The Voices of Men in Praise
Of Jane Austen
Messages c. June 1, 2002


Dear Sufferin' Succotashton,

Yes, double whammy in the NBA.  I wish your record were 8-8.  I see them taking the championship in 4 games, 5 at most.  Now they will be insufferable.  So I have to get my mind off it til next year.

So I have been thinking a lot about Wickham.  Have you ever pondered in depth WHY this individual saw fit to run off with Lydia Bennett?  Of course this whole escapade was a literary vehicle to allow Darcy to come to the rescue, but did it make sense?  Given that Wickham had done some dumb things in his life, but he did have street smarts and he looked out for No. 1.  Here he was in an acceptable regiment with a decent colonel - something that meant a lot to army officers.  He had the ability to attract wealthy women, and he was looking (cf. Mary King) to make a profitable marriage.  WHAT induced him to succumb to this idiocy?  Lydia had no money.  He didn't even LIKE her very much, and what reason would he have to affront his colonel, being that Lydia was their particular houseguest?  Sometimes on the treadmill I try to figure out what possible motivation other than lunacy was at work here?  Lydia never would have instigated such a scheme, though she would have been more than ready to go along with it.  All she wanted to do was dance with officers.  What is your take on it?

Dear Un-Breedled,

Perhaps you mean Billy Wickham who scored six points and who committed thirty-four fouls with two-hundred-twelve turnovers in his six seasons with the Clippers? I don't know much about him.

On the other hand, you may be referring to Jane Austen's Wickham whom I know very well. Well, first of all, as Aunt Gardiner informed Elizabeth, Wickham had no apparent intention of marrying Lydia. It seems to me that Jane Austen gives the impression that Wickham had become persona non grata in the militia—probably because of gambling debts—and he was on the run. In Wickham's mind, Lydia was just his squeeze; he was on the run; had few friends; and, he just wanted some company. On the other hand, Lydia clearly thought that a marriage was in the offing; we know that from the contents of her letter to sister Kitty. Lydia was clearly of a nature capable of overlooking or of not even noticing his fall from grace, and so she was there for "the picking" as they say. Finally, remember this comes just after Wickham's conversation with Elizabeth when she laid the wood to him between the lines: she made clear that she was no longer his dupe on all matters Darcy and she even—horrors!—indicated there was much to understand and admire in the master of Pemberley. So, absconding with Elizabeth's sister may have had an aspect of revenge, a malignant aspect.

Dear Last-one,

Your take seems right concerning Lydia as a nonce companion, passionate little minx that she presumeably was.  But for the intervention by Mr. Darcy, Wickham would have probably abandoned "Poor Stupid Lydia" when he got tired of her.  He would have wandered off looking for a desperate heiress; one who "might very well pass for forty-three in the dusk with a light behind her," but with 20,000 pounds.

When all I knew of P&P was the 1995 Ehle/Firth version, I wondered why there was never any hint that someone might have called out Wickham.  Not when he had to be made to marry Lydia to recloak her in respectability, but after that. Upon first reading P&P I saw that JA gave them a cursory afterstory with Wickham being bored and indifferent and Lydia remaining faithful.  I would have enjoyed seeing some hint that Col. Forster or Darcy or someone else virile might have called the bounder out and made Lydia a pretty, young, flirtatious widow.  (All those officers (Giggle, Simper) would certainly have offered consolation).  Don't you think that Jane's brothers might have done so to anyone who had trifled with her?   BTW, does Wickham have a first name? (Fitzdarcy perhaps?)

From the Meister: Jim, the software is kept simple around here so you are not automatically identified. If memory serves, Wickham's first name is George.

Dear Bree,

Ash and Jim pretty much have the straight of it.  I will add my two pence though.

Jane says a few words about Wickham's mother and both seem to be cut from the same cloth.  I think his wickedness is in his genes from his mother's side.  It's a dirty rotten shame he did not inherit some good ones from his father.  Well, maybe that is where his 'charming' manners came from.

Jim is quite right about the 'desperate heiress' bit (still chuckling at that one) and brings up a good point I had not yet thought of.  Did men still 'call out' each other in that day and age.  Wait a minute, I think there was something in S&S where someone did that.  Also, in the movie (P&P), Mrs. Bennett was afraid that Mr. Bennett would shoot Wickham or get shot himself.  I do wonder just how prevalent that custom was, especially where Jane's honor might have been concerned.  Maybe she did not include such things because she was advocating a more civilized and less violent way to settle matters.  I certainly hope so.

The bottom line is yes, Jane does make sense with Wickham's character.  There are people like that in the world still today.  Perhaps you are lucky enough not to have met any!  That is what I like about Jane's novels, they do make sense.  You said: WHAT induced him to succumb to this idiocy?  Between us Ladies, it takes a more honorable gentleman than Wickham to pass up a chance to make use of a 'stupid girl' who throws herself at him.  That is just the way he was!  Any more questions?  Or have we muddied the water enough?

Dear Linda,

At about the time that P&P was being published, that great American Father, Alexander Hamilton, was killed in a duel with the man who had just finished his term as Vice President of the United States. That was a few years after Hamilton's nineteen year old son had been killed in a duel defending his father's honor against a slur he overheard in a public place. Within a decade or two, Andrew Jackson would fight a couple of duels including one in which he killed a man in defense of his (Jackson's) wife's honor. In none of these cases was the survivor charged with a crime. When Jackson served as president he suffered the continual pain of a bullet earned in a duel and lodged too close to his heart to be removed.

My understanding is this: most often these "affairs of honor" would be settled amicably by third parties and the men would not have to enter the field. When that extreme event did occur, most often most men would fire into the air; since, by that time both men had demonstrated their courage merely by taking up the weapons. Jane Austen doesn't tell us, but I suspect that this is what happened in S&S because Brandon told Elinor that both men left the field without a wound.

It is likely that Jane Austen read Maria Edgeworth's Belinda in which two women fight a duel. The fight is instigated by a third woman who some have suggested was a caricature of Mary Wollstonecraft. That is interesting because the feminist seems determined that women should behave like men in all possible instances. The women fire into the air but the recoil of the weapon badly bruises the breast of one of the women who subsequently comes to believe she has developed breast cancer resulting from the accident and prepares for a mastectomy. Incidentally, that woman's lover had been killed in a duel by her husband.

Remember Mark Twain's reference to dueling in Pudd'nhead Wilson, a story set much later than P&P. Remember the gunfight at the OK Corral. Finally, you might remember that current American custom of the drive-by shooting. Some have suggested that this demonstrates that Americans are too lazy to get out their cars, but I can see an aspect of dueling in that practice.

Dear Voices,

Another coincidence happened this week -  after reading Kate2's beautiful report of her travels in Jane Austen's hometown, I received my brochure from the Hampshire County Council called "Literary Hampshire".  It can be ordered online HERE Just scroll down to the words "Literary Hampshire is available" and click on that link. I highly recommend it because it gives you the same 'feelings' as Kate's description.  It gives a good overview of 'who' and 'what' was going on way back then.   It specifically covers the 'literary' people who were native to or lived in Hampshire.  What a list it is!  I figured there must have been something in the water to produce so many greats! There is another brochure "Defence of the Realm", but it seems to be covered in a site found HERE covering the naval history of the county.  It is of particular interest to me because I am still searching for one of my ancestors who may have had some part of that era.  It is the next best thing to being there.  "I am attentive to all those things!"

Dear Folks,

"Kate2" was a Scot living in England when she posted 19 times in the short period between July and December 1998. Kate was probably the best writer to post here and her time at this site was far too short—we miss her.

I will link you to six of her efforts; you can obtain a more complete listing by scrolling down in this section of the Names Index.

Here is my sampling of Kate2-postings.

Dear Meister,

I had to retire to my room for a good cry after reading Kate's posts.  You are absolutely correct about Kate's writing, so sensitive and beautiful.  She made me feel as though I was there with her at Chawton and Bath.

Her comment about P&P being a response to the French Revolution blew me away.  I really have to get my hands on Robert Warren's book.  Ah, The Library Book Sale is this Saturday and I am ready!

Dear BB in General,

Having skipped through the archives and then lurked for a bit, I find myself up to the here and now.  So it seems like a good time to introduce myself and confess to eavesdropping on your stimulating conversations.

I am about one-half a Janeite: Emma, P&P, and S&S; but not yet the others.  I was completely drawn in by the movies and miniseries, despite their much discussed shortcomings.  In ignorance of the books at that time, I simply enjoyed the stories as presented.  Curiosity sucked me in and I gradually began to read the books. I quickly found that my skimming reading skills were useless and made myself slow down and READ THE WORDS.  And found them to be—intriguing.

I have enjoyed the discussions and look forward to many more.  In many ways, the revelatory analyses here are similar to those I have encountered on the Patrick O'Brian Gunroom.
D. Jim

Dear D.,

You are very welcome here. The basic rule at this site is anybody, anytime, anything: that rule is strictly enforced. So, you are welcome to join in any conversation at anytime or continue to lurk if you wish.

Thank you for your kind words.

If Pride and Prejudice is your favorite Jane-Austen novel so far (it certainly is my favorite) and if you have an interest in the British Navy, then I suggest you pick up Persuasion next. Those were her two most romantic novels. Another interest we share is in the filmed versions. There is an excellent filmed version of Persuasion starring Amanda Root; I highly recommend it.

Dear Jim,

I spent the weekend finding out who Patrick O'Brian is and now that I know, I have a strange feeling that I shall be eternally grateful to you for mentioning his name. I found the following at this site:

"But if plots alone made for great literature, Tom Clancey would win the Nobel Prize. If we didn't care about Odysseus and Hamlet and Sinbad the Sailor as protagonists, we wouldn't remember their adventures. And so it is that almost all really great literature is character-driven. The characters must not only come alive to us as people, and engage us in their fate, they should tell us something about the human condition. And here, I would argue, lies the core of O'Brian's genius."

The writer also says: "It is the sort of verbal economy O'Brian learned from the one writer he considered his mentor in narrative technique, and that was Jane Austen. But Jane Austen rarely spent her gifts on minor or passing characters."

Well, if all this be true (sounds so like our Dear Jane), I shall surely have to more closely investigate this Patrick O'Brian writer, especially since my interest of all things "French Revolution" has been piqued recently.  Thanks.

Now, I do wonder what the Meister knows about Patrick O'B.

From the Meister: Jim is not the first to mention O'Brian at this site; see under "O" in the index. You are the first to make the connection to Jane Austen. Except, what do you think of the suggestion that "Jane Austen rarely spent her gifts on minor or passing characters"? That strikes me as exactly wrong. The "writer" you mentioned is Ken Ringle, a staff writer for the Washington Post. I e-mailed him to ask what was his source for his statement, "It is the sort of verbal economy O'Brian learned from the one writer he considered his mentor in narrative technique, and that was Jane Austen." he returned this short reply, "My source for that comment is quite a few discussions with O'Brian himself."

Dear Ash,

Without thinking too hard about the question of Jane spending her gifts on minor characters, the first one to pop in my mind to contradict that was Harriet Smith and her Robert Martin.  I do believe, if shortness of information it was, that she told us all we needed to know.

Dear Linda,

Since I don't know what you have discovered yet about POB, I will only say that his 20 novels about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are written in chronological sequence, starting with Master and Commander.  In THIS forum, I would merely note that, if my feeble memory is working rightly, he (POB) said of the second one, Post Captain, that he wrote it in conscious homage to JA.  Part of it has to do with country living gentry, men (and one interesting woman) pursuing manly outdoor sports, possibly romantic meetings at balls, the inheritance/dowry money settled on several young unmarried women, and whether a penniless young naval officer and an illegitimate young physicician might be suitable, er, suitors for any of them.

One POB fan said that his novels read as if they might have been written by one of JA's seagoing brothers, had he possessed some of her gift.

I say no more.  The hook is dangling.  The bait wriggles.

Dear Jim,

I have thus far only search the Internet - I 'Googled' POB and came up with a zillion sites and the "Gunroom".  After reading a bio or two he comes across as a very interesting man in his own right, as well as being a writer of note.  I intend to find out just exactly how 'noted' he is by reading some of his books.  Believe you me, I will give you my most decided opinion thereafter.  [Geez, I could have said that a little more civility - I have been listening to Lady C too long!]

I do have a list of his books in the sequence written in order to keep straight 'who is whom' and maybe pick up a few at the Library book sale on Saturday.  I have wondered if there was a male Jane Austen;  maybe there is after all.  So, thanks for the bait - though I definitely do not like the wiggly kind - yuck!

Dear D.J.,

I confess I am not familiar with O'Brian's novels so you will have to tell—where, exactly, did he say he wrote Post Captain in homage to Jane Austen? in his preface?

You know I have always contended that Jane Austen's novels appeal to men. But now it might be clear what kind of men. Men like Sir Walter Scott, Rudyard Kipling, and now we can add—apparently—the name of Patrick O'Brian. Not exactly wussies are they.

Dear Ashton,

Gee, it didn't take me long to get myself into trouble.  When did POB his own self say that Post Captain was an homage to JA?  I'm looking through the POB Gunroom archives without success for a specific citation.  Certainly, the Lissuns chatter on about it as if it were a truth universally acknowledged:

I will leave it at that, without actually answering your request.  I do have a copy of Dean King's Bio of POB at home and will (sometime or other) take a look through it for anything more specific. Of course, as an homage (if Post Captain is such), it is not a pastiche at all.  POB wrote his own style.  I do believe that characters introduced in PC can be profitably compared with JA's.

Dear Ash,

Well, I'd like to take a guess at your international favorite for Mary Wollstonecraft.  Her initials are SM and the link you have posted for her on 10/19/00 no longer works.   I checked at IMDb and found out that she is now 36, a little old for the part, but at that age who can tell the difference.  So there!

From the Meister: Thank you for telling me about the
broken link. I have replaced it with one that does work.

Dear Linda,

I hardly ever give SM much thought. Actually, who is SM anyway? I never heard of her—I can't imagine who you mean. And besides, she is too beautiful and too confident for the role of Mary Wollstonecraft. The actress must be a beautiful woman but she must not give the impression of a goddess. I see that I need to adjust your thinking on this matter.

mary wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft
I suppose that the choice for this role that would meet with most approval is that of Tilda Swinton. Ms. Swinton is English born and an excellent actress who, most often, appears in avant garde films. The exception to that rule is her appearance in the DiCaprio film, The Beach, in which she played a cold-blooded matriarch of a utopian community. Tilda Swinton
Tilda Swinton

Her physical appearance is just about perfect and she has proven that she can be convincing as sexual and as bisexual in the bargain. However, for me, Ms. Swinton is a little too hard around the edges. Some might say that is just right too, but only those who think of Mary Wollstonecraft far differently than I.

For me, the perfect choice is ... TA DA!

Cate Blanchett

Born in the southern hemisphere but Ms. Blanchett has proven that she can convince American audiences of her English accent. She is also an excellent actress with a range that includes Mary Wollstonecraft's nature—from social rebel to sexually addicted to politically disillusioned to suicidally depressed.

Again, you must share my very different view of Wollstonecraft's nature in order to fully appreciate the genius of my choice. The conventionally wise will go with Tilda Swinton

Dear Ash,

I never heard of Tilda Swinton, but I did see Cate in An Ideal Husband.  My memory fails on my opinion of her in that film.  It was on just the other day but I did not see it again.  Now I wish I had.  I will try to catch her again and let you know.  I will probably agree.  I still think a film of Mary W. would be terrific, especially if "they" were to include lots of the 'revolutionary' ideas and thinkers of the day.  That was quite a period in History. Linda

Dear Linda,

OK, maybe you have to be a film buff to know of Tilda Swinton, but I suspect that you are better acquainted with Cate Blanchett than you are conscious. You must have seen her in her breakthrough film, Elizabeth. She was nominated for the academy award but lost out to Gwyneth Paltrow in an outrageous hometown decision. Blanchett has appeared in many films since then, sometimes with an English accent and sometimes with an American. Click on that link I gave you in my posting and check out her "filmography"; I bet you will recognize some films there.

I have decided that this game of selecting actresses to fill roles in nonexistent films is a useful exercise because film stars project clear personas so that our choices communicate our own ideas about the historical women. However, in thinking through my choices, I discovered just how correct you are—this would be a terrific film! Except, wouldn't they choose Patricia Rozema or some other ideologue to write and direct a film like that? Now, there is a chilling thought.

Dear Ash,

PR writing and directing a film about Mary!  I would not let her clean out my stable!  [Strange are the thoughts that pop into one's head!]

I haven't see Cate's Elizabeth yet, but, strange coincident this weekend, I marked my calendar to tape it on the 28th (USA network).  Great minds...etc...well, between the two of us maybe we could get at least half of one. ;-)

Dear Ashes-to-Ashton,

Your prognostication powers are impressive.  The Celtics just got put away by the Nets (of all teams!) and the Lakers are down 3 in the 3rd quarter.  I HOPE your prediction comes true.  I am not now, never have been, and never shall be a Lakers fan.  I will probably live here the rest of my life, but I won't wear yellow and purple.  I don't think Mary Wollstonecraft would have either.  Thank you for the LINK.  Will peruse as soon as game 6 is over.

Dear Linda,

Sent e-mail in reply to yours, but it came back undelivered.  If you did not receive it (re BJD) email me and I'll re-send.  Yours in good Firth,

Dear Ash,

Thanks for relaying the message.  I received Bree's mail but my daughter had placed in my inbox, so I missed it until I went hunting for it.

I did enjoy the Proms Saturday night in England - unfortunately, I was unable to attend, but caught it on tape.

It was a jolly good show in stark contrast to the ceremony in NYC for the final memorial for the WTC which was very moving.  So many things happening these days.

Dear Voices,

Someone recently mentioned a movie titled: Gothic.  I was checking the cable guide for this month and noticed that it is on the Sci-Fi channel the 20th in case you care to catch it.

Its plot is about the night that Frankenstein was dreamed up by Mary Shelley and Co.  I do hope they did not put too much 'Hollywood' into it.  We'll see 'bout that!

From the Meister: I strongly recommend this film—but, brace yourself.
Incidentally, the first Dracula book was conceived on that same night.


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