoughts didn't belong there. However, her ideas did seem interesting and cogent, and someone ought to put them before the community. Here is a link to one comment by Virginia Woolf.

I am deeply impressed by the comment of Edmund Wilson; I think he may be right because that explains a lot of things that have puzzled me. Except, why does he say "priggishness"? I don't know, maybe I don't see it because I am priggish too - Well, actually, what's the mystery? - People have been hinting that I am priggish all my life. (I remember being upset, at times, with my children and people would say "Oh com'on, didn't you do such-and-such when you were young?" - I would be incredulous because, of course I had never done such-and-such.) We prigs don't use the pejorative term "priggish"; we say "disappointed".

Dear Sir,

I can talk well enough, when I have something to say.  My interest in Jane Austen's novels is, perhaps, a little narrower than others':  having no interest in film adaptations, for instance, there will be periods when I keep quiet   however, I read the board every day.

From the Meister: Oh! Well - OK, then

I wasn't disagreeing with Ms Jenkins, at all, at all, but merely musing - not being able to imagine who would have forbidden Jane Austen to have taken her writing desk to her bedroom, had she wished, I came to the conclusion that she wrote as she did because that was how she chose to write.  We do know that she was able to arrange solitude for piano practise, for instance (she played early, before other members of the family were down)   I rather think that her writing was so much a part of herself, and that she was so comfortable with it, that it was not a trial to her:  she did not 'give birth in agony' to her novels, but created and crafted them easily and naturally.

Meister: Oh!

As to social commentary: perhaps we should define the term? I feel that the novels provide social commentary in exactly the same way as the Woodforde diaries:  exquisite vignettes of the daily life of the period.  I am not referring to social commentary a la Dickens (can't stand the man), or even George Eliot, but rather to the kind of unconscious commentary that is provided by a great writer (which is where we must part with Mr Woodforde!).  I don't imagine that Jane Austen was consciously recording daily life, and the social values of a particular part of society, for posterity; nor do I think the novels allegories for the great social questions of the time.  Social commentary does exist, however, because of the greatness of the author.  The financial position of the Bates ladies, for instance; the question of how to deal with Lydia Bennet, when she (belatedly) becomes Lydia Wickham; the Harriet Smith Situation; Sir Walter Elliot's financial crisis - these are just a few instances of social commentary in action - these plot devices have about them the ring of truth, and tell us how real people of the time managed real issues.

Meister: Oh!

Dear Ashton and Miss Julie,

At the risk of being beat up, I have a couple of things to say about the above topics.

It is, I think, presumptuous for any of us to say under what circumstances Jane Austen wrote. I think that Miss Julie is engaging in a little wishful thinking in her vision of the Chawton household. I have rarely ever seen three people (let alone four) occupy the same room for any length of time without someone deciding to take the role of the designated chatterbox. Keep in mind Pascal's dictum about most of the problems in the world being caused by people's inability to sit quietly in a room. I do not think that the Austen women were any exception, especially considering their fondness for word play.

It is not unknown for writers to have worked in what, at first glance, would appear to be conditions not conducive to the concentration that we think writing requires. I think that it was Charles Maturin, the author of Melmouth the Wanderer, who used to do his writing whenever the mood struck him, including dinner parties where he would put a cloth on his head to indicate that he was not to be bothered personally as the party went on around him. Or there's the case of Ernie Pyle, the war correspondent, who, while not typing up dispatches in foxholes in the heat of battle, was so close to the fighting that he was finally killed by a Japanese sniper on Saipan. When human beings have the desire to do something, they will adapt. JA may have wanted to have a cork-lined room a la Proust, but she couldn't, and apparently didn't suffer for it.

I think that it was JA's isolation from personally dealing with the writer's of her day that made her novels what they were. If she had run in the Burney circle, God only knows what the product would have been. Sometimes the help of an established writer will ruin a young writer because the older writer is unconsciously trying to establish a school or a copy of himself. JA lived at the end of the great age of amatuers before everything became a profession. She was the last of the great English "amatuer" writers at a time when most of the professionals were grinding it out on Grub Street.

Social commentary in novels is where you look for it. It's like that old trick we used to play on the impressionable. One would say to the victim, "Have you ever noticed how frequently the number 49 (or 13 or whatever) appears in daily life? It's uncanny. I wonder if it means something, or is a secret sign?" The next thing you know the person is seeing 49 (or multiples of 49) everywhere. It drives them crazy because they are sure that it means something. They start studying numerology or the Kabbalah and all they can do is talk about this number. After a while they have you convinced that there's something to it.

I'm not saying that Miss Julie is wrong in assessment of the social comment in JA's novels, but I think that she may be putting a little bit more into them than a lot of other people see. I really think that one of the appeals of the novels is that there is no overt social comment. I have read that during WWI some English soldiers suffering from shell shock were assigned to read JA's novels to re-acquaint them with a normal life. They are novels of normal lives. If a normal life is a social comment, so be it. But if JA was laying out a message about the women's unfair lot in life, she did a damn bad job of it and is not the writer I took her for.

Can anyone help me to compare Emma to Mrs. Elton?  Please email me if you can help. Thanks for any help!

Dear brian,

I would be happy to assist with any comparison.  Does this mean that there is another dastardly English teacher out there, blighting the lives of the young?  Not to worry.

(This is much more fun than silly films!).


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