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Thursday, 3 April 2014

Some random thoughts on Jane Austen

Her sense of balance:
Between sense and sensibility
Between emotional display and restraint 
Between love and money
Between a prudent and a mercenary motive in marriage
Between pride and humility
Between a persuadable temper and a resolute character
Between introversion and extroversion
Between vivacity and quietness
Between openness and reservedness
Between civility and hypocrisy
Between dismissal of fiction as worthless and living as though life's the same as fiction
etc.

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Interesting 'doubles' across her works:
Elinor Dashwood vs Jane Fairfax
John Willoughby vs George Wickham vs Frank Churchill vs William Elliott vs Philip Elton
Mrs Price vs Anne Elliott
Lady Russell vs Emma Woodhouse
Elizabeth Bennet vs Mary Crawford vs Louisa Musgrove
Lucy Steele vs Isabella Thorpe
Lydia Bennet vs Maria Bertram
Charles Bingley vs Edward Ferras
Jane Bennet vs Jane Fairfax
Mrs Ferras vs Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Georgiana Darcy vs Eleanor Tilney
Harriet Smith vs Catherine Morland
Mr Bennet vs Mr Weston
Lady Catherine de Bourgh vs Sir Walter Elliott
Mary Musgrove vs Mr Henry Woodhouse
etc.

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The guts to say no: Fanny Price
The guts to say yes: Charlotte Lucas

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One should be careful when quoting Jane Austen. She uses irony all the time, and very often, writes what the character means, which is not necessarily what she thinks. 

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Here and there in the internet people ask which authors, alive or dead, you would invite to dinner.
I doubt that I would invite anybody.
Concerning the writers I like: Emily Bronte wouldn't come; Dostoyevsky probably wouldn't come either, or he would be grumpy and irritable and sometimes get hysterical; Tolstoy would also be grumpy and would talk about the idleness, insignificance and uselessness of my life, about the senselessness of war, about his anarchism and Christ, probably would think his disapproval of the VN war would make me glad; Salinger would respond "Cliché!" to every single thing I say; Nabokov would make me feel awful about myself, my inadequacy, mediocrity, philistinism; Fitzgerald would be nice, but to my questions on writing, would tell me to sell my heart, not write about the little things I may tell at dinner...
I would be afraid of being in the same room with Jane Austen. She sees everything, through all pretensions, and notices all kinds of folly. 

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http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/hume-austen-and-first-impressions
"Pride and prejudice", probably together with "Emma", as Jane Austen's response to David Hume. 
The article points out the possible intention behind the former title "1st impressions", and the phrase "universally acknowledged" in the opening line. I didn't notice that. 
It's also interesting how the author here argues that Elizabeth's prejudice and Darcy's pride are fused in 1 character in "Emma"- Emma Woodhouse. 

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rejecting_Jane
This means that lots of people, mostly men I presume, don't read Jane Austen.
I believe the 1st factor is prejudice- male and manly readers know about the cult, the Jane Austen industry, the adaptations, and associate her with romance, couples, marriage, balls, dresses, gossip, silly happy endings... and thus imagine her to be romantic, sentimental, trivial, dull... Her popularity among silly readers is the most important reason for this misconception, not the works themselves.
The 2nd factor is pride, expressed in the scepticism that an author so beloved must not be very good, in the feeling, the belief that they're not going to like "everybody's dear Jane".

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http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/magazine/110865/vs-naipaul-the-arab-spring-authors-he-loathes-and-the-books-he-will-never-write
Here, the presumptuous, arrogant, misogynist, racist, intolerable V. S. Naipaul talks more about Jane Austen. His wife Nadira also hates her: "Oh God, everybody hates Jane Austen. They don’t have the balls to say it. Believe me. Who did we meet the other day, that famous academic who said Jane Austen was rubbish? And I said, “Why don’t you stand up and say it.” And he said, “Am I mad?” They have all reassessed her, but they just don’t want to say it."
Funnily enough, I have reassessed her, in the opposite direction. And back then I did have the balls to say I hated her, only to now realise that at that point I failed to recognise her artistic talent.
(Nabokov, with his prejudice against female writers, acknowledges the greatness of "Mansfield park", and although not going crazy about Jane Austen, does use the word "genius", not just "talent", in his lecture).
(Plus: some shit Naipaul said: http://flavorwire.com/319649/a-collection-of-the-worst-things-v-s-naipaul-has-ever-said/)

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My attitude towards Jane Austen remains complicated and ambivalent.
At 1 time I admire her artistry and perfection, her power of characterisation through dialogues and free indirect speech, her ability to turn trifles and mundanities into art; at another time I move further away from her because of her annoying fans (as written in "I like your Jane, I don't like you Janeites"). At 1 time I feel that she's more important to me than any other writer, because I read her as a reader, as a human being and as a woman; at another time, I see that her works don't have the scale and the scope of the works by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, that her works aren't as complex and profound as theirs, and I also think that the distance I feel from Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky must be partly because I don't read their works in the original.
I guess that depends on my mood and mindset.
Whilst reading some huge Russian books, for instance, I feel overwhelmed, whereas her books are never overwhelming, shocking, haunting, challenging.
Then, these days, as I've been observing people and had some fascinating case studies (human beings are indeed interesting), I've been thinking that, 1 of the most important reasons I love Jane Austen is her dealing with delusion and perception vs reality, and focusing on understanding, self-understanding. And self-understanding is very important. We all, to varying degrees, suffer from some illusion about ourselves.
That is not to say an author's importance is valued by their messages, views, ethics. What's admirable and remarkable is how she tackles these themes, how she gets into the mindset of her characters and makes us see things from their points of view and interpret things in their way only to later realise that things are not necessarily what they seem, how she develops her characters and lets us see them change and gain self-awareness, how she switches between the omniscient point of view and a protagonist's subjective view, how she depicts everything in a subtle way... And I love her prose.
After all, one should not dismiss a writer because he or she isn't as profound as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And writers are different- comparison usually goes nowhere. What's the point?

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