Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sanditon and Other Stories ~ Jane Austen, ed. Peter Washington

WHEN Cassandra had attained her 16th year, she was lovely & amiable, & chancing to fall in love with an elegant Bonnet her Mother had just compleated, bespoke by the Countess of ----, she placed it on her gentle Head & walked from her Mother's shop to make her Fortune. "The Beautiful Cassandra"

Well, I've officially read all of Austen's work, and I feel a bit like the beautiful Cassadra myself, at a point in my life when I'm about to set off into the World to make my Fortune. That's the journey of all of Austen's heroines, actually. They're all challenged to find their place in the world while preserving their integrity. That's the real appeal of her novels; not the romance. The romance is fun, but it's just the structure she uses, the only one that was available to her, for her purposes. Austen explores the inner life of a young woman like no one else, and that's why her work is so much more than boy-meets-girl.

I murdered my father at a very early period of my Life, I have since murdered my Mother, and I am now going to murder my Sister. I have changed my religion so often that at present I have not an idea of any left. I have been a perjured witness in every public tryal for these past twelve Years; and I have forged my own will. In short, there is scarcely a crime that I have not committed. "A Letter from a Young Lady, whose feeling being too Strong for her Judgement, led her into the commission of Errors which her Heart disapproved. --"

The juvenilia is just crazy. It's pure wacky Monty Python-esque absurdity. She was just a teenager, but some of this stuff, like The History of England, is sheer genius. The gloves are off; in the novels her humor is snarky and biting, but here she just lets fly: Laura and Sophia taking turns fainting on a sofa in Love and Freindship, Eliza being partially eaten by her sons in Henry and Eliza, the constantly drunk Johnson family in Jack and Alice. Of the later works (The Watsons, Sanditon), I think Lady Susan retains the most of the juvenilia's exuberance.

Upon the whole, I commend my own conduct in this affair extremely, & regard it as a very happy instance of circumspection & tenderness. Some Mothers would have insisted on their daughter's accepting so good an offer on the first overture, but I could not answer it to myself to force Frederica into a marriage from which her heart revolted; & instead of adopting so harsh a measure, merely propose to make it her own choice, by rendering her thoroughly uncomfortable till she does accept him. -- But enough of this tiresome girl.


Austen just so thoroughly enjoys having a nasty, scheming vixen as her main character, it's a shame she used that device only once. It's also a shame that no one's filmed Lady Susan (it's complete, unlike the other two); I mean, do we really need Pride and Prejudice VII: Return of Collinses?
Her verse is unremarkable, but then neoclassicists pretty much killed poetry dead with their heroic couplets. The Enlightenment makes for great science and really, really bad verse (okay, I admit the technical brilliance of Pope's Essay on Criticism, but nobody reads it for pleasure, that's for sure). Washington's intro is a nice little discussion of the concept of Major/Minor writers and works, and how Austen undermines that very dichotomy.
Aw, hell, I haven't really got anything deep or meaningful to say, I'm still entrenched in the post-book downer. Might as well finish up with my favorite part, Sophia's death-bed scene in Love and Freindship:
One fatal swoon has cost me my Life... Beware of swoons, Dear Laura... A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the Body and if not too violent, is, I dare say, conducive to Health in its consequences -- Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint --

As good advice as any.

8 Comments:

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Winter said...

I wish I could get you to Cardiff. These women over here just don't appreciate Austen. I have had that "The romance is NOT the point" argument!

 
At 4:50 PM, Blogger Andygrrl said...

Hey, you don't have to ask me twice! I've always wanted to see Wales, and I love meeting fellow Friends of Jane. :-)

 
At 6:18 PM, Blogger FemiKnitMafia said...

Wifey wants you to know that she's anti-blog (being married to a blogger is hard, I hear), but she likes yours. She's a huge Austen fan.

 
At 1:47 AM, Blogger Naiades said...

is that a challenge woods? seriously though, andygrrl, it would be really great to get you over here some time.

Always welcome

 
At 2:51 AM, Blogger Winter said...

They're all challenged to find their place in the world while preserving their integrity. That's the real appeal of her novels; not the romance. The romance is fun, but it's just the structure she uses, the only one that was available to her, for her purposes. Austen explores the inner life of a young woman like no one else, and that's why her work is so much more than boy-meets-girl.

That is exactly what I've been trying to say to the "I don't like Jane Austen" brigade, but in much more articulate language than I can manage after several glasses of wine. I'll have to memeorise it.

R. you're gonna have to read the books before we can discuss properly ( ;

 
At 4:03 AM, Blogger Naiades said...

M, I know, it's on my list of projects to do AD (after dissertaion)!! At least i don't take up the I don't like Jane position. I just don't know!!

R

 
At 6:17 AM, Blogger Andygrrl said...

Holy crap. I have fans. ::keels over from shock::

Anyway, naiades, Austen will be a great post-dissertation read; at least check out P&P if nothing else.
And Woods, feel free to memorize and share as much of my knowledge and wisdom as you like ;-) I think the big difference between Austen and chicklit/the modern updates is that her heroines aren't actually husband hunting. They may be in love with a particular guy, but not a single one of them is actively searching for a man. They're all resolved to be spinsters if they can't marry someone they love and respect. The romance just kind of happens. Whereas in updates and chicklit, romance is the whole point of their lives. They're all running around going "MUST HAVE A MAN!!". Which is interesting, since the consequences of being single are considerably worse for Austen's heroines than modern ones. They have so much to lose; turning down Mr. Darcy is way more serious and risky than turning down Mark Darcy.

And femiknit, tell Wifey thanks for the compliment! Behold the power Jane!

 
At 7:59 AM, Blogger Winter said...

Oh. yes, Pride and Prejudice would be a perfect antidote to post-dissertation malaise.

If you think about it, Austen's books would be unbearably dark and depressing if they didn't have some romance and happy endings.

I go blue in the face when people compare Austen with chicklit or mills & boon. Ok. it's probably true to say that not all chicklit is terribly badly written, but it should never be compared with one the greatest writers (& possibly the greatest novelist) in the english langiage! Austen's prose is hardly ever less than beautiful.

 

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