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View Diary: Books Go Boom!   Jane Austen's 'Emma' (271 comments)

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  •  Well, I love Austen and I haven't every "studied" (26+ / 0-)

    her, so my thoughts are generally my own.

    I agree that her language is amazing and she paints delightful and often quite devastating portraits of people in her novels. They generally seem to avoid cliche or cardboard one-sidedness; often heros and heroines are clearly flawed and often can't really overcome their flaws readily or even ever.

    The one novel in which I find the characters the least enjoyable is Mansfield Park: Edmund is a prig and Fanny is a wimp. :-) It's very very preachy. It still has its enjoyable moments, and the Misses Bertram are certainly enjoyable. In that book, the "bad" characters are the most interesting.

    I love the beginning of Sanditon and I think it would have been wonderful had it been finished. Characters of minor folly and minor virtue get painted but there is no chance for their development or resolution.

    It's odd to me that a critique that she isn't exploring issues outside her own sphere is taken seriously. Are you kidding? She came from a particular social stratum, she had minor romance in her life, she lived through some serious financial hardships, illness and the folly of family members herself. Why on earth would she be writing novels of war or industry or urban poverty, or exposing some injustice in journalistic fashion like Normal Mailer?

    It isn't so much that she "avoids" brutal subjects: other than as a witness to their impact, she has no firsthand experience of them.

    I generally have a lower tolerance of "mannism" in writing: DH Lawrence, Henry Miller, Hemingway, stuff of that ilk. That isn't to say I don't enjoy male authors because I absolutely do. But sometimes the "masculinity" of the style and content has nowhere to resonate within my interests or experience.

    Lady Susan is hilarious as a fairly over-the-top epistolary story, and I think gives clues to the sort of thing she lampoons more gently elsewhere, both in literature as well as in life.

    •  Exactly. I was going to comment that Austen (28+ / 0-)

      wrote about what she knew. And that was the gentle middle.

      What sets her work apart was how clearly she was able to see what she knew. Below the surface, above it, around it, she was able to see all of the wonder of the everyday. Clearly and lovingly.

      •  Yet you can see hints of her awareness (9+ / 0-)

        of the rest of the world and its problems.

        Austen does not flaunt it, but she mentions slavery, for example, very negatively (even Mrs. Elton is against it).  

        Austen is especially aware of the challenges faced by women and the few options available to them.  From Pride & Prejudice:

        Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.
        Even though Maria Rushworth and Henry Crawford are equally guilty in their affair in Mansfield Park, Austen recognizes that they are not equally punished:
        That punishment, the public punishment of disgrace, should in a just measure attend his share of the offence is, we know, not one of the barriers which society gives to virtue.
        In Persuasion there is a lovely passage which shows how women's voices have been silenced:
        Captain Harville: "...I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman's inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman's fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men."

        "Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."

        "But how shall we prove anything?"

        "We never shall. We never can expect to prove any thing upon such a point. It is a difference of opinion which does not admit of proof. We each begin, probably, with a little bias towards our own sex; and upon that bias build every circumstance in favour of it which has occurred within our own circle; many of which circumstances (perhaps those very cases which strike us the most) may be precisely such as cannot be brought forward without betraying a confidence, or in some respect saying what should not be said."

        Despite this, Austen makes it clear that she still values the men in her life.  She is full of love and even tolerance for the most flawed among us.  As Mr. Knightley thinks about Emma, "faultless despite her faults."

        by chloris creator on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 06:42:07 AM PST

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        •  Austen is remarkably sanguine; her faith in virtue (6+ / 0-)

          romance and happiness is medicinal to us, her readers. She sees how universally we are flawed, and loves almost all humanity anyway. Shakespeare shared this insight and faith.

          You're way ahead of me, on unpacking Austen. I saw your comment at bottom - but I'd already discovered your book, after reading this comment. I was intrigued by your knowledge and opinions, checked your diaries to see what you'd written on books, opened So Many White Queens Means No Jam, and discovered your Highbury Murders there. Kudos.

          Without the research you've done, without even reading every Austen, I feel mostly in the dark. I can infer parts of Austen's own views, but she generally expresses them obliquely. Thanks for your quotes here; all you say seems sound.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 12:35:50 PM PST

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    •  The defense of Fanny is that she was raised in a (19+ / 0-)

      subservient position, and would have just taken it. "They generally seem to avoid cliche or cardboard one-sidedness" - yes, Austen has a great instinct for what's natural and authentic. I enjoyed Mansfield Park, though it lacks the effervescence of other Austens. I felt that Fanny did have spark, but mostly in her consciousness, not her actions. The book had a bit more darkness and danger in it.

      The critique of Austen cuts both ways. I think a lot of men get bored of Austen, because they want adventure and heroism. But I bet some of them are emotionally shallow, and can't even see a fraction of the depth and heart in Austen. She paints her perfect ivory miniatures, and all they see are fiddly little doodles.

      For myself, I'm more curious to what extent she was trapped in conventional moral frames, and how far she really saw beyond polite English society. But that's a huge and tricky subject, which I've only just started to consider. I'm sure there are already books on it.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 06:58:48 PM PST

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    •  Brecht: (12+ / 0-)

      what badscience said.

      Thanks, badscience!

      Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

      by Youffraita on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 10:21:03 PM PST

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