The Voices of Men in Praise of Jane Austen
Messages on the Bulletin Board - c. Jan. 1, 2001
For me, the very best treatment of the novels, by a biographer, is that of Elizabeth Jenkins [Jenkins]. (Actually, one of the best treatments - period!) Claire Tomalin's [Tomalin-JA] is the absolute worst.
The problem is that the copy I owned is falling apart - into three pieces. It was a gift and I have been mighty glad to have it, but I wanted to obtain an improved copy. That proved difficult until I linked to alibris.com, an online, used-book dealer. Excellent place! - I was given a dozen choices, and I had the book in hand in about three working days. So far, so good - but, wait. I ordered the most expensive copy (about $8) because I thought that would be the best quality; in fact, the folks at Alibris had rated it in "very good" condition and it was.
But, there was one disappointment and I want to warn you about that. My old tattered version is a 1973, CARDINAL edition by Sphere Books Ltd. (The original was published in 1938.) My new copy is a Minerva Press edition from 1969. The problem is that my brand-spanking new copy does not have any of the photographs shown in my old, sucked-on copy. Bummer! So, watch out for that. I suppose that if I had been more alert, I would have seen that the Alibris venders had warned me about that. On the other hand, buyer beware.
The movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is not based on Sense and Sensibility. It is based on the Chinese novel of the same name. I suppose the assumption that the movie was based on S&S came from a comment that Ang Lee made. The two stories do have some similarities--Michelle Yeoh's character is like Elinor and Zhang Ziyi's character is like Marianne. However, the similarities kind of end there. I tend to think that although Jane Austen's novels have an abundance of themes, they are more rich in the characterization. On the other hand, Crouching Tiger seems to stress themes more than characterization, although the characterization is still quite good in the film.
Dear Ms. Sze,
Thank you for clearing that up. I think you are right, we have been misled by some of Ang Lee's statements.
I visited your new web site and I think you witty and spirited. I will stop by from time to time in order to admire your progress.
I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and it is stunningly beautiful in places. It is also quite dumb, and has lots of long scenes of people having interminable, dull conversations in Chinese. Let's see: that one woman is like Marianne, which makes the bandit Willoughby, and Colonel Brandon is really in love with Elinor, just like in the book. Either that or the fighting master I'm calling Brandon is really Edward Ferrars, and Jade Fox is Mrs. Ferrars.
The movie is certainly worth seeing, despite the boring parts. In fact, I like dumb movies, so I quite enjoyed it.
Surprise! Surprise! Ann Radcliffe made footnotes (plural) in Udolpho that our Lady read before writing NA. This may be where she got the idea, (12/21/00 and 12/24/00).
Another surprise - Ann Radcliffe also used the term "first impressions"! Notice this quote where Emily's Father is instructing her to "resist first impressions":
"He endeavoured, therefore, to strengthen her mind; to enure her to habits of self-command; to teach her to reject the first impulse of her feelings, and to look, with cool examination, upon the disappointments he sometimes threw in her way. While he instructed her to resist first impressions, and to acquire that steady dignity of mind, that can alone counterbalance the passions, and bear us, as far as is compatible with our nature, above the reach of circumstances, he taught himself a lesson of fortitude for he was often obliged to witness, with seeming indifference, the tears and struggles which his caution occasioned her."
Your point about "first impressions" is a good one because that was the original title that Jane Austen chose for the novel that we know as Pride and Prejudice. In fact, the original would have been the better title because the novel is about the way that Darcy and Elizabeth evolve away from their initial, unfavorable impressions of one another.
That concept must have been in the air because it is mentioned in so many different places. I can name at least three:
Actually, the phrase "first impressions" appears in a number of places in Grandison; I will quote one occurrence shortly. First let me say, that it is a bit shocking how many times Jane-Austen words and ideas appear in Grandison. For example - this is off the subject - this is a bit trivial - the name of one of the minor characters in Richardson's novel is "Sir Thomas Mansfield" (Volume 4, beginning in Letter 2), which is not so very far off from "Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park".
The excerpt is from Letter 42, Volume 7 of Grandison. A grandmother, Mrs. Shirley ("Henrietta") is passing on some advice to several young women of her granddaughter's generation. The advice had been given her when she had been young, and Mrs. Shirley had come to believe it good advice. (Incidentally, Linda had first brought his particular Letter to our attention, for another purpose, on 11/28/00.) The discussion with the young women was actually a bit of a debate on a woman's "struggles between her first duties and her inclination." The younger women argued for the pursuit of "personal happiness" - for the woman to follow her inclinations. In reply, the grandmother repeats the words of her advisor, Mrs. Eggleton:
" '... You look upon Love as a blind irresistable Deity, whose darts fly at random, and admit neither defence nor cure. Consider the matter, my dear, in a more reasonable light. The Passions are intended for our servants, not our masters, and we have, within us, a power of controuling them, which it is the duty and the business of our lives to exert. You will allow this readily in the case of any passion that poets and romance writers have not set off with their false colourings. To instance in anger; Will my Henrietta own, that she thinks it probable, anger should ever transport her beyond the bounds of duty?' "
Well, this set of ideas is one of the main themes of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet is determined to follow her inclinations and makes that very clear in her refusal of Mr. Collins. Mark one point for Mrs. Shirley's granddaughters. However, Elizabeth's determination almost leads her into the greatest possible error with Wickham. - One point for Mrs. Shirley. On the other hand, Darcy is, at first, more inclined to understand and then follow his duty. Darcy's struggle is the more difficult (and the more impossible) as we learn during his first proposal to Elizabeth.
I can argue that Jane Austen repeated this conversation, between grandmother and granddaughters, in Pride and Prejudice. Find that conversation between Elizabeth Bennet and her Aunt Gardiner in which the mature woman tried to remind the younger that she had a duty to her family, and that her fancy for Wickham was imprudent. Of course, the Aunt could not know just how good her advice was to prove.
Perhaps the better example is the case of Anne Elliot in Persuasion. In that case, the young Anne Elliot abandons the young Wentworth in recognition of just what her duty consists. Sweet Anne comes to mightily regret that, but don't jump to conclusions - Even after their engagement, the mature Anne Elliot defends her earlier decision to the mature Wentworth. That apology is an interesting counterpoint and actually confirms Mrs. Shirley.
Return, now, to that Letter 42 in Grandison. Further on, the advisor turns to the subject of marital fidelity.
" 'I never saw him yet,' said I, with the least emotion. 'I have no aversion to him: I might esteem him: But what is that to the Love one is so solemnly to vow a husband? And should I, after that vow, behold an object whom I could indeed have loved?'
'A Duke de Nemours!' Said she, taking up the Princess of Cleves, that unluckily lay on my table - 'Ah my Henrietta, have I found you out!- That princess, my dear, was a silly woman. Her story is written with dangerous elegance; but the whole foundation of her distresses was an idle one. To fansy herself in Love with a mere stranger, because he appeared agreeable at a Ball, when she lived happily with a worthy husband, was mistaking mere Liking for Love, and combating all her Life after with a chimera of her own creating. I do not tell you it is impossible for you to meet hereafter with persons whose wish is to make you happy: But will you suffer your eye to lead you into misery then, when an additional tie of duty forbids its wandering? If so, I must suppose it would equally mislead you now. Tell me, Henrietta, What think you of those girls, who blast all the hopes of their fond parents, by eloping with a well-drest captain, a spruce dancing-master, or a handsome player?'... 'You see then, my dear, the filial duty, the duty of a reasonable and modest woman, were she even without parents or friends, forbids fancy to be her guide, as much as the sacred engagement of marriage forbids it to be her tormenter.' "
The advisor continues along these lines further on. It is there that we encounter an explicit mention of "first impressions."
'... And everything we ought to do, be assured, my dear, we shall be enabled to do if we set about it rightly, and with equal humility and trust. As for that kind of Love, which in its very beginning is contrary to Duty, to suppose that unconquerable, is making ourselves wretched indeed: And for first-sight impressions, and beginning inclinations, though always dangerous, and often dangerous to indulge, they are absolutely trifles to overcome and suppress, to a person of prudence and virtue.' "
Most women of our generation consider the question settled: A young woman must follow her own inclinations and the older generation has no rights. And surely, our modern woman might argue, the married woman has the same imperatives - has the right to make adjustments. However, I think that the women of our generation will inevitably serve as examples - serve as living lessons to subsequent generations. I see very little happiness and many cautionary tales, so the question may not be exactly settled.
Your references about "first impressions" contain powerful statements which bear repeating and beg for a closer examination:
1 " 'The Passions are intended for our servants, not our masters, and we have, within us, a power of controuling them, which it is the duty and the business of our lives to exert.' "
2 " 'But what is that to the Love one is so solemnly to vow a husband? And should I, after that vow, behold an object whom I could indeed have loved?' "
3 " 'You see then, my dear, the filial duty, the duty of a reasonable and modest woman, were she even without parents or friends, forbids fancy to be her guide, as much as the sacred engagement of marriage forbids it to be her tormenter.' "
4 " 'As for that kind of Love, which in its very beginning is contrary to Duty, to suppose that unconquerable, is making ourselves wretched indeed: And for first-sight impressions, and beginning inclinations, though always dangerous, and often dangerous to indulge, they are absolutely trifles to overcome and suppress, to a person of prudence and virtue.' "
These statements stir up the "passions" just as our collected "passionate passages" do.
You observed: "Most women of our generation consider the question settled". Yes, unfortunately that may be true in a lot of cases. The reasons why this is so, need to be explored. As you observed "the question may not be exactly settled" leads me to ask, "more importantly, what is the correct attitude/conduct for women and men on this question of "fancy" versus "duty". Subject to amendment, let me define "fancy" as love at first sight and attraction. "Duty" is common sense (thoughtful consideration based on guidelines), compatibility, and consideration for the future. On the lighter side, I remember "Mademoiselle", my old maid French Professor, who repeatedly admonished us to marry our equal in the areas of religion, finance, and education. I still don't understand why she felt obliged to offer us advice that had nothing to do with French or her own marital status!
Now that I have asked the question, settling on the answer will require some research, more specifically what our Lady and her contemporaries thought about it.
At first glance, my own personal opinion is that the answer should be a mix of both. But we will have to wait for the final verdict. The reason this question struck my fancy is because there were no serious discussions about it when I was younger and needed guidance. Now that I have "been there" and raised three children I see the need.
I will keep you posted on my progress.
I thought to start our new millennium on a provocative note.
I begin by saying that I consider Northanger Abbey to be a fine novel. It is beautifully written and wickedly funny. However, I also strongly suspect that Jane Austen would have preferred to rewrite Northanger in a major way. That was not to be. One thing is certain, Jane Austen was disturbed about something. While that "something" cannot be known, I will make my guess and then attempt to support my view with circumstantial evidence - that is the purpose of this posting.
I can anticipate and try to answer the major counter-arguments. It is highly likely that those counter-arguments will center on two points:
True - very true - but those points don't necessarily mean what you might think. In fact, the second point leads to some considerations that actually assist me in my argument. As to the first point, I will only say that a novel that Jane Austen signed off on when twenty-seven might not have been a novel our Lady was still pleased with at age forty.
One thing is quite clear - perfectly undeniable - something was bothering Jane Austen about that novel; I will quote from a letter that our Lady wrote to her niece, Fanny Austen-Knight, on March 17, 1817. By way of background, I should say that Catherine Morland's original name was "Susan" and, in fact, that was the original title of Northanger Abbey. The changes in names were required because someone else had published a novel with the title, Susan, in that period during which the first publisher had sat on Jane Austen's manuscript. This is the excerpt from the letter:
"... --I will answer your kind questions more than you expect--Miss Catherine is put upon the Shelf for the present, and I do not know that she will ever come out;-- ..."
"... I do not know that [Northanger Abbey] will ever come out;-- ..."! I would call that statement definitive. Jane Austen had only another four months to live, and so we can never know how she might have rewritten the novel. Perhaps, we need go no further than Jane Austen's own explanation: Deirdre Le Faye [LeFaye-98, p. 91] quotes from a new preface that Jane Austen wrote for her recovered manuscript in 1816 or 17:
"... thirteen years have passed since [my manuscript] was finished, many more since it was begun, and during that period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergone considerable changes. ..."
Well, exactly those same things could have been said about Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice; and, as far as we know, our Lady never thought about placing either of them on the shelf forever. I think we need to look for additional reasons; perhaps they will prove to be inconsequential, perhaps not.
So much for the facts. I also have my speculations. First of all, there is my problem with a citation and footnote that Jane Austen included in Northanger Abbey (see 12/21/00 and 12/24/00.) I do not take the slightest issue with the contents of that footnote, but the note itself, I find uncharacteristically awkward - a young person's mistake. I can also add that the narration, the authorial voice, in Northanger is unlike anything in her later novels (that is, novels published well after 1803.) In this novel, the voice often refers to herself, in first-person singular, and that in an amusingly mocking way. One does find a little of that in the other novels, but those instances are not as obtrusive or as frequent. That sort of narration is not found elsewhere in our Lady's work, except in her Juvenilia! These two factors, the footnote and the authorial voice, signal, to me at least, that this last novel has more of the nature of Jane Austen's early writing. That is to say, I think that Northanger should not be classed as one of her "mature" novels. Now, while it is true that the earliest versions of S&S and P&P were at least as old as Susan, neither of those early manuscripts are extant - are not available for comparison.
I think that there is a bigger problem, and that problem is the nature of Henry Tilney. I also believe that his nature could not have been corrected without a major rewrite of the entire novel. That is to say, I think that the young Jane Austen had written herself into a corner from which it would have been very difficult for the mature Jane Austen to have extracted herself. The problem is that the reader cannot much care for Henry Tilney. I think of him as a sort of anti-Darcy - Tilney is a wimp. I suspect that when the mature Jane Austen came to re-examine the hero she had provided for one of her more charming and more deserving heroines, she might have been disappointed with her creation.
Let me explain. In my opinion, Tilney fails Catherine Morland in at least two, unforgivable ways. The first failure comes when Catherine, bless her heart, goes to Henry to ask him to speak to his brother, Captain Tilney. The Captain was flirting with - almost courting the fiancée of Catherine's brother, James Morland. And, he was doing that in the very presence of James. Henry Tilney waffles, mouths some dubious, fatalistic philosophy, and then does nothing. I don't like Henry Tilney. The second failure is less explicit. It is obvious that Tilney's father, General Tilney, had designs on Catherine's fortune when he invited her to visit the Abbey. Operating on this mis-apprehension of a fortune, the General hoped that the visit will give Henry and Catherine the chance to develop a love interest. Well, Henry must have guessed his father's views and plans, so can he not be considered a passive co-conspiritor? - at least a silent, reluctant co-conspiritor? He does not warn or alert Catherine in any way.
Well, you might think that these are minor details that easily could have been rewritten if, in fact, Jane Austen had wished to do so. I am not so sure. Let me begin this next part by referring you to the posting of Linda on 12/1/00. Linda is dead-on correct about the character of General Tilney painted by Jane Austen. (After you read Linda's posting, re-read the novel to see how very correct our friend is.) Linda has a fancy technical name for this type of personality, but I always thought that the strictly correct scientific name was "tight-assed." - Well, "tight-assed", "obsessive-compulsive", whatever - that was General Tilney. Jane Austen did everything for a purpose, and this particular character development is important for the plot. I say that because Catherine slowly became aware of this unfortunate part of the General's personality; and, equally important, she sensed that Henry and his sister are discomposed and ill at ease in their father's presence. That is important, because those observations fueled Catherine's preposterous suppositions about the General's past behavior. Beautiful! - still more Jane Austen logic and completeness! Well not so beautiful in one sense - think about what the implications must be for the nature of Henry Tilney. With such a father, the son could only have been either complying or rebellious - nothing in between. Jane Austen chose the former and I don't see how she could have made the latter choice. In that case, his failings, as I have described them above, are inevitable. Do you see what I mean? The young Jane Austen had painted - written, the mature Jane Austen into a corner.
What say you?
I did a quick read searching for Henry's behavior and decided it was worth a longer and deeper look. I had missed that. [I will try to raise him in your esteem, if possible.]
As for that footnote in NA, this statement at the end of NA seems to be the reason why she quoted it - the reason being to contradict Richardson:
"She was assured of his affection; and that heart in return was solicited, which, perhaps, they pretty equally knew was already entirely his own; for, though Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought. It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine's dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own."
And in that quote I noticed the authorial "voice".
First thoughts on complying or rebelling - more study needed.
One complies because your very life, income, vocation, property, status, or whatever depends on it. If you rebel, you may "leave" with nothing. The choice has to be made. In complying, one realizes that you are just "waiting him out" - to die, or miraculously have a change of mind, or whatever.
JA may not have witnessed a resolution as indicated above in the model she used for Gen. Tilney's character, or it did not occur to her how to resolve the dilemma. This requires a much closer look at her ending of NA.
The last sentence of NA leaves open the question of compliance or rebellion:
"To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced that the general's unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled, by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, [comply] or reward filial disobedience - [rebel]."
And Happy New Year to you and yours, too!
I'm afraid it will take me a few days to get caught up, but I'm enjoying the Northanger-Abbey discussion very much. Regarding the question of General Tilney, I tend to think he's merely an aging anti-social character. What John Thorpe will be in 30 years. The only practical difference being that anti-social types aren't mentally ill and can control their behavior but chose not to. But General Tilney isn't a "comedy sidekick" character. He's an amoral, scheming man and we only laugh at him when we see the delicate facade of respectability he's created slip and watch him desperately scrabbling to re-erect it before Catherine notices.
Ashton: I think Jane Austen would like to have revisited the Catherine
Morland character in a more serious novel. Catherine is Jane's only truly
ingenuous heroine. She isn't clever, she isn't arch, she isn't tragic, she
isn't the center of her own little world. She is, to some extent, Jane
Austen's most realistic 16 year old, almost an ordinary young woman. My
estimation of Henry Tilney is almost the opposite of yours: he's a most
extraordinary hero for Austen. Captain Wentworth is perhaps as lively, but
certainly not as quick and clever. But Jane Austen's "problem" with
Northanger Abbey may have been even more fundamental. After Sense and
Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice it may have seemed that
Catherine's instant and ultimately successful infatuation with Henry Tilney
was in opposition to what she had already published. And let's not
forget that Henry Tilney is exactly the sort of clergyman Sir Thomas Bertram
lectures against in Mansfield Park. Could I reconcile my opinions and
world view today with what I held 20 years ago? Definitely not, and maybe
Jane couldn't either.
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