The Voices of Men in Praise of Jane Austen
Messages on the Bulletin Board - c. April 19, 2000
Refer to yours of 4/18/00.
Sorry I haven't responded as quickly as I should have, but as a WASP trying to learn Passover rituals, I have a lot of studying to do. Also, I'm very sick of matzah at about this point, and my overwhelming desire for a nice soft loaf of bread or a heaping bowl of steaming pasta has become quite distracting. (Two days to go.) But to answer your questions (hopefully you still care):
Repetition in 18c Literature: I agree that some people who write rapidly and do not edit tend to repeat themselves. As a moonlighting editor, I will concur so strongly that I can only hope I'm not crushing you with it. But, on further contemplation, I'm going to draw a distinction now between rambling and repeating. Rambling stories could be shorter, but not necessarily better. A narrative digression a la Fielding is quite fun. Ditto a Swiftian aside. Hypertextual references a la Pope can only add to a tale. No, rambling is fine, come to think of it, and perhaps it is that feature that 18c literature displays more than repetition. On that point, then, I back down. It was nonsense anyway. If I found all 18c literature to be repetitive, I certainly would never have read so much of it. Scott is a rambler, but he's not repetitive. Your other listed writers, I agree are not repetitive. You didn't list Richardson (in spades) or Defoe (three of a kind), and you already made your point with Wollstonecraft.
Sterne rambles (no repetition) as much as Shandy. Coincidence? I think not.
Am I contradicting Henry Austen?: Not on the re-writing score. I don't doubt for a single second that Austen did a lot of re-writing. I'm not entirely convinced, however, that her re-writing was a determined effort at creating conciseness. I think conciseness, if it didn't already exist, was merely a side-effect of re-writing. When she polished her works her aim was only to make them shine. Whether that meant rethinking an ending or editing out a nasty tone, either of those activities could lead to a more concise style of writing.
I'm sure Henry knew his sister far better than any of us ever will, but frankly, though you have presented some fine arguments about how Austen knows men by observing her brothers, it does not follow that her brothers spent a lot of time observing her with the same keen eye. Henry may speculate as to his sister's influence all he wants, but he will never convince me that there was just one.
Influences: In determining Austen's influence, you are considering that either Lewis is right or Austen's brother is, but not both, and you are using that as the basis for some research. It's as good a basis as any, and better than most. I hope you'll still allow me to think they are both right. If you detect Sterne in a particular paragraph, very well. It is a beautiful paragraph. You may think me stupid, but I do not detect Sterne in it. You have mentioned that you know I like Austen for her humour. That is also what I like about Sterne. I thought that's what was meant in comparing them. Thus, the passage you quote does not stir a memory of Sterne for me. It has been a while since I read him. Please provide an excerpt from Sterne that matches Austen's paragraph so I can detect the similarities you speak of.
More than One Influence: While you and Cheryl are seeking out more Sterne-like passages (I look forward to same), I'm going to seek out some other influences. Here's some Burney. It's from a diary entry that goes on to give a marvellous description of Dr. Johnson, but I'm just going to give you this teaser:
Mrs. Thrale is a very pretty woman still. She is extremely lively and chatty, has no supercilious or pedantic airs, and is really gay and agreeable. Her daughter is about twelve years old, (stiff and proud), I believe, (or else shy and reserved: I don't yet know which).
Now, I have no idea whether Burney's diaries were published in Austen's time. But my point is, she did have access to Burney's style of writing in her other works. Note: We don't know what colour hair they have or what they were wearing, but their personalities are set out nicely. Very Austen.
What fascinates me about that paragraph is that Burney is in company with a half dozen or so people outside the family, including Dr. Johnson, whom she is meeting for the first time. And yet she takes a moment to observe, with quite remarkable discernment, the attributes of a quiet 12-year-old girl. Remind you of anyone? Moreover, very concisely, she states the basis for what could be a wonderful novel, if anyone were to consider writing it: ie, First Impressions.
I'm not sure if the following quoted sentence is the kind of passage to which Ashton and Cheryl were referring in their posts on 4/20/00 about starting a whole new trend in thinking about Jane Austen, but I wanted to share my thoughts about it.
The sentence is in Chapter 50 after the announcement of Lydia and Wickham's marriage plans. Elizabeth is next thinking about the state of affairs between herself and Darcy, in particular how she would now have received his proposals, and that the union would have been an advantage to both.
The sentence is: "But no such happy marriage could now teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really was."
That sentence hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks, and here's why. When I first read Pride and Prejudice in the 7th grade, I am almost positive I did not notice that sentence, since I have no recollection of it. I probably did not even understand the term "connubial felicity" at that tender age.
The strange part is that as a teenager I wanted to be a writer. When I was around 16 or 17 I heard some comment made about the fact that no one had yet written the "Great American Novel". Well, nothing being impossible for a teenager, that was exactly what I wanted to do. I even started an outline with several characters in mind, and the "goal" of this novel was to "portray what married happiness should be"! I still am not conscious of being influenced by the JA sentence, though I may well have been.
At that time (the '50s) I cannot believe that I was aware of a great deal of "unhappy" married couples in the world as I am now in this day and age where there is so much "unhappiness" to be seen (divorce, domestic abuse, etc.). The "funny" thing is that I should have the presumption of knowing anything about the subject, inexperienced as I was. At that time I knew next to nothing about marriage! Now, after 30 years of it, I understand it a little better, even though I make no pretension of understanding men even now (I must finish reading John Gray's Men are from Mars ..., just in case it might shed some light on the subject).
Now, taking all of the above into consideration, what could our Lady have in mind when she wrote that sentence. Do you see the possibilities?
Keeping the above-mentioned thoughts in mind, can you see how at least two young girls' minds worked? Comparison between us ends there, I assure you.
JA, like the great majority of writers, writes about the courtship stage of relationships. There have been too few credible books written portraying "connubial felicity". I don't care to comment on the "trash" written for the big and little screens of today. Excuse me, I'll get off my soapbox now.
I have surely missed some pertinent points and would appreciate any thoughts you may have on the subject. If this has been discussed before, could you please direct me to the posts?
I remember that passage and find it affecting because it so well describes what Elizabeth was feeling at the time. (In the '95 mini-series, they achieved the same thing by showing Elizabeth blowing out her candle without first practicing her expressions as she had done so often previously.) In addition, Elizabeth is dead on correct - she hits on exactly those reasons that they would have been happy together, as happy as is humanly possible. I think Jane Austen is interested in examining the proper way that men and women should treat each other. She would never have described married life itself because she was determined to deal only with things for which she had first-hand knowledge. Have you ever noticed that she never even describes a private conversation between two men?
I don't know the proper word for the thing that my buddy, Cheryl, and I are proposing for a community project. Maybe if I give enough examples, you or someone else will find the best description. Here is another example taken, this time, from Persuasion. In the first volume, Wentworth was cold to Anne, a marked demeanor that showed that he was all resentment. They had a "bowing relationship" and that was all. At the end of Chapter VIII, Anne reflects on this, "Anne did not wish for more of such looks and speeches. His cold politeness, his ceremonious grace, were worse than nothing." Then - it happened - in the very next chapter. Anne was in the same room with her two nephews upon whom she was attending. Wentworth and the boy's adult cousin Charles Hayter were also in the room. The younger boy, Walter, had jumped on Anne's back and wouldn't let go, he was loving but very rough with her. Anne scolded and pleaded with the boy to let go and Cousin Charles had said something to him but they were ignored. Finally, we read this.
"In another moment, however, [Anne] found herself in the state of being released from him; someone was taking him from her, though he had bent down her head so much, that his little sturdy hands were unfastened from around her neck, and he was resolutely born away, before she knew that Captain Wentworth had done it.
Her sensations on the discovery made her perfectly speechless. She could not even thank him. She could only hang over little Charles, with most disordered feelings. His kindness in stepping forward to her relief - the silence in which it had passed - the little particulars of the circumstance - with the conviction soon forced on her by the noise that he was studiously making with the child, that he meant to avoid her thanks, and rather sought to testify that her conversation was the last of his wants, produced such a confusion of varying, but very painful agitation, as she could recover from, ... [she left the room], She could not stay..."
To me, that passage is sensual (but, is sensual the right word?). Why don't people talk about those passages? I want to talk about those passages.
As you may be aware, I am currently re-reading Mansfield Park. I have just gotten to the part where Mr. Rushworth decides he wants to improve his estate and invites Fanny, Mrs. Norris, the Bertrams, and the Crawfords to see the estate so Henry Crawford can give him advice. My question is, what is a ha-ha? Also, the love between Edmund and Fanny seemed to present itself to me much earlier than the last time I read the novel, though neither character is aware of it yet. I always thought it was a kind of abrupt thing near the end of the novel when Edmund can no longer harbor any hopes of being with Mary Crawford. And speaking of Mary Crawford, I am more surprised than before that Edmund would see anything that he would like in her. She may be pretty and witty and all that, but some of her comments, especially as they relate to clergymen, are kind of rude and condescending. Any thoughts?
This is from Daniel Pool's What Jane Austen Ate and What Charles Dickens Knew:
ha-ha A landscaping device that consisted of a trench dug at some point in the view where it could not be seen unless one were very close to it. Also called a sunken fence.
My take on Mansfield Park is a bit different than yours. I think that Edmund is a very kind person with a genuine respect and feeling for his waif-like cousin. However, Fanny does love Edmund most dearly from the very beginning, but she must contend with the fact that Sir Thomas is determined not to raise a wife for one of his sons. Now that you have recognised that Fanny is fully in love with Edmund, from the very beginning, you will have to suffer with her throughout the rest of the novel. Prepare yourself, you are about to suffer something excruciating.
Why does Edmund love Mary? For the same reason that Marianne loves Willoughby or for the same reason that Elizabeth loves Wickham. We are all susceptible to a love for an attractive and animated person. Although, as you will find in the remainder of the novel, things are more complicated than that - Jane-Austen complicated. Mary does do some lovable things and she certainly is very much in love with Edmund. Mary Crawford is no Willoughby. Another Austen twist is that every lovable thing Mary does might have a self-serving motive. I say "might" because our Lady forbade her narrator from fully informing us.
In the end, I am no more convinced of Edmund's love for Fanny than I am of Marianne's love for Brandon. I see Mansfield Park as a sad love story and my sadness is for Edmund and Mary - and, yes, for that great observer Fanny Price. In real life, I think the story would have had an even sadder ending - Edmund and Mary would have married - Jane Austen did not have the stomach for that.
Fanny's love for Edmund is there from the beginning: from the last sentence of chapter two, in fact: 'In return for such services she loved him better than anybody in the world except William - her heart was divided between the two.'
The nature of this love, however, is identified and developed upon the appearance of Miss Crawford, when Edmund's admiration begins 'to lead him where Fanny could not follow.' The situation is a little like that seen in Emma, when the appearance of Frank Churchill makes Mr Knightley aware of his feelings for Emma.
I agree with you in your view of Mary Crawford, and I believe her creator does, too: for all her cleverness, beauty and wit, she is for me an unattractive person 'a mind dark, yet fancying itself light'. She is indeed a child of her time - a true member of the bon ton, perhaps. She personifies all that Jane Austen was taking a stand against, in Mansfield Park.
As for Edmund, he really is a bit thick when it comes to women. Lusting
as he does for Mary (and he is thinking with his balls most of the time, in my
view), he builds his own version of her in his mind, and runs with it.
Even at the end of the novel, I wonder how long it takes him to realise that he
is in love with Fanny, and she with him? ('I purposely refrain from fixing
dates.......'). I rather think that Fanny and Sir Thomas between them
virtually propose to Edmund.
You might find it interesting to look up Lancelot "Capability" Brown, the
king of professional landscapers and the man who invented the "ha-ha." His
principles of design say a lot about the 18th century.
... to rant and rave about your most excellent site and introduce myself?
I am all astonishment! If you had not created this site I would have had to create it myself (and you have done a much better job than I ever could). All that is left me to do is to enjoy yours.
I stumbled across your site from a link I remember not where, and since I am a very "prejudiced Lady" I was very skeptical when I took note of the name "Male Voices". I had not the least hope that I would find anything to my liking. But, alas, I find myself in almost total agreement with your views and I have also learned a lot. I have recently spent a lot of time at "other" Jane Austen sites and they do not measure up to yours IMHO. As you said "Perhaps some women will feel more comfortable here." Yes, I do!
In order to study everything on the site, I printed out everything except the archives of postings. I laughed, wept, and nodded my head in agreement through my first reading. Thereafter, I started over again with highlight markers in hand to make comments and ask questions.
So far I have only gotten through your comments on Pride and Prejudice for the second reading. I was so excited I just had to post my comments now instead of waiting until I finished all the material - if I had waited this message would have been much longer. Before I start on the sections on Mansfield Park I must reread the book. You have given me at the very least a year or two's worth of material to study and I will enjoy every minute. My spare time is very limited otherwise I would wish to spend all my time studying Jane Austen.
If you are kind enough to let me join your group I would like to ask questions and offer you what little insights I may have. I do not wish to excite your anticipation though!
Now for the ranting and raving:
I did so want to contribute to MW-D, but after your admonishment about writing too quickly, I decided to wait since it will probably take me until next year to make a decent composition.
Lastly, my introduction: I am a native of Louisiana, mother of 3, grandmother of 2, and have a BA in French with a minor in History. I was employed by Ma Bell for 9 years (in the Engineering Dept. - go figure) before resigning to rear my children.
I read P&P in the 7th grade - in the '50s and thought it was a lovely "romance". The book had pictures from the 1940 movie, which I desperately wanted to see. About 10 years later I did see it and loved it - Olivier was a favorite at that time. That was the extent of my Jane Austen experience until I happened to catch P&P-A&E on cable in early 1999. Shortly afterwards I rented P&P-40 and now I can't stand it! That was the beginning of my real obsession. I bought all her books (except S&S) which I devoured. I did not get S&S because I had rented the S&S-95 movie and was thoroughly disappointed - so disappointed I didn't even want to read the book. After reading your comments about S&S-95, I promptly bought the book. After reading it I was heartily ashamed of myself - how could I think that Jane's book would be as disappointing as the movie? Now, at my advanced age, I notice all the other particulars besides the "romance". In September 1999 I got a computer and promptly went bananas over Jane. So, here I am!
I could go on and on, but this is getting much too long and I have only scratched the surface.
My best regards,
You are very welcome here and I thank you so much for your kind words.
You will be an official member of our community after you make a promise: you must contribute to Mary Wollstonecraft Day.
Thank you for the Welcome! I will do my best to make a posting for MW-Day.
Since I am not familiar with the procedures here, would you be so kind as to let me know the correct way to make a post in reply to something already on the board? The only thing I can think of is to make a note in this text area, since the subject area that I see in the postings above do not usually have a "reply to..." notation.
The basic rule here is anybody, anything, all the time. That rule is strictly enforced - there are no private conversations here. You can target your remarks with the name you place in the salutation - you know, that part of the form that reads "Dear, ________". It is up to me to make sure it gets placed properly on the board. I look forward to your participation.
Ashton’s American and Puritan ethic favors diligence and hard work. But the house that was built quickly was not necessarily built carelessly. Ashton is confusing the process with the result.
Let’s revisit Ashton’s comments: "I have to tell you, I do not admire rapid composition (that's why this is a bulletin board and not a chat room). It leads to a lot of error and other types of clutter. A sure sign of an overly rapid composition is its length. That kind of composition is invariably too long. If you want to write something succinct, something just the right length, then take your time and then edit - and then edit - and then again. Sure enough, a typical Dr. J writing is repetitive and fleshed out with irrelevant detail - signs of rapid composition."
Now, there is nothing wrong with these prejudices unless they color one’s actual critical opinions. The danger is that the reader discovers in Boswell that Johnson wrote quickly and thinks, "Aha! He is precisely the kind of writer I dislike, and I’ll search for evidence of my disapprobation (to stick in an Austen word) in his work."
Surely Ashton MEANS to say that he dislikes cluttered, error filled writing that he can’t abide long stuff and that he dislikes the repetitive and the detailed. He then means to add that, in his opinion, these literary problems can be due to rapid composition. But the order in which he voices his complaint makes me suspicious. Are we to dislike the Ten Commandments if God whipped them out in a great hurry? Are the beatitudes to be slammed if we can find no rough draft?
The sins (or merits) of the prophet do not effect the truth of the prophecy.
Actually, as soon as the other kids in my cohort learned that word, they started applying it to me. I never understood why and I still don't see any connection, but I have heard it from such diverse sources that there must be some truth to it. I no longer beat myself up over it.
And, yes, I prejudge anything done in a hurry. Since prejudging is the essence of a prejudice, you are quite correct in applying that term in your posting. Although, I must say Bruce, that I believe that a person has a far better chance of writing something good in a hurry than they have of building a good home in a hurry - what in the world were you thinking of when you came up with that simile?
Maybe I can say some things that might restore some small measure of credibility. First of all, I certainly believe that one can take a lot of time and care to write something that is rambling, error-prone, and cluttered. There is a lot of that in the world. I certainly believe that and it would be unfair of anyone to accuse me of saying otherwise. Now, this was my line of reasoning:
Well - I guess I will stand by that - at least, to this point. In any case, I was not attempting to be as general as I am being accused.
Actually, your position is reasonable, I suppose. My only point is that the durability of a house should be judged independently of the manner of construction. If we say, "Only brick houses which take at least six months to build can keep the big bad wolf at bay", we may be limiting our options.
The position is a Puritan one because of the Puritan emphasis on means (as a proof of election) over ends (which are already a matter of preordination).
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