The Voices of Men in Praise of Jane Austen
Messages on the Bulletin Board c. Oct. 7, 2001


I enjoyed reading your website thoughts on adaptations of Jane Austen's novels.  Since you are not a fan of Emma Thompson's version of S&S, is there another S&S movie adaptation you can recommend?  I have not seen Thompson's movie.
Thank you,

Dear Ana,

If you have not seen the Emma Thompson version, then I recommend that you do. The cinematography is beautiful and the cast is very talented. Also, there actually are a few scenes based on the novel, and those are very moving. Many people like that film, so don't let some old grouch keep you from that pleasure.

The Emma-Thompson version is a bit like Pearl Harbor to me - the attack on Pearl Harbor doesn't seem so bad to me these days. I mean, of course, that Patricia Rozema's Mansfield Park was far worse than Emma Thompson's film.

Dear Ash,

Thanks for your quick response and insightful thoughts.  I believe I will watch Emma's version, then.

Dear Linda and Ashton,

Sorry, Ashton, but it took nearly 2 hours for us to return our TV to a level that allows us to get a very fuzzy picture from ABC ... we can't even watch "The Simpsons" let alone ESPN. The only "Boomer" I know of is a QB the name of Esiasan or some such.  I will say one thing, though "How 'bout those Mariners?"

We can't be that far off on our opinions as I think your examples prove my point. Should I say instead that Malthus's predictions have never been tested on a global scale and that I don't believe they ever will. The Population Bomb, no matter how often the author updates it, has turned out to be a dud.   As for Darwin, don't mistake me I'm a Darwinist, but the failure of eugenics shows the limitation of trying to apply purely biological theories to the humans species.

We are in perfect agreement about the march of "sustainable population" and the march of technology.  Even without better medicine, better nutrition creates larger populations that are more able to fight off disease, able to breed more humans, able to grow even more food more efficiently because it can "afford" luxuries like agricultural science. Along with art, roads, poetry, brewing, kings and priests.

Are superstrings real, or will they go the way of N Rays?? I wonder if the popularization of science isn't giving us a world that's more anti-science than ever. A Brief History of Time is a fun movie, but what about those people who actually think they know it all now? How much time has evolutionary theory spent explaining that Darwin never said humans were descended from apes? Fashionable Nonsense talks about sociologists and psychologists  (not to mention con men and faith healers) who use the language of quantum physics without knowing anymore maths than your average high school graduate.  How much damage are these fools doing to science?


Linda; It's good to remind ourselves that the South has some history which has nothing to do with the Civil War. I've been able to visit a couple of very interesting sites on some of my cross-country moves.  Cahokia, which is a complex of mounds on the Mississippi River near St. Louis, contains one of the largest pyramids in the world.  As I recall, the base has a greater circumference than the pyramid of Cheops.  I came to it from the East which means I was traveling through small farming communities in the absolutely flat flood plains surrounding the river.  Suddenly, there's a 100 ft high flat topped pyramid, just off the freeway ... it's quite impressive. There's a nice museum there as well.  Approx. 70 of the original 120 mounds remain. As a kid, I visited a number of the mounds in Indiana, Ohio, & Illinois though I admit I don't remember all that much about them. Incidentally, the Smithsonian's first publication was  Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley (Squire & Davis)  which was reprinted a few years ago and is worth a look if you can get it from the library.

In Montana, just a few miles off I-90 is the Madison buffalo jump where the pre-horse Native Americans stampeded herds of buffalo off the cliffs.  It probably goes without saying that the guys got to do the fun stuff while the women got to haul large pieces of buffalo half a mile across very bad terrain to the processing area.  The whole area is literally covered in a layer of buffalo bones, and the teepee rings and fire pits are nearly undisturbed. You really get an idea of just what the horse meant to the plains Indians. (You get an idea of how big the rattlesnakes get in Montana too, if you nearly step on one getting out of your car!)

I'm glad you enjoyed the Skeptical Enquirer and I hope I wasn't too obnoxious about recommending it ... I know the "Long Day" and the story of Darwin recanting has been making the circuit again in the last few months.  And I wouldn't feel too much like an idiot.  Urban legends are almost defined by their near plausibility or they wouldn't last so long.  The one about the lady who's so drugged out she cooked the baby has been around since the gin craze!

And after saying I wouldn't, I'm going to make a comment about religion.  Ashton remarked that in his opinion, science and religion are incompatible.  I fully agree.  But I know, from living among the medical community, that science isn't incompatible with belief.  Solve that mystery of humanity and you know you've done a day's work.

Dear Cheryl,

The "boomer' is Chris Berman of ESPN. I think he must be an executive there as well as commentator - I know he has been a presence there for more than a decade. The great appeal of ESPN - due in great part to Berman - is that the presentations are thorough and enthusiastic while, at the same time, irreverent. I mean that you get a good deal of expert analysis there but no one acts as a shill - a salesman for sports. For example, I can point to something my favorite ESPN guy, Kenny Mayne, said. They were showing a brawl between major league baseball players that was just horrific; there were punches in bunches, kicks, screams, spitting, etc. it went on and on. Mayne didn't say anything, he just showed the film, but then concluded with the remark, "They are so cute at that age." There are perfectly rational, responsible, otherwise intellectual men in this world who can immediately recognize the ESPN Sportscenter theme,
      "DAH DA DA, DAH DA DA"
or any of the famous Berman-isms such as,
      "back, back, back, back, back"
      "HE      COULD      GO      ALL       THE      WAY!"
      "stumblin', bumblin', fumblin' "
I hope you are paying attention because this stuff is important. I don't know why those things are funny - not exactly Jane Austen is it? - maybe one needs a Y-chromosome.

For me, to ask if science should be popularized is like asking if music should be popularized. Let me defend my reference to Science News, which is, indeed, written for a popular audience. However, it is produced by the same folks who bring you Science, the premier scientific journal in the United States. The editors of Science News give synopses of upcoming articles in Science or Nature, etc., and they publish interviews with the authors as well as with their critics. So, it is not some hair-brained outfit.

We should not confuse Thomas Malthus with modern "Population Bomb" authors such as Paul and Anne Ehrlich. (Although the most colossal example of the kind of failed predictions you are referring to was published in 1967 by the Paddock brothers, Famine 1975! America's Decision: Who Will Survive?.) Incidentally, Malthus was not in the prediction game, and he shouldn't be associated with doom and gloom forecasts of population disasters anymore than the name of Charles Darwin should be associated with the eugenics movement. Also, the failure of the eugenics movement was a political failure. I hope you will glance over my treatment of the Godwin-Malthus debate; maybe that will convince you to engage Malthus - you won't regret it. I treat Malthus in true Sportscenter fashion, enthusiastic but irreverent. I treat the Ehrlichs in the same manner, but that's another story.

Dear Voices,

Even before Sept. 11, I had little desire to re-read David Nokes's biography Jane Austen: A Life, so I'm afraid I will content myself with giving you a general impression rather than a specific review.  If the problems with the book could be put under a general heading it would be that it lacks focus.  It certainly lacks focus on Jane Austen.  I would say less than half of the book is devoted to actual biographical material about Jane herself.  The first third of the book is devoted almost exclusively to Philadelphia and Eliza Hancock, while much of the rest is a confusing swirl of conflicting theories.

One theory which Nokes spends many pages on is that Cassandra's destruction of Jane's letters was not the result of sisterly devotion to Jane's privacy, but part of a multi-generation conspiracy to create a fictitious "angelic" Jane Austen as an aid to book sales and that Cassandra specifically was trying to manipulate the way she was portrayed in Jane's letters. There's no earthly reason to reject this theory out of hand ... the publicity machine has been rolling since the days of Homer.  The problem is that Nokes's interpretation of the existing letters posits a Jane who is by turns cruel, vindictive, petty, greedy, and just generally anti-angelic. He never clarifies whether he thinks Cassandra was too stupid to understand the "real" content of the letters she kept, or whether they simply represent the best of the lot. And this is just the first of many contradictions.

From childhood Jane was an avid reader of
the most luridly violent and sexual novels of her time.
There is nothing in her history to explain
the violent endings of her early writings.

Cassandra, jealous of Jane's chance at happiness
convinces Jane to refuse Harris Bigg-Wither.
Jane would never have married such a great lump.

Jane hated being dependent on her brothers so much
she would have done anything to escape such a fate.
Jane never seriously considered marrying for pecuniary reasons.

Jane's biographers all say she hated Bath, but she loved city life.
Jane couldn't wait to leave Bath and its many social obligations.

Many of these conflicting theories are presented on the same page.  In some cases, Nokes presents good evidence, in others he admits there's not a hint of proof.  He seems to motivated by the desire to create mysteries where none exist; a general dislike for the Austen family, excepting Jane and her father; and by the desire to contradict more conventional biographers.

One of the more interesting conflicts in the book is Nokes's insistence that the business transactions of Jane's uncles and brothers were either illegal or unethical while maintaining an uncritical admiration for Philadelphia and Eliza Hancock.  Stripped of its romance, Philadelphia Austen agreed to marry sight unseen a man she found to be older, poorer, and less attractive than she was willing to settle for.  A few years later, she cuckolded him in the most public and humiliating way, eventually producing a daughter by Hancock's close friend and business associate the (soon to be) Lord Hastings.  She somehow manipulated these two men into an escalating game of one upmanship to see which one would be the best provider for Eliza. Lord Hastings eventually settled more than 15,000 pounds on Philadelphia and her daughter. To please Philadelphia's vanity, Eliza was married off to a French aristocrat.  Eliza herself didn't put up much of a struggle though she couldn't even pretend fondness for her husband.  After his death, she blew through her inheritance in a few years and appears to have supported herself  much in the same way as Jane Austen's  "Lady Susan." Eliza's last great hurrah is what appears to have been a crude blackmail attempt on Lord Hastings which effectively ended his patronage for her and Henry Austen.  (After this, Eliza virtually disappears from Nokes's book, except for a rather grim comment about "matronly demeanor".) Nokes even tries to taint Henry with Eliza's blackmail attempt with a comment on his "talent for obsequiousness" which repaired the situation to some extent.

Nokes's book comes across as a series of rambling thoughts rather than a coherent attempt to extend Austen scholarship or illuminate Jane's life for the average reader.  I was entirely disappointed in my hope that it would help me sort out Jane's large family and circle of friends, so I suppose I'll re-read Elizabeth Jenkins and the letters and hope for the best.

Dear Cheryl,

I do appreciate your report on Nokes.  I think I will place him on my "NOT to read list". You have saved me lots of time.  I do have Elizabeth Jenkins' book and the letters which I will read.

Dear Cheryl,

Thank you for your fascinating review. I enjoyed it very much - the review. I will attempt to fill in some interesting facts about the folks you mentioned because there are some other tangencies with the life of Jane Austen. I will be quoting from Park Honan's biography, Jane Austen: her life for much of what I say.

Jane Austen's paternal Aunt, Philadelphia Austen, went to India to find a husband in 1753. That was what some women did in those days because there were a number of lonely, well-positioned English men there with few English women. As you say, she met and married Dr Tysoe Saul Hancock shortly after her arrival. Her only child, Elizabeth (aka "Bessy", "Betsy", or "Eliza"), was born eight years later in 1761 - an interesting fact in itself. Warren Hastings, Governor-General of Bengal (later, Governor of all of India) was the child's godfather. The two men were business partners in many things, including dealings in opium - perfectly legal in those days.

Here is another tangency. Jane Austen's own parents were married in 1764. The father's sister, now Philadelphia Hancock, wrote the newlyweds and pleaded with them to care for Lord Hastings's frail son, George, which the Austens agreed to do. The boy died soon after, in their care, and this was a great source of grief for the young Mrs. Austen. The Austens' own first child, James, was born soon after in 1765. No child of their own would die prematurely; although, one of their sons, also named George, would be born incapacitated and would be warehoused along with Mrs. Austen's brother who was similarly afflicted.

As you say, it was widely believed that Philadelphia had become the mistress of Lord Hastings who may well have been the father of Elizabeth ("Eliza"). ("Elizabeth" was the name Hasting had given to his own daughter whose early death he was still grieving.) Hastings and Philadelphia were about the same age, some thirty years younger than her husband. Lord Clive wrote this to his wife:

"... In no circumstances whatever keep company with Mrs. Hancock for it is beyond a doubt that she abandoned herself to Mr. Hastings, indeed, I would rather you had no acquaintance with the ladies who have been in India, they stand in such little esteem in England that their company cannot be of credit to Lady Clive. ..."

Well, pooh-pooh pee-do! Still, the Jane-Austen biographers seem in agreement that there is, at least, some little doubt. It didn't help matters when Hastings bestowed a fortune on Eliza, which I personally calculate to have the purchasing power in excess of $5,000,000 current American dollars. Jane Austen's father was one of the trustees of that inheritance.

Eliza married, at age nineteen, to a Frenchman who had an aristocratic title and land holdings, both of which claims are a little bit uncertain at this late date; however, his claim of a commission in the Queen's Regiment is certain. This husband was beheaded during the "Terror" following the revolution. Shortly before that ceremony, this man claimed that he was only the valet who had murdered the real Comte de Feuillide, but, as Honan points out, he had good reason to lie at that time. Eliza was always accorded the title "Madame Comtessa de Feuillide" in the Austen family or anywhere else in England. Eliza and her husband had only one child, a son named - perhaps you guessed it - Hastings. He died while still very young.

Eliza must have been as seductive as her mother because two of the older Austen brothers were as ga-ga over the young widow as were a number of other male admirers in London. She eventually married, as you say, Jane's favorite (and most useful) brother, Henry Austen.

Actually, Lord Hastings is a famous figure in English history, he is considered one of the founders of the English empire in India. He became the Governor of all of India as an employee of the East-India Company; in other words, the East-India Company was granted political autonomy in that part of the world! Well, that was true until a struggle arose with Parliament over control. Hastings would be caught up in the middle of all that and was indicted for high crimes and misdemeanors. The charges stemmed from his arbitrary confiscation of the properties of several uncooperative Indian leaders. Many English liberals had been concerned over his growing power and were only too glad to join in his prosecution. Edmund Burke's oration of condemnation in that trial is considered one of his finest efforts. After a seven-year trial, Hastings was acquitted of all charges, but his defense had drained away all his wealth. Not to worry, the East-India Company then provided him a handsome retirement package.

Recently, I tried to tie in the Austen family with important events. But, this subject may be an even better way to do that. I remember reading, somewhere, that Jane Austen's dad was not above writing to Hastings during the trial in order to solicit that important man's influence for the advancement of his son, Frank Austen, in the Navy. I also remember a description of something that Frank did for the East-India Company that seemed a bit scuzzy when I read it. Let me suggest something: Perhaps you and/or Linda can find in Nokes's biography - or somewhere - a description of Frank's actions. I suspect that things will not seem so bad if we understand that the East-India Company was an independent political entity. But, I will read Burke's speech and try to find out something about that political autonomy. It might also be interesting to place the timing of Frank Austen's actions in relation to that letter from father Austen to Hastings. What say you?

Dear Linda and Ashton,

I've read a fair amount of history about the Raj, but I have a mind like a sieve, so it's only of moderate use.  I believe that something pretty flagrant had to have been going on between Philadelphia and Lord Hastings to garner any sort of comment from an old hand like Clive. Though there's no doubt that British regular troops that had served in India were looked down upon by the plunger regiments, and no doubt their wives were too, even those who weren't essentially mail-order brides.

David Nokes says that:

"The war hastened the return to England of Frank Austen from the Far East, where he had spent the past five years ... Frank's activities in the China seas had successfully combined naval duties with lucrative trading ventures on behalf of the East India Company.  Now summoned back by the Lords of the Admiralty to assume war duties in home waters, he made sure to load his ship, the Minerva, with a rich cargo for the homeward trip.  But the directors of the East India Company, shrewd judges of their own commercial interests, declined to defray the expenses of a voyage undertaken on Admiralty orders.  Eight years later, Frank was still petitioning the Company 'for an allowance to indemnify him for his expenses in returning from India to Europe in the year 1793.' "

The Crown had already appointed a Board of Control  (to the Company) back in 1784 "... to supervise military, political and financial matters ..." (Armies of the Raj by Byron Farwell) so Frank's forays into commerce were likely sanctioned by the Admiralty. It took a few more massacred garrisons to finally convince the Crown to take full control of India in 1858.  Regular Army officers of the Victorian age were doing dual duty as traders.  Nokes doesn't explain precisely what is meant by "expenses" so we have no idea whether Frank's claim was legitimate or not.  He had a right to be paid for what cargo he did deliver, and he had a right to be reimbursed if he were forced to victual or repair the ship out of his own pocket. The Company was not above double dealing in these matters anymore than the Austen men.  Nokes's dislike for Jane's brothers make him a rather suspect source.

Nokes isn't very forthcoming with dates, but Jane's father, who had "remained in contact with his beleaguered friend" may have made his request to Lord Hastings perhaps in 1794 or 5. "Should we not succeed in our first object of getting him promoted, it might forward his views to have him removed to a flag-ship on a more probable station; & this is a circumstance you might, if you had not objection, mention to the Admiral when you met him [in] town." The officer corps as we understand it today really didn't exist in Jane Austen's England (which is not to say that patronage, nepotism & cronyism doesn't exist in the US military.)  It was ideal for younger sons of the gentry as it gave them the opportunity to trade or plunder themselves to riches, which many famous men did in Queen Victoria's day.

This all has a very pertinent modern connection, of course.  Less than a generation after Jane's death came the "Retreat From Kabooul" (sic) (1841, I think) -- the British getting their butts kicked during one of the Afghan Wars and of course the Great Mutiny of 1858 in which Muslims and Hindus in India put aside their grievances to slaughter every British man, woman, and child they could lay hands on.

Dear Ash,

You say,

"We can get back on track by turning to 'natural selection'.  Would you prefer to do that?  I sense that you might prefer that we had never strayed onto this territory - maybe I feel the same.  Perhaps we should find some way to find a path back to Jane Austen."

Yes, a path back to Jane Austen please, but first a few words about "Branes".  I found the article on line and discovered that I had rather study Jane Austen.  I do Thank You for bringing that article to my attention because I was unaware of a new "theory" - I do like to know "what's happening".  I am out of my realm in geometry and physics though I am able to follow the gist.

I do believe after my exposure to all things JA (her life and times) that she herself was exposed to more than I would have thought, due to her many and varied connections of family and friends.  That is why I feel that our excursions into other fields occurring during her era are not out of line.

Now I will rumble over to Cheryl's "Bumblings" post.

Dear Cheryl,

Your reference to DeSoto took me all the way back to my 5th grade history of Louisiana where we learned only the barest of facts and dates. To make your information more personal, I now live a block from a highway named Hernando DeSoto Memorial Trail in DeSoto County, MS.  We were not informed of the "densely populated agricultural civilization with towns and cities on average as large or larger than their European counterparts."  However, about a half mile from where I grew up there was what my Grandfather called an Indian mound.  He took us grandchildren on a jaunt through the woods one day to see it. Not only that, but also just a few miles away was a crossroads named Indian Mound because there were several there.  None were excavated to my knowledge - we merely accepted it as fact.

You say,

"The destruction of thousands of mounds coupled with current anti-science politics means we'll probably never know whether it really happened.

Now that is pitiable indeed!  I shall have a good cry now.

On The Odyssey, etc. - I have the 1997 Hallmark version with an all star cast including Armand Assante and Greta Scacchi (something for Ash).  I saw "The Rocketeer" many years ago, but wanted to refresh my memory.

Your reading list was very interesting.  A word of caution re "Udolpho" - I quickly began to skip the long descriptions and follow the action.  What I liked most was the small amount of "reflection" - something I do not remember seeing in all (and there were many) the romantic 'fluff' novels I read as a teenager.  In "Udolpho" her main focus was on 'first impressions', so keep an eye out for that.

I did look into the Skeptical Enquirer - very interesting!  Now I will admit to really feeling like an idiot!  I went to the NASA site (and others) and found the explanation of Joshua's Long Day.  I made some phone calls and searched my bookshelves for my information, but it was not to be found.  I finally realized that it was long ago and far away that I had heard that story - BTI (before the Internet).  There was no way for me to do any amount of adequate checking up on it, and at the time I didn't even think about it very hard.  Now, after doing the research, it does sound far fetched.  Thank you for being so kind as to educate me.  I do know better that to believe something without checking and giving it some thought, but that one got passed me.

Just to prove that my brain was 'out to lunch' and that I am not a hip, alert person as yourself (to quote Ash's response to you) - I spent several minutes on the Internet to find out who 'the Boomer' was and what he said.  Then I read his subject line again!  I felt like my 'idiocy' was double dipping!

And this too shall pass!


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