Is this Your Lizzie Bennet?

Portrait of Mrs. Walter Learmouth, by Sir Henry Raeburn (ca 1800)This beautiful oil portrait circa 1800 of a lady (Mrs. Walter Learmouth?) is attributed to Sir Henry Raeburn, R.A. (Scottish, 1756-1823). He is one of my favorite artists of the Georgian and Regency era, producing powerful, stark and realistic paintings of his subjects. This portrait of Mrs. Learmouth in a white dress against a dramatic stormy sky and shadowy landscape frames the uncertainty of her expression. She is neither smiling nor frowning, leaving the viewer to interpret her personality and mood. She looks pensive to me, but her slight knowing smile and piercing dark eyes reminded author Deirdre Le Faye of Jane Austen’s most famous fine eyed heroine Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Le Faye uses this portrait as an example of what she feels matches Jane Austen’s description of Elizabeth Bennet in her book Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels (2006). 

With her slender figure and dark hair, and the amused gleam in her eyes, she agrees perfectly with Jane Austen’s image of Elizabeth Bennet. pp 186

Of Elizabeth we only gradually learn that she is very pretty, with a figure that is ‘light and pleasing’, and that her face is ‘rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes’. pp 186 

It is interesting to match Austen’s description of Elizabeth with another artists painting. A bit of a gambit really since Austen so cleverly did not describe her heroine’s physical attributes in detail, leaving the reader to visualize ‘their’ Lizzy Bennet in their minds eye. Is this your Lizzy Bennet? I have another vision of my personal Lizzy – more cheerful and exuberant – younger, and with large eyes. This portrait is a stunner, but seems more the Regency Mona Lisa, than the witty, spirited and sparkling Lizzy that I love. 

The portrait of Mr. Walter Learmouth recently sold at Christie’s New York on16 June 2009 for $9,375. It seems like quite a bargain for a Raeburn. Honestly, however did the owner part with it? I hope that the new owners will make it available to the public in some way. She is too lovely to hide away. Lizzy Bennet – or not!

Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, by Deirdre Le Faye (2006)Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, by Deirdre Le Faye is essential reading for students of literature and Austen enthusiasts. “Meticulously researched overview of the period, from foreign affairs, fashion, and social ranks to transportation, candle etiquette, and sanitation practices. She goes on to consider each novel individually, explaining in detail its action, its setting, the reaction of the public and critics, and Austen’s own feelings about the book.” Available in softcover (2006) ISBN: 9780711222786

Mansfield Park Chapters 33-40: Summation, Musings & Discussion: Day 12 Give-away!

THE NOVEL

He was in love, very much in love; and it was a love which, operating on an active, sanguine spirit, of more warmth than delicacy, made her affection appear of greater consequence because it was withheld, and determined him to have the glory, as well as the felicity, of forcing her to love him. The Narrator on Henry Crawford, Chapter 33 

Quick Synopsis 

Henry persists in his quest for Fanny’s hand. Sir Thomas solicits Edmunds help, who attempts to discern what Fanny’s doubts are. He insists it was Henry’s abrupt delivery. She tells him she can not love a man of such unprincipled character. Everyone at Mansfield and the parsonage know of Henry’s proposal and in their own way try to chisel away at Fanny’s resolve. William visits on leave. Sir Thomas sees an opportunity for Fanny to see the difference that a good income can bring, and sends her home to her impoverished family in Portsmouth. Anxious to be with people who love her, the household, her parents and her siblings are a shock, and the complete opposite of her tranquil, ordered, and quiet home at Mansfield Park. Sister Susan shows some interest in improving herself and gives Fanny some hope. Edmund is more in love with Mary than ever, visiting her in London. Fanny dreads the post, fearful of what news it will bring. 

Musings 

After Fanny’s rejection of Henry’s offer of marriage, I am amazed at what lengths everyone takes to change her indifference to him. No one honors her decision and proceed to create excuses why she declined. Sir Thomas encourages Henry to continue his pursuit, which he does relentlessly, even though she shows him no encouragement at all. Having always won a ladies heart, he is both invigorated by her rejection and certain he will succeed. (conceited lout) Sir Thomas increases the pressure by telling his wife Lady Bertram and her sister Mrs. Norris of Henry’s proposal. They have opposite reactions; Lady Bertram thinks it an honor to her family to attract such a wealthy and handsome suitor, and Mrs. Norris takes it as an insult to her niece Julia who they all wanted Henry to marry from the beginning. 

Angry she (Mrs. Norris) was: bitterly angry; but she was more angry with Fanny for having received such an offer than for refusing it. It was an injury and affront to Julia, who ought to have been Mr. Crawford’s choice; and, independently of that, she disliked Fanny, because she had neglected her; and she would have grudged such an elevation to one whom she had been always trying to depress. The Narrator, Chapter 33 

I has stunned and disappointed in Edmund’s part in the interrogations, working away at his friend Fanny on behalf of his father. His actions hurt her the most since he was her mentor and only friend at Mansfield Park up until Mary Crawford corrupted him. All of his conversation now is tainted by her influence. When Edmund insists that he knows the truth of the rejection based on her surprise alone, I am angry at his arrogance and appalled that he suggests she should now let Henry succeed, and show everyone that she is the “perfect model of a woman which I have always believed you born for” Outrageous attitude from any friend, let alone a minister of the church. Where have his principles gone? I admire Fanny’s tenacity. She knows her mind and her own temperament. She explains that she and Henry are too different in nature to be happy together and does not waver from her position. Edmund, more than anyone in her circle should honor her wish to marry for love alone since his heart is also strongly inclined to the same desire, even though he has struggled against the unsuitability of his attachment to Mary Crawford for almost the entire novel! 

On his (Edmund) side the inclination was stronger, on hers less equivocal. His objections, the scruples of his integrity, seemed all done away, nobody could tell how; and the doubts and hesitations of her ambition were equally got over-and equally without apparent reason. It could only be imputed to increasing attachment. His good and her bad feelings yielded to love, and such love must unite them. The Narrator, Chapter 37 

The final wedge in an attempt to break Fanny’s spirit is Sir Thomas’ banishment of her to Portsmouth. His private plan is to let her see the difference that a good income can mean to her comfort, and motivate her to accept Henry Crawford with all his gentility and wealth. At first she sees it as a refuge from the pressures at Mansfield, and a benefit to be with family who truly love her, but after being reunited she soon discovers the disparity of the two households. Her parents, her siblings and their impoverished lifestyle are a quite a shock to a young lady who has become accustomed to living in the home of a Baronet. The noise, squalor and the indifference of her parents to her cruelly remind her of the peace, tranquility and order at her home, Mansfield Park. William departs for sea, and with no friend left in the world to support her, she is truly alone. Fearful of the pending news from London of Edmund and Mary’s engagement she waits for the other shoe to drop. Even under these adverse circumstances, our heroine is still optimistic. 

Fanny soon became more disposed to admire the natural light of the mind which could so early distinguish justly, than to censure severely the faults of conduct to which it led. The Narrator, Chapter 40 

With so much romantic turmoil in these last eight chapters, I am more than a bit uneasy with the uncertainty. Austen is building to a climax and I am all anticipation. We shall see if everyone ends up with who they love, or don’t know they love, and who gets their comeuppance. I have never known her to cheat us out of a wedding or two at the end, or a bit of moralizing for those unruly characters who stirred up the plot. One can never be certain though until the curtain falls on this theatrical.   

Further reading 

Online text complements of Molland’s Circulating Library

Cast of characters

Chapter 33-40 summary

Chapter 33-40 quotes and quips 

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 12 Give-away 

Leave a comment to by August 30 qualify for the free drawing on August 31 for one copy of.

Mansfield Park: Oxford World’s Classics

Oxford University Press (2008). Revised edition. Novel text and introduction and notes by Jane Stabler. Trade paperback, 418 pages, ISBN 978-0199535538 

Upcoming posts
Day 13 – Aug 27          MP 2007 movie discussion
Day 14 – Aug 28          MP novel discussion chapter 41-48
Day 15 – Aug 29          MP: Sequels, Spinoff’s and Retellings
Day 16 – Aug 30          MP: The Scoop! What People Are Saying

Mansfield Park Chapters 1-8: Summation, Musings & Discussion: Day 2 Give-away

Illustration by H.M. Brock, Mansfield Park Ch 2 (1898)

THE NOVEL

Do not let us be frightened from a good deed by a trifle. Give a girl an education, and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without farther expense to anybody.” Mrs. Norris, Chapter 1

Quick Synopsis

Ten year old poor relation Fanny Price arrives at Mansfield Park and meets her cousins the Bertrams. Spoiled sisters Maria and Julia think her ignorant and stupid. Sad and sacred, her only friend is cousin Edmund who helps her write a letter to brother William. Five years pass. Sir Thomas Bertram and eldest son Tom leave for Antigua. Maria and Julia husband hunt with Aunt Norris. Fanny left out. Maria engaged to Mr. Rushworth. Mary and Henry Crawford arrive and meet their neighbors. Maria and Julia keen on Henry. Mary keen on Tom. Fanny and Edmund think Mary indecorous. Mary’s harp arrives, bewitching Edmund who falls in love with Mary. All the young people travel to Mr. Rushworth’s estate of Sotherton.   

Musings 

Jane Austen sets the tone of the novel immediately with Mrs. Norris’ passive-aggressive surly voice. It is effectively comical and annoying at the same time. She seems to run the Bertram family while her sister lounges on the sofa with her dog pug. I loved this description of Lady Bertram. 

To the education of her daughters Lady Bertram paid not the smallest attention. She had not time for such cares. She was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter when it did not put herself to inconvenience, guided in everything important by Sir Thomas, and in smaller concerns by her sister. The Narrator, Chapter 4 

I think that Austen is introducing a theme here of negligent parenting with possibilities for great material. Lady Bertram’s two spoiled and snarky daughters Maria and Julia are certainly the evidence of it. Their brother Tom the eldest son seems to be also ungovernable by their father Sir Thomas, gambling and drinking with little regret. Only second son Edmund seems to have his head on straight, though I fear he has over compensated for his lax upbringing and taken the high road too firmly with his moralizing and starchy attitudes. With an outlook like this, one can only imagine his frustration in living in a household of such cretins and understand his desire to be a minister to save unruly souls. 

When we are introduced to newcomers to the neighborhood siblings Mary and Henry Crawford, I was amazed at how well their cutting remarks and superior attitude fit in with the Bertram clan. It is no wonder that the introductions go so well. I was amused that their sister Mrs. Grant immediately suggests possible mates for her single brother and sister. Shades of an Emma Woodhouse; – who may only be a gleam in Austen’s eye while writing this. Their discussion on marriage in chapters four and five is a great introduction to their personalities, and sets the stage for future romantic machinations. Here are two favorite quotes by Henry and Mary that really reveal what is coming. 

“I am of a cautious temper, and unwilling to risk my happiness in a hurry. Nobody can think more highly of the matrimonial state than myself I consider the blessing of a wife as most justly described in those discreet lines of the poet-‘Heaven’s last best gift.'” Henry Crawford, Chapter 4 

Of course, he is being totally sarcastic and poking fun at marriage and women after his sister Mary derides his past performance with ladies to their sister Mrs. Grant. 

“In marriage…there is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry. Look where I will, I see that it is so; and I feel that it must be so, when I consider that it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 5 

Mary Crawford is much more frank about it. Like Elizabeth Bennet she decidedly expresses her opinions, but unlike Jane Austen’s other strong female character from Pride and Prejudice she does so without much censure and is often moralistically off center. I like that dangerous laissez-faire, wildly over confident quality about her. She definitely gets the sharp witty dialogue that Austen is so famous for. It is like watching a train wreck and makes for a great story. 

But what of our heroine Fanny Price? At this point she has had little to say or do. Cleverly, I think that is Austen’s point. Being the poor relation and a charity case in a resplendent household is a tenuous position. We see her pitiful situation, how terribly she is treated by her cousins, and feel her pain. It is uncomfortable and we are angered by it. The over-eager reader may miss the subtly of her character and not understand why she is in the background so much. It is a bit perplexing but I am confident that Austen has her reasons that will unfold as the plot develops. 

Questions 

  1. Why is Mrs. Norris not given a first name? Is this a telescopic insight by Jane Austen by way of a slight?
  2. Fanny Price does not act like Jane Austen’s other heroines. Nor does Mary Crawford. Is Austen being ambiguous?
  3. Why do you think that Austen has set up such a caustic cast of characters? What are the benefits and downfalls to this approach? 

Further reading 

Online text complements of Molland’s Circulating Library
Cast of characters
Chapter 1-8 summary
Chapter 1-8 quotes and quips

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 2 Give-away

Leave a comment by August 30th. to qualify for the free drawing on August 31st. for one copy of

The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume III: Mansfield Park

Oxford University Press, USA (1988). Third edition. This hardcover volume has been the preferred edition by many since its publication in 1923. It includes an unabridged novel text and extensive supplemental material. Nice compact, but could use a make-over!

Upcoming posts
Day 3 – Aug 17            MP 1983 movie discussion
Day 4 – Aug 18            MP Naxos (Juliet Stevenson) audio
Day 5 – Aug 19            MP novel discussion chapters 9-16
Day 6 – Aug 20            Metropolitan movie discussion

Mansfield Park Madness Introduction: Day 1 Give-away

WELCOME

Depend upon it, you see but half. You see the evil, but you do not see the consolation. There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.” Mrs. Grant, Mansfield Park Chapter 5  

Recently when a good friend who knows I blog about Jane Austen asked my opinion of Mansfield Park – I hesitated – dug deep – and honestly answered, not much! She was shocked. So was I!   

 Up until that point, much of what I knew about Jane Austen’s reputably most complex and mysterious novel I learned during a speed read for a college lit course, sideways chatter and postings on the MP board at The Republic of Pemberley and watching two movie adaptations; the 1999 Patricia Rozema adventure when it was released in the theaters, and the recent BBC 2007 adaptation presented by Masterpiece Classic this past January.  Embarrassingly, not much of a foundation for an Austen enthusiast, and after contrite reflection, I knew that I had not honestly given Mansfield Park a fair shake, and needed to. 

So gentle readers, here it is, all laid out at your feet (or more literally in pixels on your computer screens) over the next seventeen days, my personal journey into Mansfield Park Madness, along with 17 days of great free item give-aways. Enjoy! 

Cheers, Laurel Ann

Mansfield Park Madness: DAY 1 Give-away

Leave a comment by August 30th. to qualify for the free drawing on August 31st. for one copy of

Oxford World’s Classics Edition of Mansfield Park 

Oxford University Press (2008). The new revised edition includes a full unabridged text, an introduction by Jane Stabler and loads of great supplemental material. A nice compact medium sized edition with informative and helpful appendixes, notes, bio and chronology on the author. 

Mansfield Park Madness IconUpcoming posts
Day 2 – Aug 16:     MP novel discussion chapters 1-8
Day 3 – Aug 17:     MP 1983 movie review and discussion
Day 4 – Aug 18:     MP Naxos Audiobooks (Juliet Stevenson) 
Day 5 – Aug 19:     MP novel discussion chapters 9-16
 

Jane Austen’s Lydia Bennet: Her Life Credo

Image of a bonnet from Ackermann\'s Repository, (1817)“Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better.” Lydia Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 39 

Lydia Bennet is the youngest of the five Bennet sisters being but fifteen, but by her impulsive and unguarded manner she is the most commanding of the lot, and she knows it! Jane Austen gently gives clues to the reader to the impending peril she imposes on her family through her willful actions. My first impression of Lydia was that she was a time bomb of misery and dissipation just ticking away. 

As the novel progresses, her actions become more outrageous to the detriment of the family reputation when she elopes, and then does not marry. After her patched up marriage to George Wickham, she returns to her family home at Longborne and receives mixed reactions from her family. Totally oblivious to what all the fuss is about, she saw no fault in her behavior. This passage from chapter 51 is a great clue to the nature of her feelings on her actions. 

Continue reading

Breaking News: Tornado Tom Lefroy Hits Austenland

Image of miniature portrait of Tom Lefroy, (1798)“At length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy … My tears flow as I write at the melancholy idea” Jane Austen Letter to Cassandra Austen, 16 January 1796, The Letters of Jane Austen

My Dear Miss Austen,  

Our tears flow too dear Jane. A tornado has hit the gentle shores of your Austenland, and it’s not a pretty sight. We would be remiss if we did not mention that they are at it again; – the ladies and gentleman of the press; – yes – they are claiming that your youthful flirtation with Tom Lefroy inspired you to create your character Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice! Sigh. 

It appears that the day has not yet come on which the press is to flirt thier last with Tom Lefroy. Just when we thought that the brouhaha created by last year’s wobbly bio-pic of your youth, Becoming Jane, had settled down a bit, the present owners of a miniature portrait of your ‘puppy love’ Mr. Lefroy have offered it for sale at the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair, June 12th to 18th, in London. The online news agencies have been aflutter with the news my dear Jane, and I fear the gossip is less than kind. 

  • THE real-life inspiration for TV sexbomb Mr Darcy has been revealed – as a skinny GEEK, The Sun
  • Austen’s Real-life Mr. Darcy a Frail Wimp, NineMSN
  • Jane Austen’s real Mr. Darcy had Girlish Looks, The Telegraph 
  • The Real Mr. Darcy is no Colin Firth, UPI Entertainment News

Some poor misguide souls have even gone so far as to claim that Mr. Lefroy looks like a “skinny geek“, “a pale wimp“, “limp lettuce“, “and a wispy-haired girlie, who looks so delicate that he might even weigh less than Elizabeth Bennet.”

Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Dearest Friendship with Miss Sharp Still Resonates Today

You would have held the memory of your friend Jane too in tender regret I am sure. – But the Providence of God has restored me – & may I be more fit to appear before him when I am summoned, than I sh’d have been now! – Sick or Well, beleive me ever your attached friend. J. Austen Letter to Anne Sharp, 22 May 1817

Image of three volumes first edition of Emma, presented to Ann SharpJaneites with deep pockets and warm hearts will be winging their way to London for the June 24th auction of a first edition of Emma being offered at Bonham’s Auction House. The rare three volume presentation copy of Jane Austen’s fourth and final novel to be published in her lifetime was a gift from the authoress to Anne Sharp, a dear friend and previous governess to her brother Edward Austen Knight’s daughter Fanny at Godmersham, Kent.

Bonham’s online catalogue description contains some interesting facts.

Jane Austen was allocated twelve presentation copies by the publisher John Murray. Of these, nine were sent to family members (including Jane herself), one to the librarian of the Prince Regent (to whom the work was dedicated), and one to Countess Morley, these last under obligation from the publisher. The present copy is the only one given to a personal friend, testament to the strength of Jane’s feelings for Anne.

First editions of Jane Austen’s novels can garner healthy prices. A November 2007 article in Antiquarian Books listed a recent sale of a three volume set of Sense and Sensibility by Bloomsbury Auctions in New York for $48,000.00. (1) Because the ‘Anne Sharp’ edition of Emma has unique provenance, and no known presentation copies of Emma have ever hit the market before, Bonham’s is anticipating a sale price between £50,000 to £70,000. This could be quite a windfall for its present UK owner who had the volumes shelved in their family library for three generations without a clue as to how their ancestors acquired them. One wonders what else they have loitering about, and why they chose this moment to dispose of them!

Illustration of Godmersham Park, Kent, England

Godmersham Park, Kent, home of the Edward Austen Knight family circa 1804

Anne Sharp served as governess to Fanny Knight (1793-1882) Jane Austen’s niece, at Godmersham from 1804 to 1806, resigning for health reasons. (2) She is mentioned fondly several times in Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra and in this wonderful passage from Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen.  Continue reading

My Personal Austen: Does Reading Jane Austen Make Me a Better Person?

Image of a Silhouette of Jane AustenIf anyone out there has ever wondered where I get my inspiration to write continually about one subject – Jane Austen – for six months and counting, you might be amused at what from time-to-time inspires those brain cells into action. Many times, I will be Googling along and happen upon something that I was not searching for in the first place. Serendipity and all that! Often I get an inspiration while driving in my car! Go figure. Here is a meanderin’ tale of my trail of discovery and inspiration for this post today!

Recently I purchased the most amazing book My Dear Cassandra: The Letters of Jane Austen, selected and introduced by Penelope Hughes-Hallet, Clarkson, Collins, New York (1990). I had been aware of this book for years, but had never had the pleasure of seeing it first hand. A few months ago I read a beaming review of it by Book Chronicle whose opinions I respect and admire, resulting in it being pushed up to the top of my ‘must have’ Austen book queue. Yes, gentle readers; – I keep a list! La! 

Image of the cover of My Dear Cassandra, edited by Penelope Hughes-Hallet, Clarson & Potter, New York (1990)

The book is sadly no longer in print, which is *never* a deferent to this obsessive used book lover! I was able to track down an American first edition in ‘like new’ condition at Advance Book Exchange (www.abe.com). Hurrah! It arrived last week, and it is an eye popper; beautifully designed, copiously illustrated and reverently edited. It was a spiritual experience for me, like one of those beautiful Medieval illuminated manuscripts that monks laboured over for years to glorify the Bible! The holy grail of Austen books. Wow! Serious book swoon here!  Continue reading

William Lyon Phelps: Jane Austen’s First Publicist

Image of William Lyon Phelps“The happiest people are those who think the most interesting thoughts. Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development, who love good music, good books, good pictures, good company, good conversation, are the happiest people in the world. And they are not only happy in themselves, they are the cause of happiness in others.” William Lyon Phelps

When I ran across this quote, I was quickly struck by the similarity to one of my favorite passages from Persuasion.

“My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”

“You are mistaken,” said he gently; “that is not good company; that is the best.” Anne Elliot & William Elliot, Persuasion, Chapter 16

You will understand the coincidence after reading further.

Illustration by H.M. Brock, Mansfield Park, (1906)In 1890, Jane Austen was not widely read in American college curriculum. She had her small circle of admirers, and her fame had been slowly building since the 1870 publication of her nephew’s biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen, but she had not been embraced by academia. Publishers such as J.M. Dent and Richard Bentley & Son in London, and MacMillan in New York saw her potential and began producing matching ‘sets’ of her novels and letters which were a great success. To meet the new public demand, publishers produced finer bindings with illustrations by the Brock brothers and Hugh Thomson, and included prefaces and introductions by leading scholars of the day.

The winds of change were building. Her public had embraced her, but academia still wavered. Happily, we can credit Yale English Literature Professor William Lyon Phelps‘ (1865-1943) influence for changing that misapplyment. Jane could not have had a more influential or noble champion to wear her colors and sing her praises. By 1900, Dr. Phelps was known throughout the world as a leading literary scholar, educator, author, book critic and preacher. When he spoke, people listened.

Professor Phelps was one of those gifted orators that could make any obscure ancient author or wayward poet shine and students flocked to his lectures. Early in his career he had been instrumental in circular reform, teaching classes in the modern novels which raised more than a few eyebrows of his tenured peers and the attention of the international press. This was the beginning of a long career of academic reform and literary influence.  Continue reading

Austen’s Emma: Dear Miss Woodhouse, do advise me.

Illustration by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, (1948)“I lay it down as a general rule, Harriet, that if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him. If she can hesitate as to “‘Yes,'” she ought to say “‘No'” directly. It is not a state to be safely entered into with doubtful feelings, with half a heart. I thought it my duty as a friend, and older than yourself, to say thus much to you. But do not imagine that I want to influence you.” Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 7 

Have you ever been in the position to advise a friend on a serious decision knowing full-well what the practical decision should be, – but held back your true opinion for fear of it turning around and biting you in the rear? I was faced with such a dilemma this week, and I was reminded of this passage in Emma. Did I take the high road you ask, or the Woodhouse way? 

Jane Austen’s heroine Emma Woodhouse knows the power of a friendly omission, actually taking it one step further adding clever manipulation to achieve her goal. She advises her friend Harriet Smith by not advising her at all; – asking well placed questions that prompt Harriet’s insecurity, and skillfully guides her toward the decision that Emma wants her to make. Scary stuff! 

Illustration by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, London, (1948)

This scene was one of the earliest examples in the novel of how full of herself Miss Woodhouse can be. I have often wondered how a young woman raised without a mother and in a secluded environment learned how to be so conniving beyond her years. The way she moves the conversation away from her having to give Harriet a direct answer to Harriet coming to the conclusion that she should decline Robert Martins proposal is disturbing. 

Some people might admire her strength of conviction and say her cunning was ingenious, but it just throws up a big red flag for me. How can we like a heroine who is so controlling? What will she do next to poor naïve Harriet and the rest of the Highbury community? Was Jane Austen correct in warning her family that she had created a heroine “whom no-one but myself will much like.”? 

Illustration by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, London (1948)

Anyone who has read the novel or seen one of the movies knows the answer, but did you also remember the lesson that Jane Austen gave us about advice and when it turns to avarice? I did, and it may have saved me from a very uncomfortable situation. 

*Illustrations by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, London, 1948

Emma: Just Desserts for Austen’s Mr. Elton

Image of steel engraving frontispiece by William Greatbatch after George Pickering, Emma, (1833)DISCERN

Mr. Elton was only too happy. Harriet listened, and Emma drew in peace. She must allow him to be still frequently coming to look; anything less would certainly have been too little in a lover; and he was ready at the smallest intermission of the pencil, to jump up and see the progress, and be charmed. There was no being displeased with such an encourager, for his admiration made him discern a likeness almost before it was possible. She could not respect his eye, but his love and his complaisance were unexceptionable. Mr. Elton, Emma, Chapter 6

This passage is a great example of why many believe Jane Austen’s Emma is actually a mystery novel, and not a comical romance. Here she has laid out a great physic clue about the fate of Mr. Elton, which until today, had totally passed my notice. To understand Austen foreshadowing, one would have to meet, and or believe in the following three conditions.

  1. You have read the entire novel.
  2. Agreed to the possibility that Emma was a sly mystery disguised as a comic romance.
  3. Believe that in fiction and in true life, characters and or people are often attracted to the exact person that they deserve.

If we investigate further, Mr. Elton is observing Emma Woodhouse sketch a portrait of Miss Harriet Smith. He is hovering over Emma, fussing over her progress, and praising her before the image is even visible. Total foppery and affectation. What a suck-up!

After Mr. Elton’s solicitous attempts to woo Miss Woodhouse are flatly rejected, he quickly marries wealthy but outrageously un-couth Augusta Hawkins on the rebound. She is officious and overbearing. Emma is offended and annoyed, thinking her insufferable and ill-bred; unable to understand what attractions she held to him.

We continue to see examples of Mrs. Elton’s ill judged and presumptuous opinions until Austen drops another clue flatly in our laps. From the following conversation that she has with Mr. Weston regarding his son Frank Churchill, we at once understand Mr. and Mrs. Elton’s ironic attraction to each other.

“A very fine young man indeed, Mr. Weston. You know I candidly told you I should form my own opinion; and I am happy to say that I am extremely pleased with him. You may believe me. I never compliment. I think him a very handsome young man, and his manners are precisely what I like and approve — so truly the gentleman, without the least conceit or puppyism. You must know I have a vast dislike to puppies — quite a horror of them. They were never tolerated at Maple Grove. Neither Mr. Suckling nor me had ever any patience with them; and we used sometimes to say very cutting things! Selina, who is mild almost to a fault, bore with them much better.” Emma, Chapter 38

Here she is, talking and preaching about how she can not abide puppyism, when in fact, the very man that she married is the biggest puppy in Highbury!

Just desserts I say!

*Steel engraving frontispiece, “There was no being displeased with such an encourager”  by William Greatbatch, after George Pickering, Emma, published by Richard Bentley, London, (1833)

Pride & Prejudice: The Mystique of Austen’s Mr. Darcy

Illustration of Mr. Darcy, by Robert Ball, Double Day, Inc, (1945)MIEN

…but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report, which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The Narrator on Mr. Darcy, Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 3

It is a well known fact that Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice is one of the most acclaimed and beloved novels of literature. It has been recognized as such by reaching the top of many of the ‘best‘ or ‘favorite‘ book lists from readers, publishers and academia that have been conducted as of late. It is all very flattering and gratifying to Janeites who have long held it in high esteem among Austen’s milieu, but when society elevates its cultural accomplishments with accolades, one is compelled to ask why.

To answer the question properly, one could write a book extolling Pride & Prejudice’s merits, so to ‘cut to the chase’, I will go with gut instinct and credit the hero, Mr. Darcy for its success. The quote above is Jane Austen’s introduction to the character from the opening chapters of the novel, and aptly condenses all of my arguments in his favor quiet nicely. Mr. Darcy is interesting by nature of his physical appearance, refined manner, and Image of Sir Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy, Pride & Prejudice, MGM, (1940)financial situation! At this point in the novel he has not spoken yet, so I will throw intellect into the mix as well. Any one of these attributes alone could recommend a new man in the neighborhood, but combine all four of these qualities and he is a male sex bomb! The Regency Icon equivalent of hunky actor George Clooney, aristocratic Prince William, and filthy rich Warren Buffett, all rolled into one intriguing personae. Irresistible!

Image of David Rintoul as Mr. Darcy, Pride & Prejudice, BBC, (1979)If we look even deeper yet, physical charms and big bank accounts can be a bit shallow and unrewarding spiritually as we see in Austen’s other charming rich boy of Pride and Prejudice, Charles Bingley. He is appealing enough to readers as a side dish, but he lacks the intellect, air of dignity and mien mystique of his particular friend Mr. Darcy. Bingley’s open and engaging manners make him agreeable and approachable, but there is no ‘back story’ brewing in Bingley’s life. He does not challenge our intellect or stimlate our passions. He is exactly what he appears to be – a fine, friendly young man of good fortune – end of story.

Image of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, Pride & Prejudice, BBC, (1995)Darcy is another matter. His haughty, quiet, and refined demeanor elevates him in our minds (and his) above the country gentility of the Meryton Assembly. His sharp intellect and reserved manner are what captivate our interest. Who is this man, and why does he act that way? Why does he think our heroine Lizzy Bennet is only tolerable? Why won’t he dance with any of the local ladies? Is he just a snob, or is shy? Austen has established an aire of mystique, and our romantic curiosity is arroused.

Image of MatthewMcFadden as Mr. Darcy, Pride & Prejudice, (2005)Many people read Pride and Prejudice and think that it is about the five Bennet girl’s quest for husbands. The main character Elizabeth Bennet is often credited as the finest literary heroine ever written. These points may be true, but I put it to you that if Austen had not created such an arrogant, intellectual, and mysterious hero as Mr. Darcy to pique Lizzy Bennet into crisp dialogue and strong prejudices, the book would be forgotten, languishing as a Regency era amusement in the British library catalogue of early female writers.

Do you want to know what others think of Mr. Darcy and his incredible influence on our culture? Check out some of these great online articles.

*illustration of Mr. Darcy by Robert Ball, Double Day, Inc., Garden City, New York, (1945)   

A valuable woman

Image of watercolour painting of poet Sara Coleridge & Edith May Warter, by Edward Nash (1820)VALUABLE

“I cannot rate her beauty as you do,” said he; “but she is a pretty little creature, and I am inclined to think very well of her disposition. Her character depends upon those she is with; but in good hands she will turn out a valuable woman.”Mr. Knightley on Harriet Smith, Emma, Chapter 8

Ah, Harriet Smith, that dear docile creature. So willingly amenable to Emma’s advice and guidance. Sweet natured and supple. Putty, ready to be sculpted into the woman that Emma thinks she ought to be.

Some say that she is a sop, but I LOVE Harriet. Pure of heart, even tempered, and truly artless. Jane Austen has given us a treasure to cherish and root for.

Harriet certainly was not clever, but she had a sweet, docile, grateful disposition; was totally free from conceit; and only desiring to be guided by any one she looked up to. Her early attachment to herself was very amiable; and her inclination for good company, and power of appreciating what was elegant and clever, shewed that there was no want of taste, though strength of understanding must not be expected. Ch 4 

 Even Mr. Knightley, the voice of reason and authority in the novel, who was at first opposed to Emma’s choice of companion, later thinks very highly of her. So why do some misguided souls dislike her?

Image of the cover of Emma, published by Dover Publications (1999)I have heard/read shocking slander about her character. In the introduction to the novel in the Dover (1999) edition of Emma, Harriet is described as “pretty but dreary“; from the on-line article The Modern Sorcerer, author Scott Horton thinks Harriet is “the naïve and rather simple illegitimate daughter of a somebody“; and in The Enigma that is Harriet Smith, further debasement by Ivor Morris ensues.

The question arises whether Harriet’s moderate mental powers would be a hindrance. Emma sees the want of cleverness as adverse; and our own early impressions are of a thoughtlessness and indecision implicit in the “‘Oh, dear, no'” and “‘Oh! dear, yes!'” of Harriet’s hasty assents during their first walk (87), the see-saw response to Emma’s inference that Mr. Martin does not read – “‘Oh, yes! – that is, no – I do not know – but I believe he has read a good deal – but not what you would think anything of'” (29) – and the agonising at Ford’s as to the destination of the purchased muslin and ribbon.

Ok, enough already. If her greatest faults are that she uses short sentences to express herself, and has difficulty choosing ribbon colours, then I think her critics as snobbish as Emma herself. Honestly, I think that poor Harriet is a target and easy prey to those who choose to place her beneath them because of her social position “the natural daughter of somebody“, her scrambled education at Mrs. Goddard’s School, and her inexperience of the ways of the world. Geesh, give her a break, she’s only 17!

A Study of Dialogism, by Barbara Seeber, McGill Queen Press (2000)For further reading in defence of the amiable Miss Harriet Smith, you will enjoy General Consent in Jane Austen: A Study of Dialogism, by Barbara Karolina Seeber, published by McGill Queen Press (2000), where an entire chapter entitled “Exactly the something which her home required“: The “unmerited punishment” of Harriet Smith, is devoted to the author’s opinions and others, of Miss Smith and how she is solely and undeservedly maligned in the novel. Bravo Babs!

*Image of watercolour portrait of poet Sara Coleridge, and Edith May Warter, by Edward Nash (1820) National Portrait Gallery

Taciturn disposition

Image of Kiera Knightley & matthew MacFadyen in Pride & Prejudice (2005)TACITURN 

“Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?”

“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together; and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged, as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible.”

“Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?”

“Both,” replied Elizabeth archly; “for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb.” Mr. Darcy & Elizabeth Bennet, Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 18

One of my favourite’s scenes of Darcy and Lizzy sparing. She is miffed at herself for her knee-jerk acceptance of his offer to dance (did she forget to use the dance card ploy?), and he is numb from his lack of resistience of her fine eyes (bet he wished he’d not been such a savage)!

What follows, is one of the most famous repartie’s in literary history. She sharply taunts him along with with her smooth insults. He fumbles for come-backs not quite sure how to take her all in since no lady has ever spoken to him like that before. How anyone can spar and dance at the same time, is amazing too me.

Image of the cover of the DVD of Pride & Prejudice, (2005)In preparation for this post, I watched this scene in the four movie adaptations available on DVD.

P&P0 (1940), staring Greer Garson & Sir Laurence Olivier

P&P1 (1979), staring Elizabeth Gravies & David Rintoul

P&P2 (1995), staring Jennifer Elhe & Colin Firth

P&P3 (2005), staring Kiera Knightley & Matthew McFayden

 And I am surprised to tell you that I have a new appreciation for Pride & Prejudice 2005, staring Kiera Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen. I love the way she is so surley to him and he is terrified of her! Oooo, abhorence simmering.