The Hidden Jane Austen, by John Wiltshire—A Review

The Hidden Jane Austen, by John Wiltshire (2014 )From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP: 

What is it about Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park or any other of Jane Austen’s novels that draws readers in and then keeps them coming back again and again, even though they already know what is going to happen? In The Hidden Jane Austen, Australian Austen scholar John Wiltshire argues that the answer to this question lies in two related features of the novels. Firstly, Austen displays a keen comprehension of human behavior in all its complicated, messy manifestations—in particular, the way that humans misinterpret or misremember events in their efforts to build identities, establish and maintain relationships, and find a place in community. Secondly, Austen crafts her narratives with these human behaviors in mind, making them central elements not only to characterization, but also to plot structure. But she does this in such a way that requires her readers to “keep up”—meaning they have to be attentive not only to what is on the page at hand, but to what was on all the other pages before, and even to what wasn’t on any page at all, the silences that are provoking in their ambiguity. For it is in the unspoken that readers find the “hidden” Elizabeth or Fanny or, indeed, the “hidden Jane Austen” herself, the master writer relying on readers to pay attention.

To illustrate his thesis, Wiltshire conducts a psychoanalytic study for each of the six major novels, which basically means he tries to uncover the underlying motivations for character behavior. His angle for Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice is memory and attentiveness. Why, for example, does Catherine Morland forget John Thorpe’s clumsy marriage proposal hint, but internalize all too thoroughly Henry Tilney’s playful ghost stories? Simple, she was in love with Henry, not John (18). This same principle of memory is explored more deeply in Pride and Prejudice, a novel whose intelligent heroine somehow misinterprets and misremembers all too frequently. But Darcy is guilty of this too, although he is kinder to Elizabeth than she is to him (64). Wiltshire argues that it’s Austen’s memory games that make these two playful novels so pleasing to readers and re-readers—especially to those interested in finding out how they too were so easily mislead.

The chapter on Sense and Sensibility is a fascinating character study of Elinor Dashwood and the way in which silence is both imposed on Elinor and used by her to wage war against her romantic rival, Lucy Steele. Wiltshire highlights the harshness of this novel’s setting and the ways in which Elinor’s manipulation of others mirrors that of Lucy. Even more fascinating is Wiltshire’s claim that while the narrative approves of Elinor’s use of concealment, it nonetheless reveals Austen’s anger at society for requiring levels of duplicity which, in turn, compromise one’s moral integrity (50).

Equally fascinating are the two chapters dedicated to Mansfield Park. The first focuses on Mrs. Norris—Austen’s most glorious villain. While Wiltshire isn’t interested in exculpating Mrs. Norris, he is happy to piece together her back-story in an effort to explain her behavior. What he offers is a delicious psychological theory of sibling rivalry and coping mechanisms. He writes, “[Mrs. Norris] needs continuous self-soothing and self-appeasing, and that is because in her deepest sense of herself she is a victim” (89). If this is true of Mrs. Norris, what can be said of Fanny Price? His second chapter on Mansfield Park answers that question, tackling superbly the age-old critiques of Austen’s most underappreciated heroine by pin-pointing the tell-tale signs of her coping behavior: over-compensation, self-abasement, psychosomatic ailments, and, of course, passivity (98-100). But rather than these making Fanny into the obsequious niece both Mrs. Norris and Sir Thomas expect her to be, Fanny manages to resist their bullying, because she isn’t half as blind to the sins of others as they are to her virtues. But—and this is Wiltshire’s point—she has to resist without showing all of her cards, without, that is, exposing the forbidden love she has for her cousin Edmund. Because of this delicate balancing act, Fanny is misread, both by other characters and by readers (115).

In his last two chapters, Wiltshire explores the role that overhearing plays in Emma and Persuasion. Overhearing implies attentiveness to others, particularly to what they say. But what one thinks one hears (and sees, for that matter) may not match what is actually being said (or seen) due to the interference of one’s own preconceived notions or personal desires. In Emma, this discrepancy is used to comedic effect, as a way to educate the heroine on her own flawed reading of the world. What is brilliant about Wiltshire’s exploration of this is how he highlights Austen’s construction of the miscommunications. He does this with Persuasion, as well; but in that novel the attentiveness to the speech of others is accented, Wiltshire says, by Anne Eliot’s “chronic depression” (147). At first, this may seem a startling diagnosis, but to support it he carefully analyzes Austen’s structuring of her last completed novel. In the first half of the story, Anne has a recessed presence, and her silence and exhaustion contrast sharply with Wentworth’s confidence and activity (153-154). This contrast must soften in the second half of the story in order for Anne to have a successful end, which is why, Wiltshire argues, that Austen realized she had to revise the original conclusion. In order for the psychology to be right, Anne had to finally emerge from her depression by gaining her voice (162).

As Wiltshire points out most overtly in the Mansfield Park chapters, Austen’s eighteenth century Enlightenment-influenced Anglican spirituality plays an important role in shaping the psychology of her novels. She accents self-reflection in such a way that it becomes key to understanding the internal moral lives of her heroines and heroes (91). Wiltshire deftly balances his academic expertise with his clear, often poetic, writing style. Best of all, in rooting his psychoanalysis of the novels in discussions about Austen’s crafting of narrative structure, he models for Austen fans of all backgrounds the way to conduct credible dialogues on their favorite characters. His views are modern and original, and not one chapter failed to inspire in me a greater appreciation for Austen’s masterful portrayal of human nature. That is why I give this excellent book, whose best points I have barely highlighted here, five out of five Regency Stars and recommend it as the best book on Austen I have read all year.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Hidden Jane Austen, by John Wiltshire
Cambridge University Press (2014)
Hardcover (204) pages
ISBN: 978-1107061873

Cover image courtesy of Cambridge University Press © 2014, text Br. Paul Byrd, OP © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jane Austen and Names, by Maggie Lane – A Review

Jane Austen and Names, by Maggie Lane (2014 )From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

It seems only natural that an author would be interested in names. My writer friends collect interesting names for future characters and are constantly putting together different combinations. A young Jane Austen playfully tried out a selection of husband names for herself in her father’s parish register of marriages. Expectant parents pour over lists of baby names and struggle to find just the right one. As Maggie Lane points out in the introduction, “The pleasure of choosing names for progeny is one that maiden aunts normally forfeit. But not Jane Austen.” Jane Austen and Names explores her choice of character names and what these choices reveal about the culture she lived in. We also learn about Austen’s personal likes and dislikes through excerpts from her letters.

Ms. Lane begins with a chapter titled, “A Brief History of Names” in which she outlines the changing “common stock” of English Christian names. Names are drawn from a variety of sources and each name has an origin and meaning. The author asserts that these are much less important to most name choosers (parents and authors) than the cyclical rise and fall of names on the social scale. The following describes the cycle that applies as much to our current-day name choices as it did to Regency England. Continue reading

Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Susan J. Wolfson – A Review

Northanger Abbey An Annotated Edition by Jane Austen edited by Susan J. Wolfson 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

Harvard University Press is seriously spoiling me. With the release of Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, they have now produced five glitzy coffee table editions of Jane Austen’s major novels. What true Janeite could possibly pass up an unabridged first edition text, an extensive introduction and notes by an Austen scholar, full-color illustrations, over-sized hardcover format and copious supplemental material – all wrapped up in a beautifully designed package? Not me!

I have enjoyed all of the editions in this annotated series so far, with only one exception. I am greedy. I want more annotation and was quite annoyed when I turned a page of a previous edition and saw white space in the sidebar columns instead of text. Such a waste when there is so much to write about and Janeites and newbies are eager and grateful readers. The first thing I did when I cracked open this new edition was to skim for the dreaded white space. It looked plump and promising.

Northanger Abbey is indeed the wallflower of Austen’s oeuvre. Like its young heroine Catherine Morland, it is a naïve, wide eyed debutant in comparison to its light, bright and sparkling older sister Pride and Prejudice. My heart sinks to admit it, but it is true. While readers continually rank it as one of Jane Austen’s least popular novels, I think it is one of her hidden gems—highly under-rated and completely satisfying. I find its exuberant humor laugh-out-loud funny, hunky hero Henry Tilney witty and irresistibly charming, and the spooky Gothic parody brilliant. Why is my reaction so different to the average reader’s? Knowledge. It is extremely helpful to be able to place the novel in social context and to understand Austen’s layered tongue-in-cheek underpinnings. That’s where this new annotated edition comes in handy. I believe that editor Susan J. Wolfson has pulled together a masterpiece.

Thomas Hearne, View of Bath from Spring Garden (1790)

Thomas Hearne (1744-1817) View of Bath from Spring Gardens (1790)

In her 60 page introduction (including 7 pages of notes listing references sited) Wolfson takes us on an illuminating journey through the challenges Austen faced on the road to publication of Northanger Abbey—the first novel that Austen wrote in her twenties—and the last to be published after her death in December 1817.

“…the novel is an odd repository, of strange, uneven power…it has her youngest, most inexperienced, “strange, unaccountable” heroine, a girl “in the bloom of seventeen,” ushered by a mature, self-possessed narrator, and the only heroine, moreover, sent into the busy world, with promise and peril. On these pressure points and risky cross-purposes, Austen involved an amusing but conceptually complex relay of genres: a romantic comedy of manners and a parody of its conventions; a spoof of the gothic that also harbored an evident enjoyment of it—along with a glance at its credible language for anxieties that rational society won’t admit.” (Introduction, 10)

Wolfson also elaborates upon historical context, Austen contemporaries, biographical background, her writing and publication career, and analysis of the novel formerly known as Susan, which would posthumously be renamed Northanger Abbey when it was published by John Murray in late 1817.

I found the introduction accessible and enlightening, the illustration well-chosen, with an equal mix of the familiar and the surprising, and the annotation refreshingly unpedantic. Readers new to Northanger Abbey will be taken on a heroine’s adventure of discovery, and those familiar with the path will be equally delighted to make their appearance in the Lower Rooms with Henry Tilney or frightened with Catherine Morland as she reads The Mysteries of Udolpho at Northanger Abbey.

Catharine Moreland Character Sketches of Romance, Fiction and the Drama by R. W. Buss

R. W. Buss, Catharine Moreland, from Character Sketches of
Romance, Fiction and the Drama (1892)

Was my desire for less white space and more text in the side columns fulfilled? Maybe. While this edition exhibited a vast improvement in quantity and quality, this Janeite will never be truly satisfied until every possible inch is utilized.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Susan J. Wolfson
Belknap Press (2014)
Hardcover (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0674725676

Our previous previews and reviews of the Harvard University Jane Austen series: 

Cover image courtesy of Belknap Press © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jane Austen, Game Theorist, by Michael Suk-Young Chwe – A Review

Jane Austen Game Theroist Michael Chwe 2013 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

According to Wikipedia, game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent, rational decision-makers.” So, what the heck does that have to do with Jane Austen and her novels? A lot, as it turns out. In Jane Austen, Game Theorist, we explore how Austen’s works tie into contemporary theories about strategic decision-making nearly two hundred years before they came into fashion.

The book doesn’t presuppose any familiarity with game theory. This was a very good thing, as I knew next to nothing about this branch of the social sciences before picking up the book. Really, the simplest way to explain game theory is to say that it’s the study of how people make strategic decisions. Most people will make a decision based on what they would like to do. In other words, they make a personal choice. But, a good strategic thinker will also consider what others might do in turn. Basically, when choosing, you also consider how others will act.

Let’s look at an example from Pride and Prejudice to illustrate the point. Mr. Darcy agonizes over whether or not to marry Elizabeth Bennet, a woman who he is slowly falling in love with despite his best efforts to resist her charms and fine eyes. A choice like this can be represented visually through a decision tree. Mr. Darcy’s would look something like this:

Jane Austen Game Theorist image 1

As Mr. Darcy sees it, he must decide whether or not to marry Elizabeth. In the end, his objections can’t outweigh his love and he makes the choice to tell her how ardently he admires and loves her.

But, one of Mr. Darcy’s biggest mistakes is that he doesn’t seem to realize that the decision tree that will lead him from love to matrimony with Elizabeth actually looks something like this:

Jane Austen Game Theorist image 2

Mr. Darcy’s choice isn’t to marry or not marry Elizabeth. He can only choose to propose. He seems to forget that the lady also has the right of refusal. Or else he never really considers that a viable possibility. Elizabeth must be wishing and expecting his addresses, right? That’s why he lets her in on his honest feelings and struggles, which she considers highly insulting. Mr. Darcy has made his choice, but he has entirely forgotten about Elizabeth’s preferences. She would prefer not to marry an arrogant, prideful man who has insulted her along with her family all while trying to profess his undying love.

Luckily, Mr. Darcy’s strategic thinking improves throughout the course of the novel and he’s able to turn Elizabeth’s point-by-point refusal into a strategic plan for winning her heart. Or at least that’s what game theory would say.

The author goes through each of Austen’s six novels giving countless examples of both good and bad decisions, characters that excel in decision-making and those who don’t. Elizabeth Bennet may be a good strategic decision-maker, but she is also blinded by prejudice when it comes to Mr. Darcy. Anne Elliot and Elinor Dashwood come ready-made with good strategic skills. Catherine Morland and Fanny Price must learn to act strategically. Emma Woodhouse completely overestimates her own ability to guide others, read situations, and see eventual outcomes.

We not only dive into the ways in which Jane Austen’s work ties in with contemporary game theory, but the author explains how he believes Jane breaks new ground with her novels. Her characters use strategic thinking within themselves to control the interior picture they present to he world—think Anne Elliot or Elinor Dashwood. They also sometimes change their preferences (which is a very good thing for Mr. Darcy). In the end, Austen seems to be saying that the best spouse is someone who you can partner with to work strategically in the world. It’s more romantic than it seems.

One of the most interesting points the author makes about game theory is that good strategic thinking often develops naturally among people who find themselves in an “inferior” or “outsider” position in society. Austen writes as a female in a world where women are almost totally dependent on men. Her heroines don’t think strategically in order to win wars or navigate economic markets. They do it to survive and insure the best possible life for themselves in a system that’s stacked against them. Indeed, characters in positions of power—such as Lady Catherine, Sir Walter Elliot, and General Tilney—often have the biggest blind spots when it comes to making good decisions.

Since the book was written by a professor who teaches game theory and political science at UCLA, the language sometimes felt overly academic and scholarly. While he does a good job explaining complicated concepts to readers, the book isn’t aiming to simplify game theory or Austen for a mass audience. It’s no Freakanomics or The Tipping Point. It definitely doesn’t qualify as light reading, though it is extremely interesting. I tend to like academic writing, but I found some chapters very difficult to get through because the material was so dense.

One of the things that made the book so tough was that it seemed to lack balance throughout. In the beginning, the author spends quite a bit of time (helpfully) explaining game theory. But, he uses examples from other literary works such as Shakespeare or folk tales. It isn’t until Chapter Five that we start to get into Jane’s novels. At that point, the Austen examples became so dense and numerous that it began to feel like I was reading a laundry list of quotes that had been culled from her six novels. More Jane was needed in the beginning, and less, more illustrative example from her work would have helped the last part be much more clear and impactful.

I’d recommend the book if you have an interest in learning more about the science of game theory or if you’re already on your way to being an expert. Austen is a fun backdrop to that. The casual Janeite, though, may be overwhelmed with how dense and academic the language is throughout the book. I know I had my moments of confusion even though, overall, the subject and ideas were really engaging.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Austen, Game Theorist, by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
Princeton University Press (2014)
Trade paperback (296) pages
ISBN: 978-0691162447

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Princeton University Press © 2014; text Lisa Galek, Austenprose.com

What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, by John Mullan – A Review

Image of the book cover of What Matters in Jane Austen, by John Mullan © Bloomsbury Press 2013From the desk of Sarah Emsley

The closer you look, the more you see,” writes John Mullan in What Matters in Jane Austen? Elizabeth Bennet learns this lesson in Pride and Prejudice when she reads and rereads Mr. Darcy’s letter “with the closest attention” to understand why he separated Bingley from Jane and why he doesn’t trust Wickham. Mullan’s compelling analysis of detail in Jane Austen’s novels persuades us that “Little things matter.” In a series of chapters on what he calls “puzzles,” he asks questions about details and discusses how and why they matter. In the process, he demonstrates that the popular pastime of answering quizzes about the novels is not necessarily trivial, but can lead us to a deeper understanding of Jane Austen’s careful craftsmanship and her innovative contributions to the history of fiction.

Mullan pays attention to everything from the ages, names, looks, reading habits, sex lives, incomes, and deaths of Austen’s characters, to the narrative techniques she uses when she shows us their thoughts, when she breaks the pattern of narration to address her reader directly, and when she departs from the consciousness of her heroine to give the point of view of another character. Details about income, for example, show how in Mansfield ParkThe reader truly attuned to the value of money should know that the Price family could live a more comfortable life than they do.” Mullan makes the excellent point that “Willoughby reads his way into the Dashwoods’ hearts”—and that while the 1995 film of Sense and Sensibility shows Willoughby and Marianne reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, in the novel they read Hamlet, a choice of play that “testifies to the literary seriousness of the Dashwoods, and to the willingness of Marianne’s suitor to take on the most demanding parts.” When he asks “What Makes Characters Blush?” he shows how Austen uses blushes to signal guilt, which sets her apart from other contemporary novelists whose heroines blush virtuously, and he points out that the spontaneous “Austen blush” is nearly impossible to perform on screen or stage.

Austen wants her readers to think about sex and death, although she is not always obvious about the way she calls our attention to these matters. From the first line of Pride and Prejudice, in which we’re asked to believe the universal truth about a rich bachelor’s desire for a wife, “Austen’s stories rely on an acknowledgement of men’s sexual appetites,” writes Mullan. Very few deaths happen within the novels—only Mrs. Churchill in Emma, and Dr. Grant and Lord Ravenshaw’s grandmother in Mansfield Park—yet Mullan shows how the responses of Austen’s characters to these deaths and others, such as the deaths of Fanny Harville, Sir Walter Elliot’s still-born son, and Lady Susan’s husband, tell us much about the living. While he argues that such details about money, reading, blushing, sex, and death matter because they “reveal people’s schemes and desires,” however, he focuses more on what they tell us about social history and Austen’s narrative strategies than on what they say about her understanding of psychological complexity and her moral vision.

At times Mullan overstates his case or doesn’t fully develop his argument. After discussing the often-overlooked role of the lower classes in the novels, he concludes, “the servants see everything.” While he’s right to claim that “we as readers should see them watching and listening,” there are still many private scenes and conversations they do not witness. In discussing right and wrong ways to propose marriage, he claims that a “good man” would be bound to honor his first proposal, as Edward Ferrars does in Sense and Sensibility, but “A woman … can change her mind.” I wondered why he doesn’t explore the question of whether Austen believes a “good woman” may reverse her decision after accepting a proposal. The women he cites who change their minds, including Lucy Steele, do so for radically different reasons. Lucy’s moral character is not improved by her decision not to marry Edward Ferrars, even though the decision improves his life and that of Elinor Dashwood. When Mullan discusses why Austen’s plots rely so much on “blunders,” he suggests that a line from the ending of Emma could serve as a motto for her fiction: “Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure.” At the same time, however, his own approach in reading and rereading the novels, just as Elizabeth reads and rereads Darcy’s letter “with the closest attention,” points to another line from the novels that could equally serve as a motto. Almost no one tells the complete truth, but Austen suggests it’s always worth paying attention to the details to get as close as possible to it.

Image of the book cover of What Matters in Jane Austen, by John Mullans UK ed  © Bloomsbury Press 2012Little things do matter in Jane Austen, because they tell us about bigger things. Janeites, rejoice! This beautifully written book about Austen’s six major novels, plus Lady Susan and the unfinished novels Sanditon and The Watsons, is both a helpful, highly readable guide to Austen’s work, and a scholarly contribution to criticism that analyzes Austen’s achievement. Such books are rare. Mullan argues persuasively that Austen knew she was creating a kind of fiction quite different from what her contemporaries and predecessors produced, and he highlights her successful experiments in conveying the thoughts and inner lives of her characters (pioneering the technique that later came to be called “free indirect discourse”).

What Matters in Jane Austen is a thoroughly engaging close reading of Austen’s fiction that encourages us to read closely to see and understand more. I can’t help but wish, however, that Mullan would take his argument even further: little things matter not only because they show us Austen’s “extraordinary narrative sophistication,” as he concludes, but also because they reveal the subtleties of her insight into the moral lives of her characters. Ethics matters in Jane Austen, as well as craft.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, by John Mullan
Bloomsbury Press (2013)
Hardcover (352) pages
ISBN: 978-1620400418

Cover images courtesy © Bloomsbury Press 2012 & 2013; text © Sarah Emsley 2013

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece, by Susannah Fullerton – A Review & Giveaway

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my second selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are open until July 1, 2013.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Besides being trotted out for the opening of every news article containing anything vaguely related to Pride and Prejudice, its author, its characters, its plot or any other self-serving cause, I have seen this famous first line from the novel on T shirts, mugs, book bags and stationary. It is indeed a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is a phenomenon!

Exalted by scholars and embraced by the masses, Pride and Prejudice is indeed a literary treasure for the everyman. In this year of its 200th birthday, the outpouring of celebration in the press, online and in print confirms our longstanding love affair and addiction. We just can’t get enough of it.

Just in time for the year-long festivities is Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece, an in-depth exploration of Jane Austen’s classic novel by Susannah Fullerton. At 240 pages, it is packed full of text and many full-color illustrations—something for everyone from the novice reader to veteran Janeite. The volume covers a range of topics as the chapters are broken down by categories such as the writing of, the reactions to, the style of, the heroine, the hero, illustrations, sequels and adaptations, theatrical versions, and, of course a whole chapter devoted to the famous opening line quoted above.

My “first impressions” of this tribute to one of my favorite novels was the stunning cover resplendent with the plume of a peacock (the iconic symbol or pride) and appropriately in peacock blue! They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but I do. If a publisher does not care enough about that “first impression” then why should I buy their book? Flipping through the pages the overall design is polished and each of the illustration is credited. Huzzah! And boy do the illustrations pop. Each page has something iconic or new, even to this die-hard Austen book collector who owns numerous illustrated editions of Pride and Prejudice dating back to the 1890’s!

Fullerton discusses every aspect of this novel imaginable, but one subject is of particular interest to me: Sequels and Adaptations. Are you surprised dear reader? Yes, I have read a few Austen-inspired novels in my day and can appreciate Fullerton’s keen eye for the sublime and the ridiculous and the “uses and abuses” by many. She does however look at the phenomena of the Austen spinoff with her tongue firmly set in her cheek; occasionally taking a painful stab.

There is only one Pride and Prejudice and for many readers, that is simply not enough. They want more! And if Jane Austen could imagine lives for her characters after the ending of her novel – a clergyman husband for Kitty and one of Uncle Philip’s clerks for Mary – why should not other authors do the same?” p. 155

Many could argue the point, and do, but Fullerton is celebrating Pride and Prejudice and its impact on readers and culture, warts and all. She goes on to enlighten us on the differences between mixed sequels such as Old Friends and New Fancies, by Sybil Briton (misspelled Brunton), continuations like A Match for Mary Bennet, by Eucharista Ward, “Jane Austen would surely have been the first to scoff at such Evangelical claptrap,” (ouch) and retellings and their variation the “what if” like Fitzwilliam Darcy An Honourable Man, by Brenda Webb. However, we were not amused when her historical outline turned into finger pointing and our eyebrows often reached our hairline over such statements as…

Abigail Reynolds has written “A Pemberley Medley of five variations of Darcy’s story, and Mary Simonsen has had at least three goes at making Darcy do what she wants him to do. Perhaps readers should pause over Mr. Darcy Takes the Plunge to ask what depths this hero must be further expected to plumb?” p. 160

The chapter continues with explorations of Austen-inspired mysteries, paranormal, children’s adaptation, chick lit and regencies, and pornographic novels. Fullerton states that no other novel has inspired so many prequels, sequels etc. than Pride and Prejudice. She bluntly asks if these other books are vital to the enjoyment of the original or “simply derivative rubbish we can all live without?” and then softens her blow in the last line of the chapter, “For with Pride and Prejudice it has turned out that “The End” was really just the beginning.” p. 173

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice, by Susannah Fullerton (2013)Fullerton has supplied her view of a great novel and given us a volume to treasure and debate. I greatly enjoyed the details and images, and most of the observations in this tribute, yet I have come away feeling my heart divided between admiration and resentment for the author. Could it be that our “personal” Pride and Prejudice and its characters are so deeply entrenched in the hearts of many, and interpreted so differently by most, that others will be at odds with her choices too? Am I pulling a Lizzy Bennet and “not making allowance enough for difference of situation and temper”? Quite possibly, but I will not let it ruin my happiness. Celebrating Pride and Prejudice is a must read this year, if only to rejoice in our differences of opinion and laugh in our turn.

4 out of 5 regency Stars

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece, by Susannah Fullerton
Voyageur Press (2013)
Hardcover (240) pages
ISBN: 978-0760344361

A GRAND GIVEAWAY

Enter a chance to win one hardcover copy of Celebrating Pride and Prejudice, by Susannah Fullerton by leaving a comment or your favorite Pride and Prejudice quote by 11:59 pm, Wednesday, February 20, 2013. The winner will be announced on Thursday, February 21, 2013.  Shipment to US addresses only please. Good luck!

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Marriage of Faith: Christianity in William Wordsworth and Jane Austen, by Laura Dabundo – A Review

The Marriage of Faith Christianity in Jane Austen and William Wordsworth, by Laura Dabundo (2012)From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP.

“What I want to examine in this study is how the poet Wordsworth and the novelist Austen represent a marriage of interests, an economy of literary sympathies, and a shared thematic melody that plays across their often-disparate works” (Dabundo, 9).

Laura Dabundo joins a number of scholars who have begun to show great interest in examining the works of Jane Austen in light of her Christian faith. One thinks of Laura Mooneyham White’s Jane Austen’s Anglicanism (2011), Peter Leithart’s Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen (2004), Michael Giffin’s Jane Austen and Religion (2002), and Irene Collins’ Jane Austen and the Clergy (1993), not to mention more devotional and reflective works like Steffany Woolsey’s A Jane Austen Devotional(2012) and William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education (2012). It seems the trendy intellectual bias against discussing religion is giving way to a greater emphasis on appreciating the complete context of beloved and respected authors like Austen. This is particularly important in Austen’s case because, as Dabundo states from the very start: “The deeply rooted significance of church and faith creates the rich earth out of which characters develop, her plots blossom, and her themes flower. It was her reality; it is the reality of her art” (1). To ignore Austen’s Anglican faith and spirituality, therefore, is to only half-read her novels and so to potentially mistake her intention entirely.

Given the many works listed above and the many others not mentioned, Dabundo has to create a niche for her discussion of Austen’s Christian faith. For this, she incorporates a comparison with William Wordsworth, the great Romantic poet and contemporary of Austen. But what do these two literary giants have in common? Simply put, a faith in Anglican Christianity as the saving “glue” of British society, for both believed that in Anglicanism the British people found the harmonious marriage of nationalism and Christian morals—a marriage that gave birth to the ideal community. Indeed, this community is not only the source of obligation (duty to others), but also the deeper motivation for the individual’s being (inspiration) (64). Dabundo unpacks this interesting claim over several chapters, but she does so by examining the two artists’ works separately. While I understand her reasons for doing so, I found the four Wordsworth chapters to be of less interest to me than the three Austen chapters, mainly due to my own unfamiliarity with the poetry being discussed and my greater interest in the novels. As such, I will restrict my comments to the book’s latter chapters, perhaps to the chagrin of the author and Wordsworth devotees.

Happily, the chapters on Austen were superb and a delight to read. The first of those chapters, bearing the provocative title of “The Devil and Jane Austen: Elizabeth Bennet’s Temptation in the Wilderness”, compares the famous clash between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the desert. While this clash is certainly famous, the comparison to Jesus helps underscore the fact that Elizabeth “…has been isolated, tested, and shown to be resolute, deserving, and true” (94). There is a spiritual depth to Dabundo’s analysis which is refreshing and enlightening, especially as regards her claim “…everyone’s favorite heroine is also finally one of the most morally upright, a true daughter of the church” (97). Who? Playful, sassy Elizabeth Bennet? Comparable to long-suffering Elinor Dashwood or contemplative Fanny Price? Dabundo has me revisiting a character I thought I knew so well—the sign, of course, of a good book.

The next Austen chapter, “‘The Redemption of the World’: The Rhetoric of Jane Austen’s Prayers”, gives a thorough examination of the three extant prayers that Austen composed for family vesper services at home. As others have done, Dabundo notes that there is evidence that Jane Austen regularly participated in public and private liturgies, that receiving Eucharist was important to her spirituality, and that she held rather staunchly to the tolerant, established brand of Georgian Anglicanism dominant at that time (101). Dabundo also notes similarities between Austen’s prayers and the language of the Book of Common Prayer, indicating not merely that she was familiar with that text, but that she had imbibed its central characteristics and accepted its vision of the faith (109). What I found most interesting about this chapter however, was the claim that “The rhetorical purpose of the prayer indicates that it is their world that is to be redeemed, following the sacrifice of Christ and realized through the reformed examples and good works of Elinor Dashwood, Catherine Morland, Elizabeth Bennet, Fanny Price, Emma Woodhouse, Anne Elliot, and their mates, inspired and emulating Christ’s exemplum” (99-100). It is so easy to read the novels as fairy tale, happily-ever-after comedies. Dabundo invites us to see a certain heroic virtue playing out in the lives of these women—an interpretation that transforms familiar scenes like the clash between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine mentioned earlier—into the very types of scenes in regular life in which lay Christians are called upon to make moral decisions that ultimately prove their saintliness. Dabundo’s vision here is not only the key hermeneutic for understanding the religiosity of the novels, but the spiritual depth of Austen herself, whose Christian struggles were not fought in the monastery or in a public ministry, but day-by-day in the context of home-life amongst family and friends.

In “The City of Sisterly Love in Jane Austen”, Dabundo’s focus on community comes full circle as she examines the novels through the lens of sisterhood. She writes, “In short, within the compass of sisterhood often lurk the specters of the same sorts of social conflicts writ larger in the contexts and contests of the novels themselves. The families, in other words, may mirror through their daughters the issues that these novels seek to resolve…The progress of the novels, then, is toward the achievement of a community of sisterly affection” (113). She goes on to discuss some of the fascinating groupings of sisters found in Austen’s canon: The Bennet sisters in contrast to the Bingley sisters, the Dashwoods versus the Steeles, surrogate sisters in Emma and Northanger Abbey, and broken sororities in Mansfield Park and Persuasion. A community of sisters is so important to Austen, she argues, because it provides “an enclave of strength against the vagaries of fate and the challenges and vexations of life” (126). In other words, where there is a Christian sister on hand, the heroine’s own moral compass remains true. Undoubtedly, Austen learned this lesson first-hand living so closely with only sister Cassandra.

Dabundo’s final point is that there is more to marriage than what meets the eye in both Austen and Wordsworth’s visions. For both, Christian marriage is a metaphor that combines the earthly goal of building a righteous community and the heavenly goal of keeping one’s hopes set on the next life with God. Christianity’s central concern of redeeming the world finds its undimmed light shining out from these literary depictions of Christian marriages. In particular, for Austen, the marriage of men and women who have been transformed through “naked self-disclosure”, who have acknowledged their mistakes and who are now “poised to be active forces for good in their spheres, from village to town to nation to world” (133). In this Dabundo finds what Austen and Wordsworth both must have understood to have been the merit of Anglican Christianity: its moral thrust to transform the world through the establishment of communities of discerning, conscientious Christians.

While I did not savor every minute of my reading of this book, namely its chapters on Wordsworth, I hope it is clear that I found plenty to enjoy here. I only wish Dabundo had included more commentary on the novels and was better able to integrate her thoughts on Wordsworth with those on Austen, as the book felt like two separate projects put together under an umbrella theme of community. I also regret that she neglected works like Lady Susan and the fragments of “The Watsons” and “Sanditon”, as they could have further illustrated some of her points about moral struggle, community, and sisterhood. In the end, however, this is the kind of work that has an impact on my thinking long after I have returned it to the shelf, as it invites me to revisit these favorite novels and to find in them an earnestness and depth I sometimes, like a novice, underestimate.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Marriage of Faith: Christianity in William Wordsworth and Jane Austen , by Laura Dabundo
Mercer University Press (2012)
Hardcover (152) pages
ISBN: 978-0881462821

Br. Paul Byrd, OP, is a solemnly professed Dominican friar of the Province of St. Albert the Great (Chicago, USA). He currently teaches theology at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, IL, and studies creative writing and secondary education at DePaul University in Chicago. He earned his M.A. at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO.

© 2012 Br. Paul Byrd, OP, Austenprose

Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures, by Claudia L. Johnson – A Review

Jane Austen's Cults and Cultures, by Claudia L. Johnson (2012)Review by Aia Hussein-Yousef

In chapter five of Claudia L. Johnson’s new book Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures, she notes that in the first Jane Austen Society Report for the years 1943 – 46, a memory belonging to an elderly village woman named Mrs. Luff was recorded in which she remembers watching Jane Austen walking across a field to a visit a family. “We called her the poor young lady,” recalled Mrs. Luff as indicated in the report, “and now she’s gone” (177). Stop for a moment and reflect on that. The elderly woman remembered Jane Austen not as “the venerable author” or “the national treasure” but, for whatever distressing reason, the “poor young lady.”

How interesting is it to think that at one point in time Jane Austen was nothing more than a woman named Jane who lived in an English village and visited families and did all the other things that women did in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries? That the sight of her did not immediately inspire admiration for her written accomplishments but, rather, recalled contemporaneous events or gossip attached to her? I certainly have to take a moment to remember that especially given that evidence of her talent is now on display everywhere – her novels are still prominently displayed on bookshelves at the local bookstore (no relegation to the dusty, shadowy corner for this author), new film adaptations and mini-series are advertised almost every year, her image and images inspired by her works can be found on mugs, tote bags, note cards, posters, you name it, it’s on it. The constant and formidable engine that drives the power of Divine Jane can be seen almost everywhere so much so that it can be hard to remember that she was once just Jane, a quiet author who probably would have parodied her commercialization if she were alive today to see it.

The question of how the quiet author became the modern-day celebrity or, in other words, Jane Austen’s “afterlives,” is tackled in Johnson’s new book, released this month by The University of Chicago Press. The Murray Professor of English Literature at Princeton University, and the author or editor of several works on Jane Austen, Johnson historicizes Austen’s canonization by tracing how the very concept of Austen has changed over time and how it has shown itself to be amenable to sometimes contradictory ideas and feelings about a variety of things including history, taste and manners, and language.

In the first chapter, Jane Austen’s Body, Johnson examines how representations of Austen’s body have developed alongside the public’s perception of her art and, interestingly, how her family may have played a role in all of this. In the second chapter, Jane Austen’s Magic, Johnson explores the reception of Austen during the Victorian period, how she was used to relieve anxieties about modernity by a placement within a context of fairies and enchantment (strange, because we rarely think of Austen in this context, but fascinating). The third and fourth chapters, Jane Austen’s World War I and Jane Austen’s World War II, place Austen against the backdrop of these wars and explore the vastly different reasons why she was read by both soldiers and the larger public. In the last chapter, Jane Austen’s House, Johnson explores the almost obsessive relationship Janeites have with objects that have had both a direct and indirect relation to Austen with a specific look at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton. This last chapter is extremely gratifying in the way that it invokes Austen characters Fanny Price and Anne Eliot to give shape to the reader’s relationship with the author, successfully demonstrating that the best way to invoke Austen is, not through objects that may or may not have held significance to her, but through the result of actions that we know she highly valued: her writings.

It was a real pleasure to read this book. It is richly informative and clearly outlines the ways in which Austen has been constructed and her writings interpreted by readers from the Victorian period through now in a way that is both scholarly and accessible and, sometimes even, playful with such delightfully accurate lines as “the Austen they adore has more to do with the world of wonder than with the world of reason” (5) and “to be a Janeite is really a form of possession, with a profound contentment in being thus possessed” (7). Johnson also includes in the appendix to the book three folk tales known to be told by Edward Austen Knight, and possibly heard by Jane Austen herself as a child, and a collection of Austen-related images throughout the book. This book is highly recommended for those who are interested in how Austen’s legacy has changed throughout the years.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures, by Claudia L. Johnson
The University of Chicago Press (2012)
Hardcover (240) pages
ISBN: 978-0226402031

Aia Hussein-Yousef, a proud member of JASNA, pursued Literature degrees in order to have an official excuse to spend all her time reading. She will be leaving the DC area in the fall to begin a doctoral program in Comparative Literature at Princeton University.

© 2012 Aia Hussein-Yousef, Austenprose