Sat 22 Feb, 2003 06:53 am
OK - there has been recent discussion in Books of "smallness": vs. "bigness" of subject, sweep and whatever.
It minded me of the day, many years ago, when, as a Weelowan, I was, as one is, asked to compare and contrast Jane Austen and D.H. Lawrence, or somesuch.
In a feat of what I can only describe as either stunning prescience, or the most banal apprehension of inevitable diminution, I can recall saying that, as a WEElowan, I was more smitten with Lawrence - but, with advancing maturity I suspercted that I would become more enamoured of Austen.
Well, here I am, as a rather growdy-up-lowan indeed. Despite the vicissitudes of lit.crit., I am still fond of old David Herbert - however, I DO find that my love for Jane grows apace.
You see, I discover as I mature, that, taking it all for all, the moral choices I face are rather more of the nature of Emma's decision to be compassionate, or not, to Miss Bates - or Marianne's choosing to be run away with by her passions, or to be cognizant of the well-being of others, and her own integrity, and to rule her behaviour accordingly.
I find I live, as I suspect many do, not in an actual, but in an effective village - whether in real life or on-line. I discover that my deepest self, and my moral choices, are, generally, reflected in the minutia of daily interaction, rather than in the grand gestures of tragedy.
I am comedy, not tragedy - but I believe that my compassion, goodness, or otherwise, are as compellingly and as rivetingly and as seriously played out in this microcosm, as in the most macro-cosms of all.
Therefore I love Jane - delineating as she does, in the most exquisite and polished and sensitive of prose - the moral Rubicons and metaphysics of the small - and find in her, despite the exquisite tininess of her canvas, the very reflection and image of the real.
What do you think?
Oh, yes! I agree completely.
I agree too.
The writer PD James in her autobiography speaks often of her admiration and esteem for Jane Austen, even to the point of counting her as a major influence on her own writing, along with Dorothy Sayers, Graham Greene, and Evelyn Waugh. She even includes the full text of her address at the Jane Austen Society entitled, "Emma Considered as a Detective Story."
Although there is no crime in Emma, James suggests that there is, indeed, a mystery. The facts of this mystery are obscured by the author but can be discovered from the clues inserted. As most of the clues filter through Emma, who seems to deliberately ignore them, Austen essentially leads us astray in the same way that Agatha Christie attempts to lead us astray. James makes the case that several "mysteries" surround the human relationships in the village of Highbury, and these mysteries drive the narrative. Austen, in the manner of the detective novelist, effectively deceives the characters with situations that are open to misinterpretation. How like the white lies and deceptions we all are prone to today, you have only to look at any of the threads in our own little "village " here on a2k !
A village indeed - but who misleads and what are its mysteries?
(Gossip is important to villages..)
And what of the moral dimension?
I suppose what I really meant was interpretation, different aspects of humour and insight, how one takes slights when another does not. My personal philosophy tends towards being open to people in general, rather flippant and fun loving, whch may be taken as sarcasm by some others. I think the nearest general philosophical creed for me would be Buddhism, however this detracts from our discussion of Jane and DH so I'll step back.
Regarding DH I find him rather egotistic. A lot of his characters, such as in Women in Love have an intrinsic similarity, being torturers and self-torturers, absorbed in hatred and disgust. This makes the reading of this particular " village" very difficult as it takes a long time to disentangle them. Perhaps we never really do so. Lawrence does have a fertile imagination and manages to get this across to us in his books, some scenes may horrify us, but I feel that our horror is a sign of his weakness, as well as of our own. Getting back to "Women in Love" all the people have a sadistic love of cruelty and have souls to match, is this reality and how does this help us gain insight into our own modern community.
Perhaps more than we think.
The recent terrorist attrocities come to mind and maybe there is room for aspects of DH and elements of Jane's writings to guide us in the analysis of our modern " global village "
Let others add their pennyworth for I shall rest my piece here a while.
Would Jane ever use the word 'smeg'?
I need to invite my mother to this thread - dunno if Mom would use the word "smeg". Hmm.
Jane would most certainly NOT use the word "smeg"!
However, her somewhat unabashed and unflinching acknowledgement of the darker side of life - such as "natural" children, and young girls being seduced and running off with young men sans benefit of clergy, was to be seen as morally coarse and reprehensible by the following generation.
Jespah - your MOTHER - is Jane no longer read?
Hiama - I think my thoughts re Austen viv a vis Lawrence were based on an acknowledgement of the attractions to the adolescent mind of works of passionate intensity, though I loved Austen even then, and the thought that her polish and irony and exquisite prose and her examination of the nuances of human interaction would appeal to me even more later on.
However, my deeper appreciation of her has come over the last few years - oddly enough as I again explore Buddhism, with its focus on the presence of compassion and mindfulness and correct action in the rounds of daily life - the theatre of most of the dramas of our being.
Huh, dlowan? My mother still reads. Quite a bit, actually. Next time she calls, I'll ask if she ever says "smeg". :-D
I've read all of Jane's works, and more than once. Her style is "clean" and very precise--she says what she means so well. Persuasion gives the lie to the condescension of critics that she is "just a genre" writer. Her incisive wit makes minced meat of the pretensions of the members of her society, and although often satirical, it is a critical cop-out to say that her writings are "only satire." Mansfield Park examines complex social relationships, and the observations of human nature are eternal.
My all-time favorite "Austenism" comes from Sense and Sensibility, when, in describing the dinner party, and it's aftermath, she explains why these social worthies have no conversation. At the head of the list is ". . . want of sense, natural and improved . . . "
Dlowan, I thought your idea that most of us rise or fall morally on the basis of our choices in very everyday matters rather than in decisions of great import was very nicely put. You are of course right that Jane Austin wrote about people who were involved in just those kinds of things. Somehow, she managed to make all those ordinary decisions seem vitally important. However, no matter how important they may come to be to the reader, they are still just those everyday situations in which we all become involved.
Lawrence, on the other hand, will raise a fairly common incident, like a death in a mining accident, to the level tragedy and extract something that seems almost like metaphysical truth.
Maybe I've just repeated pretty much what you said, but I hadn't thought about it before. I guess, no I have.
I like Jane Austen, too. She seemed to have a reasonably good sense of humor which I think shows keen intelligence. Here is one of my "favorite books" written by her:
The History of England
from the reign of
Henry the 4th
to the death of
Charles the 1st.
By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian.
Piffka: thank you for that link!
I've read everything of Austen's at least twice, and can't comment in any way that would add to what Dlowan, etc., have to say. Her writing is so fresh, with a clarity of wit that makes her one of the best writers I've read.
I re-read her frequently, and always with fresh pleasure.
I need to read more Austen. I have only read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, which I loved, and MANSFIELD PARK, which I didn't care for. I tried to read EMMA once but couldn't get into it. As far as D.H. Lawrence, his sexual ideology and the way he conceives male-female relationships is repulsive to me. I recognize that he was talented but I don't think of him as a great novelist. He would have been greater if he had not succumbed to the tendency to propagandize for his ideology.
LR, i believe her best was Persuasion, which you might enjoy.
larry, I agree with Setanta.
Henry James, said of Middlemarch : "A marvellous mind throbs in every page. " If Middlemarch throbs, Persuasion hums.
W H Auden wrote of Jane Austen: "Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass," which is saying something
I am an Emma fan - SOOOOOOO polished and effortless and luminous, with the moral dilemmas so perfectly delineated that they go down before we realise they are there. In truth, it is Emma's realization of the enormity of her rudeness to Miss Bates that epitomises the thoughts initiating this discussion of the significance of the everyday.
I also love Persuasion, with its gentle sadness and regret. Who but Austen could make the hero's intervention in the actions of a spoiled and unruly child as engrossing and significant an act of tenderness and literary moment as any breathless moment of passion!
But - who can pass by Pride and Prejudice?
Who was the eminent Victorian figure who, when being shown the glories of Lyme Regis, asked only that he be but shown "...where Louisa Musgrove fell!"