New Jane Austen Writing?

Of course, I see something like this and I just swoon.

The “new writing” really ends up being just a “snippet” of her writing, and in fact only a “snippet” of one of her brother’s sermons – written in her handwriting – in 1814. But what I found interesting is what it says: “Men may get into a habit of repeating the words of our Prayers by rote, perhaps without thoroughly understanding – certainly without thoroughly feeling their full force & meaning.” The author, Alison Flood, points out that the subject matter of the quote in fact parallels Austen’s novel Mansfield Park, published the same year.
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Fifty Shades of Shame

Yes, that’s right…after holding out for forever, and feeling buried by work and so many other things, I finally gave up and decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey. Why? Well, as Neil Gaiman said, we all need an escape sometimes, and sometimes the heavy fiction I am so prone to reading is just not good to read in the midst of a school year. Also, friends of mine – and my mother-in-law (YIKES!) – have read it, and they seemed largely unaffected by it (both literally and intellectually), so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to read just the first book of the series. After all, an escape is fine every once in a while: a balanced approach is always good, right? After all, I try to read “real” literature the majority of the time.
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Mansfield Park and Religion

For my Oxford course, one of our option activities was to look at the different ways religion is mentioned in the novel. My response is below, and I’ll post more as I can!

I would have to return to the Sotherton Chapel, and Mary Crawford’s speech against organized religion:

“At any rate is safer to leave people to their own devices on such subjects. Every body likes to go their own way – to chuse their own time and manner of devotion. The obligation of attendance, the formality, the restraint, the length of time – altogether it is a formidable thing and what nobody likes…” (81-82)

Naturally, given the fact that Mary Crawford, in all her forwardness, is the one to speak against religion is, in my estimation, more a criticism of her character than the religion of the time. However, her point of view does give some insight into how more, well, shall we say, liberal members of society viewed their religious obligations.

Edmund, of course, has a response for her: “Do you think the minds which are suffered, which are indulged in wanderings in a chapel, would be more collected in a closet?” (82)

Edmund’s controlled, careful response, which even for his mild temperament “required a little recollection” makes a well-argued case against people choosing their own forms of devotion and for people engaging in religious experiences within the community of the church.

Cambridge Companion Chapter

Here is a posting I just made to my blog for my Oxford class. As it contains some interesting information, I thought it appropriate to publish it here as well.

I read the chapter “Money” in The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. I read the entire chapter rather than reading only portions of it, and was happy to finally have an explanation for the different incomes provided (what can a family do with £100 or £2000 a year, as incomes are always referenced in Austen novels. I suppose I could have looked it up before, but I appreciated the fact that all of the information presented in the chapter allowed me a better insight into the world of incomes in Austen’s novels.

Also, I was interested to find that there is a different monetary ‘focus,’ so to speak, in each of Austen’s novels. In the first three novels, “money…exists for the most part as a set of restrictive anxieties attached to the romance plot by the narrowest definition of domestic economy” (134). In the last three novels, though, the relationship between the plot of the romance and money is much more intricate: the question of “income” in Mansfield Park (134), “consumer signs” in Emma (136), or “credit” in Persuasion (138).

I found the above information interesting in that it opened my eyes to a new depth of information within Austen’s novels – and now I think I’ll need to re-read them all yet again! There’s always something new.

Citation for the Cambridge Companion follows:

Copeland, Edward, and Juliet McMaster. The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. 2nd. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 127-143. Print.

An Oxford Class? Really? Oxford University?

I am taking a class on Jane Austen via Oxford University online, specifically Trinity College.

Typing that sentence makes me: completely geek out, giggle, feel a sense of pride, and anticipate the next class I get to take. Also, it reminds me that, in addition to finishing out a semester, I’ve got homework that needs finishing!

Posting that information here helps me explain why I’ve not posted anything in a while. The course requires us to read several books, some of which I have read, some of which I have not, so I had to switch from reading Mansfield Park to reading Northanger Abbey, which of course I don’t mind at all, but it did throw a slight kink in my progression of writing on my blog.

All that being said, there is the update. I will return to posting shortly, most likely in the next week, because my seniors are done and I’ll have afternoons actually at school to finish grading and planning work, and therefore time at home to work on my homework/prepare posts for my blog.

Mansfield Park – Entry 2

So, since I left off at the end of Chapter Three, that’s where I’ll begin today.

First in the third chapter is a completely understandable admonition from Sir Thomas to Tom the younger regarding his lack of self-control and its resulting consequences for Edmund:

“‘I blush for you,Tom,’” said he, in his most dignified manner, ‘I blush for the expedient which I am driven on, and I trust I may pity your feelings as a brother on the occasion. You have robbed Edmund for ten, twenty, thirty years, perhaps for life, of more than half the income which ought to be his’” (23).

A fatherly admonition, indeed, in which Sir Thomas “tried to impress his eldest son” with a guilty conscience over the fact that his life choices had cost his younger brother the living to which he was originally to succeed. Instead, then, the living was to be sold to Dr. Grant.

Tom, though, as I suspect most over-indulged children would, dismisses his father’s concerns:

“Tom listened with some shame and some sorrow; but escaping as quickly as possible, could soon with cheerful selfishness reflect, 1st, that he had not been half so much in debt as some of his friends; 2dly, that his father had made the most tiresome piece of work of it; and 3dly, that the future incumbent, whoever he might be, would, in all probability, die very soon” (24)

Why would Tom fail to internalize his father’s admonition? Why would he consider it only for a moment and then “cheerfully” disengage from his father’s admonition and his brother’s misfortune? The simple answer is that Sir Thomas has so far indulged Tom by discharging his debts, obligations, and responsibilities, that Tom doesn’t consider it necessary to feel guilt nor make any necessary changes to his behavior.

Here, therefore, we have the first subliminal criticism of Sir Thomas’ abilities as a father. Then, in addition to his verbal admonition to his son regarding his behavior, Thomas the elder took his son with him to Antigua “in the hope of detaching him from some bad connections at home” (31).

As he departs, though, Austen informs us that the Miss Bertrams found their father “no object of love to them…and his absence was unhappily most welcome.” Not only that, but now that one over-indulged child is out of the picture,

“[The Miss Bertrams] were relieved [by Sir Thomas' absence] from all restraint; and without aiming at one gratification that would probably have been forbidden by Sir Thomas, they felt themselves immediately at their own disposal, and to have every indulgence within their reach” (31).

So, Sir Thomas focuses on the recovery of one child’s senses, but at the expense of the senses of two of his other children. I hardly believe that the “indulgences” of the Miss Bertrams would have been anything more than childish “pleasures,” but the message is still plain: Sir Thomas’ ability to properly guide his children through development is, despite his ability to think of Fanny and her situation with care, lacking a bit in the principal of balance – and also application.

In Chapter Four, Miss Maria Bertram finds herself confronted with the “duty” of matrimony in the form of Mr. Rushworth. Such a situation was, of course, perfectly normal. Maria was beautiful, and so Mr. Rushworth “fancied himself in love” with her, a pitfall witnessed in many other Austen works (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer just to name two). The match, so “unquestionably advantageous,” of course made Sir Thomas, even in Antigua, “truly happy,” because “It was a connection exactly of the right sort; in the same country, and the same interest; and his most hearty concurrence was conveyed as soon as possible.” I cannot criticize Sir Thomas for adhering to the commonplace practices of the time: find an acceptable match for your daughters so they don’t end up poor.

And so ends my second entry for Mansfield Park. I’ve some more reading to do now. I really should have done more reading over Spring Break, but honestly, my brain needed a bit of decompression time. I read some, but not nearly as much as I thought I would. Enjoy.

Mansfield Park, Entry 1

There are several things on which I wish to comment in this post, and will attempt to organize it in the most logical manner based on my observations. In this instance, I will list my observations chronologically rather than by topic.

First, I found it rather interesting that Sir Thomas Bertram was looking for ways to assist Frances Ward (Price) after her marrying “to disoblige her family.” Even though, as Austen states, Frances “could hardly have made a more untoward choice,” Sir Thomas, “from a general wish of doing right,” wanted to be able to help provide for his sister’s family. Based upon first impressions, then, Sir Thomas is not too terrible a person at all.

In comparison to the initial presentation of Thomas Bertram, then, Frances Ward’s husband, a man with “A large and still increasing family…disabled for active service, but not the less equal to company and good liquor, and a very small income to supply their wants” hardly measures up (5-6).

Subsequently, when young Fanny finds herself at Mansfield Park, in the society of those with higher social standing and more refined behaviors, one can hardly fault Sir Thomas for the following caution he issues to Mrs. Norris:

“There will be some difficulty in our way, Mrs. Norris,” observed Sir Thomas, “as to the distinction proper to be made between the girls as they grow up; how to preserve in the minds of my daughters the consciousness of what they are, without making them think too lowly of their cousin; and how, without depressing her spirits too far, to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram (12).

Within the caution, though, surfaces compassion for a girl Sir Thomas has never before encountered. Again, as before, it appears that he is quite the gentleman when it comes to looking after the welfare of others and caring for relations as their needs arise.

On the very next page, we’re introduced to the idea that Sir Thomas has a “most untoward gravity of deportment,” which apparently cannot make up for his attempts to be “conciliating” toward Fanny, and so she immediately reckons on Lady Bertram as “the less aweful character of the two (13).” Such a discovery is, again, not a stain on Sir Thomas’ character. For a young girl raised in a household under the care of a disabled, drunken father, encountering a man entirely in possession of himself would seem intimidating. Again, on page 20, Austen informs us of the fact that, “though truly an anxious father, [Sir Thomas] was not outwardly affectionate, and the reserve of his manner repressed all the flow of [the children's] spirits before him.” Is not such behavior what was expected of titled men in the Regency era? Aloofness and a bit of a sense of grandeur? Of course children would find ssuch deportment off-putting. That is, however, unless this is the beginning of the peek into Sir Thomas’ deficiencies.

This, at least, brings us to Chapter 3 – and I believe I’ll save that entry until tomorrow, so as not to appear long-winded.

All references in this post – and future posts, unless otherwise noted – are from the Penguin Classics version of Mansfield Park. Citation is as follows:

Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. London: Penguin Classics, 2003. Print.

Beginning Mansfield Park

As I finished Sense and Sensibility, I was wondering about which Austen book to read next. Then, I happened to get the stomach flu or some such thing, and spent a day on the couch watching movies. After I watched Shakespeare in Love, an absolute sick day imperative, I went on to watch Mansfield Park (the version with Frances O’Connor, Embeth Davidtz, Jonny Lee Miller, etc.) and decided that’s the book on which I would next focus. I read the book already, though it was some time ago, so it’s necessary for me to re-read the text in order to analyze the work. I’ve read quite a few chapters already, and have quite a few thoughts which I will shortly share, as I am on Spring Break and have the time.

Well, I finished one book.

Although I was disappointed in my quest for a disappointing father figure (with one only very minor exception in Mr. Palmer), I have to admit that I found Austen’s first official publication enjoyable. I can’t believe, having a Jane Austen action figure as I do, that I hadn’t read it before now.

That being said, here are my final thoughts about Sense and Sensibility. This may take a while.

Mr. Palmer

Remarkably like Mr. Bennet, Mr. Palmer was “a little soured by finding, like many others of his sex, that through some unaccountable bias in favour of beauty, he was the husband of a very silly woman.” Well, in an age where marriages were arranged to increase fortune far more often than as a love match, it was quite astute of Austen to say he was “soured,” rather than saying that he should have known better (80-81). One can hardly find fault in him for adhering to the standard norms of society. Oh wait, Jane Austen can. Every heroine ends up with her man based on a good, strong, attachment – not an empty-headed match based on society’s expectations.

There is this snippet, however:

“Mr. Palmer maintained the common, but unfatherly opinion among his sex, of all infants being alike; and though [Mrs. Jennings] could plainly perceive at different times the most striking resemblance between this baby and every one of his relations on both sides, there was no convincing his father of it; no persuading him to believe that it was not exactly like every other baby of the same age; nor could he even be brought to acknowledge the simple proposition of its being the finest child in the world” (175).

That definitely is not a real black mark against his character, or cause for nominating him as a disappointing father figure, despite Austen’s use of “unfatherly” and the fact that he wasn’t entirely impressed with his wrinkled-raisin newborn. I for one know that in contemporary society, not all men are “into” how absolutely adorable newborn babies are, nor can they, like a woman can, pick out the child’s resemblance to random family members. So, for Mr. Palmer, no harm, no foul.

Lady Middleton

How lovely is it that Lady Middleton can maintain absolutely no control over her children at all?

“‘John is in such spirits to-day!’ said she, on his taking Miss Steele’s pocket handkerchief, and throwing it out of the window. ‘He is full of monkey tricks.’

And soon afterwards, on the second boy’s violently inching one of the same lady’s fingers, she fondly observed, “How playful William is!’”

The above scenario plays in perfectly with Austen’s presentation of how Lady Middleton didn’t care for Elinor and Marianne: “Because they neither flattered herself nor her children, she could not believe them good-natured, and because they were fond of reading, she fancied them satirical: perhaps without knowing what it was to be satirical; but that did not signify. It was censure in common use, and easily given.”

Wow. How loaded can an explanation of such an empty-headed woman’s feelings be? Well, pretty loaded.

“Because they neither flattered herself nor her children, she could not believe them good-natured…” My interpretation: Lady Middleton = self-involved, vapid wench who likes to always feel that either she or her children are at the center of everyone’s attention.

“…and because they were fond of reading, she fancied them satirical:” Of course we all know that well-read, educated women were nothing more than a danger to themselves and others.

“perhaps without knowing what it was to be satirical; but that did not signify.” Lady Middleton, as I said above, is vapid. She considers the Miss Dashwoods to be satirical without even having a complete understanding of what it actually means to be satirical. But, of course, because it was not necessary for a woman to be educated enough to understand the basis of her opinions, Lady Middleton’s opinion of the girls was entirely justified and the fact that she was unaware of the meaning of satirical was entirely insignificant. I. love. Austen.

Mrs. Dashwood

Well, I set out looking for a disappointing father figure, and found a bit of a disappointing matriarch instead. When Mrs. Jennings asks the Miss Dashwoods to accompany her to London, Mrs. Dashwood takes no issue with the prospect, and gives her consent for the girls to go. Elinor, however, experiences some disquiet, and she

made no further direct opposition to the plan, and merely referred it to her mother’s decision, from whom however she scarcely expected to receive any support in her endeavour to prevent a visit which she could not approve of for Marianne, and which on her own account she had particular reasons to avoid” (108).

Well, let’s first look at the phrase “scarcely expected to receive any support.” The phrase in and of itself contains a negative connotation, but then added to the fact that Elinor herself did not approve of the visit to town because of her concern for Marianne seeing Willoughby, a concern with entirely credible foundations considering the uncertainty of Marianne and Willoughby’s engagement.

Then, when all is settled, though, Mrs. Dashwood makes her apology to Marianne, as Marianne attempts to apologize for her own “folly.” “‘Rather say your mother’s imprudence, my child,’ said Mrs. Dashwood; she must be answerable’” (249, not my emphasis).

So, then, Mrs. Dashwood is not entirely irredeemable, and at any rate, I didn’t set out to examine mothers in the Austen novels. I just thought the arc of “detached mother” to “I’m-so-sorry-I-should-have-been-more-involved-mother” interesting.

Favorite quote:
“I have no notion of people’s making such a to-do about money and greatness” (182).

Thank you, Jane. Speaking in terms of a contemporary context, I find the above quote ironically pertinent. With all the furor over teachers, how much money we make, how hard we work, what we do, etc., it’s true – I absolutely don’t understand why people are making such a big deal about teachers’ money, and not such a big deal about the money made by “great” entities such as GE, who get what are in fact ridiculous tax breaks that amount to more money than I will likely ever make in my lifetime. I don’t want to overly editorialize a current situation based on a single line from a novel written 200 years ago, so I’m done.