Weekend Bookblogging: Will the Real Jane Austen Please Stand Up Edition


Welcome to Weekend Bookblogging, our (usually) weekly feature in which we point out links to Jane Austen’s novels, books about Jane Austen’s novels, books inspired by Jane Austen’s novels…you get the idea.

This week we start out with an e-mail from Alert Janeite Peter, who is reading The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson, a history of finance, which has a reference to Jane Austen.

“In real life, times may be hard, but when we play Monopoly we can dream of buying whole streets. What the game tells us, in complete contradiction to its original inventor’s intention, is that it’s smart to own property. The more you own, the more
money you make. In the English-speaking world particularly, it has become a truth universally acknowledged that nothing beats bricks and mortar as an investment.”

Peter also said that:

The book also describes the British “consol” bond (“in the four percents”, I guess) and shows a picture of Sir Walter
Scott’s life-insurance policy.

Sounds like some good info for those wishing to learn more about finance in Jane Austen’s time.

Alert Janeite Marion sent a link to a post in the New York Times’ Papercuts blog with an interesting bit of trivia about Jane Austen readers.

All very good questions. But in the meantime it’s useful to ponder the way our ideas of the masculinity or femininity of works of fiction can change over time. For example, I was surprised to learn a few weeks ago, while researching a story on Jane Austen monster mashups, that until fairly recently the Bardess of Basingstoke was regarded as pretty much for the boys.

“There is a pattern throughout the Victorian period and into the modern era that sees the great English statesmen and literati and gentlemen scholars manifesting their devotion to Austen by reading her novels over and over,” Deidre Lynch, a professor at the University of Toronto who has written extensively on Austen devotees, told me in an e-mail message.

Benjamin Disraeli read “Pride and Prejudice” 17 times, and Matthew Arnold and John Henry Newman read “Mansfield Park” every year. The historian Thomas Babbington Macaulay read Austen obsessively and, as a colonial administrator in India, wrote letters home comparing various colleagues to characters in “Emma” and “Pride and Prejudice.” None of them are known to have covered the books in plain brown paper.

In fact, Lynch points out, the term “Janeite” — today used somewhat derisively to refer to Austen’s besotted female fans — came into usage in the 1890s thanks to men who wore it like a badge of honor.

Some of us–men and women–still do. 😉

The Telegraph has a review of Constable in Love by Martin Gayford, which has plenty of Jane Austen references.

Both lovers were family-minded and fond of their relatives, but dismally aware that the simplest route to the life they longed for was the sudden death of Maria’s father or grandfather. No wonder Gayford keeps coming back to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. He makes good use of the novel as an illustration of the Regency dialectic between the rural and contemplative and the urban and worldly, but he might also have used it to illuminate the intensity of Maria’s dilemma.

In Austen’s novel, sensitive, country-loving Fanny Price, who has been adopted by a rich aunt, is sent to visit her own mother, whose love match has brought her life in a little house in Portsmouth with nine children and two sulky servants. A few weeks of the dirt and noise almost kills her. Constable was a lover, but also an uncompromising genius, absolutely incapable of prostituting his art in order to earn more: when he and Maria did finally marry, their joint income seems to have been about £300 a year, by no means enough for comfort.

There’s an exhibition of Constable’s paintings at the National Portrait Gallery in London through June 14; the Financial Times says it “unfolds like a Jane Austen novel.” Um, okay.

The Times has a review of Claire Harman’s How Jane Austen Conquered the World, which we blogged about in relation to an academic kerfluffle of sorts. We hope the following is a misapprehension of the reviewer, for otherwise we would be quite disappointed.

The first readers to underrate her were her own siblings. Though they enjoyed her high-spirited teenage skits and send-ups, they regarded her brother James, a rather glum poet, as the real writer in the family. So did James. A family friend remembered Jane as simply “the prettiest, silliest, most affected husband-hunting butterfly”. Even when she had become a published novelist, no one dreamed they had a world-class author in their midst, whose every scratch on paper would one day be treasured. After her death most of her letters were lost or thrown away, and the early editions of her books were pulped or remaindered.

It’s interesting, we had a conversation like this just the other day with someone who insisted that Jane Austen’s family mistreated her (among other things, he claimed Mrs. Austen forced the dying Jane to sleep on a sofa in Winchester while she lorded it up in the only bed; we finally had to point out that Mrs. Austen wasn’t IN Winchester when Jane died). While perhaps her family did not revere her as a genius, it does not necessarily follow that they were not proud of her accomplishments; one would think such reverence would make Jane Austen uncomfortable anyway. It is instructive for those of us concerned with the life and literature of Jane Austen to take the same lesson that Catherine Morland did after Henry Tilney burst her Radcliffe-driven romantic bubble.

Charming as were all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and charming even as were the works of all her imitators, it was not in them perhaps that human nature, at least in the Midland counties of England, was to be looked for. . . . Among the Alps and Pyrenees, perhaps, there were no mixed characters. There, such as were not as spotless as an angel might have the dispositions of a fiend. But in England it was not so; among the English, she believed, in their hearts and habits, there was a general though unequal mixture of good and bad.

In other words, real life is not so extreme as some would like to paint it. And from a purely practical standpoint, we suspect no Austen of Jane’s generation would have begrudged his or her sister the opportunity to earn a little pewter.

That’s it for this weekend’s Bookblogging, so until next time, Gentle Readers, always remember: Books Are Nice!