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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Nina Auerbach doesn't understand Mansfield Park, and I don't understand her

In my hands right now is Nina Auerbach's Romantic Imprisonment: Women and Other Glorified Outcasts. The chapter that 1st caught my attention was "Jane Austen's Dangerous Charm: Feeling as One Ought About Fanny Price". 
As it turns out, Nina Auerbach does not understand Mansfield Park. Not only does she criticise Fanny for being charmless, unlikeable and passive and not being the kind of heroine that one likes enough to travel with, she even calls her a killjoy ("Fanny's refusal to act is a criticism not just of art, but of life as well") and goes as far as calling her a monster and comparing her to Frankenstein's monster and Dracula. 
I'm terrified, horrified, petrified. 
I'm at a loss for words. 







PS: The last time I stood up for Fanny Price was just in July: 
http://www.bibliofreak.net/2015/06/review-mansfield-park-by-jane-austen.html
PPS: The name Nina Auerbach is very familiar but I can't recall what exactly I have read by her. Having a vague feeling that she's 1 of those crazy feminist critics like Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar. That seems to be the case. 

19 comments:

  1. Di,

    She is a well-known critic of 19th century literature, apparently, though I've not heard of her until you brought her up. She just may be in that category you mentioned.

    On the other hand, you may be thinking of Erich Auerbach, author of _Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature_. Below is a link to the Wikipedia article about him. I don't know if they are related.

    http://tinyurl.com/p5boort

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  2. Wow, you are right, she really doesn't get Mansfield Park. Like Fred mentions, she is a well-known 19th c lit critic and professor. From her list of publications it looks like she especially is interested in vampires and gothic romance.

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  3. Di, different people can have different POVs about literature; I think the best novels invite different POVs, and as long as the critic can defend her analysis -- and I think we need to study carefully her assessment before we dismiss her -- who are we to say she is wrong? Let me choose another novel as an example to ponder: Flannery O'Connor's _Wise Blood_ has generated plenty of divergent views since it first appeared; and while I disagree with some of those views, I understand and accept the intellectual rigor of those views.

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    1. Yes, different people can have different points of view and different opinions, but that doesn't mean all opinions are equally valid.
      I'll direct you to 1 of my earlier post about top 10 "Are we reading the same book?" moments. I admit that it's not right to write such a short, hasty post, without analysing in depth why the interpretation makes no sense, but it's precisely because I found the reading nonsensical and ridiculous that I didn't bother. 1 of the points used over and over again in this chapter about Mansfield Park is that Fanny Price lacks charm and likeability, that nobody can like her, that she's not someone people would like to travel with. What does that have to do with anything? I can't take her seriously. Then she says that Fanny's criticism of the acting is criticism of art and also of life. What kind of bollocks is that? Fanny has a more sensitive soul than anyone in the novel, loves nature, loves art and poetry, loves Shakespeare..., and just because she disapproves of the acting, which is understandable, Nina Auerbach says that she's against art and also against life? And all the Dracula comparison, I don't understand. It would just be a waste of time to go into further details.

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    2. Note: as there can be confusion, in "I can't take her seriously" I'm of course referring to Nina Auerbach.

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    3. Yes, but my point is simply this: I try to find some merit in everyone's thoughtful attempts at literary criticism, and then I can grow as a reader by reconsidering my own POV in light of the discovered merit. I hope my comments have not offended you. That was not my intent. Besides, my life is complicated enough, and I don't wish to complicate further by provoking a dust up over other people's readings of Jane Austen.

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    4. All right. I see what you mean. Of course a literary work can be interpreted in multiple ways, especially when it's complex. It's just that sometimes people go a bit too far.
      I wasn't offended. I just tend to get excited when talking about Mansfield Park.

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  4. Fred and Stefanie,
    Yeah, that chapter's unbelievable. I don't get how she could come up with such ideas and such arguments.
    I might have read something by her, as I often read essays/ articles about 19th century literature. Or she could have been mentioned/ quoted. Quite sure that it's Nina Auerbach, not Erich Auerbach.
    In this book, she also writes about Persuasion, Robert Browning, Dickens, Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy L. Sayers, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, George Eliot... Should I read other chapters, I wonder.

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  5. Di,

    Since you have the book, you might try another chapter--_Persuasion_ maybe?

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    1. I briefly looked through the chapters on Persuasion and Charlotte Bronte, but did read another chapter, on George Eliot, and am now quite puzzled.
      - Hetty Sorrel, Rosamond Vincy, Gwendolen Harleth- "these anti-heroines do not stand for the morally repellent deceit of acting, but simply for acting that is bad".
      - "Dinah is a successful performer and Hetty, a conceited amateur".
      - "Throughout the novel, Dorothea glorifies herself by the clothes she pretends not to care about".

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  6. Di,

    ???

    I have no idea what that means.

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    1. Sorry. I should have expressed myself more clearly.
      Nina Auerbach's main point in the chapter on George Eliot is that her female characters are all actresses; the anti-heroines "do not stand for the morally repellent deceit of acting, but simply for acting that is bad" whereas the heroines like Dorothea and Dinah are successful performers.
      Would you like to read the whole chapter? I can scan it for you.

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  7. Di,

    No, I was referring to what she had said. But, since all of the characters are actresses, then the roles they play say nothing about them.

    Thanks for the offer, but I really wouldn't be interested in her brand of word mongering.

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    1. Yeah she's nuts! Maybe to be fair I should scan the whole chapter on Mansfield Park and let you all see her line of reasoning.
      I've just seen a review of her Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth. Looks like she categories female characters in Victorian fiction into several types and identifies them as queens or angels or demons or victims or fallen women or old maids. I don't read that way.

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    2. Di,

      But it's so much easier to put characters in nice neat little boxes.

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    3. Oh hold on... I was guilty of that when writing about Shirley once. Put characters in boxes. But then the line is quite clear and it's easy to see how each character fits into what.
      I'm contradicting myself :-s

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    4. Di,

      Contradicting yourself? Never!

      chuckle. . .

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    5. It's true though, that the categories are more clear-cut in Shirley than in Jane Eyre or Villette.

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