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


9-11          

Dear Colorfashton and Valley of Voices,

By the first 4 Lady Susan letters, you are hooked.  By clever and compact letters, much longer and more detailed than most correspondence in JA's novels, we are introduced to the vamp herself, her weak-minded accomplice Alicia Johnson, her brother-in-law Charles Vernon, her sister-in-law Catherine, and Catherine's brother Reginald.  Their personalities are established so completely you have a picture of them already, even though they are only writing to each other about the others [and there will be more persons later on!].

If Voices are at all inspired to read this work, it will be well worth it, it should take very little time since you can't put it down.  Meister, you remember in the first letter, Lady S. says she is afraid of Charles' wife.  That is very interesting.  I suspect it is because she is the only person Lady S. is doubtful she can dupe.  Catherine is a person of integrity and is not easy to fool, whereas her younger brother, who knows in advance what Lady Susan is, later becomes trapped by her wiles. Lady Susan would have been a great politician.


Dear Bree,

The composition of Lady Susan is brilliant. Susan Vernon is Jane Austen's worst villain—worse than Willoughby or Mr. Elliot, far worse than Lucy Steele, and infinitely worse than Mary Crawford. As you say, the nature of important characters are already established by the fourth letter.

At first, I wondered why Lady Susan kept Mr. Manwaring on the string; that seemed more promiscuous than politic. But then, I realized that this was the device that allowed her to remain at the Manwaring home. Her evil plan to detach Sir James Martin from Miss Manwaring would have been enough to earn Lady Susan her traveling orders, but the cultivated fascination of the husband would have delayed that.

The introduction to my copy of Lady Susan provides a chronology. That academic estimates that Jane Austen was only eighteen or nineteen years old when she wrote this novella. Our Lady was twenty-nine when she made her "fair copy." It is impossible for me to imagine that any teenager would have been sophisticated and talented enough to make this effort. It is absolutely astounding that anyone so young would already appreciate the most fundamental fact of society—the power a woman possesses over men.

For me, the best lines in the first four letters are the words of Lady Susan in Letter #2: the Lady is planning that her daughter, Frederica, is to have Sir James, but ...

"... Frederica, who was born to be the torment of my life, chose to set herself so violently against the match, that I thought it better to lay aside the scheme for the present. I have more than once repented that I did not marry him myself, and were he but one degree less contemptibly weak I certainly should, but I must own myself romantic in that respect, and that riches only, will not satisfy me. ..."

Bad girl!!


Dear Ash,

I think you said:

As Lizzie would say, "I can't believe it!"  Somebody forgot to tell us women that 'fact of society'!!  I certainly did not know it!
Linda who is astounded!


Dear Linda,

What clearer illustration of my axiom can there be than that portrayed in Lady Susan. But beyond that, there are the power displays of Lucy Steele and Mary Crawford, and—yes—those of Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot. Why else would Darcy or Wentworth fight through their resentments; would either woman in the case have done the same? I am not suggesting that all women are aware of or exploit this power or that most men don't have some trace of free-will. (Some men in some situations are, indeed, drained of free will.) But, I am saying that any theory of men and women—of society, that does not begin with this premise is doomed to failure. This is a power that dwarfs anything as puny as the right to vote.

Lady Susan is wise, aware, and ruthless.


Dear LS Readers,

As a matter of fact, you bring to remembrance that I did make notes (ask) as I read each novel where Jane often used the word "power" in connection with women.  I intended to study those instances to get to her meaning.  Maybe, just maybe, you have gotten to the bottom line.  She was aware; I was not.  That is what hit me in the face when I read your statement and had forgotten that she used that word.

I am familiar with only one noteworthy incident in my life of a beautiful teenager who, without even trying, attracted her own cousin's boyfriend right in front of her face.  Needless to say I didn't think too highly of either.  I am beginning to believe that there are many ways to exert that power and there are varying degrees of such power based on the 'differences of situation and temper'.  Hmm, I am speechless!  Do you know a good publisher?  Someone needs to write a book.

You say, "Lady Susan is wise, aware, and ruthless."  Young Ladies need to know about the 'wise and aware' of their power, but leave off the 'ruthless' for something better as 'worthwhile' or 'beneficial' to both parties.

It has been awhile since I read Lady Susan so I started again.  I am sorry to say that Lady Susan is not the best example as an exhibit of using our 'womanly power'.  Which brings me to ask, are there any good examples?  Oh, yes, you have already given us Elizabeth and Anne.  It now becomes obvious to me that as much as JA's books have been dissected, this particular aspect, 'woman's power', has hardly been touched on.  Another reason to keep reading Jane.

Do you have any idea of the immensity of what you are saying here: "But, I am saying that any theory of men and women—of society, that does not begin with this premise is doomed to failure. This is a power that dwarfs anything as puny as the right to vote."  Do you even begin to realize that what you say is unknown to women.  Well, maybe I am alone in my ignorance.  I just don't remember my Mother (or any of her generation), my friends of my generation, or my daughters and their friends discussing such a thing.  Have you let the proverbial cat out of the bag?  Do you see a gang of men coming at you with a bucket of tar, a bag of feathers, and a rail?  If you do, RUN!

I will have to get off this 'power' kick in order to discern what else Jane was trying to tell us in "Lady Susan".  Give me a minute, or two.  So, what's next, Bree?  How many Letters do we tackle in the next group?
Linda


Dear All-Powerful One,

Talk about coincidence! Just after I posted back to you yesterday, I discovered that Jane Austen knew that you and I would discuss this very point. That came about this way. I figured that after Bree led us through Lady Susan, our friend would likely then lead us to The Watsons and then to Sanditon. So, I figured to get out ahead of the curve and read The Watsons—I am so clever (pat, pat). Well the first shock was that I realized, for the first time, how beautifully written that fragment is. (If you don't want to feel bad about our loss, then don't read it yourself.)

The second shock (#123) was that Jane Austen knew all about you and I before we were even born. Here is the situation, Emma Watson is being courted by Lord Osborn who she does not care for (and never will). He is very clumsy and awkward but determined—he can't help but always say the wrong thing. For example, he suggests things for her to do which she could not possibly afford to do. It all makes the conversation doubly difficult for Emma. One of those things is the suggestion that Emma acquire a horse and spend much of her time riding. That conversation goes like this; Lord Osborn begins with ...

" 'Ladies should ride in dirty weather.—Do you ride?'

'No, my Lord'

'I wonder every Lady does not. A woman never looks better than on horseback.—'

'But every woman may not have the inclination, or the means.'

'If they knew how much it became them, they would all have the inclination, and I fancy Miss Watson—when once they had the inclination, the means would soon follow.'

'Your Lordship thinks we always have our own way.—That is a point on which ladies and gentleman have long disagreed.—But without pretending to decide it, I may say that there are some circumstances which even women cannot control.—Female economy will do a great deal my Lord, but it cannot turn a small income into a large one.'

Lord Osborn was silenced. Her manner had been neither sententious nor sarcastic, but there was something in its mild seriousness, as well as in the words themselves which made his lordship think;—and when he addressed again, it was with a degree of considerate propriety, totally unlike the half-awkward, half-fearless style of his previous remarks. ..."

Oh.


Dear Ash,

And a shocker it is.  It does seem like I have heard that exact same conversation in my past.  That is what I mean about rereading JA; there is always something new to discover that we overlook or don't have on our minds and pick up on.

I was so moved by that passage that I retired to my room for a good cry.  Is there anything she did not cover?  I need to hear from Cheryl and Bree on this one.

In the same vein, my Mother told me the following anecdote which I still do not understand.  Her Grandfather made the statement that the little finger of the lowest prostitute was worth more that any man.  It is especially hard to understand given the doormat status of the womenfolk I knew.  Maybe, just maybe, it is beginning to come clearer.

What is so very odd about Jane's observation is that she came to the correct conclusion without the benefit of Oprah and Dr. Phil.  It could be that if we read enough JA we would find the others unnecessary!

I do 'thank you' for stumbling across that conversation.  I don't believe in coincidences.
Linda

From the Meister: I think your great-grandfather must have been a feminist and so I cannot agree with him—not in the slightest degree. I thought you and I were talking about something else; I thought we were discussing the power of women over men. I was surprised when you said that women never recognize or discuss that fundamental fact. When I was an adolescent, it was much discussed amongst the boys and was even given a name—"whipped". (I think that was the full name, it has been so long, I might not remember exactly.) Anyway, becoming "whipped" was something we all thought of as like balding, unpleasant but inevitable. Don't women often say, "men think with their hearts!" (I think that is the expression, I am never included so I might not have all the words right.)

Dear Ash,

Yes, I guess I did.  My mind wanders at times and I get off track.  I still don't know what my Great-grandfather meant, and yes we were discussing the power of women over men, excuse me.  But that's okay because you mentioned "whipped" - the term I remember is "hen-pecked" (I have forgotten more than most people know!)  That is as far as the 'discussion' went - we simply recognized the fact that there were some 'hen-pecked' men.  It did not occur to us to do any 'hen-pecking'.  Maybe it was the crowd I ran around with.  I did finally get around to asking my daughter about it last night and she did have a few examples to tell me about, but she did not learn it from me.

I don't recall ever hearing the phrase "men think with their hearts!" - it was the other way round!  And I will go no further than that.  I am beginning to wonder how we managed to ever do any communication all these centuries.  Did you ever see the comic strip where "she said...." and "this is what he heard"?

From the Meister: I think "hen-pecked" means something much different than "whipped". The former means to be dominated by less than charming means while the latter means to be charmed out of your senses and habits. Tell me, have you ever been stopped for a traffic violation and let go with just a warning where a man would have received a ticket? I suppose there must be better examples, but that is a trivial one that popped to mind. Can someone out there help me? I should have thought this concept far better understood in the South than in California. Where is Scarlett when I need her?

Dear Linda,

I would never admit to the Meister how ignorant I still am of this all encompassing power women have over men.  [So if he's listening, it's not my fault!]  I have heard of it, of course, and even seen it in action but thought it varied with the individual.  I also think such power is confined to certain hours and locations, if you know what I mean!  I'm going to e-mail you something and then we'll see who has power over whom!

From the Meister: I was educated at Berkeley;
so; I always say, "Power to the breeple!"


Dear SlapdAshton,

I have followed with interest the polemic between you and Linda regarding the power of women over men.  It is difficult for me to comment on this point from my personal experience, so maybe I won't.  I will only say that certain types of both men and women can exert amazing power over the opposite sex because of their sex appeal and charisma, but I wouldn't say that an axiom can be written either way.

I was interested in your comment on Lady Susan and Manwaring.  I agree she is Jane's worst villain.  Most of the hunters and huntresses(?) of JA's are fueled by the search for comfortable incomes, which in itself was a necessity in those times for the class of people which populated her novels.  Even Cousin Walter Elliot, Wickham, Lucy Steele, Mary Crawford, etc. basically were trying to look after themselves in the only way open to them, even though their methods were selfish and calculating.  However Lady Susan actually enjoyed making men jump through hoops for the fun of it.  She was amoral, and probably pulled the wings off butterflies when she was a child.

Actually, Lady S. sort of fed off men, and like most women of her type, you notice she really didn't have any close female relationships except for Alicia Johnson, who was a sort of "yes man" and didn't give her any competition.  The complexity of her mechanations is astounding, and gives rise to the unbidden thought that in today's world, she would have had the makings of a great corporate raider.


Dear Bree,

I guess I see the folks on your list of "hunters and huntresses fueled by the search for comfortable incomes" a bit differently; you listed "Cousin Walter Elliot, Wickham, Lucy Steele, Mary Crawford." Mary Crawford and Mr. Elliot were independently wealthy and were not seeking better financial status. Mary Crawford truly was in love with Edmund Bertram and Mr. Elliot was seeking to secure his succession to the Elliot title (which would have brought debt rather than income with it.) On the other hand, I would add Charlotte Lucas, Mr. Palmer, and Mrs. Clay to your list.


Dear It's A WAshton,

This may be very true; but, in the case of Mary Crawford (I can't STAND her!) even though she had money, she FIRST pursued Tom Bertram, the principal heir of the family.  She wanted her husband to be a "Sir."  The feelings she had for Edmund were, I suppose, her version of love, although it was a very self centered version of that sentiment.

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but in my last reading of Persuasion, I thought Cousin Walter had lost money and was seeking to ingratiate himself back into Sir Walter's good graces and marry Anne to improve his lot.

At any rate, I stand by my original position that all these aforementioned fortune hunters had the appropriate motives of their class and situation in life.  Lady Susan needed a husband also, because even for her, it would have been difficult to move around in the circles to which she was accustomed as an eternal "merry widow."  She enjoyed picking prospective suitors up and putting them down, and had no feelings whatsoever except in regard to her own well being.  Even Mary Crawford was better than that!  I'd even say Isabella Thorpe or Miss Bingley!  Or Elizabeth Elliot.  Except Lady Susan was MUCH prettier...go figure.

I say with the late lamented Herb Caen:  "Berserkeley Berserkeley Berserkeley!"


Dear Bree,

Jane Austen left us with no doubt about Mr. Elliot's situation and aims. It was Mrs. Smith who revealed all to Anne in Chapter IX, Volume 2:

"... Now you are to understand that time had worked a very material change in Mr. Elliot's opinions as to the value of the baronetcy. Upon all points of blood and connexion, he is a completely altered man. Having long had as much money as he could spend, nothing to wish for on the side of avarice or indulgence, he has been gradually learning to pin his happiness upon the consequence he is heir to. ... He cannot bear the idea of not being Sir William. ..."

She then goes on to explain that his main motive for being in Bath was to detach Mrs. Clay from the Elliot household in order to insure that she not produce the male heir that would spoil his hopes. An advantage in marrying Anne is that he would be better able to influence Sir Walter.

For some inexplicable reason, this was all changed in the recent filmed version in which Mr. Elliot is strapped for cash and had a mercenary interest in the Elliot clan. That makes no sense, why would a mercenary, indebted man want to inherit a debt-laden inheritance? Stick to the damn text, you screen writers! Every time some writer makes the slightest change in a Jane-Austen novel, the logic suffers.

Incidentally, I am not a fanatic about screenwriters following a text. It doesn't matter what they do with an adaption of a Dicken's novel, for example; whatever someone does in that case will not make the characters or situations any more implausible. A better example might be that Madeleine-Stowe version of Last of the Mohicans. That didn't follow the novel very much at all but still caught enough of the spirit of the thing to make a good film. The Natty Bumppo ("hawkeye") in the novel is a forty-year old atheist with no love interest, and Major Heyward is actually a good guy throughout—it is likely that we are to understand that Cora Munro is a half mulatto. The strangest choice of all was a good deal of Anglo-phobia in the film which is nowhere to be found in the novel—one might have guessed the opposite might be true.

Yes, his family name was "Bumppo".

It does make my blood boil to see changes in the text of a Jane-Austen film because no screenwriter can possibly improve on a Jane Austen text, but she certainly can screw it up.

I remember Herb Caen, and when Caen killed Ability.


Dear Meicester,

A pun my word!

From the Meister: Listen, Bree, it's no pun being the Meister with all this responsibility—believe you me!

Dear Sopranos,

    ONE MORE CUP OF COFFEE
             (Valley Below)

             by Bob Dylan

    Your breath is sweet
    Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky.
    Your back is straight, your hair is smooth
    On the pillow where you lie.
    But I don't sense affection
    No gratitude or love
    Your loyalty is not to me
    But to the stars above.
      One more cup of coffee for the road,
      One more cup of coffee 'fore I go
      To the valley below.

    Your daddy he's an outlaw
    And a wanderer by trade.
    He'll teach you how to pick and choose
    And how to throw the blade.
    He oversees his kingdom
    So no stranger does intrude
    His voice it trembles as he calls out
    For another plate of food.
      One more cup of coffee for the road,
      One more cup of coffee 'fore I go
      To the valley below.

    Your sister sees the future
    Like your mama and yourself.
    You've never learned to read or write
    There's no books upon your shelf.
    And your pleasure knows no limits,
    Your voice is like a meadowlark
    But your heart is like an ocean
    Mysterious and dark.
      One more cup of coffee for the road,
      One more cup of coffee 'fore I go
      To the valley below.

All along the watchtower,
Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went
Barefoot servants too.
Outside in the distance
A wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching,
The wind began to howl!
         Dylan

Good Morning America, How Are You! Here is a little something from a native son.

Me and my sister, sir
Yeah, from Germantown we did ride
and we made our beds, sir
From rock on the mountain side
We roamed around
From town to town
Looking for a place to land
Where the sun bursts through the clouds
And falls like a circle
Like a circle of fire on this hard land

Even the rains don't come around
They don't come around here no more
And the only sound you hear at night, sir
Wind banging the back porch door
And it stirs you up
Like it wants to knock you down
Twisting and churning up the sand
And leaving those scarecrows
Lying face down
Face down in the dirt of this hard land

From a building up on the hill
I can hear a tape-deck blasting out
"Home on the Range"
I can see those Bar-M choppers
Swooping low across the plains
That's you and me, Frank
Searching for lost cattle
Their hooves twisting and churning up the sand
We are lost in a whirlwind
And searching for lost treasure
Way down south of the Rio Grande
And we are crossing that river
In the moonlight
Up onto the banks of this hard land.

Frank! won't you back your bag and
Meet me tonight down at Liberty Hall
One kiss from you my brother
And we will ride until we fall
We will sleep in the fields
And we will sleep by the rivers
And in the morning
We'll make a plan
And if you can't make it, well then
Stay hard!
Stay hungry
STAY ALIVE!
And if you can't
Well, then come and join me in
A dream of this hard land

          - Springsteen



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