Thursday, June 24, 2010

Janeicillin Shortage

I hate putting up these posts. I feel horrible that once again I have failed to provide my fellow Austen addicts with their much needed dose of Janeicillin, but I just can't focus on it right now. It's hanging over my head like a noose. The perils of writers block - so like vertigo, as if you are falling into your blank computer screen - are too much to suffer, leaving me no choice but to shelf this project until inspiration returns. I hope it wont be too long. Perhaps freeing myself of the obligation will help. I'm very sorry and will not refer to the subject again until I can show something for it. Please accept my deepest apologies.

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

I did it! I finished all the books I committed myself to when signing up for the All About The Brontes Challenge last year. Fortunately, Agnes Grey proved a much quicker read than the other novels, allowing me to complete the challenge. How little I perceived the life events that would hinder my attempts to finish the challenge on time when I signed up last fall! How happy I am to have reached my goal in spite of those life events! I thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering Anne and Charlotte's lesser known novels but, in the future, I will think twice before committing myself to any similar challenges, as it has proven rather stressful.

Though Agnes Grey is Anne Bronte's best known novel, I think The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a far better read. The story of Agnes Grey, while it contains some romance to hold the plot together, is more a documentary on the life of a governess than a novel. It is, therefore, a perfect companion piece to Jane Eyre, and that is probably why it is so much better known than The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. However, Anne indulges in none of the Gothic extravagances of her sisters. Though her books are marked by female suffering, born out of social limitations, they are always relieved by a happy ending in the form of a loving marriage. In this way, her books are far more akin to Jane Austen's than to her sisters'. Both writers are concerned with marriage as the one true haven for the educated lady of the19th century and the anguish that ensues when it is entered into lightly. Of course, Anne is a Bronte, so we cannot expect anything light, bright, and sparkling (as is Austen's style) from her. Still, I like to imagine that she both read and loved Austen. There are moments in the book that seem to be direct parallels to Austen's work. For instance, one of Agnes' charges is a spoiled and flirtatious young woman named Miss Murray. Let's look at a scene in which she rejects the proposal of a pompous clergyman:
‘I proudly drew myself up, and with the greatest coolness expressed my astonishment at such an occurrence, and hoped he had seen nothing in my conduct to justify his expectations.  You should have seen how his countenance fell!  He went perfectly white in the face.  I assured him that I esteemed him and all that, but could not possibly accede to his proposals; and if I did, papa and mamma could never be brought to give their consent.’

‘“But if they could,” said he, “would yours be wanting?”

‘“Certainly, Mr. Hatfield,” I replied, with a cool decision which quelled all hope at once.  Oh, if you had seen how dreadfully mortified he was - how crushed to the earth by his disappointment! really, I almost pitied him myself.

‘One more desperate attempt, however, he made.  After a silence of considerable duration, during which he struggled to be calm, and I to be grave - for I felt a strong propensity to laugh - which would have ruined all - he said, with the ghost of a smile - “But tell me plainly, Miss Murray, if I had the wealth of Sir Hugh Meltham, or the prospects of his eldest son, would you still refuse me?  Answer me truly, upon your honour.”

‘“Certainly,” said I.  “That would make no difference whatever.”

‘It was a great lie, but he looked so confident in his own attractions still, that I determined not to leave him one stone upon another.  He looked me full in the face; but I kept my countenance so well that he could not imagine I was saying anything more than the actual truth.

‘“Then it’s all over, I suppose,” he said, looking as if he could have died on the spot with vexation and the intensity of his despair.  But he was angry as well as disappointed.  There was he, suffering so unspeakably, and there was I, the pitiless cause of it all, so utterly impenetrable to all the artillery of his looks and words, so calmly cold and proud, he could not but feel some resentment; and with singular bitterness he began - “I certainly did not expect this, Miss Murray.  I might say something about your past conduct, and the hopes you have led me to foster, but I forbear, on condition - ”

‘“No conditions, Mr. Hatfield!” said I, now truly indignant at his insolence.

‘“Then let me beg it as a favour,” he replied, lowering his voice at once, and taking a humbler tone: “let me entreat that you will not mention this affair to anyone whatever.  If you will keep silence about it, there need be no unpleasantness on either side - nothing, I mean, beyond what is quite unavoidable: for my own feelings I will endeavour to keep to myself, if I cannot annihilate them - I will try to forgive, if I cannot forget the cause of my sufferings.  I will not suppose, Miss Murray, that you know how deeply you have injured me.  I would not have you aware of it; but if, in addition to the injury you have already done me - pardon me, but, whether innocently or not, you
have done it - and if you add to it by giving publicity to this unfortunate affair, or naming it at all, you will find that I too can speak, and though you scorned my love, you will hardly scorn my - ”

‘He stopped, but he bit his bloodless lip, and looked so terribly fierce that I was quite frightened.  However, my pride upheld me still, and I answered disdainfully; “I do not know what motive you suppose I could have for naming it to anyone, Mr. Hatfield; but if I were disposed to do so, you would not deter me by threats; and it is scarcely the part of a gentleman to attempt it.”

‘“Pardon me, Miss Murray,” said he, “I have loved you so intensely - I do still adore you so deeply, that I would not willingly offend you; but though I never have loved, and never
can love any woman as I have loved you, it is equally certain that I never was so ill-treated by any.  On the contrary, I have always found your sex the kindest and most tender and obliging of God’s creation, till now.”  (Think of the conceited fellow saying that!)  “And the novelty and harshness of the lesson you have taught me to-day, and the bitterness of being disappointed in the only quarter on which the happiness of my life depended, must excuse any appearance of asperity.  If my presence is disagreeable to you, Miss Murray,” he said (for I was looking about me to show how little I cared for him, so he thought I was tired of him, I suppose) - “if my presence is disagreeable to you, Miss Murray, you have only to promise me the favour I named, and I will relieve you at once.  There are many ladies - some even in this parish - who would be delighted to accept what you have so scornfully trampled under your feet.  They would be naturally inclined to hate one whose surpassing loveliness has so completely estranged my heart from them and blinded me to their attractions; and a single hint of the truth from me to one of these would be sufficient to raise such a talk against you as would seriously injure your prospects, and diminish your chance of success with any other gentleman you or your mamma might design to entangle.”

‘“What do your mean, sir?” said I, ready to stamp with passion.

‘“I mean that this affair from beginning to end appears to me like a case of arrant flirtation, to say the least of it - such a case as you would find it rather inconvenient to have blazoned through the world: especially with the additions and exaggerations of your female rivals, who would be too glad to publish the matter, if I only gave them a handle to it.  But I promise you, on the faith of a gentleman, that no word or syllable that could tend to your prejudice shall ever escape my lips, provided you will - ”

‘“Well, well, I won’t mention it,” said I.  “You may rely upon my silence, if that can afford you any consolation.”

‘“You promise it?”

‘“Yes,” I answered; for I wanted to get rid of him now.

‘“Farewell, then!” said he, in a most doleful, heart-sick tone; and with a look where pride vainly struggled against despair, he turned and went away: longing, no doubt, to get home, that he might shut himself up in his study and cry - if he doesn’t burst into tears before he gets there.’

‘But you have broken your promise already,’ said I, truly horrified at her perfidy.

‘Oh! it’s only to you; I know you won’t repeat it.’
That was rather long, I know, but there is a bit of a point to this. Miss Murray is precisely the kind of young lady who aspires "to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man", which no Austen heroine would ever do, but it feels like there are several parallels in this scene to both Mr. Collins' proposal to Elizabeth and even more so to Mr. Elton's proposal to Emma. Mr. Hatfield's situation is very much like Mr. Elton's in that he has good reason to believe he has been given encouragement. His anger and disappointment, too, remind me of "Mr. E". He too is quick to marry another lady of less distinction than his first aspiring choice. 

Anne Bronte's tale is far from a lighthearted romance, but like Austen she is a studier of character and her books teach their readers to judge people by their actions, not their words. Perhaps Agnes is the type of heroine who would laugh, along side Lizzy and Emma, at the foibles of her neighbors, but as life has put her in the power of characters like Caroline Bingley, Lady Catherine, and Mrs. Elton, her circumstances are no laughing matter. Agnes Grey might be seen as a companion piece to Jane Eyre, but I also find it a valuable supplement to Austen's work, reminding us that while many characters are unpleasant to interact with socially, they must be far more intolerable to work for.

Read my other All About The Brontes Challenge reviews:
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
The Professor

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Persuasion Mashup

Another mashup for your imaginitive indulgence! Having already committed such foolishness of behalf of Mansfield Park, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice, I have moved on to my next victim, my very favorite Austen novel which, unfortunately, doesn't really seem to transfer to the screen as well as some of the others. I have great issues with the available Persuasion adaptations - the 1971 BBC mini-series is my favorite (yes, in spite of bad cinematography), largely because it is the only one that doesn't include, for some unfathomable reason, the chapter Austen deleted in which Captain Wentworth asks Anne on behalf of Admiral Croft if she will be wanting to reside at Kellynch following her rumored marriage to Mr. Elliot. I cannot fathom what possesses film makers to include this. The 1995 film is very good, other than that scene, and the 2007 version is fabulous up until the last fifteen minutes, at which point I start screaming every time I see it. Warning to the weary - I shall now indulge myself in a bout of ranting, for I really HATE the end of this film. Anne would not run ramshackle through the streets of Bath (let alone Mrs. Smith, who is supposed to be an invalid), that super prolonged prelude to a kiss in which Sally Hawkins looks as if she is about to eat Wentworth's face turns my stomach, and even if the estate weren't entailed onto Mr. Elliot, Captain Wentworth's 20,000 pounds still wouldn't buy him Kellynch Hall! Ahhhh! That felt good to get off my chest, and now I believe I am ready to engage in an extremely partial and prejudiced exercise, mixing and mashing my favorite actors from each role into my ideal Persuasion cast. Who would you pick?

Anne Elliot - This was very difficult, as all three actresses who have played the part have their strengths. Ann Firbank (1971) looks the most like I envision Anne, and though I cannot fairly blame the choices of the director on Sally Hawkins, I still can't forgive her for the end of the 2007 film, so the prize goes to Amanda Root, who really does do an exquisite job representing my favorite heroine in all of English literature.
(image -

Captain Wentworth - I typically prefer dark haired men to blonds, and actors who played beloved historical figures in Rome, but I have to give this one to Rupert Penry-Jones for his 2007 performance, which was exquisite! He captures the passion and emotion of Wentworth better than the other actors who have played this role - no easy feat, as anyone who has read that letter can attest to.

Sir Walter Elliot - I think Basil Dignam's performance, though dated in style, is the only one to have accurately captured the role (it might have something to do with him being the only one to quote the Baronetage). It is amusing that all three gentlemen who have played the part resemble each other physically. Unfortunately, there is not an image to be found.

Lady Russell - I prefer Susan Fleetwood in this role, from the 1995 production, but I must mention Alice Krige's rather sinister, 2007 portrayal, as she was also the Borg Queen (a rather terrifying personage) in the Star Trek movies. How very creepy she is, but certainly not the Lady Russell Austen created.

Mary Musgrove - I prefer Morag Hood in this role, as she is both charming when appropriate and whinny the rest of the time (I wish I had an image to share). I cannot help myself but must comment on Amanda Root's sniveling 2007 interpretation, which I loathed. Stand up straight woman! You are the daughter of a baronet!

Charles Musgrove - I like Simon Russell Beale, 1995. There is a look in his eye that perfectly captures the awkwardness of Charles predicament, torn between a high-maintenance wife and family. Today, he would live in his man cave instead constantly going off shooting. What a real character! We've all known one. Unfortunately, I could only find a picture of his back.

Louisa Musgrove -I prefer Emma Robert's 1995 performance the best. Hers is the most likeable portrayal of Louisa. This rather unsatisfying image is the only one I could find. Louisa is to the left of Harriet, and you can see Mary and Charles in the background en route to Winthrop.

(image -

Henrietta Musgrove - I must go back to '71, when Mel Martin took this role. As Louisa is the Musgrove who tempts Captain Wentworth (though only due to her availability), film makers seem to have a difficult time remembering that it is Henrietta who is generally reckoned the most handsome. As I had not even the slightest hope of finding an image, I escaped disappointment.

Elizabeth Elliot - This was another hard call, but again I think I must go back to 1971 and Valerie Gearon's portrayal. It is the most natural, later performances tending towards caricature. Again, no picture ...

Mr. Elliot - Here the Rome bias plays out. Tobias Menzies (who played Brutus) is by far my favorite Mr. Elliot. He treads that charming but sinister line terribly well. 

Mrs. and Admiral Croft - I've paired them together as Fiona Shaw and John Woodvine were picture perfect in 1995, just like they had stepped off of the streets of Bath as Austen described them right into my living room.

(image - Each Little World)

Mrs. Clay - Mary Stockley from the 2007 production. Frankly, she's the only one pretty enough for me to believe could really perceived as a serious threat to Mr. Elliot's succession, though it would be better if she had freckles, which none of the actresses in this role seem to have. What to do with all that Gowlands?

(image -

Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove - Again, I must commend the casting in 1995, for Judy Cornwell and Roger Hammond look every bit their parts as do the Crofts - large and jolly, just as they should be. I have no patience with undersized Musgroves, and even less patience with my inability to locate an image of the fat and proper ones.

Captain Harville - Robert Glenister, 1995. He looks so much the sailor (which you can't see as I again am pictureless) and delivers those lines on woman's constancy very well.

Captain Benwick - I prefer Richard McCabe (1995) in this role. Here he is pictured behind Anne and Wentworth, right after Lousia's fall from the Cobb.

(Image -

Quickly, just in the name of thoroughness, I like Mr. Shepherd as portrayed by Michael Fenton Stevens (2007), Helen Schlesinger as Mrs. Smith (1995), Sally George as Mrs. Harville (also 1995) and Paul Alexander as Charles Hayter (1971), who had very little competition (not sure who that Henry fellow in 1995 was supposed to be - are Austen fans so stupid that we can't handle two characters having the same name without being thrown into confusion? Certainly not!). I have no opinion on Lady Dalrymple and her daughter, who are as much non-entities to me as Colonel Wallis.

So there you have it. Are we in agreement or have I slighted your favorite actor? Please tell me all about it! And for those of you who haven't seen the 1971 version, check out this short clip from the very beginning of the film. You'll get a glimpse of all the Elliots, quite useful since I couldn't find images of Mary or Sir Walter. This is when the latter quotes the Baronetage - my favorite intro to my favorite book! Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley

I was so excited when I won this book on Fly High, when Laurel Ann of Austenprose was featured as one of Maria Grazia's "Blogger Buddies" and offered an amazingly generous giveaway, listing several Austen based books from which the winners could choose. I was only vaguely familiar with Casandra and Jane, so it was particularly gratifying to get my hands on a book that had pretty much slipped beneath my radar. Based on Austen's biographical information, Jill Pitkeathley (a real live Baroness, so I can relish all the joy and affectation of calling her Lady Pitkeathley throughout the remainder of this post) creates a fictional account of Jane's life, told from Cassandra's perspective. Overall I found the book rather more charming than not, particularly as it is structured around Cassandra's decision to burn most of Jane's letters (an action that will continue to torment  Janeites ad infinitum). However, anyone with the vaguest familiarity with Austen's bio will quickly realize that the entire tale is fantasy - modern fantasy, at that - portraying Jane as a determined feminist with abolitionist leanings.

Much has been made in recent years of the "real" Jane: not the kind and devoted maiden aunt her family wanted to portray, but an artistic genius struggling discontentedly against the strictures of her society. Lady Pitkeathley fully endorses this modern take on the great authoress, taking clues like the presence of The Vindication of the Rights of Woman in Mr. Austen's library and using them to endow Jane with modern sensibilities. The problem is that she goes too far, at least from my perspective. Of course, as the entire exercise is speculative (and done in a very loving and respectable manner, I should add), there is plenty of room for creative license, but Lady Pitkeathley attributes such remarkably modern notions to both Jane and Cassandra that it almost undermines the validity of the project. Some of this can be accounted for by her profession - Lady. Pitkeathley was at least trained to be a "counsellor", what we here in the States would probably call a therapist - which particularly comes through in her depiction of the troubled relationship between Jane and her mother. It is amusing, no doubt, to consider the dysfunctional aspects of the Austen family, to paint Jane as a repressed feminist, and credit her with those sympathies that modern political correctness demands of our heroes, but the result is not a better understanding of Jane's life and times, just a flight of fancy (which is not necessarily a problem).

The structure of the book is also problematic. While I find the idea of exploring Cassandra's motivation for destroying Jane's letters intriguing, there is something unsettling, almost hypocritical, about beginning a story with that act of destruction and then presenting the entire tale - exactly what she was trying to keep from public knowledge - with Cassandra in the place of a first person narrator. It just feels inconsistent, for in one moment Cassandra is cast as the stalwart defender of Jane's privacy and in the next she is exposing all the most intimate secrets they shared. I know this is a fictionalization of Cassandra's character, but let's just say that I found very little to like in Lady Pitkeathley's depiction. Her portrait of Jane is far more appealing.

But you know what? I'm really just struggling here to come up with some rationalization for the prejudice I have taken against this work. Shall I admit the real reason why I am dwelling on the problems with this book, when I am usually far kinder in my reviews, even to far worse books? The truth is that Lady Pitkeathley set my back up against the wall. Yes, there were bits and pieces of text here and there that I found lacking, but it wasn't until this line that I began to get angry, spoken by Cassandra after Jane's death:
"Someone else complete her work? Have you taken leave of your senses? Is the work she laboured over when she knew herself to be dying to be so treated, offered for completion by an amateur writer whom, however high his opinion of himself, she did not value?" 
To all of those out there who have had the audacity to pick up the pen and make something new, or continue, or rewrite Austen's novels, do you not feel like this is a rebuke for those efforts? In other moments in the book I felt the same sense of disapproval from the author, who obviously sees her own attempt as an academic endeavor, of far superior worth than the mere scribblings of fan fiction writers. As she states in the afterward: "Initially, I dismissed the idea of writing a fictional account through Cassandra's eyes, as that would mean devising words to put into the mouths of both Cassandra and Jane." Obviously, she realizes that she too is trespassing on Jane's legacy, but somehow finds this "fictional memoir", as she calls it, a more legitimate medium than JAFF, providing insight into "the wonderful interaction, devotion and the occasional problems between Cassandra and Jane Austen." This just strikes me as infuriatingly arrogant. She also says, "Some of the conversations I have suggested could have taken place, may indeed have happened; others may not have done." Have humble of Lady Pitkeathley to acknowledge that her suppositions may not be accurate!

I think I am now officially ranting. I will stop and school myself into more positive thoughts. For Austen fans, Cassandra and Jane offers a new perspective on the events of her life, but just like when watching Becoming Jane, it behooves the reader to remember that this is fiction and not in any way a substitute for a real biography. It was, overall, a fast and easy read. The prose are not of a style to enthrall, but all lovers of Jane will find Lady Pitkeathley's speculations intriguing. I usually avoid star rankings, but I will say on this occasion that Cassandra and Jane warrants about a three out of five in my book, just to balance out the enormous amount of criticism I have heaped on it. Overall, I really did enjoy the book, but it sure did rankle.

Note: If you would like to read a less partial and prejudiced review of this book, I refer you to my friend Meredith's at Austenesque Reviews.    

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen: Rediscovering Shirley

I'm supposed to be posting the second part of Persuasion Janeicillin today - for those who are fiending, I will try to make good tomorrow - but I am "all alive" with Shirley, as Lady Bertram might phrase it, and with the All About the Brontes challenge wrapping up in two weeks (while Agnes Grey remains unread - it will be a small miracle if I get to it in time!), I must spend the day with Charlotte, rather than my dear Jane. My apologies for the diversion, but there really is no help for it.

I first read Shirley in eleventh grade, and all I remembered about it when I picked it up again a month ago (lesson learned: never begin a long, serious read while moving) was that it wasn't until the second volume that the title character is introduced. The book made very little impression on me and, consequently, reading Shirley now was like discovering a whole new Bronte book. And what a discovery it was! I did not know (or remember, as the case may be) that Charlotte could write with so little perversity (excuse the word use - as Miss Bronte herself might say, "Find me an English word as good, reader," and I will gladly adopt it). Nor did I know she was funny! In summation, nothing at all prepared me to discover in Shirley that Charlotte Bronte could be so very much like and owe such a vast debt to Jane Austen.

I understand that what I just said flies in the face of all common perception about these beloved authoresses. It is, after all, a truth universally acknowledged that Bronte disdained Austen's "ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses." Yet I could not help but wonder as I read Shirley, so remarkably unlike Bronte's other novels, if the book wasn't a response to Austen, an attempt to adopt and improve on her themes, with a good dose of Charlotte's vaunted "Passion" thrown into the mix. We know for certain that Bronte had read both Pride and Prejudice and Emma, as she specifically commented on them in her letters. I would argue that she had, at least, also read Sense and Sensibility, but more on that in a moment. Let us first turn our attention to Pride and Prejudice. Bronte made the following famous comments on January 12th, 1848, in a letter to George Lewes:
Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would rather have written Pride and Prejudice or  Tom Jones, than any of the Waverley novels?

I had not seen Pride and Prejudice till I had read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.
This correspondence took place at the beginning of the year in which she began writing Shirley. It is also the year that ended with the tragic deaths of her brother, Branwell, in September and Emily in December. The following March of 1849, a letter to her publisher tells us that she had already submitted the majority of the first volume but put it aside when death struck her family. Though May brought the death of Anne, she still finished the book by the end of August. Yet despite these horrible events, Charlotte produced her very happiest of novels. Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty of angst and despair to delight even the most morbid devotees of Jane Eyre (how could there not be?), but here is a novel about a small community - "three or four families in a country village", painted on a "bit (two inches wide) of ivory", worked "with so fine a brush" - that takes place in the same year as Pride and Prejudice, about two ladies crossed in love, in which the heroines are not introduced until the narrative is well underway, that is in Austen's third person style (as opposed to the first person, favored by the Brontes), that concludes summarily, just like Austen ends all of her novels, and which includes characters and circumstances that highly resemble Austen's. Let's have a look, shall we?

The first chapter of the book introduces us to the curates of the area in which we are concerned: Mr. Malone of Briarfield (where our main characters reside), Mr Donne of Whinbury, and Mr. Sweeting of Nunnely, all of whom are minor character and provide comic relief to the book. In both of the Austen books we know Bronte read, members of the clergy (Mr. Collins and Mr. Elton) are held up as examples of the ridiculous. Of course, as Bronte is nothing if not devout, there are several other clergymen in Shirley to represent the virtues of the race, but on the three curates she has little mercy. The best example of this is when Mr. Malone and Mr. Donne pay a visit to Shirley Keeler (our second heroine, and the hieress of the neighborhood). After her dog, Tartar, chases both men through the house, in an almost slapstick scene, Mr. Malone tries to be charming:
He talked to the ladies by fits and starts, choosing for topics whatever was most intensely commonplace; he sighed deeply, significantly, at the close of every sentence; he sighed in each pause; he sighed ere he opened his mouth. At last, finding it desirable to add ease to his other charms, he drew forth to aid him an ample silk pocket-handkerchief. This was to be the graceful toy with which his unoccupied hands were to trifle. He went to work with a certain energy: he folded the red and yellow square cornerwise; he whipped it open with a waft: again he folded it in narrower compass: he made of it a handsome band. To what purpose would he proceed to apply that ligature? Would he wrap it around his throat - his head? Should it be a comforter or a turban? Neither. Peter Augustus had an inventive - an original genius: he was about to show the ladies graces of action possessing at least the charm of novelty. He sat on the chair with his athletic Irish legs crossed, and these legs, in that attitude, he circled with the bandanna and bound firmly together.
Would not Mr. Bennet have a field day with him? Meanwhile, Mr. Donne attempts to collect money for a church project from Shirley:
"Wretched place - this Yorkshire," he went on. "I could never have formed an idear of the country had I not seen it; and the people - rich and poor - what a set! How corse and uncultivated! They would be scouted in the south."

Shirley leaned forwards on the table, her nostrils dilating a little, her taper fingers interlaced and compressed each other hard.

"The rich," pursued the infatuated and unconscious Donne, "are a parcel of misers - never living as persons with their incomes ought to live: you scarsley - (you must excuse Mr Donne's pronunciation, reader; it was very choice; he considered it genteel, and prided himself on his southern accent; northern ears received with singular sensations his utterance of certain words); you scarsley eversee a fam'ly where a propa carriage or a reg'la butla is kep; and as to the poor - just look at them when they come crowding about the church-doors on the occasion of a marriage or a funeral, clattering in clogs; the men in their shirt-sleeves and wool-combers' aprons, the women in mob-caps and bed-gowns. They pos'tively deserve that one should turn a mad cow in amongst them to rout their rabble-ranks - he! he! What fun it would be!"
A sure method of loosening the purse-strings, undoubtedly! About as appropriate as Mr. Darcy's first proposal (Shirley, by the way, can boast of its own botched proposal scene). In none of her other books would I categorize the caricatures Bronte paints as humorous.

Another character that reminds me of one of Austen's is Hortense Moore, the unmarried sister of the novel's two heroes. The Moores have returned to England after having been raised in Belgium, where their family were highly respected and successful merchants. The younger generation has inherited a bankrupt company from their parents and Robert Moore, the elder brother, is determined to repay his debt and renew his fortune. For this reason he has come to Yorkshire, where he runs a mill while Hortense keeps house. It is in this proud lady, officious and indomitable even in reduced circumstances, that I see a likeness to Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Now, one must imagine what Lady Catherine would be like without her title, position, Rosings Park, and as an alien in a foreign land. Listen to this speech of Hortense's, regarding her cousin Caroline Helstone (the first heroine of the novel, though not its namesake), to whom she teaches French:
"She does not, she appreciates me better than any one else here; but then she has more intimate opportunities of knowing me: she sees that I have education, intelligence, manner, principles; all, in short, which belongs to a person well born and well bred."

"Are you fond of her?"

"For fond - I cannot say: I am not one who is prone to take violent fancies, and, consequently, my friendship is the more to be depended on. I have a regard for her as my relative; her position also inspired my interest, and her conduct as my pupil has hitherto been such as rather to enhance than diminish the attachment that springs from other causes."

"She behaves pretty well at lessons?"

"To me she behaves very well; but you are conscious, brother, that I have a manner calculated to repel over-familiarity, to win esteem, and to command respect. Yet, possessed of penetration, I perceive clearly that Caroline is not perfect; that there is much to be desired in her."

"Give me a last cup of coffee, and while I am drinking it amuse me with an account of her faults."

"Dear brother, I am happy to see you eat your breakfast with relish, after the fatiguing night you have passed. Caroline, then, is defective; but, with my forming hand and almost motherly care, she may improve. There is about her an occasional something - a reserve, I think - which I do not quite like, because it is not sufficiently girlish and submissive; and there are glimpses of an unsettled hurry in her nature, which put me out. Yet she is usually most tranquil, too dejected and thoughtful indeed sometimes. In time, I doubt not, I shall make her uniformly sedate and decorous, without being unaccountably pensive. I ever disapprove of what is unintelligible."
I know I cannot prove a directly correlation, but when I read these lines I could almost see Lady Catherine. Perhaps I am just so Austen crazy that I see her everywhere. I admit it is possible, but I have yet to finish stating my case.

In April of 1850, admittedly after the completion of Shirley, Bronte commented on Emma in a letter to W.S. Williams. Though she does not say she only just read Emma, which she specifies in her comments on Pride and Prejudice, I think it is reasonable to argue that both books were quite possibly read around the same time. She writes:
I have likewise read one of Miss Austen's works, Emma - read it with interest and with just the degree of admiration which Miss Austen herself would have thought sensible and suitable -- anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, or heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré and extravagant. She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress.
I find this passage fascinating - mostly because it is such a fabulous illustration of Charlotte's obsession with personification, but also because it shows she has thought deeply about Austen's work, even if she finds it lacking. In fact, I believe Miss Bronte was amongst those who do not particularly care for Emma Woodhouse, largely based on chapter ten of Shirley, entitled "Old Maids".

Caroline Helstone - for her own reasons, which I will not disclose - has determined that she will never marry. She is not pleased with this decision; unlike another heroine, the single life holds no charms for her and inspires compassion for those who have long endured it:
"How wrong it is to neglect people because they are not pretty, and young, and merry! And I will certainly call to see Miss Mann, too: she may not be amiable; but what has made her unamiable? What has life been to her?"
Here is a young lady who would never dare scoff at Miss Bates. The entire chapter reads like a rebuke to Miss Woodhouse, consisting of visits to two ladies: the aforementioned Miss Mann and a Miss Ainley. Hear what the authoress says of Miss Mann:
Communicative on her own affairs she was usually not, because no one cared to listen to her; but to-day she became so, and her confidant shed tears as she heard her speak: for she told of cruel, slow-wasting, obstinate sufferings. Well might she be corpse-like; well might she look grim, and never smile; well might she wish to avoid excitement, to gain and retain composure! Caroline, when she knew all, acknowledged that Miss Mann was rather to be admired for fortitude than blamed for moroseness. Reader! when you behold an aspect for whose constant gloom and frown you cannot account, whose unvarying cloud exasperates you by its apparent causelessness, be sure that there is a canker somewhere, and a canker not the less deeply corroding because concealed.
And on Miss Ainley:
Miss Helstone studied well the mind and heart now revealed to her. She found no high intellect to admire: the old maid was merely sensible; but she discovered so much goodness, so much usefulness, so much mildness, patience, truth, that she bent her own mind before Miss Ainley's in reverence. What was her love of nature, what was her sense of beauty, what were her more varied and fervent emotions, what was her deeper power of thought, what her wider capacity to comprehend, compared to the practical excellence of this good woman? Momently, they seemed only beautiful forms of selfish delight; mentally, she trod them underfoot.
Charlotte Bronte must not have been satisfied with Mr. Knightley's rebuke: "It was badly done, indeed!" She seems to have felt the need to illustrate just how unjust and cruel Emma was; to let the world know just how little she values intelligence and superiority of mind when compared with unpretentious goodness.

I think the influence of Sense and Sensibility can also be found at the end of this chapter, but before examining why, lets return to that correspondence with George Lewes in January of 1848. On the 18th she wrote:
You say I must familiarise my mind with the fact that "Miss Austen is not a poetess, has no "sentiment" (you scornfully enclose the word in inverted commas), "has no eloquence, none of the ravishing enthusiasm of poetry"; and then you add, I must  "learn to acknowledge her as one of the greatest artists, of the greatest painters of human character, and one of the writers with the nicest sense of means to an end that ever lived". The last point only will I ever acknowledge. ... Miss Austen being, as you say, without "sentiment", without poetry, maybe is sensible (more real than true), but she cannot be great. 
She goes on to say:
With infinitely more relish can I sympathise with Miss Austen's clear common sense and subtle shrewdness. If you find no inspiration in Miss Austen's page, neither do you find mere windy wordiness; to use your words over again, she exquisitely adapts her means to her end; both are very subdued, a little contracted, but never absurd.
This argument over the semantics of sentiment verses the sentimental smacks too much of "sense and sensibility" to be coincidental, especially in reference to Austen. Furthermore, see what Caroline determines to do after her visits to Miss Mann and Miss Ainley:
Caroline went home, laid her plans, and took a resolve not to swerve from them. She allotted a certain portion of her time for her various studies, and a certain portion for doing anything Miss Ainley might direct her to do; the remainder was to be spent in exercise; not a moment was to be left for the indulgence of such fevered thoughts as had poisoned last Saturday evening. 
Sound familiar? Something like  Marianne Dashwood's "course of serious study"? However much Bronte might sneer at Austen's lack of sentiment, she seems happy to compliment her sense. It is sense that Miss Helstone has, without forsaking sensibility, as acknowledged in the following passage (spoiler alert!), which occurs after the man she loves greets her coldly, much like Willoughby does to Marianne when they meet at the party in London:
Now, what was she to do? - to give way to her feelings, or to vanquish them? To pursue him, or to turn upon herself? If she is weak, she will try the first expedient, - will lose his esteem and win his aversion: if she has sense, she will be her own governor, and resolve to subdue and bring under guidance the disturbed realm of her emotions. She will determine to look on life steadily, as it is; to begin to learn its severe truths seriously, and to study its knotty problems closely, conscientiously.

It appeared she had a little sense, for she quitted Robert quietly, without complaint or question - without the alteration of a muscle or the shedding of a tear - betook herself to her studies under Hortense as usual, and at dinner-time went home without lingering.
Perhaps I am just obsessed with Austen, but this seems to me a clear discourse on the subject matter of Sense and Sensibility. In fact, her heroines, Caroline and Shirley, could be seen as parallel representatives of Elinor and Marianne - sense and sensibility - respectively. In the introduction to my Penguin Classics edition of this book, Andrew and Judith Hook see the two heroines as representations of Charlotte's recently departed sisters: "Charlotte poured her feelings for her sisters into the characters of Shirley Keeldar (Emily) and Caroline Helstone (Anne)." If so, my characterizing of each as "sense " and "sensibility" is strongly supported  by their respective writing styles.

All I'm really attempting to do here today is prove that there are more connections between these great authoresses than convention typically allows.  Perhaps I am grasping at straws. Still, I think Shirley is by far the most interesting Bronte book to read through an Austen tinged lens. In it, Charlotte writes, "every character in this book will be found to be more or less imperfect, my pen refusing to draw anything in the model line". Jane's, "Pictures of perfection, you know, make me sick and wicked," is awfully similar. If nothing else, the former quote, from early in the novel, was enough  to inspire this entire exercise. I found it enjoyable and hope my readers don't deem it futile.

For both the opinions of Charlotte Bronte and other notables on our dear Miss Austen, visit

Read my other All About The Brontes challenge reviews:

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
The Professor

Monday, June 14, 2010

Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts

This isn't at all what I had intended to be blogging about first thing this Monday morning, but a quick glance at Two Nerdy History Girls sent me into such fits of ecstasy that I simply had to share. Two Nerdy History Girls is a blog run by historical novelists Loretta Chase and Susan Holloway Scott where they share all kinds of fascinating tidbits from history. I often check it for their interesting posts on historical events, fashions, and resources for the history buff, but never have I been more enthused about one of their posts than today's Jane Austen Crosses Out, courtesy of Ms. Scott, in which she brings readers' attention to an amazing, joint project between the University of Oxford and King's College, in which they are providing an online database  of all of Austen's handwritten manuscripts, displayed side by side with translations (for all those of us who never could decipher dear Jane's economic scrawl). The project is entitled Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts and here are it's stated aims and objectives:
  • To create a digital resource reuniting all the known holograph surviving manuscripts of Austen’s fiction in an unprecedented virtual collection.
  • To provide for the first time full descriptions of, transcriptions of, analysis of, and commentary on the manuscripts in the archive, including details of erasures, handwriting, paper quality, watermarks, ink, binding structures, and any ancillary materials held with the holographs as aspects of their physical integrity or provenance.
  • To develop complex interlinking of the virtual collection to allow systematic comparison of the manuscripts under a number of headings representing both their intellectual and physical states. 
Now, dear readers, are you jumping up and down, unable to contain your enthusiasm, just like me? What a wonderful way to beginning the work week! If I can only manage to make it productive when the entire manuscript of Persuasion, with each edit crying out for analysis, beckons me from my very own computer! This is bliss!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Win a Copy of First Impressions and Celebrate Jane in June!

Want to learn how crazy I really am? Here is your chance! As part of Jane in June, Misty at Book Rat convinced me to write a short piece confessing the extent of my Austen obsession. Check out my Concerns of a Crazy Janeite and, while there, enter to win a copy of First Impressions! What an opportunity! How many authors would expose themselves so and then still expect people to still read their work? Probably only me.

Seriously, Jane in June is turning into a mighty fine affair. There are still two full weeks of fun ahead of us. Don't miss out!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Persuasion Janeicillin: Part One

"You wished to speak with me, Captain Wentworth?"

It took all of Frederick's willpower, the ingrained inscrutability of nine years in command, to maintain his composure.

“Indeed I do, Sir Walter. I have something of great importance to lay before you.”

“Yes. Anne suggested you might call today. You do understand that I am escorting my cousin, Lady Dalrymple, and Miss Elliot to a card party this evening and have only limited time to spare before I must attend to my preparations, but as Anne was insistent, I made sure to lay aside a quarter of an hour for you.” The impecunious baronet's smile was intended to convey the full honor of such condescension, but Fredrick only perceived its absurdity.

“Then you know my reasons for requesting an audience?”

“I do, and let me assure you that I feel quite confident bestowing my youngest daughter's hand on you. When we last discussed such an arrangement, it was out of the question, but I am not blind to how you have distinguished yourself. Why, Lady Dalrymple herself commented on your fine appearance.” It was of some chagrin to Sir Walter that this young man seemed totally insensible to the magnitude of such a compliment, but as he supposed him already overwhelmed by the honor of marrying an Elliot of Somersetshire, he could overlook the offense. “Of course, you do understand that current circumstances might render it inconvenient for the estate to part with the entirety of Anne's portion, ten thousand pounds, at this time. I will write to my lawyer, Mr. Shepherd, and he will advise me as to what can be done.”

With that, Sir Walter felt he had covered all the salient points of interests and behaved exceedingly handsomely throughout the interview. It was unfortunate his future son-in-law did not share this opinion. Frederick Wentworth felt all that remained unsaid. So what if Sir Walter Elliot no longer deemed him a nobody? With five-and-twenty thousand pounds, and as high in his profession as merit and activity could place him, should he be thankful that he was now esteemed quite worthy to address the daughter of a foolish, spendthrift baronet, who had not had principle or sense enough to maintain himself in the situation in which Providence had placed him? He felt nothing but scorn for the pompous man before him, one of the most worthless specimens of humanity he had the misfortune to encounter (and this from the man who once captained Dick Musgrove!), but love for his daughter, a woman of such perfections that her paternity was astonishing, held his tongue. He bowed so curtly that Sir Walter was left in wonder, bemused by the odd manner in which some men respond to good fortune, and exited the room, just pausing long enough to bow in response to Elizabeth's acknowledgment as he encountered her in the passageway before departing Camden-place.

“Captain Wentworth left rather abruptly, Father,” she commented lackadaisically as she entered the smaller drawing room, gracing a particularly elegant chair with her equally elegant self.

“Poor man! He was quite overwhelmed by my generosity, I am sure, and removed himself rather than make a spectacle. Quite right to have done so, too. Few things are more diminishing to a man's person than an excessive display of emotion, and the morning light is particularly unfavorable. I had wondered that Anne should not have thought of it – to arrange for me to speak with Captain Wentworth one evening when we are at home – but now that I have seen him in broad daylight, I find that his complexion is perhaps the most impressive I have encountered amongst our naval man, and as Bath has given me ample opportunity to observe the race, I feel I can speak with some expertise on the subject.”

“Undoubtedly, Father.”

“The concern must be for what the future will bring. Having already been so exposed to the elements, and very likely to be so again, I think I can do no better service for him than to recommend the constant use of Gowland when aboard ship. I shall do so when we next meet.”

“I am sure he will receive your advise just as he ought. Captain Wentworth has an unusual degree of countenance for a man of his station. His presence will be an asset to my drawing-rooms.”

“I agree. A very acceptable match for Anne, all in all. Captain certainly sounds better than a mere Mister, and I do believe the family must have some connection to the Strafford family after all, though it be distant and possibly unknown. It would not do for Captain Wentworth to pursue the acquaintance, of course, but the name sounds rather well, do you not think? Anne Wentworth. My daughter, Mrs. Wentworth.”

Elizabeth could not be as enthusiastic as her father on such account, for the notion of being both the eldest and only unmarried Miss Elliot was far from felicitous, but she found ample consolation in knowledge that Anne's ineligibility would restore Mr. Elliot's attentions to their proper quarter.

Lady Russell had only just entered the salon when her goddaughter was announced. Readily did she acquiescence to her admittance. A visit with Anne was always a pleasure, and under current circumstances, Lady Russell was quite prepared to encounter a lady experiencing the second bloom which only love can bestow. However, she was not braced for the the vision that entered. Before her stood the image of Anne Elliot – not the near daughter she had reared for so long, but her dear departed friend. Never had the younger Anne so resembled her mother. Here was the woman whom the vain Sir Walter Elliot had found beautiful enough to marry. The roses on her cheeks and sparkle in her eyes were a delightful surprise to her ladyship, and never had she so wanted the daughter to succeed to the mother's place.

“My dear Anne, what a delightful surprise. I wasn't expecting you until this evening.”

“I had my reasons for wanting to escape Camden-place, and have long delayed an intended visit to you. Are you at leisure?”

“For you I have all the time in the world. Do sit down.”

“Thank you, Lady Russell.”

Such formality was unusual in Anne, who had always felt more at ease in her godmother's home than her own, and it gave Lady Russell pause. Anne was amply aware that she approved of Mr. Elliot, so why should she hesitate to share her obvious success? Never before had she more clearly felt the justice of her own words, “You are your mother's self in countenance and disposition,” and never before had she more wanted Anne to be the future Lady Elliot.

Anne, feeling the necessity to speak, said, “I have something of great import to impart to you, which I hope will not cause you undue distress.”

Lady Russell's smile twitched. What could Anne possibly say to distress her?

Anne continued, “I have been given an offer of marriage, which I have accepted.”

Here the smile grew firm. “My dearest Anne! From the first moment I saw you together, I was sure how it would come to pass. You have my utmost felicitations.”

Anne looked puzzled. “From the very first, madam? I was always of the opinion that you disapproved of Frederick.”

The smile fell. “Frederick?”

“Yes. Captain Wentworth. You thought I referred to Mr. Elliot?”

“Oh, Anne! I'm afraid I did.”

She rose and took a chair closer to her godmother, clasping her hand warmly. “I could not marry Mr. Elliot, even if he had asked me. There are things you do not know about his character. We could not be happy together. I will tell you all.”

And so she did. Anne revealed the entirety of Mrs. Smith's disclosures regarding Mr. Elliot's behavior to Lady Russell, who was predictably shocked, perhaps most by her own failure to discern his true character, blinded as she was by his pleasing manners. But as difficult as the truth was for her to hear, the fact that Anne was to marry the man who had every reason to think ill of her was far more painful. Yet he was also the man who inspired such bloom and health in her dear girl's complexion! Such conflicting emotions were difficult to express, but upon parting, Lady Russell revealed much of her fears in this simple, heartfelt wish, “I do hope Captain Wentworth will forgive my advise all those years ago. I did mean well.”

“I know you did, and he will, but it might take some time.”

“I could not bear to lose your company, Anne.”

“You never shall.”


Come back next Thursday for another weekly dose!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Twilight of the Abyss by Casey Childers

I really thought I would have been up and posting again long before this date, but I obviously underestimated the difficulty of writing in a new environment. When I should have been packing pre-move, I was blogging furiously, and now that I am settled in the new house, I can think of almost nothing but cleaning, tidying, and rearranging when I should be writing. However, I do believe I am over the hump and life might now really, finally, resume its routine. Tomorrow's dose of Janeicillin will be delivered on time, and I now feel ready to start reviewing those novels which I read in the old house and have thus far neglected in the new.

I really enjoyed Twilight of the Abyss: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, which was published right around the same time as First Impressions (when I was checking Amazon stats compulsively) and is almost the antithesis of my very happy book. Casey Childers uses the same pivotal moment at the Meryton Assembly as I do, having Elizabeth and Darcy dance together and quickly fall in love, but while my tale is all playfulness, hers is an exploration of the depths the human spirit can sink when love is denied. The novel opens upon a heartbroken Elizabeth, deeply depressed and confused, having been abandoned by the man she deeply loves and who she knows loves her in return. Jane and Bingley are married and have moved to an estate in Yorkshire, right along the coast, and it is this location that provides the dramatic backdrop to Elizabeth's sufferings. Events are told along two time lines, the present interspersed with flashbacks to the altered events of Pride and Prejudice. At first, I was concerned this format would prove confusing, but Ms. Childers pulls it off smoothly.

It was my faith that things would somehow work out that allowed me to finish this book, as my distress for Elizabeth was so acute that I had to repeatedly put it down and bawl my eyes out. Ms. Childers' obvious love for the characters kept me going, for no true Janeite could write such a novel without coming to the relief of our beloved hero and heroine in the end. I was not disappointed. And while the journey was difficult, it was well worth the struggle.

My favorite aspect of the book is the development of Jane Bingley. Watching her sister's distressing decline riles this notoriously sedate lady's anger, which she quite rightly directs at Darcy. Austen never tests the boundaries of Jane's devotion to Elizabeth, but Ms. Childers gives her the opportunity to be indignant, even cruel when necessary, in defense of her dearest friend and companion. She shines in this role, one usually assigned to Elizabeth, as demonstraited in the following scene:

Elizabeth's fever broke less than a day later. Jane's unsolicited care and attention brought about her recovery more quickly than anyone expected. That day, Elizabeth was sitting up in her bed, taking some broth brought up to her from the kitchen. Jane had been silent at her bedside for some time, and Elizabeth decided to reassure her sister so that she might see to other things.

"Jane, you surely do not have to sit with me. I will be quite well here on my own."

Jane shook her head thoughtfully, but it was several minutes before she replied. "No, you are not well. You have not been well for some time. Even now, you are not trying to be well. All of this could have been avoided if you had kept enough sense about you to care for your own health. You have had me worried and frightened for you again and again for months."

Elizabeth was taken aback by her sister's tone. She opened her mouth to speak, but Jane held up her hand. "I do not want you to say anything, Lizzy. For all you have had to say to me for months is that you are well, and I should not worry. You have nothing of substance to say, you lie to me - if not literally, then by omission. I do not wish to hear another word from your lips until you are willing to be honest with me," Jane finished, her voice caught in a sob.

Elizabeth looked at her hands, ashamed. Jane's words mortified her, and she knew every word of it was true. She turned back to her sister, tears of regret in her eyes. 

"I am very glad you are well. Perhaps you might come downstairs tomorrow," Jane said, leaving the room.

I think this is so well done. Jane's anger isn't a passionate display, of the style Elizabeth is so renowned for, due to her handling of Mr. Darcy and Lady Catherine, but a well-chosen expression of long contemplated sentiments. I love seeing Jane doing what is right, even when it is against her nature, and there is nothing that could have benefited Elizabeth more at this juncture in the story than a sharp set down, seeing as a swift kick in the seat is out of the question.

What of Darcy through all this? What could have happened to lay the feisty Elizabeth Bennet so low? A scandal in his family, involving the ever intriguing elder Fitzwilliam brother, drives him away, but I will leave readers to pursue that storyline without interference. This is a wonderful book which I highly recommend to all Austen fans - particularly those who felt First Impressions too happy (which would be my own criticism of my book, were anyone to ask me). Here is a nice dose of drama, achieved without reliance on the tawdry or sexual. Twilight of the Abyss is a plunge into all the intensity of pain and happiness that love, so fickle, invokes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

I did it again!

I can't believe it is Friday and I complete forgot about writing the Persuasion Janeicillin intro I promised! Obviously, my head is still not on quite straight. How about this - when I finally have the beginning ready to go, I will just go ahead and post it, and regular posts will continue from there. I knew there was something important I had forgotten to do! Hopefully, no one is suffering too terribly from withdraw.