|Jane Austen Society of Australia
The President's Report
I wish we had a large acquaintance here, mourns Mrs Allen to Catherine Morland, when she takes her to a ball in Bath. I wish we had any, responds Catherine.
I wonder how many new members of the Jane Austen Society of Australia share Catherines feelings when they attend a Society meeting for the first time? It is daunting to walk into a room of 140 people and to make the effort to mingle during afternoon tea with complete strangers who all seem to know each other well. At almost every meeting I ask long-standing members to make new members feel welcome, yet often they dont know who amongst the many are new members, and also I know that afternoon tea provides a great opportunity to catch up with Society friends.
I would love to hear from those of you who have joined JASA recently. How can we best welcome new members to our meetings? Should new members wear a sticker, should we ask them to stand up early in the meeting so that you all know who is attending for the first or second time, should we hold a special Society event once a year so that those who have just joined can get to know each other? Please send me your comments or suggestions so that Catherine Morlands problem is not a JASA problem.
My own suggestion to new members who want to truly feel a part of our society is that you book for all the events which are not regular meetings. Conferences, study days and country weekends offer wonderful chances to chat with other members and make friends within the society. I know that our July conference on Jane Austen and Elegance will be just such an opportunity. It promises to be a very special weekend and I look forward to welcoming you there.
The committee is keen at all times to hear from all members. Do the talks in the programme provide the sort of balance you want between the novels of Jane Austen and the period in which she lived? Do you want more competitions or quizzes? What sort of talks do you enjoy most? Are there other things you wish to purchase at Regency Fair? Is there some way in which you would like to help? It is your Society - let us hear what you think!
Catherine Morland went home from that first ball disgruntled and tired, but at her next Bath ball she met Henry Tilney. While I cant promise a Henry Tilney at a meeting (and if he did turn up, I wouldnt be wanting to share him!), I can promise that JASA meetings do offer a chance to make many good friends amongst those who share a very special interest.
Current JASA Publications
The articles in this latest issue of Sensibilities are:
You can read short extracts of each of these Sensibilities articles online.
You can read online the following Book reviews.
Items from the Newsletter (and from Practicalities, JASA's news update sheet published in March and September) are reproduced on this website.
Most past issues of Sensibilities can be purchased for A$6.00 each. See the Sensibilities list of articles.
For another taste of what members enjoy in Sensibilities, the JASA refereed journal praised for its consistently high literary standards, read a longer 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 Female Spectator
JA in Bath
A JA/navy connection
Hatches - to use a popular press term
Writer of the Millennium?
|Johnny Lee Miller and Frances OConnor as Edmund and
Fanny in the new film adaptation of Mansfield Park.
Mansfield Park: film reviews
In the early 1960s, after downing his first cup of Nescafé for the day, my then employer would swing back in his chair and remark:
Enjoyable. But it bears little relationship to freshly brewed coffee.
For me, this comment is analogous to Patricia Rozemas production of Mansfield Park. I expected the film to be controversial, and indeed, the morning after JASAs preview screening, Sandra Hall in the Sydney Morning Herald found much to enjoy in the movie, praised Rozemas right to reshape the novel, and, because of the fun makeover of Fanny, was ready to forgive the picture anything; Vicky Roach in the Daily Telegraph slammed the feverish, slave-trading subplot, the latent lesbianism and, the transmogrification of Fanny and concluded by stating that if the movie is anything to go by, the Jane Austen revival is officially over.
The publicity blurb that the movie is for everyone who loved Emma and Sense & Sensibility, is misleading, as Rozemas film is a radical departure from the fairly faithful treatments of the Austen novels adopted in these other cinematic productions. The same flyer heralds the film as a gorgeous, enchanting experience and an uncommonly intelligent film, but is it the best adaptation of a Jane Austen novel? See it and decide for yourself.
Suffering as she does from a personality by-pass, it would be difficult to depict Austens Fanny as a modern movie heroine; however the major surgery performed for this production necessitated a complete reinterpretation of the other characters and indeed the plot and focus of the entire novel. While purists will question whether it was worth it, four friends who had not read the book (yes, there are some about!) praised the film, the sets, the dialogue and the acting, and considered it a great production!
There is some fine acting and the sets and scenery do make the movie visually pleasing.
I found the insertion into the dialogue of material from Jane Austens letters and other writings somewhat jarring and out of context, and to me - apart from a suddenly energised Lady Bertram in the final scene - there is no real depth or development in the characters. Do we really care what happens to anyone? Fanny is far too clever, and her attraction to cousin Edmund thoroughly unconvincing. Surely this Fanny would find the spontaneous Henry Crawford, releasing doves at the door of the Portsmouth hovel, a more interesting and challenging companion. The proposed theatrical production, so important in the novel, is superfluous in this revamped plot and the delightful stupidity of Mr Rushworths costume, beautifully handled by Jane Austen, is without purpose in this version.
To ascertain on which side of a distinct divide they fall - those who appreciate the production as late 20th century movie entertainment, or those who consider as sacrilege the radical changes to Jane Austens dialogue and characters - all Janeites should see this production of Mansfield Park.
For my part, I found the film
Enjoyable. But it bears little relationship to Jane Austens masterpiece.
A very different perspective
I am going to write on a serious subject - adaptation - which the Macquarie Dictionary defines as a literary work rewritten for presentation in a different medium.
Austenites generally welcome the opportunity of seeing Janes work presented on the stage or screen and watching the embodiment of their favourite characters speak the lines they know so well - its the rewritten part that so often drives them to thin-lipped fury.
There are Austenites who are not going to like the sensational new Mansfield Park movie, billed as Jane Austens favourite comedy!!!
But not since Clueless has there been such a clever movie adaptation of an Austen novel. Like Clueless, the new Mansfield Park retains the bare bones of the books plot while altering the characterisation of the some of the main players to make it more understandable to modern viewers. (I have to say I never understood the appeal of that self-centred, meddling snob, Emma, until I saw Cher in action in Beverley Hills.)
The timid, virtuous and somewhat frail Fanny Price is the Austen character that polarises readers. You either admire or hate her. (Web discussion-list members may still be traumatised by the The Fanny Wars of 97, arising from their group read of Mansfield Park.)
Through the inspired use of material from Austens letters and juvenilia, director Patricia Rozema presents Fanny as a budding writer - a young Jane Austen, in effect. Australian actor Frances OConnor is Fanny - and what a Fanny! Here is a girl who could cut roses all the live-long day with no ill effects! Shes a hoyden, a humorist and a hell-for-leather rider. Oh, and an abolitionist.
The issue of slavery is central to this movie. It is used to explain Sir Thomass tyranny, motivate Toms dissoluteness, and illustrate Edmunds moral equivocation. It also underlies Fannys courageous resistance to coercion.
Also, modern viewers, who may not be as discomfited as the occupants and readers of Mansfield Park by the insouciant sexuality of the London chic Mary Crawford, are here presented with the suggestion of bisexuality (lesbian chic?) for a, perhaps, similar frisson - nothing to startle the horses, though.
Other players deserve mention.
Who knew Harold Pinter (Sir Thomas) could act?
And the Mrs Norris of my imagination has always looked a bit like the Wicked Witch of the West minus the pointy black hat - all sharp and shrewish - but here Sheila Gish plays her sleekly and silkily deadly.
Viewers will recognise that great Austenian actor (well, why not - if you can have a Shakespearean actor...?) Victoria Hamilton, recently seen as Henrietta Musgrove in Persuasion and Mrs Foster in Pride & Prejudice and here playing the rather two-dimensional role of Maria Bertram with just the right amount of petulance and pathos, giving her character a depth not evident in the book.
Edmund as played by Johnny Lee Miller is a darling. Its the development of his relationship with OConnors Fanny that makes this a truly, satisfyingly, and unexpectedly, romantic movie.
My recommendation? See this film, but do...not...faint.
A literary coup
Member Dr Jon Spence has made what could very safely be called a literary coup. He has unearthed a series of wills of the Austen and related families in London, and has been most generous in offering transcriptions to JASA for publication in series in our journal Sensibilities.
The first appears in the current Sensibilities issue (June 2000), and is of the propertied John Austen, Janes great great grandfather in Kent, whose Will impoverished his widowed daughter-in-law Elizabeth (Weller) and her children to benefit only her oldest child, also John Austen. Jane and her father George Austen descend from the poor line of the family thus created. To read the original text is fascinating, and disposes of some long-term speculation on the nature and extent of the bequests. These are intended both for the general interest of Janeites everywhere, and as a primary resource for JA biographers and researchers. Later issues of Sensibilities will contain the text of further Austen family wills. Our warmest thanks to Jon for allowing us to publish these.
Letter from Chawton
Theres never a dull moment at Jane Austens House, and 1999 was no exception to the rule.
As Tom Carpenter mentioned in the last newsletter, it was the museums 50th anniversary year, having been opened by the Duke of Wellington in July 1949, just four years after the end of the Second World War. In those days, there were more weighty things on peoples minds than letters written by an eighteenth-century authoress, and so Mr T Edward Carpenter, Toms grandfather, was able to buy several of Jane Austens letters quite cheaply. They formed the basis of the collection of Austen memorabilia, to be displayed in the House which he himself had bought to turn into a museum in Janes honour - and as a memorial to his son Philip John who had been killed in the war. The third Saturday in July, the day of the Jane Austen Societys annual meeting, seemed the ideal day for the Jane Austen Memorial Trust to celebrate its anniversary, as there would be so many enthusiasts thronging the village. As a very special treat, some of Janes original letters were on display for members to see. Being so vulnerable to fading, the letters are always kept safely in the dark, and rarely see the light of day. Although copies of the letters are displayed around the House, there is nothing like the thrill of seeing the actual paper on which Janes hand had rested!
We also had Janes recently-conserved Donkey Carriage out in the garden that day, pulled by Derby George, our favourite donkey, beautifully groomed - even his little hooves were polished - and on his very best behaviour. Twice that day he pulled the carriage along the lane up to the Great House and back, in his predecessors footsteps but sadly without Jane Austen in the driving seat. It really didnt take much imagination to see her in that very carriage, trotting past the old thatched cottages as she must have done many a time.
Our celebrations culminated in a Royal Visit by HRH Princess Alexandra in October. It was a cold, windy, rainy day, but before coming into the House she walked across the road to speak to all the children from Chawton School who had been patiently waiting to see a real live princess and waving their little Union Jacks - not a sight, maybe, to warm Australian hearts (only teasing!) - but her kind gesture melted ours. In the Drawing Room a few people of great importance in the county of Hampshire were presented to Princess Alexandra, and then I was (I did a rather unconvincing bob). I showed her a first edition of Pride and Prejudice and the topaz crosses - we both agreed that Charles must have been a lovely brother. Then the entourage, led by Tom, moved on around the House, and in each room there were people well-known in the Jane Austen world waiting to be presented and to talk to her, including Richard Knight and his daughter Cassie, Helen Lefroy, Deirdre Le Faye and Susan McCartan representing the Jane Austen Society, and Professor Michael Wheeler from the Chawton House Library. Like most of our visitors, the Princess also discovered our Bookshop!
We then all proceeded to the Granary where George, harnessed to the Donkey Carriage, was waiting by special request. In the Granary, Ann, our Assistant Administrator, and all our Stewards were presented, and then The Windsor Box and Fir Company (musicians) and the Bespoke Dancers played and danced to some of the music from Jane Austens music books.
As a permanent memento of our 50th anniversary, we published a booklet with about 65 of the illustrations drawn by Hugh Thomson for the 1894 edition of Pride and Prejudice. It also has a short biography of this very talented and likeable man, which I had great fun putting together. I am pleased to say that it is selling very well in our Bookshop. We gave a specially inscribed copy to Princess Alexandra as a memento of her visit.
An event quite unrelated to our anniversary also took place in 1999 - the unveiling of a Green Plaque to Jane Austen at 10 Henrietta Street, near Covent Garden in London. Jane used to visit her brother Henry when he lived there in 1813-1814, after the death of his wife Eliza. This was a combined event organised by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust and the Jane Austen Society (Tom excels in organising events like these down to the last second). Once again, Derby George and Janes Donkey Carriage were on parade - they were brought up to London in Georges horsebox. The actress Judith French played the part of Jane Austen, sitting in the carriage looking very pretty with a little parasol. Once again George was perfectly behaved - I was taking photographs and George was the only one who stood still. After the unveiling ceremony, performed by Amanda Root, the actress who played Anne Elliot in the film of Persuasion, we all congregated in the grand reception room of the Theatre Museum of Covent Garden for refreshments, after which Amanda read us some extracts from the letters which Jane wrote whilst she was staying with Henry at 10 Henrietta Street.
We had 35,000 visitors to Jane Austens House in 1999 - a much more reasonable and easier number to handle than the 53,000 or so who came in 1996, after Andrew Davies never-to-be-forgotten production of Janes Pride and Prejudice.
A busy year, I think youll all agree!
With best wishes to you all,
Mrs. Goddard's School
A new group for younger Jane Austen enthusiasts.
What was it like to live in the world of Jane Austen?? What did they wear, what games did they play? If you know children who are 614 and would enjoy activities bringing Jane Austens period to life in a very practical way, as well as finding out more about Regency Games that Jane played with her nephews and nieces, read about Mrs. Goddards School.
Miscellany from New Zealand
In Trivial Pursuit of Jane, or, Jane is Everywhere from the active and exploring minds of NZ members Ruth Williamson and Christene Evans.A: Culled from the Times Book Supplement Questionnaire
Q: With what character do you most identify?
Q: With which character would you like to have an affair?
Q: Which book changed your life?
Q: Who is your favourite novelist?
Q: Do you have any comfort books you read?
Q: Who is your favourite hero?
Q: What is the worst screen adaptation?
B: How Are The Mighty Fallen
Alas! Miss Bingley (from the BBCs most recent production of Pride and Prejudice) has obviously come down in the world. She is now to be seen in scanty underwear extolling the reliability of a brand of deodorant on New Zealand TV screens. Ruth Williamson somewhat unkindly speculates that she has returned to her familys origins in Trade!
C: Jane and the Internet
As all JASA members will know, Mansfield Park is the fifth of Jane Austens six novels to undergo a new cinematic adaptation. The final novel to be the subject of a new film version is Northanger Abbey, for which a movie length version appeared some years ago. The new production is already the subject of its own web site, although filming is not yet under way. JASA members may enjoy both the information and excellent links provided by the site at http://tackytree.tripod.com/northanger/abbey.html
While only one role, that of Catherine Morland, has been cast to date, the site enthusiastically promotes candidates for the part of Henry Tilney. Visitors will also find a link to a page devoted to fan worship of this particular Austen hero.
Those JASA members with access to cyberspace may also enjoy a pictorial feast of Bath as Jane Austen would have known it at www.openworld.co.uk/austen/
The number of sites devoted to JA and her work continues to show exponential growth!
Other Places, Other Societies
For contact details of other Jane Austen societies and links to other Jane Austen web sites see LINKS.
Jane Austen in Adelaide
This particularly active group meets monthly in the WEA in Angus St, City, on the third Saturday, and welcomes visitors. They have another action packed program:
We are looking forward to fine speakers on the finer points of Travelling in the time of Austen, as well as the Libraries at this time, and the Laws concerning women in the 18th century. We will talk long and hard on Something about Emma(!), and listen to why people still read Jane Austen, then hear a new version of Mr Collins: The Adumbrative Advertiser. We will listen to performances on the harp and we will round-table Defence of the Indefensible, looking at Bad and Badder Men.
In between meetings this year the Adelaide Club will be running a teaching and lecture program taking Jane to High Schools and into Continuing Education courses - just to prove there is more to Jane Austen (in print) than Mansfield Park on screen.
We are looking forward to a busy and joyful year with great friends.
JA in Perth
In our busy half year, we have learnt so much! For our end-of-year excursion we travelled not to Box Hill but to Tranby House, just as Elizabeth and the Gardiners visited Chatsworth and Pemberley. Although it was very hot we came along with all our Regency Regalia, dresses, scarves and pins. Much of the contents of this house were of Austens time, and we were all most impressed with the work and effort of these early settlers. Not to mention the very sad news that the Father, a minister, would not let his daughters marry anyone but a minister. Hence only one of the daughters married...What would Mrs Bennet have done?
We had Doctor Jim Leavesley give us a most informative talk on the diseases and illnesses of Austen time. He spoke too on the theory behind the work he co-authored, What Killed Jane Austen. He also spoke of the Brontë sisters and of Keats. We learnt so much and were most appreciative of his sharing his knowledge.
We also visited the Eileen Joyce Music Room at the University of Western Australia, and heard and viewed many piano instruments - the piano forte, harpsichord, spinet, clavichord and many more, and were quite swept away by the beautiful sounds, not to mention the beauty of the instruments. Emma and Elizabeth would have been in musical heaven!!! Not to forget Mrs Hurst and Mary. Two students of the music school played most wonderfully for us all. I must say some of us were ashamed of our own accomplishments.
To extend our musical knowledge one of our members gave us a most comprehensive and interesting talk on the music of Austens time. Clare Kilroy informed us of the types of music, the composers and relevance of music to Austens time and writings. So you can see that our musical knowledge of Austens time is further widening.
Our last excursion for this half year was to the Round House in Fremantle. I was especially chosen from a large crowd of people to fire the cannons, which was exciting, and they gave me a certificate (below) to prove it. The Round House was built just after Austens time, but it provided much information on what life was like for prisoners then. I believe Mr Wickham would have needed to stay at the Round House for a while. Maybe in one of the first padded cells (at the Round House), no I suppose that would be too cruel...
So as you can all see we in Western Australia have been very busy. We have much more planned for the rest of the year - from lace makers to flower arrangers to a representative from the Daffodil Society. We are immersing ourselves in Austen life and loving it.
JA in the Blue Mountains
It was great that so many Blue Mountains residents were able to join us at our Country Weekend in their area at the end of March, and some of them were expressing withdrawal symptoms for lack of other local Janeites to talk to during the rest of the year (though this year at least with the JASA Conference being also in Leura they are well served!). It has been suggested that those Blue Mountains members who wish to, may like to make contact with each other with a view to perhaps setting up a local meeting. We cannot publish members numbers or addresses, but one member, Rodney Pyne, has agreed that his phone number can be used for contact, so do ring him at Faulconbridge on 4751 4774 to decide whether you would like to take the matter further. Our President has kindly offered to give whatever input you wish, in content or in organisation assistance. Think of the pleasure this would give you all!
News From Christchurch, NZ
Over these early months of the year 2000 we have been bombarded by the opinions of critics, moviegoers and Janeites about the new film of Mansfield Park. It is yet to arrive here but those of us with access to the Internet have viewed images and heard music from the movie (by visiting www.mansfieldpark.com). We have also followed the cut and thrust of debate about the films merits (or lack of them) in print media as well as in cyberspace. We hope to be able to report our local impressions by the time the next Newsletter appears at the end of this year.
The controversy surrounding this new film recalls the furore that arose when the BBC announced in 1994 that they were about to make another version of Pride and Prejudice in six parts and that it would break new ground by introducing erotic scenes, including full frontal nudity for Darcy. The English press reacted to the news with shock and horror: one headline screamed Jane Austens Steamy Sex Romps! Those fears provided ample material for caricature, as illustrated here even though sex romps as such were absent from the completed production. Perhaps this is a timely reminder to us to wait and see before we pronounce judgment on this new film of Mansfield Park.
We have continued to find material with a flavour of Jane Austen in the most unexpected places. Those readers with school-aged children will doubtless know of the Harry Potter phenomenon but they may not be aware that his creator, J K Rowling, is an Austen admirer. As early as the second page of her first Potter novel we find light, bright and sparkling eyes: later a cat, full of evil designs, is introduced and bears the name of Mrs Norris.
Christene Evans research uncovered a recent survey of 40,000 British readers to mark World Book Day. This produced a list of favourite writers on which J K Rowling was placed second. Roald Dahl headed the list and the only literary great to figure in the top ten was, of course, Jane Austen at number seven. Shakespeare could only manage number fifty!
It will hardly surprise JASA members that characters from the Austen canon find their way into worlds far removed from their own. While reading a hefty tome entitled The Raj, the Making and Unmaking of British India by Lawrence James, Christene learned about Baraset Military College, sixteen miles from Calcutta, where cadets ... regularly drank themselves silly and generally behaved in a disgraceful manner. Their ungentlemanlike conduct was explained by the presence among them of former militia officers from Britain who were often men of humble background - the sort of fellows whom Mrs Bennet wished to keep out of her younger daughters way. As Christene has observed, Wickham would certainly have been a leading light in such company!
We have also attempted to choose our favourite phrases, lines, paragraphs or situations from Jane Austens novels. Because more riches reveal themselves each time we return to the texts, this task has proved difficult. Choices tend to reflect whichever novel is open at the present time, since so many selections are possible from all six! While we have been revisiting Jane Austens texts we have seen what pitfalls await the film maker or screenwriter who interferes, even in a small way, with events as they unfold in the novels. For instance Christene has identified a number of flaws in Andrew Davies screenplay of Pride and Prejudice as the sequence of events is presented on screen. Adapters tinker at their peril with the original scheme as devised by the genius of Jane Austen. After all
Ruth Williamson and Christene Evans
Ruth and Christene have also contributed some fascinating miscellany, which appears on page 34.
Are you going overseas this October? The JASNA Annual conference for 2000 is in Boston, Massachusetts, and will explore the topic Pride & Prejudice: past, present & future.
These huge events are getting more so, and this year includes an Australian (again), this time as a major speaker - John Wiltshire of La Trobe University in Melbourne whose paper on Reading Pride & Prejudice we so much enjoyed at our February meeting. (His article is published in the current Sensibilities.) He is listed as speaking on Mr Darcy and male responses to the novel.
Details of the conference are available from the Editor if you are interested.
The Jane Austen Society in London
This centrally located group has reported the quite delightful fact that Britains biggest private house went on sale last year. Its name? Wentworth Woodhouse, formerly owned by the Rockingham-Fitzwilliam dynasty. Three novels in one large house!
That central location can of course make Australian Janeites envious. The group also reports on a day trip to Godmersham, and a walk in the beautiful Godmersham Park, where Jane must so often have taken her exercise during her visits to her brother Edward and his family.
This group hosted the JASNA tour last year, which included our Anne Harbers, at which their patron JA biographer Park Honan spoke on the influence of Shakespeare on Jane Austen. Honan cited also the parallels between Fanny and John Dashwoods bidding down of support to his mother and sisters, and that of Goneril and Regan on the number of soldiers their father King Lear could keep. Both actions, he says, are tragic and comic.
A woodcut by Thomas Bewick, 1753-1828.
(See also the JASA library catalogue)
After our country weekend, we were able to obtain copies of the two videos shown during that weekend - Treasure Houses of England, and Cents & Sensibility (featuring our own Anne Harbers). These videos are now available for borrowing, at $3 each. Those at the weekend will recall the wealth of visual pleasure that both of these videos gave us all.
We also have some new audio tapes, including a 2-tape set of Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin, read by Joanna David. If you read this biography, youll love the tape!
One of our members in Scotland, Kathleen Clancy, sent us some audio tapes for the library - a 2-tape set of a BBC production of Lady Susan, and another entitled Minuet, on Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy, which I personally found most enjoyable.
We have received yet another sequel, Mansfield Revisited, by Joan Aiken.
For sheer listening pleasure however, try the Cover to Cover audio tapes of each of the six JA novels - this gives quite a new dimension to your appreciation of the work, and brings out passages and ideas in them that you may not have previously noticed. Most warmly recommended!
I must thank my father for the great desktop book display stands he made for our library. They will be a great asset in displaying the contents of the library.
The Rice portrait
Members will recall the piece in Practicalities of March 1999 on this portrait:
Richard Wheeler writes that this, on the contrary, is by no means definitive, being based on wholly inadequate trade lists of the 18th and early 19th century. Jacob Simon has, he says, failed to find the Gentlemen & Cabinet Makers Directory (1754-1762) which listed the Legg family even then established and trading at the Sign of Ye Leg near Southampton Row in Holborn (in central London).
Wheeler also quotes from Lillian and Ted Williams, independent experts and collectors of 18th century fashion, who wrote in the university publication Connections:
Richard Wheeler is currently writing on the watercolour portrait said to be Jane Austen in the Rev J Stanier Clarke Friendship Book, and on the shadowy Clarke himself. We look forward to the continuation of that debate.
A gentleman or only a beau? George "Beau" Brummell, watercolor by Richard Dighton (1805)
What makes a Gentleman?
This question was considered at the study day on Emma last year, which stimulated some further research by member Bertha McKenzie.
Mr Knightley, being naturally the first to come to mind in a discussion on this topic, is recognised as a true gentleman, while Frank Churchills status is more ambiguous. He is accepted by everyone else in the novel, apart from Mr Knightley, as a gentleman because he has all the surface attributes of one. He is well educated and accomplished, his manners are polished, he dresses well and he lives the life of a leisured gentleman with a good income. But he does not manifest those attributes that entitle a man like Mr Knightley to be so automatically called a gentleman.
This concept of gentleman is a very 18th century one. It survived into the 19th century, but Jane Austen clearly saw that the code of honour entitling a man to call himself a gentleman no longer seemed active in a society which was changing rapidly. In his trilogy on the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, Arthur Bryant goes into some detail on this subject. The following notes draw freely on his writings, and direct quotes are from his The Age of Elegance. A contemporary critic wrote of being often disgusted
Here are encapsulated the moral imperatives, elevated into a code of honour, that entitled a man to call himself a gentleman. Duels were so common because men were quick to take offence if they thought their honour had been questioned.
Wellington said The British army is what it is because it is officered by gentlemen; men who would scorn to do a dishonourable thing. He defined a gentleman as one who spoke the truth, honoured his bond and kept faith. Wellington regarded a lie as an act of cowardice and a breach of promise as a vulgar betrayal. One of his officers, Charles Napier, saw the treatment of women as the measure of civilisation: tenderness towards the helpless and adherence to ones word constituted the tests of a gentleman, and a man who broke his parole was beneath contempt. His brother, George, held up to his children as unforgivable offences the breaking of ones parole and cowardice. One rode straight, spoke the truth and never showed fear.
The English despised a liar, or one afraid to avow his beliefs. Attempts to introduce a secret ballot into the electoral system were resisted as un-English on the ground that the franchise was a trust which an elector was bound to exercise publicly. Bryant quotes Bewick, speaking about a neighbour: Whatever he did was done in open day, for, as he feared no man, he scorned to sulk or to do anything by stealth.
By the time of the peace after Waterloo, farm rents had skyrocketed, farmers could become rich, and landed gentlemen were receiving huge incomes in comparison with the pre-war period. In 1813 Jane Austen writes from Godmersham Let me shake off vulgar cares and conform to the happy indifference of East Kent wealth. (Letters, 229).
Respect for landed wealth became paramount, and a generation of indulged, idle young men and women grew up with too much money to spend. The dominant desire of all classes became to cut a dash, to show style, to be elegant. With this access of wealth came improvements to estates, rich, expensive foods and clothing, lavish entertaining and new furniture. Anything old-fashioned was scorned. Stendhal, visiting London in 1812, left his observations of the social scene. He found English society:
The supreme aim became to seem genteely connected, or to boast a pedigree and titled relations. Lords who kept open house for their country neighbours cut them in London. The older ideal of a gentleman was being obscured.
One disastrous effect of this snobbery was to destroy the grammar school system. Establishments such as Eton and Winchester were now taking boarders for high fees, mixing the older aristocracy with the new commercial and professional classes, but segregating both from the children of the poor. At some schools only the rich and titled were welcome, and the universities were turned into finishing schools for the upper and middle classes.
In this way the worst of all heresies, the worship of Lucifer and Mammon was overtaking Christian England, so that a man was nothing without birth or money. Herein lay the nemesis of the contemporary passion for elegance, dangerous because it became an obsession,
This was the social scene in the last twenty years of Jane Austens life, a very different world from that of her youth. This new society produced and tolerated the cad and the dandy, whose manners and way of dressing were aped by many young bloods. With too much money to spend, too much food and drink, too much leisure and too little responsibility, a snobbish self-indulgent generation grew up with a heartless disregard for the feelings of others. Mr Knightley, a product of the 18th century, embodies all that was best in that centurys ideal gentleman. Frank Churchill represents the new generation of gentlemen which, though based on elegance, high vitality and courage, was both competitive and calculating, with a lack of concern for others.
Emma: The Case for the Defence
Member Marjorie Jones takes up the call to arms for Emma and Mr Knightley (and herself) against Tom Hobergs Emma: The Case for the Prosecution, reprinted in the December 1999 issue of the JASA Newsletter.
When I read the extract from Tom Hobergs paper, Emma: The Case for the Prosecution, delivered at the AGM of the Chicago Branch of JASNA (see JASA Dec Newsletter, p.4) I wondered if he had escaped unscathed from that meeting or whether he was still lying low in a Safe House, besieged by angry Emma fans! I would happily join a posse if one were formed to avenge the slur on my beloved Mr Knightley, whom he 1abelled as stuffily implausible. How dare he! I might just, with great difficulty, bring myself to see the justice of his description of Mr. Woodhouse as an exasperating old fool or Miss Bates as an irritating bore but I cannot let his denigration of Mr. Knightley go unchallenged.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines implausible as not seeming reasonable or probable. Jane Austen would have been astonished to hear that she had created such a character in Mr. Knightley. Not only is he a thoroughly reasonable man (except perhaps when he speaks of Frank Churchill) but we dont for a moment doubt his probability. This is a character who lives for us, whether he is humouring Mr. Woodhouse, putting Mrs. Elton in her place firmly but courteously, coming to the aid of a snubbed Harriet, or parting with the last of his apples as a favour to the Bates. As to his alleged stuffiness I would ask Mr Hoberg to read again the exchange between Miss Bates (at her window) and Mr. Knightley (on horseback). You will remember that Miss Bates has been waxing lyrical about the party of the evening before and praising the dancing of Mr. Churchill and Miss Woodhouse. Is it a stuffy man who agrees with Miss Bates that the dancing has indeed been delightful. He continues:
On second thoughts I can find it in my heart to forgive Mr. Hoberg. In taking the difficult position of Devils Advocate he is perhaps somewhat half-hearted, and I suspect that in reality he finds Mr. Woodhouse as amusing, Miss Bates as entertaining and Emma as faultless in spite of her faults as the rest of us do. If he is not quite fair to Mr. Knightley it may be that as a male he might not be able to appreciate the qualities which make Mr Knightley so attractive to this particular woman and to so many others like me.
Professor John Sutherlands Puzzle Books
Some of you may recall that in the December Newsletter I reviewed a book by Professor John Sutherland of University College, London, entitled Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet? This was the third in a series of what Prof. Sutherland describes as his puzzle books, I had already read Is Heathcliff a Murderer? and Can Jane Eyre be Happy? (mentioned on page 5 of this Newsletter).
While reading the latter I came to a chapter headed Did Mrs. Dalloway take a taxi? Those who have read Virginia Woolfs Mrs Dalloway, describing a day in the life of a society hostess, will recall that Clarissa Dalloway is preparing for a party she is giving that evening. We follow her on her walk to the West End to order flowers and her route is described in some detail. Prof. Sutherland set out to walk that same route and calculated that, by the time she reached the florist, she would have been walking for about 35 minutes. Later in the story she reaches home to find that she has an unexpected visitor and thinks that It is outrageous to be interrupted at eleven oclock on the morning of the day when she was giving a party. The puzzle is to work out how she managed to get home so quickly. Working from clues given in the text, Prof. Sutherland concludes that she leaves the florist around 10.45 to 10.50, giving her roughly 10 to 15 minutes to get home. Assuming that she might have walked, he followed the route she would most likely have taken and found that it was about a mile and a half, commenting It takes me a brisk ten minutes to walk it. Ergo, she must have taken a taxi.
I decided to write to Prof. Sutherland, saying how much I had enjoyed his books and adding that I was to review his latest for the Newsletter of the Jane Austen Society of Australia. I went on to wonder whether he had been setting yet another puzzle for his readers or whether he was a very brisk walker. I reminded him that Roger Bannister had astonished the world with his 4 minute mile, and asked how he managed to cover a mile and a half in a brisk ten minutes.
I was surprised and delighted to receive a handwritten reply, which read:- Dear Mrs. Jones, Ooops! You may see me in Sydney in 2000, running for my country. He said that he was very pleased to receive letters from his readers and asked whether he could have a copy of my review if it was not too much trouble. Our Editor kindly provided me with an extra copy of the Newsletter which I sent on to him, together with a warm invitation to visit us if he ever came this way, whether as an Olympic hopeful or as an ordinary tourist.
A woodcut by Thomas Bewick, 1753-1828.
Childbirth in Jane Austens time
We are delighted to be able to publish these thoughts from country member Helen Sims. We are conscious of - and would prefer to avoid - a natural tendency for the Society to centralise on urban or academic writings, and would welcome other contributions partic-ularly from those members who are out of range of our usual meetings.
How many women of today would be able to understand the fear in the hearts of the women of Jane Austens day? Marriage was of first importance in their lives, but statistics showing the prevalence of death in childbirth must have cast a cloud over the wedding celebrations. We today forget how far medical advances have removed us from the agonies of the past.
In 1798/9 when Jane Austen wrote Northanger Abbey, she was able to comment flippantly about Catherine Morlands mother ...
Janes own family was not exempt - three of her brothers lost their first wives in childbirth (two after having their 11th child); Janes great grandmother Mary Leigh died in childbirth at 37, after producing 12 children. Yet the constitution of the mother was often blamed for her own death. Neighbourhood murmurings of She was never strong... often followed the funeral coffin.
By 1814, when Jane was writing Emma, she regarded this problem in a much more serious light. Writing of Mrs Weston, she had Emma resolved to defer the disclosure till Mrs Weston were safe and well (E, p398), and later Mrs Westons friends were all made happy by her safety ... knowing her to be the mother of a little girl. (E, p411).
Jane was intrinsically fond of children, but I would suggest she still betrays evidence in her letters of her views on uncontrolled birthings in families of their generation, and the stark fact that women had no power to steer their own lives. Whether or not this concept was any part of her decision not to proceed with marriage to Harris Bigg-Wither, we can only be grateful that she chose a path not busy with babies, or subject to an even earlier death in childbirth, so that generations are able to enjoy the treasured output of her pen.
The press and JASA
The Society is fortunate in having an articulate, knowledgeable and pleasant president in Susannah Fullerton who raises the profile and prestige of the Society by a full programme of literary talks to a wide variety of groups, and fields continuing interviews from the press on the Jane Austen phenomenon.
The Heralds Summer People article on 4 January this year gave a good picture of the enthusiasm that enables Susannah to carry a very heavy load of literary lectures as well as the presidency of our Society. They are simply put, and deserve some (abridged) quoting - if only to provide gentle ammunition for those of us who have difficulty rebutting negative comments from our friends and acquaintances!
Pamela Whalans input to the Society is also formidable. In this issue of Newsletter we have her report on the Country Weekend, as well as the paper on Northanger Abbey she delivered on that occasion, and in Sensibilities we produce the paper on Emmas Perfection or Imperfection which she co-presented with Nora Walker at our April meeting. As a member of the Study Day committee she also MCd and spoke at that excellent event in May, which is to be reported in the December Newsletter, and as a director of the Genesian Theatre she was responsible for the production of Emma there earlier this year. The Manly Times photographed her recently in relation to that Genesian production.
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.
21 August 2000