|Jane Austen Society of Australia
The President's Report
have just finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice. Goodness knows how many times I have read it, but once again I was totally seduced by its magic. I knew what would happen at the end, yet I waited anxiously to see if Lydias elopement would put off Mr Darcy, I shared Elizabeths moment of heart-stopping joy when she looked out the window and saw him approaching with Mr Bingley, and at the end of the book I exulted when she and Darcy are finally united.
The joy of Pride and Prejudice is that Elizabeth does marry Mr Darcy, and she will do so over and over again! We, as readers, never cease feeling delighted about it.
Just as we can read Jane Austens novels again and again, so we can gain endless pleasure from talking about her books. Our 1998 program has been full of wonderful opportunities to listen to speakers about her works and also for participating in discussions ourselves. The highlight of the year was our conference in the Blue Mountains. I loved every minute of it, so it was great that all those attending shared my enthusiasm.
JASA meetings are very busy occasions for all your committee and helpers. Sometimes we feel that we have no time to chat with the many friends we have made because of the demands of receiving payments, checking library books in and out, selling Regency Fair items, putting out chairs, preparing afternoon tea, and all the other jobs that need doing. I would like to thank all the committee and helpers for their hard work and dedication.
This is the end of my third year as president of JASA. It has been a wonderful three years and I have learned a great deal. People often ask me when we are going to run out of things to talk about at meetings, but fortunately I cant see that ever happening. I think you will agree that we have an enticing program organised for next year. 1999 will see JASA turn 10 and we will hold a birthday party. You will receive details of this event during the year.
Before that, however, you will be celebrating Christmas. I will not wish on you the tressels and trays laden with brawn and cold pies which were to be found at Uppercross (brawn sounds too disgusting!!!), but I will wish you a very merry festive season and a happy New Year.
Current JASA Publications
The articles in Sensibilities are:
The JASA Conference, 1998
Items from the Newsletter (and from Practicalities, JASA's news update sheet published in March and September) are reproduced on these web pages.
Most past issues of Sensibilities can be purchased for A$6.00 each. See the Sensibilities list of articles.
For a taste of what members enjoy in Sensibilities, the JASA refereed journal praised for its consistently high literary standards, read an extract from a talk by Penny Gay to a JASA meeting in 1994, as reported in a previous Sensibilities: 'Emma and the Battle of Waterloo'.
News, Views & Titbits
The 1998 JASA Conference
The 1998 JASA Annual Conference, with the theme Jane Austens Families, was held at the Ibis Resort, Leura, in the Blue Mountains, over the weekend 11-13 September. Over 100 JASA members and guests attended. Members Patrick Wilson and Yvette Field give the local version of the Conference, and Tom Hoberg an international view.
Yvette reports on the first session...
The conference proceedings began with an after dinner session to meet the speakers. The president, Susannah Fullerton, gave a brief welcoming address in which she mused on the conference theme of Jane Austens family by providing a personal and eclectic selection of a best and worst family from the novels. Mr Darcy was (of course) her ideal husband, with Anne Elliot and Henry Tilney as her sister and brother. There are no prizes for guessing who was her worst aunt and worst father!
The session, based loosely on a chat show format, had a pleasant and informal atmosphere as Susannah and Anne Harbers asked questions focussing on how each speaker had become interested in Jane Austen and her writing and on their various career paths. Their answers were all interesting and gave the audience a chance to appreciate their different styles and the diversity of their interests.
The specific interests of the speakers were not only connected to Austen studies. Joe, in studying Ford Maddox Ford had found an Australian connection, Irene talked about her new book which concentrates on Jane as a parsons daughter and her time at Steventon, Elizabeth mentioned her musical activities adjudicating Eisteddfods and Tom talked of his interest in Victorian medieval revivalist movements. When discussion turned to the conference theme and to the media adaptations, there were some very lively answers to the question of which fictional Austen family they would like to belong, and which was their favourite adaptation. We were delighted and not particularly surprised that there was very positive affirmation of the art of Jane Austen when not one speaker would put any other novelist above her.
Historian Irene Collins, Honorary Senior Fellow of the University of Liverpool and the author of the acclaimed Jane Austen and the Clergy, opened Saturdays programme with her talk Jane Austens Clergy Families Real and Imagined.
Jane Austen was the daughter of a clergyman and sister to two. She had many clergy relatives, and many more clergy friends and acquaintances. So she had ample first hand knowledge of the rather precarious existence forced upon the clergy by the system of patronage which procured them their living and the tithes and glebe which provided their stipend. This was generally so small that most of them had to take charge of additional parishes and/or earn extra-curricular money by teaching or farming. Irene left us with a greater understanding of, without necessarily any more liking for, Mr Collins and his obsequious behaviour to his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Tom Hoberg, Professor of English at Northeastern Illinois University, spoke on All Beer and Roses The Triumph of Community in Jane Austen, and showed us how most of Jane Austens fictional families are not only chaotic and dysfunctional, but parentally, especially paternally, deprived. He set the scene with this potted parental picture Mr Morland is decent enough, if no ball of fire, but doesnt make up for General Tilney. Mr Dashwood is dead, Mr Bennet a dropout, Lt Price a sot, Sir Thomas Bertram a smug tinpot despot, Mr Woodhouse a silly old fool, and Sir Walter Elliot a combination of most of the above! Of the mothers, Mrs Morland is okay but limited, Mrs Dashwood a weakling, Mrs Bennet a buffoon, Mrs Price a slob, Mrs Woodhouse and Lady Elliot are dead, and Lady Bertram might as well be.
In comparing the social environments portrayed in Mansfield Park and in Emma, Tom contrasted the sterile gloom of Mansfield Park with the world of Highbury, where the weak are protected and the vulnerable cherished. He told us that it matters that people in Emma want to be friends. There may be a measure of civility in Mansfield Park, but there is precious little benevolence, and precious little friendship. The social principles propounded by Jane Austen in the early 19th Century are surely just as valid today as we move into the 21st.
JASA member Marlene Arditto spoke on Female Work and Work Tools in Jane Austens World with illustrations of finished work and work implements from the time and some hands-on specimens from her large thimble collection. Marlenes talk could well have been sub-titled Knitting, Netting and Knotting, although only one of these three figure amongst Mr Darcys and Miss Bingleys criteria for a really accomplished young woman. Knitting, we learnt, was not one of Jane Austens pastimes and barely rates a mention in any of her books, possibly because she associated it with the elderly and infirm such as Mrs Bates. Netting, on the other hand, was considered a suitable occupation for the young and able of both sexes. Jane Austens young nephews amused themselves making rabbit nets. Captain Harville made fishing nets and fashioned improved netting needles, while female characters in a number of the novels netted everything from work-boxes to cloaks. Knotting required little skill or concentration while giving the illusion of great industry, and so it is little wonder that it was one of Lady Bertrams favourite activities.
In his talk Jane Austens Family of Fiction: From Henry and Eliza to Darcy and Eliza, Joseph Wiesenfarth, Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, took us on a sort of pilgrims progress from Jane Austens juvenilia to her adult novels, from the teenager to the mature woman. That this progress was evolutionary rather than revolutionary became obvious as he highlighted the genetic relationship between the fictional characters of her apprenticeship years and those created when she had gained mastery of her craft, especially in the building up, stating and solving of problems and no problem is more satisfactorily solved than that of Darcy and Elizabeth. Although Elizabeth is as well aware as is her friend Charlotte that marriage is the only honourable provision for young women of small fortune, she learns to make the distinction between the mercenary and the prudent motives for marriage. To accept Darcys first proposal would be to make a mercenary marriage, and she refuses to do it. To accept his second proposal would be to make a prudent marriage, and she does it. This happy resolution of the courtship represents the triumph of intelligence and affection, and will probably result in the Darcys being in their turn much better parents than both their fathers and mothers had been. Saturdays presentations concluded with a very interesting and informative demonstration of JASA on the Internet. The Saturday night dinner was well attended, and many of the members and guests rose to the occasion by wearing period costume. After dinner we were entertained by The Woman Behind the Screen: Jane Austen in Words and Music, presented by Canadian visitors Elizabeth Graham-Smith and her husband Beric. This consisted of piano music interspersed with readings from the novels, juvenilia and letters. Sunday mornings programme began with The Family Library - a Delight, a Refuge and a Storehouse of Knowledge by JASA President Susannah Fullerton., who convinced us that a house without books is a house without a soul. Libraries play a significant part in all Jane Austens novels, just as they must have done for her in real life. There is hardly a mention of a house without our learning something about the library in it. The delightful family library at Pemberley has been the work of many generations, and Mr Darcy has no intention of neglecting it. Mr Bennet frequently uses his library at Longbourn as a refuge from the folly and conceit he perceives in every other room in the house. Marianne Dashwood intends making use of the veritable storehouse of knowledge in the library at Delaford to gain the great deal of instruction she feels herself to want. Not all of Jane Austens characters know how to use a library correctly. Only her finer characters put them to their proper use, and amongst these we can count Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot who, like Jane Austen herself, were largely self-educated and must have made very good use of their fathers libraries. Susannah completed her presentation with mouth-watering illustrations of a selection of libraries in English country houses, some dating from before Jane Austens time. The conference ended as it had begun, with all presenters submitting themselves, with humour and wit, to a session of questions without notice. The weekend was both enjoyable and intellectually satisfying, and for this we must thank all those whose fine presentations could only be the result of extensive research and hard work. We must also thank all those who attended the sessions and took part with unflagging enthusiasm, the Ibis Resort for the comfortable venue and high quality service, and of course those JASA members and particularly president Susannah responsible for the conference organisation, whose untiring dedication and application resulted in an extremely successful event.
My first real night in Sydney I purchased a bush hat, an Akubra beauty, with the enthusiastic and invaluable aid of my friend and fellow Janeite, Meghan Hayward, and with the enthusiastic aid of the sales staff and half a dozen other customers at the Strand Hatters. It was, I acknowledge, a quintessentially tourist thing to do, but then I was a tourist, and a particularly happy one. I tend to be timid and apprehensive when pitched into an unfamiliar place, as I anticipate getting lost, ill, or incarcerated. All trepidations, however, quickly evaporated with Meghan as my guide to a beautiful and friendly place.
A world-weary friend cautioned me not to expect too much. Sydney, she advised, is just another big city, with some sites and sights worth checking out, to be sure, but otherwise not notably different from Chicago. Arrant, parochial balderdash! Sydney is a harbour city, not a waterfront one, a place of mini-bays and inlets, and islands, which would take weeks to see even once over, an easy undertaking, because it is from dockside to shopping district an eminently green and walkable venue, and a satiable one too. Id call it charming, expect that charming is for me next door to quaint, and this is a place where ones soul is restored without being soporified.
Our final panorama of Sydney came at dusk, from an observatory eyrie from which one could see the whole city for a hundred miles. My only malaise, in fact, came from the ubiquity of American pop culture, with a mobile phone in every other hand, and a McDonalds on every other corner.
The gathering was not in Sydney proper, but in a resort in the Blue Mountains, 120 km or so away. I cant imagine a venue more suitable, or that appeared more memorable. Imagine a lookout commanding a view of eucalyptus forest, a thousand perpendicular feet below. Or looking out of the breakfast room and seeing flocks and coveys of techni-coloured parrots instead of pigeons. Or walking through a garden filled with flowers that grow nowhere else in the world.
The conference itself was an unmitigated joy, superbly organised because it didnt seem officiously so. JASA president, Susannah Fullerton, anticipated and provided for every detail and only someone who has ever done a conference can appreciate how nerve-racking that can be but with never the dampening sense that all of this had been organised within an inch of its life. Over 200 communicants came to listen to the four of us, and to talk in their turn, much like Janeites everywhere, but with an easy, bright friendliness which makes mutual courtesy comfortable, that Ill always cherish about these Janeites.
Before our paper presentations, we were presented to the membership in an informal get-acquainted panel chat session, a practice I heartily recommend, as well as its later complement, a general post-paper Q & A session, as a more satisfying and enriching alternative to the hurried and anonymous addenda shoehorned in so often at the end of our [US JASNA Conference] papers. I also enthusiastically endorse their practice of a meaningful (that is, half hour) tea and refreshment break between papers, and a civilised interval allocated for lunch. Sometimes, the event-crammed bustle of our [JASNA] national Mega-Annuals is at least as enervating as exhilarating. Sometimes, less is more. Just a thought.
To the presentations then. Irene Collins, whose Jane Austens Clergy Families, Real and Imagined was an affectionate and elegant tribute to both her subject and herself, and a demonstration that thorough knowledge need never dim infectious enthusiasm, is a happy hybrid of historian and litterateur. We admired her book; she is more ostentatiously impressive in person. Joe Wiesenfarth demonstrated eloquently why he is not only a major scholar in Jane Austen and related areas, but one of the most compellingly readable of all our tribe.
Joe fascinated his listeners while discussing works with which a lot of the audience was only marginally familiar and making them want to be. Warm and eloquent and witty and audience-friendly, he amongst us all would have been chosen by Jane for a champion.
Marlene Arditto: can someone really make thimbles and needles and 200 year old workaday stuff interesting to look at and hear about? Yes, she can! Yes, she did! And thereby, she quickly evoked the quotidian domestic world which Jane both lived in and celebrated in a way that reaffirmed our admiration of both.
All this was choreographed by Susannah and her fellows with the assistance of Ibis Resorts topnotch staff. And how Susannah, amid the press and stress of organising the conference, had time to prepare such a luminous paper on libraries as the gatherings final delicious course, I cannot imagine, but only admire.
Jane would have felt welcomed as well as commemorated by this conference, I think. A grand venue; a friendly, elegant, amiably-learned gathering in name. More is not wanted; less was never contemplated.
Thank you Meghan and Susannah, JASA, Sydney, and Australia. And thank you Jane Austen for, as Yogi Berra might say, making this celebration necessary.
Other Places, Other Societies
For contact details of other Jane Austen societies and links to other Jane Austen web sites see LINKS.
News from Christchurch, NZ
Our small group of enthusiasts has continued to keep a diligent watch for opportunities to glean and share material on the engrossing subject of Jane Austen. This year we have discussed a wide range of topics through our informal contacts. In this way we have mused on the process by which the novels are transformed from printed page to screen with special reference to Monica Lauritzens book produced in the 1970s, Emma on Television: A Study of a BBC Classic Serial.
On a different tack Christene bravely undertook a challenging task: an alternative outcome for Pride and Prejudice. In effect she asked, what if Colonel Fitzwilliam had allowed his attraction to Elizabeth Bennet to override his intention of finding a wealthier bride and she had accepted his suit? The resulting tale of novella length has challenged the rest of our group to re-examine our own assessments of the characters involved and we have been well entertained in the process.
Christene also had the pleasure of a conversation with Juliet McMaster. That well-known Austen scholar visited Christchurch in June as a Visiting Fellow at the University of Canterbury. Unfortunately we were unable to attend her Austen lecture but Prof. McMaster was generous with her time in conversation with Christene and strongly encouraged her to seek publication for her completion of the fragment we know as The Watsons.
During their discussion Christene also learned that a seminar on Jane Austen is to be held at the University of Alberta next May. Perhaps a member of JASA may be able to attend so that the rest of us will have a report to enjoy afterwards? Juliet McMaster also spoke at the JASNA Conference in Quebec in October, and Christenes Chicago correspondent, Margo Goia, has told her that it was a great success. Margo Goia is a pen friend gained through the good offices of JASA and she provides a constant source of many varied items of interest.
Here in Christchurch we have recently been considering the nature of JAs heroes in her novels: what kinds of men are they and did JAs particular social milieu affect the range of male personality types she included in her fiction?
Naturally we have not allowed ourselves to become completely preoccupied with these matters alone. We have also noted that this year Pride and Prejudice figured once again in the top ten of New Zealands favourite books list compiled by the Whitcoulls bookselling chain. Emma also made the top 100 selection. Some time has now passed since several Austen novels appeared on screen in succession, so that the sustained popularity of the books themselves indicates much more than a flurry of interest arising from the films. Ruth attended a presentation on the topic of favourite reads and was delighted to hear Brian Priestley, a well known media commentator in New Zealand, recommend Pride and Prejudice as his choice should he be compelled to restrict himself to just one book for his entertainment. We always enjoy hearing others express admiration for Jane Austens work.
Finally everyone who has speculated about her quiet life will agree with the underlying sentiment expressed in the following light-hearted poem. It was published in an irreverent view of European history entitled The Dogsbody Papers, edited by E O Parrott (Viking 1988).
Ruth Williamson and Christene Evans
She dwelt among the untrodden ways
She told the children tales, she sewed,
If ever she preferred a man
For how are we to know
JASNA will be running a super regional
conference next year, at Jasper in the beautiful Canadian Rockies from 14 to 16 May 1999,
on The Talk in Jane Austen, which will explore her use of dialogue, conversation
idiolects, and other aspects of speech. Speakers are Jan Fergus, Isobel Grundy, Juliet
McMaster and Claire Tomalin a formidable lineup! For information or registration
JASNAs October national conferences are planned well ahead: 1999 is in Colorado Springs, on Emma: Jane Austen at her Peak? (at which Pamela Whalan and Nora Walker will present a point/counterpoint on When Imperfection becomes Perfection); 2000 in Boston on Pride and Prejudice (at which Susannah Fullerton will speak on crime); 2001 Seattle on Entertainment in Jane Austen, and 2002 Toronto on The Life and Times of Jane Austen.
State Library Lecture Series
JASA President Susannah Fullerton will be giving her talk on The Family Library a Delight, a Refuge and a Storehouse of Knowledge, delivered at the September Conference in Leura, to the State Library at on 3 February 1999.
And on 18 February at 10.30 she will be delivering a paper on Leisure and Pleasure in Georgian England, also at the State Library. The wealth of social history coming out of present studies is fascinating: do go and listen if you have the opportunity.
Time is 10.30am for 10.45, in the Dixson Room, State Library, Macquarie Street, Sydney.
Phone (02) 9273 1500 for bookings.
The 1998 JASNA Conference, Quebec City, 9-11 October
Reported by Penny Gay The topic of the conference was Northanger Abbey: the Gothic and More, and appropriately enough the romantic city of Quebec was really the star of this conference: a toytown city whose most dramatic period of history coincided very nearly with Jane Austens life. The Old City is surrounded by ramparts from which there still bristle cannons that would make mincemeat of any redcoat who dared to try and breach the walls. The conference hotel, Loews Le Concorde, stands outside the old city, literally on the Plains of Abraham, the scene of the most daring British victory under General Wolfe in 1769 (young James Cook took part in the attack).
The autumn trees along the cliffs above the mighty St Lawrence river were brilliant in scarlet and gold, and at times the sun shone in a clear blue sky, tempting one out for a brisk walk despite the near-freezing temperatures.
It felt strange but wryly amusing to be discussing Jane Austen in a town in which French is very much the first language, knowing as we do Miss Austens dislike for all things French. The topic of the particular Frenchness of Quebec was taken up by a number of plenary presenters: we heard music from Nouvelle France (mostly by amateur composers of 17th and 18th-century Quebec), a description of the citys history from local historian David Mendel, and from Mary Ellen Reisner a recreation of life in early 19th-century Quebec through the letters and diaries of some of its residents and visitors in Jane Austens day.
Founder of JASNA Joan Austen-Leigh also spoke on Jane Austen: the French Connection, using references from the novels and letters, but I was unable to hear this presentation as I was at Douglas Murrays extremely interesting talk on Bath and Northanger as both taking part in a 1790s regime of surveillance: everyone watches everyone else, and the architecture (illustrated with copious slides) positively encourages this neighbourhood of voluntary spies. British Prime Minister William Pitts repressive measures against free assembly were referred to by various other speakers, which clarified the otherwise sensible Eleanor Tilneys anxiety when she hears of something very shocking indeed, [that] will soon come out in London.
The other plenary talks were given by Kenneth Graham, who in The Case of the Petulant Patriarch compiled from military history a convincing pre-life for General Tilney, which certainly explained his eccentricities; and Maggie Lane, the after-dinner speaker, who discussed The French Bread at Northanger and other Commodities. Your correspondent was privileged to be a late speaker in the plenary Horrid Session, where with the help of Juliet and Rowland McMasters hilarious acting I introduced the audience to the delights of Gothic melodrama.
The other horrid speakers included Isobel Grundy and Jan Fergus. Our own Christine Alexanders breakout paper on The Prospect of Blaise was a well-attended and fascinat-ing illustrated discussion of landscape which radically revised the standard view of Austens opinion of Repton.
Various bookshops and sellers of maple syrup products set up their stalls, but there was no Regency Fair, and no dancing after dinner which may explain the very large attendance at a traditional Matins in the Anglican cathedral the next morning! As always at JASNA meetings, one was guaranteed pleasant company and plenty to chat about even with new acquaintances. JASA has now established a tradition of rep-resentation at these meetings so members should start planning for 1999 and beyond!
How Original was Jane Austen?
Jane Austens novels, while being remarkable for their freshness and newness, are an inevitable outcome of her reading of 18th century literature, and of her determination to shun new fashions in the novel such as sentimentality and gothicism. She remained a devotee of classicism and rationalism, in the very teeth of the Romantic fervours of Rousseau, the French Revolution, and the adoration of a wild, untamed Nature.
Four types of novel can be observed flourishing just prior to and during the emergence of Jane Austen and Walter Scott:
1. The novel of manners. Plot and character are selected as representative of a distinct class, nation and culture but also of humanity in general. Here the pioneers are Daniel Defoe (excluding Robinson Crusoe, which is mythic rather than a manners type), Henry Fielding (with Tom Jones as the supreme and glittering example), Smollett, Sterne (though a highly deviant example), Fanny Burney, and Maria Edgeworth.
2. The novel of sensibility and moral instruction, with sensibility in its 18th century sense of tender feelings and amorous passions. The master of this sub-genre of the novel was Samuel Richardsons Pamela (often cited as the first real novel in English) and Clarissa (a truly great masterpiece); Laurence Sterne appears again here because of his parade of sentimentality amid a display of highly indecent comedy in Tristram Shandy. There are also Henry Mackenzie, the supreme sentimentalist author of The Man of Feeling, and Mrs Inchbald.
3. The novel of ideas, exemplified most brilliantly in Swifts Gullivers Travels, a satire which anticipates Science Fiction, and the novels of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. Another was Dr Johnsons sole entry into the history of the novel, Rasselas.
4. The novel of fantasy and excitement the prolific realm of the Gothic, the novel of terror, horror and crime in pioneering lurid forms, the progenitor of which was Horace Walpole in The Castle of Otranto (1765). In Walpoles successors a frisson of sensationalism combined with a hint of the pornographic made this sub-genre pervasively popular, with women as avid readers. Walpoles exoticism and fascination with the medieval are also distinguishing features of Mrs Ann Radcliffes novels of terror and mystery like The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) with its fearful abbeys and horrible haunted castles. However, unlike Horace Walpole and the apostle of pornographic horror, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Mrs Radcliffe provided rational solutions of the apparent marvels in the manner of later detective fiction.
Only the first two types provided models for Jane Austen, suiting her own predilections in fiction. Even so, her choice of such models is selective and highly individual. She read and appreciated Henry Fielding and imbibed something of his presentation of a whole society belonging to his own era. But Fielding is a panoramic writer with a huge cast of characters in his pages, from 18th century high society and great houses down to the stinking streets and hovels of London, flea-ridden hostelries and stage coaches. Jane Austen could not and would not imitate such a baggy monster of a novel, seductively inviting as it was. Instead, Jane Austens world is more realistic in a severely Classical limited way, producing the small canvas with the depiction of a few families living a life which she knew well from personal experience, and commanding her readers total belief, not merely suspension of disbelief. The model nearest to her heart was Fanny Burney, in whose Evelina (1781) and Camilla (1782) we get a foretaste of Jane Austen. Burney writes of young middle class females (and a few males), orphaned or dispossessed in other ways, who battle valiantly in the ever-interesting arenas of love and marriage.
The second type, the novel of sensibility and moral instruction, had much greater appeal. The polar opposites of sense and sensibility in her novels provide not only delight in human diversity but lend themselves to the kind of moral instruction, both stern and comic, which Jane Austen made her very own. But ironically, sensibility seems to have had resonance in her character as well as commonsense and distrust of emotions and passions, especially in the young. The foolishness of Marianne Dashwood is explored with sympathy mixed curiously with Jane Austens love of the satirical. Jane Austen sees commonsense as the better guide to human happiness in sexual and marital relations. Hers is also a comic rather than a tragic view of life. Although she admired Richardson, his conc-entration in Pamela and Clarissa on the themes of sexual obsession and the persecution of a female hero at the hands of sexual predators and vicious families, were not followed. It is notable however that she exhibited a preference for Sir Charles Grandison among Richardsons novels. This is more of the social manners type of novel in which she may well have seen a reflection of her own pragmatic moral sense.
However, Jane Austen rejected the epistolary convention used by Richardson and Fanny Burney as a entry to inner thoughts and feelings in the immediate wake of dramatic incident. She distrusted the clumsiness and potential absurdity of a convention which requires characters to be endlessly writing letters. Significantly, she used the convention only in Lady Susan, an early and untypical novel of female rakery of a type not far from Fieldings female rogues who, as Taine complained, lifted their skirts too often.
The moral sentiment which was a feature of the sensibility novel was in Jane Austens case a version of Christian Anglican morality, distinctively untheological, undogmatic, handled with much wit and irony. Essentially she was a moralist of the Classical school like Fielding. Though not anti-clerical (as Fielding often is), she is sarcastic at the expense of worldly and snobbish clerics like Mr Collins. She shares Fanny Prices defence of vocation against the cynicism of the morally suspect Crawfords in Mansfield Park.
Jane Austens pillorying of an excess of sensibility over sense must have been encouraged by the spectacle of the decline of the sub-genre from the pinnacle of Richardson to the absurd depths of Henry Mackenzies Man of Feeling, in which the sentimental hero dies of an excess of feeling on being accepted as the approved suitor of his lover. This was an extreme case of the decadence of the sub-genre, but not untypical. (A balance of sense and sensibility is achieved in the second trio of her novels: Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion.)
It was the Gothic novel, however, which provoked Jane Austen to a contemptuous and hilarious rejection. Fantastic tales of horror, terror and the supernatural while broadening the readership of the novel, imperilled its failure as a serious form of literature until Walter Scott took narrative historical romance to a new and higher level of imaginative fiction.
In Northanger Abbey, her satire is at its most unrelentingly cutting and cruel, with the supreme irony that the Gothic tales of Mrs Radcliffe with their supposed hauntings and dark dungeons and sliding panels are mistaken by Catherine Morland, an assiduous reader of The Mysteries of Udolpho, for a presentation of real life. The real moral presented ironically is that the fantasy of imagined horrific villainy disguises the real villainy of the fortune-seeking General Tilney. Reading certain books can be very bad for you!
Jane Austens use of her predecessors in the art of the novel is a mixture of rejection and acceptance with modification: rejection of the Gothic and extreme sensibility, but not of the genuine analysis of feeling found in Richardson. She owes a debt too to the authorial narrative skill, irony and satire of Fielding, Smollett and Sterne.
The result however was still unexpected and original. Few writers have so deliberately limited their subject matter, their characters and their moral sentiments. Her originality and genius were generously saluted by her contemporary (another original writer) Walter Scott. Her art, as she says in her letter to Edward Austen (10 December 1816), is the little bit of ivory (two inches wide) on which she works like a miniaturist confining herself, as she recommended earlier in a letter to Ann Austen (9 September 1814), to 3 or 4 families in a country village. Her art as a novelist produced the opposite of what Fielding, writing of his own first novel, called a comic epic proem in prose2 . Her true originality merges in the creation of a realistic, ironic, social comedy shunning sentimentality and the sensationalism of epic events (revolutions, wars), evading the Romantic in a lucid and humane version of 18th century classicism.
The newly instituted Regency Fair carries items specifically for Janeites, from all around the world: they are listed here for the convenience of those who cant actually attend JASA meetings. Indulge yourself!
To order, contact :
Postage will be charged for items sent by mail.
18 December 1998