Tuesday, February 25, 2014

persuade me

I was putting off Persuasion because even rough and barely finished, it's the last Austen novel, and -- it's not exactly that I'm having trouble getting into it, altho I stumble in first volumes of Austen more often than not, but it just seems so very sad. She was dying, and it's all about lost chances, and wasted youth -- and she keeps ratcheting up the tension considerably. It's the opposite of P&P, where you know they must get together but can't see how. This is more the question of, but how did that not happen? How could that wrong decision have been made, how could so much have been completely lost? It's like the lesson of Gatsby -- the past can't be recovered, not even its feelings recaptured. Surely one of the poems poor Anne is thinking of on that awful walk was Shakespeare's sonnet:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold 
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang 
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, 
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang....

I probably won't be able to appreciate this as a book until rereading it sometime in the future.  Right now it just seems like one of those works that is not only posthumous but seems to embody being posthumous, like The Crack-Up or Ariel -- the life of the author is simultaneously draining away but powering the writing. It's very unsettling.

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold  
And in the icy silence of the tomb,  
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights  
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood  
So in my veins red life might stream again,  
And thou be conscience-calmed—see, here it is I hold it towards you.
....have also noticed during this reading project that my style of literary analysis remains completely "This book! It is like this other book! and also these other books, let me tell you about them," heh.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

'Jane Fairfax was an orphan'

I dunno if it's the lingering flu or the cold medicine or sleep deprivation (cough cough cough all night, earthmovers and jackhammers all day) or just Jane herself or what, but I really fell in love withVol II of Emma. A dear friend said Emma's totally unjustified snarkiness of Jane Fairfax made her (the friend) start liking her (Emma) much more, and I had exactly the same reaction -- it's so unjustified! so funny! just so much like gossip itself, in short. I even like Mr Knightley better, and Emma's father and Mrs Bates -- altho I still want to lock them in an elevator together until they run out of breath. And of course Miss Fairfax herself has entered -- Margaret Drabble, in the intro, amusingly sees her as on the road out of Highbury heading towards Thornfield -- and Frank Churchill.

Frank is not quite a rogue, but no morally upright character either -- he's enough of a fop to rush off for the famous haircut (which Emma, hilariously, more or less forgives because he's not ashamed of it) and he joins in with Emma's Romantic imaginings about the supposed love triangle between Jane, her (basically) adoptive sister and that sister's husband. Right now he just looks like a jerk, but in light of his true intentions he's terribly manipulative and dishonest. I do wonder what this book would seem like to someone who hasn't been spoiled for it since, it seems, the cradle (I don't remember a time when I didn't know "but Emma really loves Mr Knightley!"). If I remember rightly this is the last appearance in Austen's work of the charming, unprincipled, handsome young not-quite-suitor who has far too much in common with the heroine for her own good. Emma's late reconciliation with him (yes I went ahead and peeked, sue me) is very moving, and even more Chekhovian than ever (if Mansfield Park is, what, Jane's Three Sisters, this is sort of like....The Cherry Orchard? except they don't leave the house. Which is nonsense. I blame the cold medicine).

It's a summing-up, a conscious farewell, a forgiving look back at the feverishly creative girl who drafted First Impressions, who thought she knew of, but had never even tasted, disappointment, regret, resignation, heartbreak.

And people say Jane Austen has no range! or it's all happy romcom! BLOCKHEADS.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

graphic reorganization of the Amazon top 100 booklist

I sorted the list chronologically. Books by women are in green. Books by PoC authors are in red. Books by authors who are both are in purple. Children's books are noted with an *. Fiction books are in italics. Books by non-US authors are underlined.

POSSIBLE ERRORS: I tried to find the date of first publication for all the books (not serializations), not first US publication. (For "Lord of the Rings" I'm counting this as the UK pub date of the first book. Deal with it.) Some authors may have been miscoded re race/gender/nationality -- those are just typos. But if an author moved to the US at a young age, or indicated in an interview that they considered themselves American (Abraham Verghese, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edwidge Danticat) I counted them as American. Likewise, if an author grew up elsewhere but was a naturalized US citizen later (Raymond Chandler, Vladimir Nabokov) I counted them as American as well. I don't mean to be parochial, I was just curious about how international the list was.

Pride and Prejudice,  Jane Austen (1813)

Great Expectations,  Charles Dickens (1861)
Alice in Wonderland,  Lewis Carroll (1865)*

The Wind in the Willows,  Kenneth Grahame (1908)*

Of Human Bondage,  W. Somerset Maugham (1915)

The Age of Innocence,  Edith Wharton (1920)
The Great Gatsby,  F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
The Sun Also Rises,  Ernest Hemingway (1926)
The House At Pooh Corner,  A. A. Milne (1928)*

Little House on the Prairie,  Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)*
Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen (1937)

The Stranger,  Albert Camus (1942)
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943)*
Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl (1946)
Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown (1947)*
The Diary of Anne Frank,  Anne Frank (1947)
1984, George Orwell (1949)

The Catcher in the Rye,  J.D. Salinger (1951)*
Charlotte's Web, E.B. White (1952)*
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison (1952)
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1953)
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler (1953)
The Lord of the Rings,  J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (1958)
On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1957)
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1958)

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960)*
The Phantom Tollbooth,  Norton Juster (1961)* 
Catch-22,  Joseph Heller (1961)
A Wrinkle in Time,  Madeleine L'Engle (1962)*
Silent Spring, Rachel Carson (1962)
Where the Wild Things Are,  Maurice Sendak (1963)*
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,  Roald Dahl (1964)* 
Dune,  Frank Herbert (1965) 
The Autobiography of Malcolm X,  Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965) 
Valley of the Dolls,  Jacqueline Susann (1966)
In Cold Blood,  Truman Capote (1966)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar,  Eric Carle (1969)*
Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth (1969) 
Slaughterhouse-Five,  Kurt Vonnegut (1969) 

Are You There, God? It's me, Margaret,  Judy Blume (1970)*
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,  Hunter S. Thompson (1972)
All the President's Men,  Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (1974)
Where the Sidewalk Ends,  Shel Silverstein (1974)*
The Power Broker,  Robert A. Caro (1974)
The Shining,  Stephen King (1977)
The World According to Garp,  John Irving (1978)
The Right Stuff,  Tom Wolfe (1979)

Midnight's Children,  Salman Rushdie (1980)
Love Medicine,  Louise Erdrich (1984) 
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat,  Oliver Sacks (1985)
Love in the Time of Cholera,  Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985)
The Handmaid's Tale,  Margaret Atwood (1985)
Beloved,  Toni Morrison (1987)
A Brief History of Time,  Stephen Hawking (1988)

The Things They Carried,  Tim O'Brien (1990)
The Secret History,  Donna Tartt (1992)
The Giver,  Lois Lowry (1993)*
Breath, Eyes, Memory,  Edwidge Danticat (1994)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel,  Haruki Murakami (1994)
The Liars' Club: A Memoir, Mary Karr (1995)
The Golden Compass,  Philip Pullman (1995)*
The Color of Water,  James McBride (1995)
Angela's Ashes: A Memoir,  Frank McCourt (1996)
Guns, Germs, and Steel,  Jared M. Diamond (1997)
Selected Stories,  Alice Munro (1996)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,  J.K. Rowling (1997)*
The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel,  Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning,  Lemony Snicket (1999)*
Me Talk Pretty One Day,  David Sedaris (1999)
Interpreter of Maladies,  Jhumpa Lahiri (1999)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,  Dave Eggers (2000)
Kitchen Confidential,  Anthony Bourdain (2000)
Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware (2000)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,  Michael Chabon (2000)
Bel Canto, Ann Patchett (2001)
The Corrections,  Jonathan Franzen (2001)
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
Moneyball,  Michael Lewis (2003)
The Devil in the White City,  Erik Larson (2003)
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2004) 
The Year of Magical Thinking,  Joan Didion (2005)
The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan (2005)*
Team of Rivals,  Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005)
The Book Thief,  Markus Zusak (2005)
The Road,  Cormac McCarthy (2006)
The Omnivore's Dilemma,  Michael Pollan (2006)
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,  Lawrence Wright (2006)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,  Junot Diaz (2007)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid,  Jeff Kinney (2007)
A Long Way Gone,  Ishmael Beah (2007)
The Hunger Games,  Suzanne Collins (2008)
Born To Run, Christopher McDougall (2009)
Cutting For Stone, Abraham Verghese (2009)
Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,  Rebecca Skloot (2010)
Daring Greatly,  Brene Brown (2012)
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (2012)
The Fault in Our Stars,  John Green (2012)* 
Life After Life,  Kate Atkinson (2013)

Emma, Vol I

Jane finally got me with the hilarious Horrible Proposal Scene -- she does love to do those, and she's so good at them -- how did she get the reputation as the Mother of All Chicklit when most of her 'romance' scenes are so anti-Romantic? (I know, I know, Marketing: the god of the modern era.) And the awful, terrible Christmas dinner, so dull, just dragged on and on, and on, until it was like Shaw's description of Siegfried Wagner's conducting:
Then an incredible thing happened. The last item in the program was the overture to Die Meistersinger. The last, and, as it at once promised, the worst. Its slowness, its genteelness, made me doubt whether I was not dreaming. I felt that the overture would certainly peter out and stop from sheer inertia if he did not speed up the final section. Instead, to my amazement, he achieved the apparently impossible feat of slowing it down. And the effect was magical. The music broadened out with an effect that is beyond description. It was immense, magnificent. At the end the audience, which ten minutes before would have murdered him but for the police, was frantically recalling him to the platform again and again and again and yet again.
Drabble took Austen to task for not being Chekhovian enough in Mansfield Park, but I think Jane achieves something like it here -- that combination of exquisite observation, almost tender attention, and the crushingly mundane: the slow-motion cherishing of the everyday until it somehow, as Shaw says, slows down and opens up and becomes almost like a Vermeer painting. And all the characters are Chekhovian too -- Emma's hypochondriac gently self-centered tyrannical-in-flannels father, Mr Knightley the frustrated hovering suitor, silly lovable dumb sweet Harriet, the gentleman farmer forgetting to borrow Gothic romances to impress her. It is just as Virginia says:
At once our senses quicken; we are possessed with the peculiar intensity which she alone can impart. But of what is it all composed? Of a ball in a country town; a few couples meeting and taking hands in an assembly room; a little eating and drinking; and for catastrophe, a boy being snubbed by one young lady and kindly treated by another. There is no tragedy and no heroism. Yet for some reason the little scene is moving out of all proportion to its surface solemnity....Jane Austen is thus a mistress of much deeper emotion than appears upon the surface. She stimulates us to supply what is not there. What she offers is, apparently, a trifle, yet is composed of something that expands in the reader’s mind and endows with the most enduring form of life scenes which are outwardly trivial.
And even the style of her prose has somehow become better too -- not the glittering dialogue of P&P, or the sober internal reflections of MP, but in the little asides that are not quite quips, no longer jokes, but flashes of penetrating insight: "If there had not been so much anger, there would have been desperate awkwardness; but their straightforward emotions left no room for the little zigzags of embarrassment." ("Zigzags" - that just slays me.) Again, it's like Chekhov, the author's illumination no longer as sparkling, but deeper, richer, understanding suffusing everything. "People are sitting at a table having dinner, that's all, but at the same time their happiness is being created, or their lives are being torn apart."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

OK, I can't stand him either

"Let me entreat you," cried Mr. Elton; "it would indeed be a delight! Let me entreat you, Miss Woodhouse, to exercise so charming a talent in favour of your friend. I know what your drawings are. How could you suppose me ignorant? Is not this room rich in specimens of your landscapes and flowers; and has not Mrs. Weston some inimitable figure-pieces in her drawing-room, at Randalls?"

.....I think this would be going better if I had seen one of the movie adaptations first, even Goopy's. It is one thing to read about a charming insufferable person, but another to see a charming actress acting insufferable. If that makes sense. Probably it does not, I have the flu (still) and they are murdering chainsawing trees all up and down my block.

-- wait what in Gwynnie's flick Mr Knightley is played by JEREMY NORTHAM? OK, if I picture him this is at least.....tolerable //Darcy

Also I don't give half a rat's ass about wedding dresses (I got married in a black velvet-and-chiffon minidress with ruffled layers on the skirt and I looked FANTASTIC) but....aww.

this is indeed not going so goddamn well

"But Mr. Weston is almost an old man. Mr. Weston must be between forty and fifty."
"Which makes his good manners the more valuable. The older a person grows, Harriet, the more important it is that their manners should not be bad; the more glaring and disgusting any loudness, or coarseness, or awkwardness becomes. What is passable in youth is detestable in later age. Mr. Martin is now awkward and abrupt; what will he be at Mr. Weston's time of life?" 
//hates Emma
 "Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than any body. I would not recommend an egg boiled by any body else; but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see—one of our small eggs will not hurt you. Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of tart—a very little bit. Ours are all apple-tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here. I do not advise the custard. Mrs. Goddard, what say you to half a glass of wine? A small half-glass, put into a tumbler of water? I do not think it could disagree with you."
//hates Emma's father
"Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing-up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through—and very good lists they were—very well chosen, and very neatly arranged—sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when only fourteen—I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding."
//hates Mr Knightley
"Mr. Martin, I suppose, is not a man of information beyond the line of his own business? He 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 any thing of. He reads the Agricultural Reports, and some other books that lay in one of the window seats—but he reads all them to himself. But sometimes of an evening, before we went to cards, he would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts, very entertaining. And I know he has read the Vicar of Wakefield. He never read the Romance of the Forest, nor The Children of the Abbey. He had never heard of such books before I mentioned them, but he is determined to get them now as soon as ever he can."
....aww, Harriet and Robert are cute.

I think I was enjoying MANSFIELD GODDAMN PARK more at eighty pages in, which is really saying something.

Monday, February 17, 2014

from a most urgent email to K.

"I wish you may not get into a scrape, Harriet, whenever he does marry;—I mean, as to being acquainted with his wife—for though his sisters, from a superior education, are not to be altogether objected to, it does not follow that he might marry any body at all fit for you to notice. The misfortune of your birth ought to make you particularly careful as to your associates. There can be no doubt of your being a gentleman's daughter, and you must support your claim to that station by every thing within your own power, or there will be plenty of people who would take pleasure in degrading you." 

OMG I can't stand Emma
this is going to be a serious problem

Friday, February 14, 2014

this was the email update _after_ I got the flu, AKA Mansfield Park Part III: Son of the Reckoning

mansfield park vol iii - I didn't feel really well enough to have Great Insight into it, but I wanted to finish it and before the previous vols faded out in my head, altho I expected it to be Unpleasant, and a lot of it was. But not bad, not badly written, and certainly not unreadable (which sounds like faint praise, but everyone I know hates this book so much, and I was so surprised).

HENRY. OMG UGH. HOW CAN PEOPLE WANT FANNY TO MARRY HIM. And he's not like Darcy! When Darcy helps Elizabeth by bribing Wickham to marry Lydia, he does it on the Q.T. and never tells her and her aunt is the one who spills the beans, and he obviously isn't doing it just to impress her. But when Henry gets the bro's promotion, he rushes in to tell Fanny, AND that he did it for her, AND that he loves her and wants to marry her, all in about the same fifteen minutes. That's just gross. It's like Rochester wanting to be Jane's keeper. Ugh ugh ugh. Gag retch.

[This is possibly the corporeality of having the flu influencing the manner of reading. - Ed.]

Fanny is the observer in the book -- the one closest to the narrator, not in wit or insight but in actually seeing what's going on (everyone else is too self-preoccupied) -- nobody sees her, so she sees them. She doesn't trust Henry a bit, and why should she? He's acted awfully to Julia and Maria, and how he ends is perfectly in character, and actually Jane goes against the "a good woman will Redeem his Soul" cliche by putting the Fanny-blame in the mouths of the awful aunt and Mary C, the worst people in the novel.

Fanny says no! She keeps saying no! Under pressure from her guardian, and Egbert, and everyone! Mary tries putting the whammy on her! Come on, no literary critic (besides Lionel Trilling apparently) thinks this is impressive? It's just about as gutsy as Elizabeth standing up to Lady Catherine, if you ask me. Because Fanny has so much more to lose, as DEMONSTRATED by Sir Tumpty exiling her from her home back to her rude origins. It's pretty amazing how much Austen resists the romantic picture of the Reformed Cad with Willoughby, Wickham and Henry, all successively darker portraits, although the rake grows ever more dagerously charming.

I still hate Edmund/Edward/Egburp/whatever. I think of him actually as being sort of like Marianne -- which makes Fanny Col Brandon, I suppose. Now I have a mental picture of Alan Rickman in muslin which is just not going away.

Yeah E might carry a torch for Mary all his life or whatever, but I don't see him and Fanny as miserable. (Not even Wickham is completely miserable.) OTOH I hated Edgbard so much I was tempted to see him shackled to Mary because he'd be so unhappy in about two weeks, but then Fanny would be unhappy and do her patented overcome sobbing thing, and that was always a little heartbreaking. Even if I started picturing her as, like Alice, swimming in her own tears after a bit.

In fine: people who think Fanny Price is a doormat have never read  "The Clerk's Tale," which would make even Christina Hoff Sommers pick up a bra and a blowtorch.

what 'Emma' sounds like when you have the flu

JANE AUSTEN: Hmmm, so nobody liked my last, virtuous heroine, eh? I'll create a heroine who is extremely likeable yet always does the wrong thing, and watch heads explode! Take that, future generations of readers!

MOI: ....wha

MARGARET DRABBLE: 'the ingenuity and complexity of the plot as detective story, with its many clues, is dazzling'

MOI: Argle

EMMA WOODHOUSE: I am handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seeming to unite some of the best blessings of existence, and have lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex me!

MOI: ....someone get a bucket

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

and then i got the flu.

BOO-YAH. So I am going to put off reading Emma for a while, because the Snot Elves have made the inside of my skull look like one of the grosser moments in Farscape.

Monday, February 10, 2014

more ramblings (yet another email. Pity the poor recipients!)

-- oh wait, someone on Goodreads actually compared Fanny to Dorothea Brooke! YES

I still want to drown Edmund in a bucket. I can't even keep his name straight, I keep calling him Edward. He's too much like Edward Ferrars in S&S, who also called for bucket treatment. Both remind me of Edgar in Lear -- sort of earnestly goody-goody, but really ineffectual in the face of actual danger. Edmund's like his parents -- sort of well-meaning but very self-absorbed, and therefore hazy about it. -- Lady Bertram and her pug are one of the most devastating portraits of indolence in literature, I think. She's hilarious. Not bad, just so permanently blissed out I wondered if she had a hookah pipe stashed in the sofa. (But I guess that's Austen's point: she married well, she produced heirs, she has nothing else to do but sit around in a comfy daze with her pug....)

The rather casual references to the SLAVE TRADE are making me queasy. I just read a bunch of commentary about whether or not Fanny's questioning Sir Thomas on the slave trade means she's criticizing him (FANNY? TAKING A MORAL STAND AGAINST SIR THOMAS? OH MAN what book are you critics reading) and while I don't think Austen's that overtly critical of it, it fits into the kind of casual corruption of the entire world she's describing. It's amazing, like the nasty flip side of Pemberley and Norland and all those other great Houses with Parks. No wonder people don't like the book. I don't really like it either, but it's kind of amazing when you consider she could have just gone on churning out Hubris & Happiness and Shame & Sensuality and Murder & Mayhem for the rest of her life. But she had done that, and succeeded at it, and wanted -- needed -- to go on to something else. She went into the depths. I can't help but admire that, as an aesthetic feat.

-- Also did all the people who think this book is Austen's Bitter Renunciation of the Theatre not notice that Vol I ends with an absolutely classic tableau?

ramblings from an email (I think I am getting the flu....)

Man, everyone is all 'MANSFIELD PARK IS SOOO HORRIBLE OOOOOMG' and....it's not that bad! It's not P&P, no, but it's a helluva lot better than, say, trying to read Shirley after Jane Eyre, and MP's psychology and characterization is really interesting. There's some fascinating parallels to JE for one thing -- poor girl brought up in rich house, secretly in love above her caste, trying to negotiate high society.....but very realistic, not Romantic. This is the reality principle full bore, which is why people don't like it, I think. Yeah, it's hard to bear sometimes, but it's not awful.

I seem to be having the opposite reactions from everyone else (typical!): Fanny is kind of sweet (yeah she's passive and a bit wet, but God, look at how she was brought up), Mary and Henry are horrifying (she's rude in the guise of being witty, he's like some awful version of Valmont (("I just want to make the....very....tiniest hole....in her heart!" YOU CREEP)), I don't think Austen is actually 'defending the values' of patriarchal estate society or whatever (Jane Austen? Satire is conservative by nature, but....yeah no), and I don't think it's even really that religious a novel.

In Austen there's a lot of conversation about religion in society, particularly what livings are worth &c., but it's not like Victorian novels, even Bronte's, where people are appealing to God every other paragraph and talking about their Christian duties &c &c. Hell, even in the Gothics Catherine is so fond of, there's paens to how God created all of this for us nearly every fifteen minutes. Austen is very worldly. It's like reading Chaucer about, who's the really awful one, the Summoner?

In fine: reading Victorian novels has clearly made me a hardened character.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

there but for the

“I’ve been to three meetings since it happened,” said Rita, who was sitting in a restaurant on West 10th Street on Monday following a recovery meeting, and who, like others interviewed for this article, requested that her last name be left out in accordance with A.A.’s tradition of anonymity. “There hasn’t been one meeting where I haven’t heard about it. People in the public eye see it as ‘We lost a great talent.’ People in recovery see it as ‘We lost a brother in arms.’ ”

- For Some in A.A. and Other Addiction Recovery Groups, the Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman Hits Home

'How is the consternation of the party to be described?'

I have one word to describe my consternation and it is DREAD. With this book we leave the sparkling early work -- "the first of the three novels of Jane Austen's maturity," Drabble somberly says. Martin Amis is not helping:

No reader can resist the brazen wishfulness of “Pride and Prejudice,” but it is clear from internal evidence alone that Austen never fully forgave herself for it. “Mansfield Park” was her—and our—penance.

I think I've read the first fifty pages of this. Long, long ago. Oh God.

Early opinions of MP My Mother -- not liked it so well as P. & P. -- Thought Fanny insipid. Man, when your mama doesn't like your book, that's bad.

The 'Fanny wars' (gotta adore that 1996-era DANGER! graphic at the top)

Number of times Fanny actually cries in the novel (fourteen total apparently)

'To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go.'

And BOOM goes the dynamite as Jane sets off the careful intricate fireworks display of plot she's been building up for over two hundred and fifty pages now.

This time around I really noticed how much the novel continues to be about Elizabeth's emotional education: Darcy goes through the same process offstage, but the focus is still all on her, as she hears the testimony of the housekeeper, observes the portrait, reads the letter from her aunt, and so on. Part of what gets me down about this actual conclusion to the story is Darcy is the one getting all the action (that's what she said): finding Lydia and Wickham, bribing and bullying them into being married, confessing to Bingley -- in short acting like a knight performing brave deeds to win the love of his lady, who just gets to watch him do it. (Although, characteristically, Elizabeth is the one who slays the dragon Lady Catherine, right in front of us.)

But more distressingly, for so much of Vol III, Elizabeth is stunned, suspended in horror; I don't think she even makes any jokes, except bitter ones ("I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands") until she gets to tease Jane about Bingley in chapter twelve. The teasing goes on, but we don't see "her spirits rising to full playfulness again" until after she has told her father "I do, I do like him....I love him" -- her sparkle, if not quenched, has been terribly dimmed for about a hundred pages.

....But such high-minded objections aside, the real reason I can't really love Vol III is because it's fucking nervewracking. When my husband and I were watching the 1995 adaptation (as it was airing -- God, I'm so damn old) he was going quietly frantic trying to pry out of me whether or not Darcy and Elizabeth got married, and in exasperation I finally said "Well, what do you think, would it be this popular if they didn't?" He said, "OK, OK, I know they must get married, but I can't see how right now." As Martin Amis, of all people, wrote when that adaptation was released:

This autumn, as the new serial got into its stride, distressed viewers rang up the BBC in tears, pleading for the assurance that fate would smile on the star-crossed pair and all would yet be well. I was not among these callers, but I sympathized. And I quite understood why the “Pride and Prejudice” video, released midway through the run, sold out in two hours. When I was introduced to the novel, at the age of fourteen, I read twenty pages and then besieged my stepmother’s study until she told me what I needed to know. I needed to know that Darcy married Elizabeth. (I needed to know that Bingley married Jane.) I needed this information as badly as I had ever needed anything. “Pride and Prejudice” suckers you. Amazingly—and, I believe, uniquely—it goes on suckering you. Even now, as I open the book, I feel the same panic of unsatisfied expectation, despite five or six rereadings. How can this be, when the genre itself guarantees consummation?

Which is exactly my experience with it. EVERY TIME. There I was, panicking away as Jane played me rather more deftly than Mary played her piano. When you read, say, Oedipus Rex, the dreadful suspense depends on your not wanting to know what you know is happening right in front of you: it is driven by denial. But when you read -- and reread -- P&P the dreadful suspense goes on happening even when you know beyond a doubt that what is going to happen is what you need to have happen. Jane is Sherlock and Watson at once: performing the impossible mental brilliance, and telling us as she does it. No wonder it redefines the word "popular." Five thousand years from now there will probably be cockroaches artfully lit in miniature Regency gowns made out of scavenged carpet fibers, suckering each other with the story.

If P&P were indeed "only" a romance -- and I have here spared you a thousand-word-long rant on what Romance means, including the inevitable Hawthorne reference, be grateful -- it would end at about the point where Elizabeth has begun to triumph ("Bingley was ready, Georgiana was eager, and Darcy determined to be pleased"). Instead we read with her Jane's dreadful news of Lydia's elopment with Wickham, and Darcy is of course right there, and Jane gets to work tightening the mental thumbscrews: "and never had she so honestly felt that she could have loved him as now, when all love must be in vain." In my horribly acid-green-covered paperback of the moment, last night I scrawled the brief but eloquent annotation "AUGH." I have probably thought something like "AUGH" every single time I have ever read that sentence.

If the genres of romance and suspense depend on the artful putting-off of what we know is going to happen (for instance, Hitchcock putting off the opening of a trunk for an hour and a half), the much-derided phenomenon of wish-fulfillment, P&P depends on something completely different: the dread that what we need to most have happen inevitably never will. Austen has created a perpetual motion machine of a story driven by the reality principle. That she finishes it off convincingly with a melding of fantasy and reality (Elizabeth's inferior connections pester her until the very last page) is final proof of her genius.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Till this moment I never knew myself"

Vol I is world-class, and Vol II is better. Austen does not go so much from scene to scene as from strength to strength -- Charlotte's married fate, Lady Catherine's not-so-petty tyranny, the Worst Proposal Ever, the letter -- can we pause to note that the moral turning point for our heroine occurs when she is by herself, reading and rereading, and carefully thinking over her own observations and judgments? The Letter Scene is an aria of psychological acuteness, right up there with Dorothea's similar realization about her own life over half a century later: an amazing moment where the heroine's awareness of herself, her entire world, is transformed completely by her own insight.

Minor points:

- Jane's quiet yet deepening depression is like a sad minor return of Marianne's hysteria and near-fatal illness. Poor Jane! fading away....

- I completely forgot about Col Fitzwhatshisname, who is sort of like Darcy Lite. Elizabeth isn't that insulted that he apparently likes her, but not enough to be poor with her (these guys complaining about poor women remind me of Marilyn Monroe's gold-digger: "I don't want to marry him for his money, I want to marry him for your money!"). He and Charlotte both allow mercenary concerns to dictate their love lives, but the author doesn't condemn either one of them. What else are they supposed to do? seems to be the conclusion. It's like Ellen Olenska gently reproving Newton Archer: "Oh, my dear—where is that country? Have you ever been there?"

- Trying to draw biographical conclusions from literary works is especially pointless when it comes to Austen, but there are so many repetitions in the novels of a kind of primal scene where a heroine offends propriety and suffers for it (Marianne confronting Willoughby, Catherine suspecting the general, Lydia and Kitty chasing after soldiers) you have to wonder if something like that happened to "the prettiest, silliest, most affected, husband-hunting butterfly" who grew up into our author. I have to, anyway. (Ditto the echoes of "Willoughby," "Wickham"....)

....damn, I might just reread Vol II again before going on. It's not as sparkling and delightful as Vol I, but I just want to love it and squeeze it and call it Georgiana.

fifth (or is it sixth?) impressions of Vol I

- I am ashamed to say I did not click with this book until WELL into my thirties. //hangs head

- Vol I really just flies by -- glides, sails, leaps, swoops, whatever. I don't so much read it as just consent to be carried along on waves of delight, which sounds, Jesus, so soppy -- but life has been in the shitter lately and yet I stayed up until about three AM rereading this story I've reread half-a-dozen times, utterly absorbed, because it is just that good. 

- How does she do Jane and Bingley so well? In anyone else's hands they'd be soppy and unconvincing. Austen just makes you want to snuggle them, they are so adorable. Susannah Harker and Crispin Bonham-Carter were perfect (I need to rewatch that!).

- Everyone goes on about bright light witty sparkling &c. (including the author herself), and that is certainly spotlit, but there's also a nearly grim quality at times -- the shadows are much darker. It's somewhere between the pastoral of S&S and the mind-numbing sociability of Bath in NA -- all those sisters are stuck in the country, but there's no real place to retreat to (altho Elizabeth reminded me of Catherine and Marianne on her epic walk, and when she runs off from Darcy and the Bingley sisters to explore on her own). Mrs Dashwood and Mrs Bennet are perhaps not completely dissimilar characters, but their treatment makes you like one and, at best, pity the other. Catherine, Marianne and Elinor are all secure in their homes, in love and affection; without Jane, Elizabeth has nothing in common with the other half-dozen women of the house, and she can't shut herself up in her father's library snarking forever. Home is a place of discomfort, even emotional danger. Elizabeth is closer to Jane than Marianne and Elinor ever were, but she can't really count on anyone else.

- I had forgotten how totally besotted Darcy is with her. He's like a puppy dog. "I would be in danger were it not for her inferior connections!" -- yeah, right, pal. Is he so anxious to quash Jane and Bingley's romance because he's projecting his own bewilderment about being so attracted to a woman he considers so unsuitable? Jackass.

- Boy, I like Mr Bennet less and less with every single rereading. Drabble is rather wry in her preface about young bookish girls who defend him as a father figure and dislike Mrs Bennet (she is equally wry a few paragraphs later about modern feminists who want to rescue Mrs Bennet, possibly out of the protective urge to make Elizabeth have one parent that isn't worthless).

- Auntie Jane is calmly up-front that Elizabeth's best friend has just prostituted herself in marrying a repellent man who can provide financial security and moreover that this is what society expects her to do and Elizabeth is going against the grain by objecting to it. Mr Collins is a figure of high comedy, but he's also the "best" these young women can probably do, and he knows it and they know it and it just exponentially increases his comic awfulness. "Amorous effects of brass" indeed.

- Mr Collins: never never anything but hilarious. Oh God -- the toadying! the emphasis on sucking up to Lady Catherine! the endless speechifying! SO TERRIBLE. And yet so funny I actually woke my partner up at 2:30 in the morning (he was quite sweet about it) helplessly laughing over the Second Worst Proposal Scene Ever (second only because Darcy's Worst Proposal Scene Ever is in the same book, which alone ought to qualify it for immortality).

- The end of Vol I isn't as bad as the end of S&S's Vol II but it's still pretty grim. Bingley has dumped Jane, Elizabeth has lost Charlotte to Mr Collins, and with Bingley gone the girls are stuck walking to Meryton for entertainment. Yikes. Vol II continues very smoothly on from there: Bingley has decamped for good, Caroline is really snotty to Jane by mail, Wickham dumps Lizzy for Miss King's ten thousand pounds and there is the awful, wonderful, horrible set piece where we see Mr and Mrs Collins, At Home. We get the fabulous aunt Mrs Gardiner (with her foreshadowing a visit to the lakes!), but we also get first sight of the awful, non-comic Lady Catherine, that formidable enemy. And with the idea of her being "a most active magistrate in her own parish" I suddenly was not laughing anymore, and found I was tired, and went to bed.

Friday, February 7, 2014

God help me I have just got to quit Tumblr again (xpost)

 "Nothing further to alarm perhaps may occur the first night. After surmounting your unconquerable horror of the bed, you will retire to rest, and get a few hours' unquiet slumber. But on the second, or at farthest the third night after your arrival, you will probably have a violent storm. Peals of thunder so loud as to seem to shake the edifice to its foundation will roll round the neighbouring mountains—and during the frightful gusts of wind which accompany it, you will probably think you discern (for your lamp is not extinguished) one part of the hanging more violently agitated than the rest. Unable of course to repress your curiosity in so favourable a moment for indulging it, you will instantly arise, and throwing your dressing-gown around you, proceed to examine this mystery. After a very short search, you will discover a division in the tapestry so artfully constructed as to defy the minutest inspection, and on opening it, a door will immediately appear—which door, being only secured by massy bars and a padlock, you will, after a few efforts, succeed in opening—and, with your lamp in your hand, will pass through it into a small vaulted room."

"No, indeed; I should be too much frightened to do any such thing." 

Finally realized why I don't like Henry and Catherine as a couple -- they remind me too much of Willoughby and Marianne, except Catherine is even more naive and sheltered, and much less intellectually independent. I have been telling people for a while that Margaret Drabble is the one who argues in her introduction that they turn into Mr and Mrs Bennet, which seemed so dreadfully accurate it RUINED the book for me, but I've been through the introduction again now and Drabble says no such thing. MARGARET FORGIVE ME. Obviously some critic says it, probably in an introduction, since other people have heard the same theory, but I have no idea who it was now. sigh. (xpost)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dontgonearthe Castle

I thought I would get right into Northanger Abbey and have difficulty getting through Sense & Sensibility, but NA is instead proving surprisingly hard to read (altho it did take a couple of days to begin S&S properly, too). I think part of it is what I disliked about Austen so much as a Bronte-mad teen -- she writes about the constrictions of society so well, the endless empty chatter about fashion, and the gossip, and being stuck with people you have nothing in common with inside for hours on end, that it just drove me nuts and I would escape back into Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

There was some of that constriction in S&S, to be sure, but it didn't feel quite as bad -- maybe it's because Catherine doesn't have a sister with her, and she seems permanently stuck in the goddamn pump-room. (Also, I had Marianne. Marianne! how I continue to adore her, always.) I know I read this in grad school (around 1994? //cough creak tap cane) and at least once since then -- only a few years ago in fact! -- but large swathes of it have just disappeared, which again is the opposite of what I expected with S&S -- passages of that started coming back to me as I read it, or at least I recognized them -- it's an odd feeling to describe, but sort of like recognizing your way home in a city, I think. ....Not so now. sigh.

I'm on chapter 5, Henry has disappeared, Isabella has just appeared, I want to drown Mrs Allen in a bucket and I think the best thing that could happen to Bath would be a neutron bomb. //grits teeth and reads on

-- Altho WAIT then I got to the great diatribe In Defense of Novels, which cheered me up. God, Jane is an intrusive narrator here. (She finished this before S&S, I think....? but then revised it) I think I'd do better with it as an audiobook, maybe.

Further thoughts:

- I know everyone loves him but good fucking God I can't stand Henry Tilney, he keeps patronizing Catherine

- the passages about books and reading are really good

- this goes a bit better if I picture Catherine as a kind of female Candide in muslin. A bit

- every time Isabella says something I want to scream, altho that's partly because she reminds me horribly of someone I used to know


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

'All within Elinor's breast was satisfaction, silent and strong.'

Vol III also flew by, altho it wasn't quite up to Vol II in terms of characterization and sheer suspense. I am in the position of the immortal ass in the anecdote who finds his grandfather isn't quite as dumb as he supposed. This Jane Austen, she's a pretty good writer! Have you heard? (That said, I still think we should have read P&P at St John's, but no matter.)

The "through line," in today's awful modern slang (God, I sound old and wizened. Hang me up on the wall in a bag) is of course Marianne's terrible illness, which is brought on by her "sensibility": Mrs Jennings, in whom we are to trust as a nurse (Austen specifically says she has experience, and she is able to tell Marianne is gravely ill in spite of Elinor's denial) attributes it to her emotional agonies in London, and it is paralleled with her injury in Vol I: just as she went out in bad weather and became emotionally ill, infatuated with Willoughby, she insists on being physically vulnerable while dwelling on her lost love. Austen explicitly links her wanderings to Romantic symbols: the Grecian temple, winding shrubberies, hill vistas, twilight. (You can picture academics drawing entirely the wrong kind of lesson here: Young girls! Don't go outside when it's raining!) -- This is one of the few places where the movie fumbles: instead of Marianne fancying "that from their summits Combe Magna might be seen" (oh, Marianne), La Winslet stands in the rain, sopping, staring right at the house, and recites Shakespeare. It's very over-the-top, but very Marianne. -- When Elinor and Marianne take their first walk together after Marianne's recovery, Austen echoes Marianne's and Margaret's opening walk, which Drabble links to Dorothy Wordsworth "who, at precisely the period of composition (1798) was writing her Alfoxden Diaries". Marianne is emotionally recovered as well, for she somberly says: "'There, exactly there,'—pointing with one hand, 'on that projecting mound,—there I fell; and there I first saw Willoughby.'" It is the end of her sentimental education, and the true conclusion of the novel, rather than the hastily told-about marriages (which the movie of course dwelt lovingly on, God bless it).

But the great emotional set piece of this concluding volume -- of the whole book really -- is of course Willoughby's confession to Elinor. Apparently Austen is riffing some on the idea of the recovered rake in Clarissa, and I have never read Clarissa, and Clarissa is apparently about ninety zillion pages long, and people don't read it unless they're in grad school and I dropped out of grad school in 1996 so you can see where this is going. If it's true S&S was originally an epistolary novel, Austen probably shaped his monologue from a long letter, and it's easier to imagine Elinor reading it alone rather than sitting still listening for so long -- especially when she's expecting Brandon with her mother in what, an hour? But Willoughby's actual presence does heighten the scene's suspense, and underlines his rashness. It's an astonishing speech, and reminded me of nothing so much as Rochester's confession of his own libertine past to the virginal Jane Eyre (which is based also on Pamela).  Willoughby is not morally redeemed, as Marianne is; he doesn't die, unlike Lovelace; and as Austen takes care to tell us at the end, he isn't even that unhappy. But we and Elinor do understand his behaviour, awful though it was (and you can't doubt he will continue to cheat on his wife, and seduce young girls, or at least I can't).

(Another flourishing villain is the again-triumphant Lucy, an amazing creation; she climbs in society, but as Austen acidly remarks, she "may be held forth as a most encouraging instance of what an earnest, an unceasing attention to self-interest, however its progress may be apparently obstructed, will do in securing every advantage of fortune, with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience." It is a mark of Austen's realism that Willoughby, and the Lucy-Robert and John-Fanny pairs which shadow our heroes and heroines, live out their days with no further punishment than the admittedly awful one of having to be their own selves.)

But the focus isn't on Willoughby -- at least not for long: he says his (extremely long) piece, gains Elinor's forgiveness and dramatically (of course) exits. Austen's emphasis is on Elinor's listening to the story, and especially on her repeating it to Marianne; not to reunite the lovers, but to reassure her sister "he was not always acting a part, not always deceiving" her: he was "only fickle, very, very fickle." It would be easier for the sisters to hate him, and for Austen to dismiss him entirely (as she does dismiss Fanny and John, and Lucy and Robert). Somewhat surprisingly, in a novel always seen as Emotions v Reason (blame the title), Austen attributes nearly all of her villains' worst behaviour to lack of education: Lucy, her sister, Willoughby, and Robert are all spoiled by their culture, especially its materialism, and even Edward is harmed by his enforced idleness (in an amusing twist, Robert attributes Edward's "faults" to his education!). It's not a coincidence that Marianne's first plan after her recovery is self-education -- Austen pokes fun at her typical zeal, but not the idea itself. The ideal is not so much reason overcoming emotion as Plato's allegory of the two horses pulling the same chariot together.

And Marianne's last moving speech, which summarizes her moral flaws in the same way Elinor meditates on Willoughby's at the end of his confession ("The world had made him extravagant and vain—Extravagance and vanity had made him cold-hearted and selfish") focuses not on Willoughby, her past love, nor Brandon, her future husband, but her sister: " Had I died,—in what peculiar misery should I have left you, my nurse, my friend, my sister!—You, who had seen all the fretful selfishness of my latter days; who had known all the murmurings of my heart!" True to form, she immediately swears to live only for her family and studying, and has hysterics when Elinor hears of Lucy's final chilling "flourish of malice," but we cannot doubt she has changed, and the relationship between the sisters has changed also. Even after the concluding marriages, Austen emphasizes how they live happily "almost within sight of each other," and we are reminded the story was first called Elinor and Marianne.

-- On to Northanger Abbey, which I think I reread a couple of years ago after reading Mysteries of Udolpho, in the hope of getting more of the in-jokes (I first read NA in grad school, in a Gothic Lit course). This was a mistake: you don't really understand the in-jokes much better, and Udolpho is full of lavishly described trees, and bad poetry. I think I enjoyed NA pretty well last time, so I'm not expecting this reread to be as surprising as the S&S experience was, but I could be mistaken again!

Monday, February 3, 2014

S&S - Vol II

Reading progress. At chapter seven -- after Willoughby has snubbed Marianne at the party, when she gets his awful letter. I don't know what Young Moi was thinking (well no, I know just what she was thinking; she was thinking of Jane Eyre) -- this is great stuff. Poor Marianne! Austen sees her so sympathetically, too -- she's not just a "silly girl," her swooning infatuation isn't even the problem, but it's more a moral and psychological one -- she's gone to such emotional extremes she has no reserves for herself, she's given herself away, and to someone who preys on just that kind of innocent excitable young girl (it always shocks me Willoughby is twenty-five, and seducing sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds). Elinor is very sympathetic too, like when she just sits down and takes Marianne's hand and cries with her after The Letter. Harrowing. Would any other author treat a sixteen-year-old girl's first romantic disappointment so seriously and thoroughly?

Mrs Jennings, so unbearable at first, becomes nearly something out of Shakespeare -- she's presented as comic but with great largeness of spirit, like Mistress Q's reporting the death of Falstaff (which always makes me laugh and then cry). Felt this particularly with her complete irrelevance about the mulberry tree, so utterly inappropriate and silly given the conversation, but really a celebration of life's triviality, and human appetites. Austen sees her terribly clearly, but all the more sympathetically for that -- no wonder Woolf was always calling her Shakespearean, it's the same kind of near-tender regard he has for almost all his characters (Shakespeare's "Olympian detachment" is almost as big a pile of bullshit as Hamlet's rep for being indecisive). Her husband Sir John isn't quite as fully drawn, but he gets some wonderful comic moments ("It was only the last time they met that he had offered him one of Folly's puppies!"). Colonel Brandon also comes fully into his own as a character, of which more below, and we get the full horrible picture of the Steeles, and even further elaboration on the selfish materialism of the dreadful John Dashwood (more below ditto).

COL BRANDON BEGINS HIS TALE. //swoon Yeah, yeah, it's the Alan Rickman effect, whatever. Pemberley has an interesting comparison between the ages of all the characters and the actors who played them -- Rickman was actually forty-nine, not thirty-five, but he seems so much more youthful to me than my first mental picture of Brandon. Who pointed out Col B is a Byronic hero, but all his action (falling in love, searching for his ward, duelling W) happens offstage? (More evidence this was an epistolary novel to begin with, if you ask me.) -- Also, you can tell Marianne will be happy with Brandon (she will!) because he's so much like Elinor, who loves her.....altho wait, his dead love's daughter whom he loves as his own is a year older than Marianne?.....Ick. And I think Mrs Dashwood is only five years older than he is? ....ick squared. I think that also means, if she has nineteen- and sixteen-year-old daughters, that she wasn't that much older than Elinor when she married.

 But along with the warm comedy, and the deep appreciation for Brandon, we get an absolutely chilling scene -- this is some of the best writing in the novel. Margaret Drabble points it up in the introduction, where she calls it "shocking," and it is: Elinor's half-brother appraises Marianne as if she were one of Willoughby's hunters, pricing her to the nearest hundred, in the horribly appropriate setting of a jeweller's: women are bought and sold, like seals and toothpick cases. He is even more insulting when he 'congratulates' Elinor for capturing Brandon for his wealth, and his awfulness is rounded out by his own false insistence on poverty and supposing that the Dashwood girls are sucking up to Mrs Jennings for money. And yet nothing is forced or drawn heavily -- it's just a buffoon rattling on to his half-sister in a smart shop about his property and her marriage prospects, but there is deep contempt for the mercenary society which produced such a specimen in every line.

This is relieved, somewhat, by the near-Shakespearean light comedy of Lucy and Edward and Elinor all being suddenly stuck in the same room together, which was done to very good effect in the movie. It's all very sparkling and witty, without much real damage being done (on the surface at least), but this leads up to the crescendo of Fanny Dashwood essentially replacing Elinor and Marianne with Lucy and her sister -- indeed this whole part, set in the corrupt town rather than the pastoral comfort of the first volume, might be called Lucy Victrix -- she's like a pocket Becky Sharp.

In fine, this part FLIES by -- it's payoff for the laborious setup of Vol I, like a really good third act in a play. I don't remember much about Vol III, except Marianne's dreadful illness, and am a little apprehensive, but much more appreciative than I was after Vol I.

-- ETA -- and on opening Vol III, Austen's fine sense for absurdity immediately has Lucy's fortunes reversed in the most hilarious and humiliating way.  VIPER IN MY BOSOM, I think Fanny Dashwood shrieks in the movie.

'Miss Harriet and Miss Elizabeth Binney' by John Smart (1806)

This is on the cover of the Signet Classic paperback I have, which I bought SOLELY for the Margaret Drabble introduction. The intro is dated 1989, but my paperback is from 1997 (and cost $4.95 back then — I think I got it used for about $2). It’s “clean and tight” as the booksellers say (that’s what she said) but the covers are spotted brown on the inside and I checked the back matter and the pages started to peel apart at the end. Yikes. I’ll have to be a little careful with it.

'and Elinor then was at liberty to think and be wretched'

END OF VOL I. Boy that was a bit of a slog, but it starts ramping up near the end. Willoughby leaves! Col Brandon leaves! Edward leaves! The men are the ones keeping all the secrets. Marianne won't lie to save her life, and Elinor tries to be as just as she can without being uncivil.

Lucy Steele is a great villain, a real chocolate-covered spider -- she'd be cozily at home in the Age of Smarm. Her attempted manipulation of poor Elinor is maddening ("'Sometimes,' continued Lucy, after wiping her eyes, 'I think whether it would not be better for us both to break off the matter entirely.' As she said this, she looked directly at her companion" YOU BITCH -- ahem).

I always identified with Marianne (okay I am Marianne, that's obvious) but Elinor seems so much more sympathetic to me now, and not at all a perfect authorial self-insert. It's nearly impossible not to think that Marianne is what Jane was, or tried her best to reject, and Elinor was what she wanted to be, altho of course there's absolutely no evidence for that whatsoever.

More amusing baby-hating, or rather hatred of the way women are expected to be mindless about babies:

Fortunately for those who pay their court through such foibles, a fond mother, though, in pursuit of praise for her children, the most rapacious of human beings, is likewise the most credulous; her demands are exorbitant; but she will swallow any thing; and the excessive affection and endurance of the Miss Steeles towards her offspring were viewed therefore by Lady Middleton without the smallest surprise or distrust. She saw with maternal complacency all the impertinent encroachments and mischievous tricks to which her cousins submitted. She saw their sashes untied, their hair pulled about their ears, their work-bags searched, and their knives and scissors stolen away, and felt no doubt of its being a reciprocal enjoyment. It suggested no other surprise than that Elinor and Marianne should sit so composedly by, without claiming a share in what was passing.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

'first' impressions (Elinor and Marianne)

Stupidbowl roar outside making it hard to think, but some thoughts --

Boy, chapter 2 is a real perfect gem of nastiness, a deadly portrait of people deciding to screw those in need over while convincing themselves they're doing the right thing. What does this remind me of? OH WAIT One of Austen's most famous poison-pen portraits, justly so. And it's nearly all done in dialogue, with great economy and skill. What a playwright she would have made.

I forgot Austen dislikes baby-fussing as much as I do:

The whole was tied up for the benefit of this child, who, in occasional visits with his father and mother at Norland, had so far gained on the affections of his uncle, by such attractions as are by no means unusual in children of two or three years old; an imperfect articulation, an earnest desire of having his own way, many cunning tricks, and a great deal of noise, as to outweigh all the value of all the attention which, for years, he had received from his niece and her daughters. 

....Lady Middleton had taken the wise precaution of bringing with her their eldest child, a fine little boy about six years old, by which means there was one subject always to be recurred to by the ladies in case of extremity, for they had to enquire his name and age, admire his beauty, and ask him questions which his mother answered for him, while he hung about her and held down his head, to the great surprise of her ladyship, who wondered at his being so shy before company, as he could make noise enough at home. On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse.

Marianne going on about how Elinor would like Edward so much better if only he could really draw is fucking adorable. I think Marianne, like Falstaff, Don Quixote, Anna Karenina, and other figures who are more tragic than their authors perhaps meant them to be, is one of those characters who got away from the writer, for whatever personal reasons it's hard to say. But the effect is definitely there.

God knows, Edward needs drawing, or Cowper-reciting, or scrapbooking, or some damn thing to make him stand out from the wallpaper. He is a total simp.

I also forgot how much Marianne is like her mother, and how they egg each other on to Elinor's anxious displeasure. Boy, Elinor is one little anxious codependent big sister, having to mother both of them and keep a constant check on their extravagance -- romantic, emotional, and financial.

The prose style keeps sort of lulling me and then I wind up gliding over passages and have to go back and reread them to make sure I understood the sense. It's almost a little too well-balanced.

Just noticed Austen does one of her favourite tricks, putting an actual observation in the mouth of a ridiculous character (Mrs Jennings declaring Col Brandon has fallen for Marianne). This novel gets criticized so often as unsatisfactory that we overlook how much of her mature self is really in it -- what an amazing debut it was for a thirty-six year old author, and how clearly it heralded what was to come. She had six more years left to write in.


After reading Among the Janeites (which was....ehh, OK -- a friend compared it to Word Freaks, and I'd also thought of that book while reading it) I felt inspired to go back to a long-term, frequently abandoned project, which is to read all of Austen's novels straight through in order. I came to Austen late (very late....in my early thirties, if you must know. I've always been a Bronte girl).

I realized what's always been standing in the way of this project is I'd have to start with Sense & Sensibility. I had to read Sense & Sensibility in college, and DETESTED it. (Why did we read that and not P&P? I shall never fucking know.) I think I reread S&S after The Movie (which I love), but didn't much like it then either.  Gahh. I tried fudging up a rough chronology of Austen's writing to see whether or not I could read something else straight off the bat:

1789 - 'Love and Freindship'
1791 - History of England
1793 - begins 'Sir Charles Grandison or the happy Man, a comedy in 6 acts' (finished 1800)
1793-1795 - 'Lady Susan'
'before 1796' - 'Elinor and Marianne' (Sense & Sensibility)
1796 - begins 'First Impressions' (Pride & Prejudice)
August 1797 - finishes 'First Impressions'
November 1797 - Jane's father tries to find a publisher for "a Manuscript Novel, comprised in three Vols. about the length of Miss Burney's Evelina"
November 1797-mid-1798 - revises 'Elinor and Marianne' to 'Sense and Sensibility', changing epistolary form to 3P
mid-1798 - finishes S&S, begins 'Susan' (Northanger Abbey)
1799 - finishes 'Susan'
1800 - father retires
1803 - revised 'Susan' sold, ms in limbo until 1816
1804 - begins 'The Watsons' (probably abandoned on her father's death in 1805)
21 January 1805 - father dies
(the great gap)
1809 - moves to Chawton, has time to write
October 1811 - S&S published
1811-1812 - revises P&P
1812? - writes MP (first novel which is not a revision of pre-1799 work)
January 1813 - P&P published
October 1813 - second edition of P&P
October 1813 - second edition of S&S
May 1814 - Mansfield Park published
December 1815 - Emma published
early 1816 - becomes ill
February 1816 - second edition of MP
July 1816 - first draft of 'The Elliots' (Persuasion)
August 1816 - revises ending of 'The Elliotts'
1817 - 'Susan' revised as 'Catherine'
January 1817 - begins 'The Brothers (Sanditon)
April 1817 - confined to bed
March 1817 - stops work on 'The Brothers'
18 July 1817 - death (41)

....yowza. For all Woolf's insistence that Austen "breaks from melody to melody as Mozart from song to song" that's an awful lot of sitting on drafts and revising and then revising again. The first three novels were all drafted before 1800, and then there's all that terrible racketing around after her father retires and then dies, and then her last three novels were begun after her first successful publication (and she didn't live to fully revise the last two published). -- That chronology makes me want to look up how many successful women authors had fathers who encouraged them. It also disheartens me greatly because however you look at it, I'm stuck with reading S&S first, unless I want to go with the Juvenilia (which I've read before and greatly enjoyed), or Lady Susan, or the History, both of which I have -- but this is project partly me wanting to read Austen's novels "in order," whatever that means at this point. (Yes, I overthink everything. Your point?) So it looks like the reading order will be:

Sense & Sensibility (gag)
Northanger Abbey
(The Watsons, if I feel like it)
Pride & Prejudice (hell, when did she revise P&P? probably after S&S was published -- nothing like an actual publication, and success, to boost a writer's confidence -- and I would bet finishing P&P spurred her on to then write MP, and NA wasn't revised much until after 1816, when she was ill)
Mansfield Park //dread (no, I've never been able to finish this)

books read in February 2014

Fiction is in red.

25. Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, Deborah Yaffe
26. Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen
27. Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
28. Love and Freindship, Jane Austen
29. Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
30. The Wicked Girls, Alex Marwood
31. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, Thomas King
32. Amazonia, James Marcus
33. The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You, Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin
34. Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
35. Emma, Jane Austen
36. Tam Lin, Pamela Dean (an old old favourite, but been years since I've reread it)
37. The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait, Blake Bailey (wow, that did not in any way live up to the hype. Serves me right for continuing to take the NYTBR seriously. Should've known, as I disliked his Cheever biography) 
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon, Jane Austen (edited by Margaret Drabble) (this ends my Jane binge with Margaret as my Vergil. //cries)