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Monday, 8 June 2015

Which Austen heroine do you think Jane was most like?

https://rippleeffects.wordpress.com/2008/10/14/what-was-jane-austen-really-like-reading-cassandra-jane/
https://rippleeffects.wordpress.com/2008/10/17/what-was-jane-austen-really-like-reading-tomalin-and-shields/
https://rippleeffects.wordpress.com/2009/02/01/jane-austen-sense-or-sensibility/
https://rippleeffects.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/which-jane-austen-heroine-was-jane-most-like/
  • Marianne Dashwood  5.2%  (14 votes)  
  • Catherine Morland  1.86%  (5 votes)  
  • Emma Woodhouse  6.32%  (17 votes) 
  • Elizabeth Bennet  52.04%  (140 votes) 
  • Fanny Price  4.83%  (13 votes)
  • Anne Elliot  15.99%  (43 votes)
  • Elinor Dashwood  13.75%  (37 votes)
Total Votes: 269

(Related: a discussion between Anna and Caroline on Jane Austen's MBTI:
http://thebriarfieldchronicles.tumblr.com/post/120734166397/its-funny-my-mbti-is-more-similar-to-jane-austens
http://annalynnaeus.tumblr.com/post/120735594995/thebriarfieldchronicles-its-funny-my-mbti-is
http://thebriarfieldchronicles.tumblr.com/post/120739891992/annalynnaeus-thebriarfieldchronicles-its
http://annalynnaeus.tumblr.com/post/120794221300/thebriarfieldchronicles-annalynnaeus)

In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf remarks:
"Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote, I thought, looking at Antony and Cleopatra; and when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they may mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare, and for that reason Jane Austen pervades every word that she wrote, and so does Shakespeare."
She writes more about her, as a writer and as a person, in the essay "Jane Austen":
"... Charming but perpendicular, loved at home but feared by strangers, biting of tongue but tender of heart — these contrasts are by no means incompatible, and when we turn to the novels we shall find ourselves stumbling there too over the same complexities in the writer."
"... One of those fairies who perch upon cradles must have taken her a flight through the world directly she was born. When she was laid in the cradle again she knew not only what the world looked like, but had already chosen her kingdom. She had agreed that if she might rule over that territory, she would covet no other. Thus at fifteen she had few illusions about other people and none about herself. Whatever she writes is finished and turned and set in its relation, not to the parsonage, but to the universe. She is impersonal; she is inscrutable. When the writer, Jane Austen, wrote down in the most remarkable sketch in the book a little of Lady Greville’s conversation, there is no trace of anger at the snub which the clergyman’s daughter, Jane Austen, once received..."
"But the gossip says of Jane Austen that she was perpendicular, precise, and taciturn — 'a poker of whom everybody is afraid'. Of this too there are traces; she could be merciless enough; she is one of the most consistent satirists in the whole of literature. [...] Sometimes it seems as if her creatures were born merely to give Jane Austen the supreme delight of slicing their heads off. She is satisfied; she is content; she would not alter a hair on anybody’s head, or move one brick or one blade of grass in a world which provides her with such exquisite delight."
Which of her 7 heroines was she most like? Catherine and Emma, in my opinion, can be right away scratched off from the list. The former is naive and innocent, with little experience and little insight; the latter is officious, snobbish, rude and mistaken about everything. Jane Austen understood and sympathised with them and forgave them their foibles and mistakes, because of their sincerity, good intentions, capability of self-reflection and wish for improvement, which distinguishes them from characters such as Mary Crawford, but she's unlike Catherine and Emma because with those sharp eyes, she noticed everything, saw through all pretensions, and had few illusions about herself and the world. Jane Austen's 6 novels, on the superficial level, are about love and money; on a deeper level, about virtues, balance and self-understanding.
It would do her injustice to think that 1 of her heroines was an image of herself as though we're not taking her seriously as a writer. Why should we suppose that Jane Austen was like 1 of her 7 heroines, considering how different, how diverse they are, and the fact that she sympathised with all of them? Each of these characters is an individual existing for her own sake and at the same time a study of 1 type of woman, which should be seen in relation to all the others. The Jane Austen I imagine in my head would be an introvert; wouldn't write to any man anything remotely like those letters Charlotte Bronte wrote to Constantin Héger or George Eliot wrote to Herbert Spencer when they were rejected; would be somehow terrifying before strangers due to her perceptiveness and irony; would be a combination of Elizabeth and Fanny, or more specifically, the wit and humour of the former and the level-headedness, clear-sightedness, strong principles and censoriousness of the latter. Impersonal, detached, lacking the sympathy of Tolstoy or George Eliot, Jane Austen may now and then sound harsh, unkind, if not even mean, unforgiving. Sometimes I can't help feeling that perhaps she was more like Fanny than people think, a Fanny without the timidity and the feeling of an outsider, and with humour. In my mind Jane Austen, like Fanny, was able to see through all pretensions and had no illusions about reforming bad guys such as Henry Crawford but who was nevertheless able to laugh at the folly of others. Elizabeth's well liked because of her wit, humour, free spirit and independent mind, but instead of coolly observing people as Fanny does (albeit critical of the Crawfords, Fanny empathises with those that are slighted or wronged, and thinks it not right to generalise about some groups of people, as Mary does), Elizabeth judges people hastily, lets prejudice colour her judgement and falls for Wickham. Jane Austen, who always wrote about delusion and misjudgement and depicted such a variety of hypocrites, was unlikely to be like that.
What do you think? 

2 comments:

  1. Elizabeth in her youth, Fanny in older age. I like to think she was a Lizzy to her best friend Martha Lloyd and family, witty, funny and loved. With most of the world, a less sweet version of Fanny. After all Mary Russell Mitford said that people treated her like a poker.
    Jane Austen was probably a paradoxical person. I suspect literary geniuses have this tendency. The witty, fun and flirty part of her wasn't just shown to family and close friends though: when she was young Mrs Mitford said what a silly flirt Jane Austen was. I think she liked to be this personality when she was comfortable - possibly an introvert play-acting the role of extrovert. She liked to be witty and noticed in her younger days. The fact she openly flirted with Tom Lefroy and teased another young man about him (I believe, forget the details) would indicate a more outgoing, flirtatious disposition in her twenties. And yet this contrasts with the very reserved spinster of middle age.
    You say you can't find Jane Austen in her works, and one reason for that was that she could jump into other people's characters, and lose herself. Perhaps she never had a fully formed identity. When young and pretty she could be the personality she liked (Lizzy) but with disappointments in older age (plus probably she reflected on how silly people looked, perhaps on how silly she had looked once) that may have tempered her behaviour in public. Her character was one of change.
    In her early 3 books she loves to laugh at silliness, oversentimentality and absurdity. I think in her younger days she could be callous, perhaps hard-hearted. Judgemental towards people - and less sympathetic. She grew romantic in older age. Her mocking shifts to judging people who are trivial, immoral and superficial - more matters of morals than fashion. Perhaps she grew more religious - the early 19th century was more evangelical than the late 18th. But certainly she grew more serious, less bantering, deeper and more caring to those in the shadows. You don't see much sympathy for Mary Bennets, but Jane Fairfax and Fanny Price are more sympathetic.
    I think there was a great clash between her public and private selves, which would explain this paradox. As a pretty young girl, more hopeful and optimistic she could afford to be scornful and mocking. She might have looked forwards to the future. As years crept by and she never married, and found herself neglected, she might have reflected on how neglected people felt, and grew more sympathetic towards them. She would have grown disappointed, disillusioned etc and that manifested in her writing.
    Another paradox is Charlotte Bronte. Her juvenilia is free-spirited, mocking and celebrates high society - the works she is known for are melancholic, more down-to-earth and sympathetic - but much more critical of the upper classes.

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    Replies
    1. Interesting. I think you have lots of good points. Have to think more about this topic, perhaps I should even reread the books.

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