Monday, 26 January 2015
When Jane Austen invents characters of dubious morals but speciously charming manners, there are tell-tale signs – Willoughby's too ready opinions, Henry Crawford's flirtation with an engaged woman and - something Elizabeth Bennet failed to notice at first - Wickham's improper disclosures.
It is easy to see how Wickham infatuates even a sensible girl such as Elizabeth. He is charming, handsome and gallant; but she is not blind to his discomfiture on seeing Darcy. What she does not consider until much later (it is part of her education) is that no gentleman would malign another so readily as Wickham does Darcy to a young lady he had only just met. She is taken in by the support his stories of Darcy give to the prejudice she has formed. She has yet to appreciate that Wickham (saying 'Till I can forget his father, I can never defy or expose him') is 'exposing' Darcy even under the pretence of not doing so.
She certainly wants a flirtation with Wickham. As it happens, he has the discretion to be absent from the Netherfield Ball; but she had 'dressed with more than usual care, and prepared in the highest spirits for the conquest of all that remained unsubdued of his heart.’
Saturday, 24 January 2015
Far more so than men, women are drawn to the subtle - interpreting body language, actions, conversations. They know how to assign method and motive to every utterance, to every message, to the shift of an eye during certain points in conversations. Persuasion makes even more of these skills than Jane Austen's earlier works. It is a story in which the spoken word is used more sparingly and analytical comment more widely. The heroine, Anne Elliot, really says remarkably little.
In fact, after the first three chapters, we are not yet sure she is to be the central figure (though 'clues' have been dropped - reminiscent of those concerning Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax) that some event in the past has had a deep effect on her. This is a thinking, watching, and interpreting work.
Chapter Eight of Persuasion concerns a dinner and dance at the Musgroves'. There is plenty of lively conversation. Yet Anne Elliot - the heroine and central character of the novel - does not say a single word (at least, in direct speech).
Thursday, 22 January 2015
Here is an interesting little example of social history that we may observe in Sense and Sensibility.
When Sir John Middleton wants to invite company at short notice, he is unsuccessful because most people already have engagements that evening:
it was moonlight and everybody was full of engagements.
In those days before street lighting and carriage lanterns, people had to be much more conscious of the phases of the moon.
You had to make the most of nights when there was to be a full moon. They were the best evenings for socialising.
Saturday, 17 January 2015
Novels of Jane Austen’s time were normally published in three volumes. This must have been partly to facilitate the reading by several members of the household simultaneously (as when Caroline Bingley reads the second volume of Darcy's novel), and partly to assist circulating libraries. These libraries, which you joined by paying a small subscription, were far and away the most important buyers and circulators of books for most of the Nineteenth Century. They usually bought up to three quarters of the copies printed.
A novel, unbound, might cost a week's wages for an average working man. You could go to the library and take out one volume, read it, then take it back and get out the next one.
Mudie's was one of the biggest circulating libraries. In the front and back of its books, this company included pages of advertisements for patent medicines, boot black, tooth powder, and other odd-sounding things.
The novelist had to take care to structure the book so that each individual volume had some shape and could stand alone, and of course end with a kind of cliffhanger – as in Mansfield Park, where Volume I ends with Julia bursting in on the theatricals to announce that Sir Thomas is in the hall at this very moment. Volume II of Pride and Prejudice ends with Elizabeth just about to go and see Pemberley for herself for the very first time.
Friday, 16 January 2015
Willoughby takes his cue from Marianne. As she is not at all shy or reticent, and he no dunce, he has ample time to decide that her favourite authors, poems, and scenes are just the ones which impress him. Elinor, only half jesting, asks what Marianne had left for the next meeting as she had already disposed of so many subjects of conversations. ‘Another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty, and second marriages..’.
Marianne has to be dramatic. She strikes a pose and tells Elinor she has been unjust: ‘I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull and deceitful.’ She goes on with typical adolescent histrionics to say it would have been well enough if she had only spoken of roads and the weather and that only once in ten minutes. The less sensible Mrs. Dashwood chooses to see Elinor's half reproof as a jest. She herself is pleased with Marianne's delight in conversation with their new friend.
Marianne is a person who believes in telling the truth all the time. This is not a virtue in society. People who believe in telling the truth at all costs can be unwittingly cruel. Truth is fine but tact is a virtue. Telling her mother she does not believe in second marriages when her mother married a man who had been married before was neither tactful nor kind. The way she took Sir John to task for his heavy-handed mentioning of Colonel Brandon is also rude, even if Sir John did not see it.
There is not much wrong with sensibility, although Jane Austen implies that sense is more to be desired. Sensibility is not sentimentality. Sentimentality came later in the Victorian era and was a perversion of sensibility – a mass-produced synthetic display of emotion. Marianne is generous, sincere, loving and amiable but she finds it hard to show moderation in anything.
At one point in the novel, Marianne sees Edward approaching and mistakes him for Willoughby; later she similarly mistakes Colonel Brandon for Willoughby. It seems strange for a woman so in love that she is unable to pick out the body style, horse, or clothes of her man even in a small crowd! No doubt, Jane Austen wants us to see that Marianne’s judgement is so clouded by her romantic outlook that she ‘fills in the blanks’ of Willoughby’s character, by culling from novels and daydreams her notions of the perfect man. It is ironic that she mistakes the truly good men for Willoughby. Perhaps they look very manly at a little distance.
Marianne and her mother have similar characters. Mrs. Dashwood is passionate and imprudent. She says: ‘I have never known what it is to separate esteem from love’. Of Marianne, Jane Austen writes: ‘She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great.’
Both sisters are clever. Two years younger than Elinor, Marianne has not yet acquired her sister's wisdom, thoughtfulness and common sense. She learns from experience. To her credit, she sometimes yields to persuasion by Elinor. But she makes an error of judgement in going off all day alone with Willoughby to look over his relative's house nearby at Allenham, which he expects to inherit.
In Marianne's distress, Elinor counsels her not to give way to grief but to think of others and 'exert' herself. 'Oh! how easy for those who have no sorrow of their own to talk of exertion! Happy, happy Elinor, you cannot have an idea of what I suffer,' says Marianne. Little does she know what Elinor herself is silently enduring.
Marianne's sensibility is not confined to the pangs of love. Like her literary heroines she cultivates an exquisite taste for poetry, music and the picturesque (as defined by Gilpin, the New Forest vicar, whose writings on the picturesque also influenced Henry Tilney's tastes). This was the time when water-colours had become a craze. Artistic tourists attempted on-the-spot watercolours to record what they saw, just as the modern tourist uses a camera. The Society of Painters in Water Colours was formed. Jane Austen enjoyed the picturesque but she could also satirise some of the theorists' ideas – even as early as when writing Lesley Castle. Marianne is full of romantic enthusiasm and innocence. It is typical that she feels she knows Willoughby fully after just one week. He has encouraged her tastes.
Marianne feels the greatest pain when slighted by Willoughby. At a party, she sees him with another woman (his future wife, Miss Sophia Grey, heiress to fifty thousand pounds).
Her face is crimsoned over, and she exclaims in a voice of the greatest emotion, 'Good God! Willoughby, what is the meaning of this? Have you not received my letters? Will you not shake hands with me?'
Elinor would never get into such a humiliating situation. She would never have written the letters Marianne wrote and she would not have betrayed emotions publicly.
At her worst, Marianne Dashwood causes distress to others, mainly because she lacks stoicism. However, we must admire the consistency with which she sticks to her principles. A sensible person will sometimes tell a white lie. Marianne would never do so.
'What a sweet woman Lady Middleton is!' said Lucy Steele.
Marianne was silent; it was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor, therefore, the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it always fell.
Elinor, confronted with the evidence (provided by Lucy herself) that Edward is engaged to Lucy Steele, can hardly stand; 'but exertion was indispensably necessary, and she struggled so resolutely against the oppression of her feelings that her success was speedy, and for the time complete'.
Sunday, 11 January 2015
In Mansfield Park, you will recall, the young people plan to mount a production of the play Lovers' Vows during the absence of Sir Thomas in Antigua.
There is nothing inherently wrong in young people wishing to indulge in theatricals. At the beginning, even Fanny is excited ‘for she had never seen even half a play’.
But they do wrong in three ways. They plan to perform a frivolous play while their father is in peril on the high seas. They cause considerable disruption to rooms and furnishings (not least their father’s own room), even though they know in their hearts that he would be displeased by this. Most wrong of all, however, is the impropriety of having the young ladies of the party act in the kinds of scenes to be found in Lovers’ Vows.
In case you may be interested in what the play is about, here is a summary for you.
In Act I, we meet Agatha who is begging breakfast from the tavern owner where she has spent her last farthing. He suggests that she beg and proceeds to show her how. The rich farmer he approaches refuses. The poor egg girl Agatha approaches has no money but promises a three-pence when she returns from selling her eggs. The third stranger is Frederick, who, recognizing Agatha's need, offers her money immediately. He is returning, on furlough from the army, in order to obtain his birth certificate. She recognizes him as her son. Agatha tells him he has no birth certificate because she was not able to name his father. Frederick demands to know who his father was and Agatha tells him. By now it is time to find shelter for the night. The tavern owner refuses to accept them as they have no money. They then request shelter at a nearby cottage. The Cottagers accept them willingly.
In Act II, during the Cottagers’ conversation, Agatha and Frederick discover that the local Baron (Frederick's father) has returned to his castle and that his wife is dead. The scene changes to the castle where the Baron is having breakfast and awaiting his guest, Count Cassel, to join him. We learn that the guest is effeminate, foolish and wealthy. Amelia, the Baron's daughter, joins her father and is very respectful. The Baron questions Amelia in order to ascertain her attitude about Count Cassel. Amelia's answers are ambiguous. He suggests that Amelia meet with Anhalt so that he can instruct her about matrimony. Count Cassel enters and greets Amelia lavishly. His conversation with both Amelia and the Baron displays a foolish conceit. Mr. Anhalt enters. Amelia and then Count Cassel leave. The Baron and Count Cassel intend to go shooting. The Baron wants Mr. Anhalt to instruct Amelia but also to ascertain her feelings about Count Cassel. Although the Baron knows Count Cassel is financially secure, he does not wish to impose him on Amelia. It must be her choice. He desires that Amelia marry so that he may have a son. There is an implication that Anhalt is also looking for the Baron's natural son. The Baron compliments Anhalt by considering that had he had a tutor as fine as Anhalt he would not have been as foolish when he was young. He might have made wiser decisions.
In Act III, the first scene has Frederick returning to his Mother, disappointed because his begging has produced such paltry results. The Baron and the Count enter the scene. The Baron is upset with the Count because his slowness has caused the dogs to lose the scent. When Frederick approaches the Baron for some money for his Mother, the Baron chastises him for begging instead of pursuing his regimental duties but he gives him a small sum. Frederick berates the Baron and insists on one dollar at least. The Baron turns to leave. Frederick seizes the Baron by the throat and demands his money or his life. The Baron calls upon the gamekeepers and they seize the soldier. The Baron orders that the man be taken to the castle and locked in a tower. Frederick begs that at least his Mother be given some money as he is dragged away. The Baron remarks upon the ‘well looking youth’ and orders one of his men to investigate the cottages to find the woman.
We move to a room in the Castle. Mr. Anhalt joins Amelia to speak to her of Count Cassel and matrimony. She wishes to hear of matrimony and when Anhalt asks of which, the good side or the bad side, Amelia chooses the good. Anhalt describes an ideal marriage state and Amelia agrees to marry. Anhalt insists that she must hear of both sides before she makes her decision. He then describes a poor marriage and Amelia says then she will not marry. Anhalt questions whether she will ever fall in love. She answers that she is in love, but not with Count Cassel. Amelia banters with Mr. Anhalt until she gets him to admit that he loves her, but that it is an impossible love – a love her father would never accept, but Amelia does not agree with this conclusion.
They are interrupted by the butler: He tells of the Baron's narrow escape and a young man's incarceration. The Baron enters. Amelia congratulates him upon his escape but the Baron is more interested in other things. He questions the two about their conversation on matrimony. Their replies confuse and irritate him and he tries to leave. Before Anhalt leaves, Amelia extracts the promise from her father that he will suffer her to be guided by her affections when considering matrimony. Amelia delays him - he thinks to plead for the young man - but she wishes to plead for two young men. The Baron leaves in exasperation. Amelia challenges the butler about how the prisoner has been fed. When she learns that his meal was bread and water, she is upset. She intends to go to the wine cellar.
Act IV begins in a prison at the castle. Frederick is alone, bemoaning his situation since arriving in his native land. Amelia approaches with a basket covered with a napkin. She offers Frederick wine and food but he begs that it be sent to his dying mother who is with the cottager, Hubert. Amelia asks if Frederick intended to kill her father and Frederick insists that he did not. Frederick asks: ‘Who is your father?’ He is shocked to discover that he has attacked his own father. Frightened by Frederick's reaction, Amelia leaves, as Anhalt enters. He tells Frederick that the Baron has investigated his story and found it to be true. The Baron is prepared to be lenient with him. Frederick requests a private meeting with the Baron. In the next scene, the Baron is anxious to know about his daughter's willingness to marry Count Cassel. Amelia hates Cassel because he had bragged about using so many women. The Baron insists that be was boasting. Amelia speaks of a case about which the butler knows the particulars. The butler verifies the story and even offers to produce the father of the girl. The Baron confronts the Count, who wonders that the Baron knows of nobody else who acted in such a way: the Baron admits that he did. The Baron says the incident was regretted, but has to admit to the Count that he lives as if nothing had happened. It was not until he matured that he realized his errors. He suggests that Count Cassel wait until he matures before he marries Amelia. Count Cassel is unwilling to do that. Amelia returns to her father and asks whom she should marry. The Baron has no answer but, of course, Amelia has. She tells her father she wishes to marry Mr. Anhalt. Anhalt joins them and Amelia leaves. He wants the Baron to see Frederick. Reluctantly, the Baron agrees and Anhalt leaves. The Baron assumes that Frederick has come to plead for his life in deference to his Mother's needs. Frederick pleads instead based on his Father's cruelty. In the discussion that ensues the Baron discovers that Frederick is his natural son. As Frederick taunts his father about the results due to his youthful indiscretion, the Baron shouts in pain. Anhalt rushes in for fear Frederick has physically attacked the Baron. The chastised Baron explains and begs Anhalt to go with Frederick to his mother and to do that which his heart decides. The Baron tells two of his servants to accompany them and to treat Frederick as if he were his son.
In Act V, in the cottage Agatha is concerned as to the whereabouts of her son and continually implores the Cottager to look out for him. The Cottager's wife does not understand why she is so upset as she has a purse of gold. Agatha continues to worry about her son but she is also confused as to why the Baron has sent her so much money. The Cottager returns to say Frederick is not in view but the new rector is and perhaps he may visit. Anhalt enters and begins to question Agatha who is reluctant to speak in front of the Cottagers. The Cottagers leave and Agatha discovers that Anhalt has been in search of her at the Baron's request. Agatha asks Anhalt who he thinks she is? His answer is 'Agatha Friburg'. When Agatha discovers from whom the purse of gold had been sent, she refuses it. She states that her honour has never been for sale. Anhalt explains that when the purse was sent, the recipient was unknown to him, the mother of a stranger begging. Neither knew the other. Also, Anhalt explains how it was that the Baron was separated from her. Agatha asks the whereabouts of Frederick and Anhalt answers that he is at the castle. Agatha asks whether the Baron and his son know one another now. Anhalt confirms they do but he does not know how they fare. Anhalt tells Agatha that the Baron wishes her to come to the castle. As they leave, the purse of gold is given to the Cottagers in payment for their generous spirit. Back at the castle, the Baron tells Frederick that he is to be acknowledged as his son and his heir. Frederick asks what is to become of his mother. The Baron says Agatha shall be given her own estate to be used as she wishes. Frederick asks by what name shall she so live and in what capacity. The Baron says that can be settled later. Frederick requests permission to leave but states that his fate will never be separated from his mother's. He leaves. The Baron tells Anhalt that his conscience and himself are at variance. Anhalt replies that conscience is always right. The Baron then reviews his actions. He has accepted Frederick as his son and heir and asks Anhalt if he did right. Anhalt agrees. Anhalt insists that the Baron must marry Agatha. The Baron resists. Anhalt makes the Baron agree that Agatha was always virtuous; that he pledged his honour; and that he called on God as his witness. Anhalt points out that that Witness sees him now. And that it is in the Baron's power to redeem his pledge by marrying Agatha and his reward will be the sweetness that Agatha will bring into his life. The Baron agrees to the marriage, but Anhalt is not yet finished. He asks, ‘Where is the wedding to be?’ When the Baron replies that it will be in the castle. Anhalt objects and says that the wedding must take place before the village. The Baron consents. Amelia enters and the Baron tells her that she has a brother and that she has lost one-half her inheritance. Amelia takes both statements complacently. Amelia and Anhalt are rewarded by the Baron's consent to their betrothal. The Baron must now see Agatha; and he does so reluctantly. But when they meet Agatha forgives him - and everyone lives happily ever after!
Thursday, 8 January 2015
Fanny Price did not just happen to lack robustness. Jane Austen embraced the challenge of depicting a girl who was puny and yet who would prove her worth through her behaviour.
At ten, Fanny is small of her age, with no glow of complexion, nor any other striking beauty; exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice. She is on the verge of tears during her early hours at Mansfield Park. Her homesickness and sense of being out of place are exacerbated by the admonitions of Mrs. Norris.
However, Fanny is not colourless and weak. Jane Austen triumphs in making her gentleness and seeming pliability vessels of steadiness and truth.
When she reaches the age of fifteen and is expected to be transferred to Mrs. Norris's house, Edmund (now 21) approves of the idea. At this age, she has no sense of self- worth:
‘I can never be important to anyone.'
'What is to prevent you?'
'Every thing – my situation – my foolishness and awkwardness.'
Fanny's unrequited love for Edmund, who regards her merely as a little step-sister, causes her years of suspense and suffering, particularly while she witnesses his infatuation with Mary Crawford. Mary's chatter grates on Edmund (though it brings a chuckle to the reader); yet Mary's ready sympathies, her discreet admirations, her touch of exoticism, her delight in music and her endless physical grace make her seductive – pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself; and both placed near a window cut down to the ground and opening on a little lawn surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer... . (Jane Austen may have been including a tease for her harp-playing niece Fanny as she wrote these words.) What a wonderful paragraph this is! It explains perfectly how Edmund and Mary fall into their superficial kind of love. Mary, without being able to ‘understand it’, senses that she is succumbing to his sincerity and steadiness, despite his dullness and inability to amuse her with the frivolous small talk she enjoys. Edmund has only to watch and listen to pretty Mary playing the harp in the picturesque setting in order to lose his heart.
The contrast between Mary's disposition towards Edmund and Fanny's true devotion is shown by Fanny's reaction to the letters she receives from Mary:
The woman who could speak of him, and speak only of his appearance! What an unworthy attachment! To be deriving support from the commendations of Mrs. Fraser! She who had known him intimately half a year! Fanny was ashamed of her.
To Fanny at least, some moments are evocative of courtship – moments when she and Edmund share opinions, reactions and emotions. When Edmund insists on providing Fanny with a mare for exercise, her gratitude solidifies her respect for him into something more than a teenage crush.
Even their response to Miss Crawford may be seen in this light:
'...was there nothing in her conversation, Fanny, as not quite right?'
'Oh! Yes, she ought not to have spoken of her uncle as she did. I was quite astonished. An uncle with whom she has been living so many years.... .'
'I thought you would be struck. It was very wrong – very indecorous.'
Fanny regards her cousin as an example of every thing good and great, as possessing worth which no one but herself could ever appreciate, and as entitled to such gratitude from her as no feelings could be strong enough to pay. Her sentiments towards him are said to be compounded of all that was respectful, grateful, confiding, and tender. It is a pity that Edmund is not the person who notices that Fanny needs a fire in her room!
Fanny's perfections are contrasted with Mary's selfish frivolity. Unfortunately, Fanny can seem stuffy in the comparison. G. B. Stern (in Talking of Jane Austen ) says 'Fanny was a prig. All her inward struggles, therefore, the perpetual shredding and the tedding of her conscience, leave me faintly impatient. A little less of it would have been enough, and might have left her more time to mend that torn carpet which was such a permanent affliction in her poor mother's temper ... ' but by sitting upstairs with Susan, Fanny avoided the disturbance of the house.
If she does not repair a carpet, at least Fanny makes Sam's shirts. And she does not exult in being proved right. Over the theatricals, she feels as guilty as the others, whom she pities.
Miss Stern also notes with disappointment that Fanny is always weary: 'it is hard to understand quite what is the matter with Fanny's health, though all through Mansfield Park she is perpetually being told to rest, to keep her feet up, to go to bed before the others, to take a little careful exercise but not too much'.
She concludes that Fanny must be an exhibitionist, enjoying having Edmund fussing about her. However, life expectancy at the time was low. Fanny lived when many girls were far less robust than the average young person today.
Fanny is certainly not a complete paragon. If she had been, she surely would not have cruelly told Edmund that Mary Crawford had half-hoped that Tom’s illness would prove fatal.
Monday, 5 January 2015
What makes the English stoical? It has something to do with England’s status as an island. Renaissance-inspired stoicism certainly stuck. The English were brought up to maintain the stiff upper lip, to suffer in silence, to consider that what matters is playing the game rather than winning. National heroes were not so much those who succeeded but rather those who lost their lives while failing. Think of Captain Scott.
My Latin teacher (John Gore) many decades ago instilled in us the maxim of Horace: 'Nihil admirari' (roughly meaning that we should let nothing shock or disturb us). It behoved the Englishman to be undemonstrative. This is why the English seem aloof and feel embarrassed if the conversation takes a continental turn.
In Jane Austen's novels, there are no Captain Scotts. It is the ladies who are presented as stoical - Fanny, Anne, Elinor, even Elizabeth and Emma for moments; but I suppose this is inevitable, given that the novels are essentially about what goes on in the minds of the ladies.
Saturday, 3 January 2015
The heroine of Northanger Abbey had to be an ordinary girl from a homely family, to contrast with the characters in the gothic novels satirized. Catherine's 'family were plain matter-of-fact people, who seldom aimed at wit of any kind; her father, at the utmost, being contented with a pun ...'. Catherine Morland's father is just right. Unlike gothic father-figures, he is 'not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters'. He is respectable 'though his name was Richard – and he had never been handsome'. Jane's own father may have been a model. Mr. Morland is a clergyman with two livings and adequate resources. He tutors his daughter in writing and the arithmetic necessary to housekeeping. When she sets off for Bath, he prudently does not give her unlimited funds but only ten guineas, with a promise of more when she needs it.
To the seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland, brought up in a peaceful Wiltshire parsonage, ancient mysteries, dungeons and villains – found amidst sublime mountain scenery – were self-evidently thrilling. Invited to a place called 'Northanger Abbey', she dreams of cloisters, 'long damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel' and hopes for memorials to 'an injured and ill-fated nun'.
She is disappointed. What she finds are modernizations, such as the fireplace 'contracted to a Rumford.’ This 'improvement' of General Tilney's is modern indeed. It was an ornamental cast-iron stove invented by the American-born Sir Benjamin Thompson (1753-1814). He had been created Count von Rumford for his services to the Elector of Bavaria. (Incidentally, in 1799 the Count founded the Royal Institution in Albemarle Street.)
In gothic novels 'all the dirty work' in abbeys or castles 'was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost'; but at Northanger Abbey, Catherine is amazed at the 'number of servants continually appearing ... Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsey, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off’.
In gothic novels 'all the dirty work' in abbeys or castles 'was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost'; but at Northanger Abbey, Catherine is amazed at the 'number of servants continually appearing ... Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsey, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off’.
The plot highlights the contrasts between real life and the gothic conventions. When Catherine sees Henry with 'a fashionable and pleasing-looking young woman, who leant on his arm', she does not faint from jealousy or assume 'a deathlike paleness'; she guesses correctly that the woman is his sister. And when Henry's brother Captain Tilney appears, we are assured he will not be Henry's rival and kidnap Catherine. He is no 'instigator of the three villains in horsemen's great coats, by whom she will hereafter be forced into a travelling-chaise and four, which will drive off with incredible speed’.
Jane Austen enjoyed making fun of the historiette, the 'story-within-the-story' whereby a newly-introduced character monopolizes several chapters with woeful autobiography. She satirized this device in her juvenile work Jack and Alice. So in Northanger Abbey, introducing Mrs. Thorpe at the end of Chapter 4, Jane Austen offers a mock apology for being unable to interpolate 'a long and minute detail from Mrs. Thorpe herself, of her past adventures and sufferings, which might otherwise be expected to occupy the three or four following chapters; in which the worthlessness of lords and attorneys might be set forth, and conversations, which had passed twenty years before, be minutely repeated.' Instead she summarizes Mrs. Thorpe's entire life in two sentences!
Thursday, 1 January 2015
Tuesday, 30 December 2014
Like Mr.Bennet, Mary Crawford has the best lines.
Sir Thomas’s return will make possible two events that Mary considers less than sensible: the marriage of Maria to Rushworth, and the ordination of Edmund. She wittily says Sir Thomas puts her in mind of old heathen heroes, who after performing great exploits in a foreign land, offered sacrifices to the gods on their safe return. After being told that the domestic chaplain has been made redundant at Sotherton, she comments: Every generation has its improvements. Her flippant humour is always amusing but there is nothing malicious in it. As she says herself, I was merely joking.
She also – like Jane Austen herself – obviously enjoys making literary jokes. Her clever poetic parody about Sir Thomas (in Chapter 17) could not have been made up on the spur of the moment. It is well crafted: she must have first worked on it privately and for her own amusement.
Her sharp wit is also exercised in some straightforward, perceptive insights that – however apparent to the reader – seem to need pointing out to the other characters. One such is I fancy Miss Price has been more used to deserve praise than to hear it. Later, Edmund reports that she made the shrewd observation that Fanny seemed almost as fearful of notice and praise as other women were of neglect.
Both the Crawfords – Mary and her brother Henry – enjoy trying to break down the resistance of attractive members of the opposite sex. Henry, of course, yearns to make Fanny adore him. Similarly, Mary considers the joy ‘exquisite’ when she succeeds in making Edmund yield and take part in the theatricals after all: I never knew such exquisite happiness…. His sturdy spirit to bend as it did. Oh! It was sweet beyond expression.
However, Mary is kind and sensitive in her dealings with Fanny, especially in Chapter 15, when she goes to sit by her because Fanny is almost in tears after being attacked from all sides (for declining to take part in the play). She extends this kindness by later persuading Mrs. Grant to take the part in the play that the others were trying to force on Fanny. She performs a further act of kindness when she tries to comfort Rushworth in his jealousy by telling him that Maria looks so maternal. And she is sincerely happy when led to believe Henry will marry Fanny, even though she knows the match would be a little beneath him.
But poor good-hearted Mary is condemned in the end, after Henry’s elopement with Maria. She is not allowed to appear in person. Instead, her attitude to the indiscretion is reported starchily by Edmund. Yet, given Mary’s natural good-humour, flippancy, cynicism about marriage and tendency to see the sexes as equally to blame, it is possible to interpret her views as remarkably modern and realistic.
Wit and flippancy form no part of Fanny’s discourse. Little surprise that Edmund resists Fanny’s temptation to go on to the lawn and study astronomy but prefers to join the sing-song with Mary round the fortepiano.
Sunday, 28 December 2014
Think of the memorable strawberry-picking scene at Donwell (in Jane Austen's novel Emma).
Where is Miss Bates?
We hear nothing of her. We know - from a reference by Jane Fairfax - that she is there somewhere; but Jane Austen has, as it were, switched her off! Previously, the white noise of Miss Bates has swamped us at crucial moments. But now we need to give our attention to what is going on with Jane Fairfax.