Posts tagged with "jane austen" - Faerye Net 2010-10-23T11:57:18+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Austenian theories 2010-10-23T11:57:18+00:00 2010-10-23T11:57:58+00:00 <p><strong>Theory #1: Your favorite Austen novel has a heroine whose personality is akin to yours.</strong> It has long been my theory that which Austen novel one prefers could be used as a personality category. Perhaps not as useful as Myers-Briggs, but useful all the same. In truth, I have not collected enough data to support or disprove, and since I formulated this theory in my teens, I am willing to confess I may have been more motivated by a desire to compare myself to Elizabeth Bennet than by the demands of purest science.</p> <p><strong>Theory #2: You can determine your favorite Austen novel by rereading any of the others.</strong> This is especially important if #1 is to be believed: we need a way of experimentally determining someone&#8217;s favorite, rather than trusting them when they say &#8220;Oh, not <em>Emma</em>,&#8221; thinking <em>I don&#8217;t want Felicity to say I&#8217;m an Emma!</em> This I only recently realized. Every time I reread another Austen novel, I find myself longing to reread <em>Pride and Prejudice</em> as soon as I finish. Therefore, whether or not #1 allows me to flatter myself, <em>Pride and Prejudice</em> must be my real favorite.</p> <p>Of course, since I just came up with #2, I&#8217;ve no idea whether this longing occurs to anyone else. Well? Gentle reader, my eagerness to hear your views can well be imagined.</p> "Only a novel!" Part I 2010-10-14T15:05:38+00:00 2010-10-14T15:11:30+00:00 <center><a href="" title="Only a Novel Part I illo by Felicity Shoulders, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="374" alt="photo of 2 books, Room of One's Own and Northanger Abbey, and a postcard of a satirical etching of reading women from 19th c." border="0" /></a><br /> <em>A Room of One&#8217;s Own, Northanger Abbey,</em> and a postcard from the <a href="" target="links">Lit Chicks</a> exhibition.</center> <blockquote>Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote, I thought, looking at <em>Antony and Cleopatra</em>; and when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they may mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare, and for that reason Jane Austen pervades every word that she wrote, and so does Shakespeare.<br /> -Virginia Woolf, <em>A Room of One&#8217;s Own</em></blockquote> <p>Whenever anyone mentions Austen and Shakespeare in a breath &#8211; and they often do &#8211; I think of this section of <em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780156030410'>A Room of One&#8217;s Own</a></em>. Above you see the heart of Woolf&#8217;s comparison. Of Shakespeare she earlier writes, &#8220;All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world the witness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him and consumed.&#8221; In Chapter Four, she argues that many female writers&#8217; work is distorted with bitterness and anger at the oppression they have suffered as well as hampered by those obstacles. But Austen, she says, was unharmed as an artist.</p> <p>It would be easy enough to argue with Woolf&#8217;s entire line of reasoning. In modern novels, digressions such as the example she quotes from <em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780955881800'>Jane Eyre</a></em>, where she decries the restraints on women (&#8220;&#8230;they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer&#8230;&#8221;) may not be seen as detracting. One might say that in an age when the model of the artist as genius has retreated, it&#8217;s hard to argue that this writer or that writer &#8220;got his work expressed completely&#8221; as she does of Shakespeare, or that a work which has digressions on the oppression and circumscription of women is growing outside some knowable and natural platonic shape, putting out tumors of misshapen anger. The idea of self-perfected artists putting forth perfect art, however appealing it may be to Austen and Shakespeare devot&eacute;es like myself, seems a little improbable today.</p> <p>The <a href="" target="links">Multnomah County Library</a> exhibit I <a href="" target="links">discussed yesterday</a> classed Austen with Shakespeare in the first case of objects, thus bringing this whole line of thinking irresistibly to mind. As I proceeded, I thought about the exception to Woolf&#8217;s praise of Austen that I&#8217;d recently discovered, and in Case 3 of the exhibition, there was the very quote I had in mind!</p> <p>You see, I recently reread <em><a href='' title='' rel='powells'>Northanger Abbey</a></em> and realized that Austen isn&#8217;t entirely &#8220;without bitterness&#8221; and &#8220;without preaching&#8221;. Her later books, quite possibly, but in <em>Northanger Abbey</em>, her first completed, she hadn&#8217;t yet fired it all out and consumed it. And certainly, she doesn&#8217;t express any fiery frustration at the lot of Woman. No, her ire is for the oppressors of the Novel! I will quote at length:</p> <blockquote>Yes, novels; — for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding — joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens — <strong>there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. &#8220;I am no novel-reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.&#8221; Such is the common cant. &#8220;And what are you reading, Miss — ?&#8221; &#8220;Oh! It is only a novel!&#8221; replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. &#8220;It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda&#8221;; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.</strong> Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation, which no longer concern any one living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favorable idea of the age that could endure it.<br /> -Jane Austen, <em>Northanger Abbey</em><br /> [emphasis mine, to show the approximate quote used in the Library&#8217;s exhibition]</blockquote> <p>Here is a digression indeed! And every bit as long, I judge, as the passage in <em>Jane Eyre</em> Virginia Woolf disapproves (though Austen has placed it at the end of a chapter, thus escaping the &#8220;awkward break&#8221; whereby Woolf declares Bront&euml;&#8217;s &#8220;continuity is disturbed.&#8221;)</p> <p>Now perhaps even the scrupulous Woolf would pardon Austen&#8217;s vigorous asides in defense of the novel, since they come throughout <em>Northanger Abbey</em> and the perusal of novels does figure quite prominently in the plot, albeit not in the a uniformly positive light. But it seems that Austen was not entirely unscratched by the hardness of the world, and did pick a fight or two. Of course, by standing up for the respectability and literary worth of the novel, she was joining a battle in which she could make a difference: one you could fairly say that she won.</p> <p><em>I digress still further &#8211; and perhaps engage in preaching and bitterness? &#8211; in the stunning conclusion to &#8220;Only a novel!&#8221;. Stay tuned!</em></p> Anomalous Austen 2010-10-13T16:25:28+00:00 2010-10-14T14:48:40+00:00 <p>If you&#8217;re in Portland this Fall and have an interest in literary history or Jane Austen, I recommend stopping by <a href="">this exhibit</a> upstairs at Central Library, &#8220;Lit Chicks: Verbal and Visual Satire in the Age of Jane Austen&#8221;. (There&#8217;s a reception Thursday, October 28, 4:30–6 p.m &#8212; sadly, I will be out of town at a convention.)</p> <p>My friend Kelley and I stopped by here the other day for a quick peek, and I definitely want to go back. This is part of the description the library gives:</p> <blockquote>This exhibition puts Jane Austen and women writers of her time in context by displaying manuscript letters and first editions of plays, poetry, and early epistolary &#8220;novels&#8221; written by Austen&#8217;s predecessors, as well as first editions of novels by Austen and women writers who were inspired by her. Women&#8217;s periodicals of the day, items from Regency-period life, and later Austen editions and biographies add to the context.</blockquote> <p>This immediately reminded me of Joanna Russ&#8217;s <em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780292724457'>How to Suppress Women&#8217;s Writing</a></em>, which I read last year. In Chapter 8, &#8220;Anomalousness&#8221;, Russ writes that one of the various ways in which women&#8217;s writing is dismissed and winnowed from the literary canon is by rendering it &#8220;anomalous&#8221; or singular. Single works by remarkable authors are isolated &#8212; I daresay many people with BAs in English don&#8217;t know that Charlotte Bront&euml; wrote not one novel, but <a href="">four and a half</a>. But more importantly, perhaps, and more pervasively, those authors who cannot be forgotten or expunged are themselves rendered singular: the long line of female writers that emboldened an Austen or a Bront&euml; to pick up her pen, and moreover to seek publication, are removed.</p> <p>Russ quotes Claudia Van Gerven&#8217;s paper on &#8220;Lost Literary Traditions&#8221; (which, in a painful irony, I cannot find):<br /> <blockquote>&#8230;the inclusion of only the most extraordinary women [but not only the most extraordinary men]…distorts the relevance of those few women…who remain. Since women are so often thus isolated in anthologies…they seem odd, unconventional, and therefore, a little trivial…</blockquote> (bracketed note in Russ)</p> <p>and further:<br /> <blockquote>Since women writers are thus isolated, they often do not fit into the literary historian&#8217;s &#8220;coherent view of the total literary culture.&#8221;…As each succeeding generation of women…is excluded from the literary record, the connections between women…writers become more and more obscure, which in turn simply justifies the exclusion of more and more women on the grounds that they are anomalous&#8212;they just don&#8217;t fit in.</blockquote></p> <p>I remember my undergraduate class on British Writers, which I believe covered up to 1800, and I can&#8217;t recall a single work by a woman that I read in it. I was pleased to fill in gaps in my literary knowledge: I read works, like <em>Paradise Lost</em> and <em>Faustus</em>, and even <em>Rape of the Lock</em>, which are often referred to or quoted elsewhere. Most of these gave me little reading pleasure. Most of them (sorry, Marlowe fans &#8212; and yes, I know the text we have is mangled) did not seem to my subjective eye &#8220;great&#8221;. And yet they are assigned, recognized, mulled over: canonized.</p> <p>Just as Van Gerven says, the male writer appears to us in a family tree. The female writer does not &#8212; and as a result there are richnesses and allusions made by the few &#8220;remarkable&#8221; women in canon that the averagely educated reader will not spot. The goddesses of our recorded literature, emerging &#8220;like Athena from the head of Jove&#8221; as Russ says (I would have gone with Zeus), are without mothers, without sisters.</p> <p>So let&#8217;s see that quote from the library again:<br /> <blockquote>This exhibition puts Jane Austen and women writers of her time in context by displaying manuscript letters and first editions of plays, poetry, and early epistolary &#8220;novels&#8221; written by Austen&#8217;s predecessors, as well as first editions of novels by Austen and women writers who were inspired by her. Women&#8217;s periodicals of the day, items from Regency-period life, and later Austen editions and biographies add to the context.</blockquote></p> <p>You can&#8217;t read the copy of <em>Camilla</em> on display, nor indeed <em>Lover&#8217;s Vows</em>, but there&#8217;s something thrilling about seeing so much context, so much evidence (not to mention the voyeuristic thrill of reading these authors&#8217; letters and judging their penmanship). And who knows, maybe a few of the visitors, some of the more Austen-mad perhaps, will track down one of <a href=",+fanny&searchscope=1&sortdropdown=-&SORT=D&extended=0&SUBMIT=Search&searchlimits=&searchorigarg=aedgeworth,+maria" target="links">Frances Burney</a>&#8216;s books, or <a href=",+maria&searchscope=1&sortdropdown=-&SORT=D&extended=0&SUBMIT=Search&searchlimits=&searchorigarg=aBurney,+Fanny,+1752-1840" target="links">Maria Edgeworth</a>&#8217;s. Maybe the enduring appeal of Athena can drag her handmaidens and midwives out into the light.</p>