The Voices of Men in Praise of Jane Austen
Messages on the Bulletin Board - c. Aug. 27, 2000

Dear Linda and Ashton,

I just wanted to tell you that I've enjoyed the updates - Linda (9/5/00) and Ashton (9/8/00).

I finally broke down and got the "big book" (Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine) off the shelf and looked up Addison's disease. Clinical signs and symptoms include:

"... an insidious onset of slowly progressive fatigability, weakness, anorexia, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, cutaneous and mucosal pigmentation, hypotension  and occasionally hypoglycemia.  However, the spectrum may vary, depending on the duration and degree of adrenal hypofunction, from a complaint of mild chronic fatigue to the fulminating shock associated with acute massive destruction of the glands."

Asthenia is the cardinal symptom ... hyperpigmentation may be a striking sign, but its absence does not exclude this diagnosis."

It goes on to note possible abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, plus ancillary and public hair loss in women "due to loss of adrenal androgen production." Obviously, we don't have an autopsy, not that autopsies are 100% effective in finding cause of death.  Probably the primary cause of death was tuberculosis, estimated to have killed about 1 billion, world wide each century.

I must ask why you call JA's doctor "clueless"?  Of course we don't know what the doctor told Austen's family ... we mustn't forget that we're talking about a completely foreign culture where women were supposed to be protected from such things.  I still remember in high school a classmate whose grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  They were French and the doctor there told her husband and left the decision whether or not to tell her up to him.

Jane Austen's doctor did have one very big advantage over his modern counterparts: he wasn't required to keep Jane alive against her wishes because of family politics, or guilt, or simple refusal to accept that death happens.

From the Meister:Dr. Addison first described his disease three decades after Jane Austen's death, so we know that her doctor said nothing about that to her family. He told our Lady that she had a bile problem - whatever that means? So, you can imagine that Jane Austen could not learn any information she had set her mind to obtain? Do you think the same thing about Elizabeth Bennet? Anyone who claims that people of other cultures thought much differently, seals herself in a paradox - if she is correct, then how can she know?

Dear Cheryl and Ashton,

Cheryl - Thank you for your kind words.  Here is my two cents on the discussion of Jane's disease.

My Great-great Granddaddy was a doctor from 1820 to 1857 approximately.  As a child I thought, in my ignorance, that "way back then" about all a doctor did was to apply leaches.  Since then in my genealogical research I have learned that was not true.  They knew quite a lot, because he had medical books and instruments.

I took a peek at my Encarta on the history of medicine and was amazed.  I also tried to find out how long Gray's Anatomy has been around - no luck on that.  I saw a very old copy once - I don't remember the date on it.  If one had the time to do the research it would be interesting to look in an old book to find out what they did know about "a bile problem".

Also of interest to me is the fact that locks of her hair were given to her relatives.  The point is - are any of them still around?  If so, it would be interesting to do a hair analysis to see what it would show, that is, if the hair is not considered too old to give valid results. I am assuming you have heard about how "hair analysis" works.  Don't ask me to remember the particulars.  All I know is that it tells something about the state of a person's health.

I have not yet read Jane's "Letters" so I was wondering if there was any mention in them of any of her symptoms?  I love a good mystery - no matter how old it is.  I hope these comments are the least bit constructive - now, back to the "passages".

Dear Voices,

To those of you who might be interested:  The Female Spectator is the newsletter of the Chawton House Library.  The Library, to be located in Chawton, England, seeks to provide a self-contained research area and to establish a library for the study of the works of early English women writers (1600-1830).  The Centre has been etablished under the auspices of the Leonard X. Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Charitable Foundation, founded through the generosity of Sandy Lerner and Leonard Bosack.

There is no cost for adding your name to their mailing list.  If you would like to have the newsletter sent to you, send your name and address (please print) with your request to be placed on the mailing list to the address or email address below:

Katherine Moulton, Editor
The Female Spectator
Chawton House Library
8422 154th Ave., N.E.
Redmond, WA 98052



Dear Ashton,

I just went to your "link 1" site, was stumbling around and noticed the author Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  A link was provided to one of his works: "The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau" dated 1782.  I have only read the first couple of pages and was blown away - to put it mildly.

I had to tell you about it.  If the rest of it continues as the first two pages do, all I can say is " Astounding!" Now I must go read some more.


May I start by telling you how much I have enjoyed your web site which I discovered only yesterday. I had almost given up in my search for a sensible, non girlie, site which dealt seriously with Jane Austen's work. I seem to have one in yours.

Now to a point I should like to add relating to Andrew Davies' adaptation of P&P. I think you call it the A&E but in the UK know it as the BBC one. Anyway, the one with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth playing the principles. I have written, for my own amusement, a lengthy dissertation on Darcy in particular and P&P in general and but I won't bore you with it. However, it does contain the following passage which I think has been overlooked by all the reviews I have read on the Davies - Birtwhistle production. It goes as follows:

Davies' adaptation, in common with other lesser attempts, is guilty of a bad continuity lapse which should have been seen. During Elizabeth's stay at Lambton, the travelers are invited to dine at Pemberley by Miss Darcy. Davies' added a line for Miss Darcy requesting that Elizabeth will sing for them on that occasion. A not unreasonable addition to provide a pleasant opportunity for some further entertainment. In the novel, because of Lydia's elopement, the dinner does not take place but a morning visit is paid on the day before the proposed dinner party. Davies, justifiably, combines these two events into one scene and, although we do not see the party at dinner, it opens with Elizabeth seated at the piano, singing to the assembled guests, something she would never do during a morning visit. Everybody is in evening dress, it is dark and the lamps and candles are lit. Later, we even see Darcy stalking Pemberley's gallery after they have gone, with candelabra in hand, to revisit the piano at which he had exchanged some fairly torrid glances with Miss Bennet while she turned the pages for his sister's playing, so it is reasonable to assume that this was evening and the occasion was the dinner. Some of the dialogue from the novel's morning visit is used during these scenes, which is perfectly acceptable. But, now comes the gaff: when Darcy calls at the Inn on the following morning to find Elizabeth in distress over the news from Longbourn, he says to her, "I am afraid that this unfortunate affair will prevent my sister having the pleasure of your company this evening." To which she replies, "Yes. Please be so kind as to apologise to Miss Darcy and say that urgent business calls us back to Longbourn immediately." The dialogue is straight from the novel in which the dinner is yet to take place but it does not fit with Davies' merged scenes in which it already has. It is possible that Davies had in mind two dinners but this is not mentioned so we are left with an unexplained continuity problem. Jane Austen would not have been amused!

In the main I agree with your sentiments and generally applaud your praise and censure, especially the latter directed to the Mr Collins' character. I wonder if you share my views on the treatment of Mrs Bennet in the BBC/A&E? I have written on that matter too; I think she is a little overdrawn. Jane Austen had her in perfect balance but others have seen fit to make her too over-powering. Please keep up the good work. You have set a high standard and I think Jane Austen would be pleased.
David Stevenson

Dear David,

You are most welcome here at our web site.

I agree with you that Alison Steadman's characterization of Mrs. Bennet was a bit overdrawn. Perhaps we could have expected better based upon her previous work, but perhaps the director was at fault. However, I do believe that the overall concept of that role was correct. I mean that I believe that Jane Austen intended that Mrs. Bennet's panic drive the action. Here is a woman who had married up but feared that her daughters might marry at a lower level. Her husband wasn't much help, so it was up to her to improve her daughter's expectations in any way she could with her limited abilities. (Other mothers have acted in far worse ways.) It seems to me that her hysterical focus is what drives many of the actions of four of her daughters. There is the unbridled flirtation and husband hunting of the two younger sisters; the explicit rebellion of Elizabeth against her mother's pressuring; and the depth of Jane's depression at the failure of her romance with Bingley. Of course, it is the unseemliness of Mrs. Bennet's efforts that repels and motivates Darcy when he thinks he sees Bingley in danger. Still, as you say, Steadman's performance was a bit over the top.

BBC is the producer of the 1979 version and co-producer, with our A&E network, of the 1995 version. I always use the "A&E" appellation as a distinguishing short hand. The BBC-A&E co-productions continued but resulted in only one other notable success, that wonderful production of Tess of the D'Urbervilles". In the past, our WGBH of Boston has collaborated with the BBC on the production of English classics. For the most part, the Americans supply some of the financing, while the Brits supply all the talent.

A Jane Austen letter linking P&P's Darcy to a contemporary gentleman? Has to be a hoax, right?

Dear Voices,

Jeepers!  I've just seen Julia Taymor's Titus and it's a doozy.  This is the film I think Patricia Rozema wanted her Mansfield Park to be. It's an adaptation of Shakespeare (and is clearly credited as such) that forces the audience to feel exactly what the author intended while shaking up their expectations and reinventing the experience.

I think the brilliance of this film is how, rather than ignoring the over-the-top nature of Titus Andronicus, Taymor embraces, even builds on that aspect of the drama.  And so in the opening sequence (of the play itself) we have the ash-covered Roman army march/dance at a slow funeral step through the streets.  It's almost ridiculous, almost silly, and it leaves you completely unprepared for Anthony Hopkin's scene in the burial vault where his simple act of pouring a handful of sand into his dead soldiers' boots is full of emotion and  where speaks Shakespeare as if he were talking to you about his rose garden, or his favorite soccer team. This is Hopkins' career performance, and I can see why it made him swear off acting for a couple of years.

This roller coaster ride is what makes the film work so well.  We have huge production number scenes full of striking visuals, frenetic swing and pounding industrial music with the actors bouncing off the walls and chewing the scenery to bits.  And they're all, deliberately I think, emotionally sterile.  So you sit there and ho-hum during Chiron and Demitrius' posturing and Aaron's scheming, and your attention sort of wanders while Lavinia fate is detailed by Tamora. Two minutes later you find yourself reaching for a hankie while Titus pleads for the life of his sons, and half way through the scene where Marcus finds Lavinia in the woods you're damn near sobbing out loud.  Without getting too touchy-feely, I think Taymor is trying to contrast the posturings of violence with the real emotions of grief  which are the result of violence.

This doesn't mean the film  is without its faults.  The very first scene, for instance, doesn't make any sense that I can find, and the collage/montage/whatever moments could have been left out for my taste.  I like the idea that Titus has a premonition when he and Tamora go toe-to-toe, it was just badly done.

Taymor gets excellent work out of her cast, most notably Colm Feore as Marcus.  This is one of those character actors you've seen on a million TV shows and in a million movies, and it's a crime that he wasn't nominated for every acting award ever for this performance.  (Any actor who can make Shakespeare of all people reduce me to tears, is truly remarkable.)  Not surprisingly Taymor seems to have more talent for getting good performances out of Americans than Kenneth Branagh, or perhaps is just better at picking good actors.  Jessica Lange, perhaps was a questionable choice, but there weren't any embarrassments like Jack Lemmon  and Billy Crystal in Branagh's Hamlet.

I don't think this film will be to everyone's taste, but neither is Titus Andronicus or even Shakespeare in general.  I would have to rate it the best ever Shakespeare on film.  Not because it's perfect, or even completely isn't.  But, "Titus Andronicus" isn't a great play, as far as Shakespeare goes.  It's seldom performed, and even less seldom performed successfully. It's a heck of a lot easier to make a great film out of a great play than a great film out of something as eccentric as "Titus Andronicus" but Julie Taymor did just that.

9/4/00 Ashton Dennis - I read The Pilgrim's Progress but made no headway

I was intrigued by John's comparison of the character of Fanny Price with the prescription in the Beatitudes. Intrigued to the point that I thought I had better try to understand Jane Austen's religious heritage if I am ever to understand her literary influences. I should first interject that no one has suggested that Jane Austen studied the Sermon on the Mount while she was writing Mansfield Park - the Beatitudes were not used as a template. Still, Jane Austen's situation was such that the Beatitudes must have been ingrained within her so that they might have influenced her without her even realizing that had been the case - well, maybe.

I have no religious background whatsoever and so I struck out on my own to understand some of these things. The first thing I did was to pick up John Bunyan's (1628-1688) The Pilgrim's Progress (first part published in 1678, the second in 1684). Jane Austen was born in 1775. Bunyan's work was composed for adolescents I think (just right for me!) It is a kind of storybook to illustrate Puritan teachings. My main conclusion is that Jane Austen was no Puritan - no, indeed! I will try to expand on that conclusion with this posting.

Don't quote me on any of this, because my knowledge is sketchy, but my understanding of Puritans is as follows. The Puritans originated as a faction within the Church of England at about the time of Elizabeth I. They were neither a monolith nor a coherent bunch, so their differences with the main stream were never consistent and are hard to pinpoint. Well, for one thing, they were more devout than other CoE; for example, they insisted on keeping the sabbath and when Charles I thought it OK to engage in field sports on Sunday, they cut off his head and abolished the monarchy for a time - that might be an oversimplification. The real break came with the Restoration when Charles II showed that he was a little miffed about the Charles I thing and kind of outlawed them. Actually, John Bunyan had served in the Parliamentary Army during the Civil War, and he then showed that he was a little miffed about the Charles II thing when he insisted on continuing to preach Puritan doctrine. For that he received a slap on the wrist - and nineteen years in jail - excuse me, nineteen years in goal. It was during this time that he wrote The Pilgrim's Progress; it was a big hit and my dust cover carries the information that the only english-language book read more often over the centuries is the Bible. (I thought Gone with the Wind was number two?)

Since, there never was a strict doctrine, splinter groups developed and split off at various other times. For example, a splinter group essentially separated themselves when they migrated to North American to populate the New England colonies, and they did that before the English Civil War. Even after the Restoration, they influenced the formation of groups such as the Methodists, Society of Friends, and the Evangelical movement of the eighteenth (Jane Austen's) century.

Now I originally guessed it might be useful to think about the Puritans because I read somewhere that Jane Austen's favorite brother, Henry, evolved into an Evangelical (after her death). Also, I read somewhere else that our Lady once said that, "maybe, we should all become Evangelicals." I was so-oo wrong in my guess - but I can't justify that judgment until I say something about The Pilgrim's Progress. That will be to indicate another of my false starts but, on the other hand, it may give you some ammunition the next time you hear someone suggest that our Lady was a "Puritan".

My worst fears were realized with the reading of The Pilgrim's Progress - those folks were as severe as we have been told, and not at all like the Austens, the Methodists, or the Society of Friends. In their favor, it can said that they were true Christians in the sense that their theology was all about Christ, unlike some other "Christian" religions I have noticed. I can at least admire consistency and logic. Good works were fine in their eyes but did not lead to salvation, only the true, sincere, and intense worship of Jesus Christ could do that. The real rewards, it seems, could only come after death (which was to be embraced). I picked out that key element because it is counter to the philosophy of Jane Austen. Bunyan, himself, considered himself a terrible sinner because he had once played a really rough version of a child's game and - lowliest of low - he had even once (gasp!) read a novel. It is too horrible to contemplate, but hardly the notion of a man that might have been an influence for Jane Austen.

Perhaps you should read The Pilgrim's Progress for yourself and come to your own conclusions; after all, you should be familiar with the second-most read book in the English language.

Dear Ashton,

I think you were a little unfair to John Bunyan in describing The Pilgrim's Progress as a book written for adolescents. Rather, it was a book written for the theologically unsophisticated. It was written as an allegory and Mr. Bunyan, unlike many other allegorists, took the trouble in his notes to explain the allegory as the story progressed. He also provided references in the text to the Bible for the statements, action and lessons.

Remember, Mr. Bunyan's formal education was not extensive. He attended the Bedford grammar school and then went to work as a tinker. His more theologically sophisticated work is contained in his sermons and his other famous allegory The Holy War.

He was jailed for preaching without a government license. The licenses were granted by the government of Charles II. He was eventually released from the jail by Charles II after several appeals by Mrs. Bunyan.

While Mr. Bunyan has been described as a "Puritan", one must keep in mind that the word Puritan covers a wide theological field. The Puritans were those who wanted to "cleanse" the Anglican Church of Roman Catholic influences. Falling into that group were people as diverse as John Owen, who remained within the Anglican communion and who is considered one of the princes of Puritanism, to Bunyan, who was a Baptist and Richard Baxter, who was a free will Baptist. Jonathan Edwards (a Congregationalist) is sometimes called the last American Puritan, and C. H. Spurgeon (a Baptist) is often referred to as the last English Baptist. Some would consider Bishop J. C. Ryle (an Anglican) a Puritan. We, in America, generally think of Puritans as being people like the Plymouth Pilgrims (who were Puritans and Separationists) not realizing that just a little bit away the Massachusetts Bay Puritans were of a different sect and were relatively more liberal in their lifestyles.

The term Puritan is a broad brush that covers many. Basically it was a group of people who strived to restore what they saw as primitive, or original, Christianity. In a sense, the use of the word "Puritan" is as wide ranging as the term Evangelical. After all, John Wesley (who never left the Anglican Church) was an Arminian and is considered an evangelical, as is George Whitefield (a Calvinistic Congregationalist), John Brown (a Methodist), and T.D. Jakes (a Oneness Pentacostal). All the aforementioned are considered Evangelical, but a look at their writings show a wide ranging theology.

The Puritans didn't use the 1611 Authorized Version (King James Version) of the Bible. They used the Geneva Bible, which was originally printed in Geneva, Switzerland and was translated and printed during John Calvin's life. The Geneva Bible is unique in that it had marginal notes printed with explanations of the text. In a sense, it was a forerunner of the Scofield Bible. Anglicans generally used the Bishops' Bible before the AV was printed. Puritans were suspicious of the AV for and refused to have anything to do with it for a long time.

Now the question arises, did The Pilgrim's Progress influence the writings of Our Dear Jane? My answer is it probably did, but no more than any other writer at the time. She did not use it as a model, but it influenced her outlook. It probably sat in the background with the Book of Common Prayer like a prompter before an opera singer. One sees this in reading the prayers that she wrote which seem to be based on the BCP model. But it must also be kept in mind that ODJ stated in her juvenile work, The History of England, that she was sympathetic to the Roman Catholic Church, which means that her father was likely a High Churchman or perhaps even Anglo-Catholic. In a sense, writing is like a cake. Just because you don't taste and ingredient doesn't mean that it's not there. Perhaps The Pilgrim's Progress was like yeast.

And speaking of cooking, anyone interesting in the culinary arts at the time of Jane Austen would be rewarded by buying the book Lobscouse and Spotted Dog. It actually gives recipes for the meals described in the Patrick O'Brien novels, but they are contemporary with ODJ. Who can resist a lunch of everyone's favorite, haggis? My mouth is watering as I write.

Dear Ashton,

In one of Irene Collins books, she mentioned Rousseau as an influence. Something about his principles.  I wanted to do some research on his writings to see what Irene was referring to.  I am not familiar with his works.  She was not explicit.

I read The Pilgrim's Progress many years ago and found it as hard to understand as I did the Bible.  I finally realized it was written right after the King James version and that is why the language is so similar.  I do believe you are right about it not being an influence, since they were "Puritans" and Jane was raised as Church of England. They are two different things.  I want to look into the Book of Common Prayer for some more insight to her beliefs and I also have to reread the Collins books.  As you can see there is much research to be done.

As to Fanny Price, I have done some (a little, a very little) thinking and reading posts about and noticed the words "ideal", "perfect", "exemplar", etc. keep popping up.  I get the impression that because she is considered "good" (read moral, goody two shoes, and such like), some people want to find "fault" with her.

If people understood, what I am sure Jane understood, that the Bible says that "all have sinned" they would know that Fanny is not perfect. Jane simply did not see fit - it wasn't critical to the story - to throw in Fanny's misdemeanors (well people have possibly found some). The difference between Christians (read Fanny Price) is that we know we are sinners, but we have repented and are now "forgiven sinners".  And we still sin, and repent again and are forgiven again.  We are no different or better than anyone else. Sometimes these "forgiven sinners" were a lot worse than others.


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