Your Sunday Austen Meditation

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Church of Austenology This week’s lesson is taken from Northanger Abbey, Volume I, Chapter XIV.

They determined on walking round Beechen Cliff, that noble hill whose beautiful verdure and hanging coppice render it so striking an object from almost every opening in Bath.

“I never look at it,” said Catherine, as they walked along the side of the river, “without thinking of the south of France.”

“You have been abroad then?” said Henry, a little surprized.

“Oh! no, I only mean what I have read about. It always puts me in mind of the country that Emily and her father travelled through, in the ‘Mysteries of Udolpho.’ But you never read novels, I dare say?”

“Why not?”

“Because they are not clever enough for you — gentlemen read better books.”

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; — I remember finishing it in two days — my hair standing on end the whole time.”

“Yes,” added Miss Tilney, “and I remember that you undertook to read it aloud to me, and that when I was called away for only five minutes to answer a note, instead of waiting for me, you took the volume into the Hermitage-walk, and I was obliged to stay till you had finished it.”

“Thank you, Eleanor; — a most honourable testimony. You see, Miss Morland, the injustice of your suspicions. Here was I, in my eagerness to get on, refusing to wait only five minutes for my sister, breaking the promise I had made of reading it aloud, and keeping her in suspense at a most interesting part, by running away with the volume, which, you are to observe, was her own, particularly her own. I am proud when I reflect on it, and I think it must establish me in your good opinion.”

“I am very glad to hear it indeed, and now I shall never be ashamed of liking Udolpho myself. But I really thought before, young men despised novels amazingly.”

“It is amazingly; it may well suggest amazement if they do — for they read nearly as many as women. I myself have read hundreds and hundreds. Do not imagine that you can cope with me in a knowledge of Julias and Louisas. If we proceed to particulars, and engage in the never-ceasing inquiry of ‘Have you read this?’ and ‘Have you read that?’ I shall soon leave you as far behind me as — what shall I say? — l want an appropriate simile. — as far as your friend Emily herself left poor Valancourt when she went with her aunt into Italy. Consider how many years I have had the start of you. I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your sampler at home!”

It would be well to remember that it is not only young girls who read novels. Here endeth the lesson.

P.S. Here is an interesting (for certain values of interesting) essay in Persuasions On-Line about Henry Tilney, reading, and gender. Don’t jump to conclusions from the title–read the whole thing. But we were disappointed that the author passed on the common misapprehension that after Henry Tilney found Catherine Morland outside her mother’s room, she cried as she ran because he was mean to her. She cried because he had made her examine her conscience, and she was ashamed of herself. It’s right there in the book, you know. “They had reached the end of the gallery, and with tears of shame she ran off to her own room.”

Your Sunday Austen Meditation

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Church of AustenologyThis week’s lesson, from Northanger Abbey, Vol. I Ch. VI:

Catherine, in some amazement, complied, and after remaining a few moments silent, was on the point of reverting to what interested her at that time rather more than anything else in the world, Laurentina’s skeleton, when her friend prevented her, by saying, — “For Heaven’s sake! let us move away from this end of the room. Do you know, there are two odious young men who have been staring at me this half hour. They really put me quite out of countenance. Let us go and look at the arrivals. They will hardly follow us there.”

Away they walked to the book; and while Isabella examined the names, it was Catherine’s employment to watch the proceedings of these alarming young men.

“They are not coming this way, are they? I hope they are not so impertinent as to follow us. Pray let me know if they are coming. I am determined I will not look up.”

In a few moments Catherine, with unaffected pleasure, assured her that she need not be longer uneasy, as the gentlemen had just left the Pump-room.

“And which way are they gone?” said Isabella, turning hastily round. “One was a very good-looking young man.”

“They went towards the church-yard.”

“Well, I am amazingly glad I have got rid of them! And now, what say you to going to Edgar’s Buildings with me, and looking at my new hat? You said you should like to see it.”

Catherine readily agreed. “Only,” she added, “perhaps we may overtake the two young men.”

“Oh! Never mind that. If we make haste, we shall pass by them presently, and I am dying to shew you my hat.”

“But if we only wait a few minutes, there will be no danger of our seeing them at all.”

“I shall not pay them any such compliment, I assure you. I have no notion of treating men with such respect. That is the way to spoil them.”

Catherine had nothing to oppose against such reasoning; and therefore, to shew the independence of Miss Thorpe, and her resolution of humbling the sex, they set off immediately as fast as they could walk, in pursuit of the two young men.

When public attention-seeking is obvious and disingenuous, it can appear ugly to some; and to some it is as natural as breathing. Miss Thorpe, clearly, is one of the latter. Here endeth the lesson.

Your Sunday Austen Meditation

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Church of AustenologyA day late, because we just thought of it.

From Sense and Sensibility, Volume I, chapter XVII:

“What magnificent orders would travel from this family to London,” said Edward, “in such an event! What a happy day for booksellers, music-sellers, and print-shops! You, Miss Dashwood, would give a general commission for every new print of merit to be sent you–and as for Marianne, I know her greatness of soul, there would not be music enough in London to content her. And books!–Thomson, Cowper, Scott–she would buy them all over and over again: she would buy up every copy, I believe, to prevent their falling into unworthy hands; and she would have every book that tells her how to admire an old twisted tree. Should not you, Marianne? Forgive me, if I am very saucy. But I was willing to shew you that I had not forgot our old disputes.”

For all those who claim that Edward Ferrars is not amusing or witty: read the above, and think again. Here endeth the lesson.

Your Sunday Austen Meditation

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Church of AustenologyA reminder that Mr. Darcy knew perfectly well he was rude and superior to other people, and was able to change his behavior merely by determining to do so–because he finally had a good reason to do so.

From Volume III, Chapter XVI:

Elizabeth coloured and laughed as she replied, “Yes, you know enough of my frankness to believe me capable of that. After abusing you so abominably to your face, I could have no scruple in abusing you to all your relations.”

“What did you say of me, that I did not deserve? For, though your accusations were ill-founded, formed on mistaken premises, my behaviour to you at the time had merited the severest reproof. It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence.”

“We will not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed to that evening,” said Elizabeth. “The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, will be irreproachable; but since then, we have both, I hope, improved in civility.”

“I cannot be so easily reconciled to myself. The recollection of what I then said, of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it, is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: “had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.” Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me; — though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice.”

“I was certainly very far from expecting them to make so strong an impression. I had not the smallest idea of their being ever felt in such a way.”

“I can easily believe it. You thought me then devoid of every proper feeling, I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way that would induce you to accept me.”

“Oh! do not repeat what I then said. These recollections will not do at all. I assure you that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it.”

Darcy mentioned his letter. “Did it,” said he, “did it soon make you think better of me? Did you, on reading it, give any credit to its contents?”

She explained what its effect on her had been, and how gradually all her former prejudices had been removed.

“I knew,” said he, “that what I wrote must give you pain, but it was necessary. I hope you have destroyed the letter. There was one part especially, the opening of it, which I should dread your having the power of reading again. I can remember some expressions which might justly make you hate me.”

“The letter shall certainly be burnt, if you believe it essential to the preservation of my regard; but, though we have both reason to think my opinions not entirely unalterable, they are not, I hope, quite so easily changed as that implies.”

“When I wrote that letter,” replied Darcy, “I believed myself perfectly calm and cool, but I am since convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit.”

“The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness, but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”

“I cannot give you credit for any philosophy of the kind. Your retrospections must be so totally void of reproach, that the contentment arising from them is not of philosophy, but, what is much better, of innocence. But with me, it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude which cannot, which ought not, to be repelled. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.”

If he had any social awkwardness, it was because he did not take the trouble to try to do better, until his dearest, loveliest Elizabeth showed him how to be a better man. Here endeth the lesson.

Your Sunday Austen Meditation for Michaelmas

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Church of AustenologyThis week’s reading is taken from Persuasion, Vol. I, Ch. VI:

Michaelmas came; and now Anne’s heart must be in Kellynch again. A beloved home made over to others; all the precious rooms and furniture, groves, and prospects, beginning to own other eyes and other limbs! She could not think of much else on the 29th of September; and she had this sympathetic touch in the evening from Mary, who, on having occasion to note down the day of the month, exclaimed, “Dear me, is not this the day the Crofts were to come to Kellynch? I am glad I did not think of it before. How low it makes me!”

The Crofts took possession with true naval alertness, and were to be visited. Mary deplored the necessity for herself. “Nobody knew how much she should suffer. She should put it off as long as she could;” but was not easy till she had talked Charles into driving her over on an early day, and was in a very animated, comfortable state of imaginary agitation, when she came back. Anne had very sincerely rejoiced in there being no means of her going. She wished, however to see the Crofts, and was glad to be within when the visit was returned. They came: the master of the house was not at home, but the two sisters were together; and as it chanced that Mrs. Croft fell to the share of Anne, while the Admiral sat by Mary, and made himself very agreeable by his good-humoured notice of her little boys, she was well able to watch for a likeness, and if it failed her in the features, to catch it in the voice, or in the turn of sentiment and expression.

Mrs. Croft, though neither tall nor fat, had a squareness, uprightness, and vigour of form, which gave importance to her person. She had bright dark eyes, good teeth, and altogether an agreeable face; though her reddened and weather-beaten complexion, the consequence of her having been almost as much at sea as her husband, made her seem to have lived some years longer in the world than her real eight-and-thirty. Her manners were open, easy, and decided, like one who had no distrust of herself, and no doubts of what to do; without any approach to coarseness, however, or any want of good humour. Anne gave her credit, indeed, for feelings of great consideration towards herself, in all that related to Kellynch, and it pleased her: especially, as she had satisfied herself in the very first half minute, in the instant even of introduction, that there was not the smallest symptom of any knowledge or suspicion on Mrs. Croft’s side, to give a bias of any sort. She was quite easy on that head, and consequently full of strength and courage, till for a moment electrified by Mrs. Croft’s suddenly saying,–

“It was you, and not your sister, I find, that my brother had the pleasure of being acquainted with, when he was in this country.”

Anne hoped she had outlived the age of blushing; but the age of emotion she certainly had not.

“Perhaps you may not have heard that he is married?” added Mrs. Croft.

She could now answer as she ought; and was happy to feel, when Mrs. Croft’s next words explained it to be Mr. Wentworth of whom she spoke, that she had said nothing which might not do for either brother. She immediately felt how reasonable it was, that Mrs. Croft should be thinking and speaking of Edward, and not of Frederick; and with shame at her own forgetfulness applied herself to the knowledge of their former neighbour’s present state with proper interest.

The rest was all tranquillity; till, just as they were moving, she heard the Admiral say to Mary–

“We are expecting a brother of Mrs. Croft’s here soon; I dare say you know him by name.”

He was cut short by the eager attacks of the little boys, clinging to him like an old friend, and declaring he should not go; and being too much engrossed by proposals of carrying them away in his coat pockets, &c., to have another moment for finishing or recollecting what he had begun, Anne was left to persuade herself, as well as she could, that the same brother must still be in question. She could not, however, reach such a degree of certainty, as not to be anxious to hear whether anything had been said on the subject at the other house, where the Crofts had previously been calling.

We love the great older married couples in Austen’s work: the Crofts, the Gardiners, the Westons. There is a perception that there are a lot of dysfunctional couples in Austen’s work (and there are), but the great ones make up for so much.*

Here endeth the lesson. Happy Michaelmas to all!

*Can we put in a plug for the fabulous Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and our own contribution to that delightful volume, “Heard of You”? It’s our take on how the Crofts met, with the help of an unlikely Cupid.

Your Weekly Austen Meditation

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Church of AustenologyFrom Northanger Abbey, Vol. I, Ch. 3:

“…My dear madam, I am not so ignorant of young ladies’ ways as you wish to believe me; it is this delightful habit of journaling which largely contributes to form the easy style of writing for which ladies are so generally celebrated. Everybody allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female. Nature may have done something, but I am sure it must be essentially assisted by the practice of keeping a journal.”

“I have sometimes thought,” said Catherine, doubtingly, “whether ladies do write so much better letters than gentlemen! That is — I should not think the superiority was always on our side.”

“As far as I have had opportunity of judging, it appears to me that the usual style of letter-writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars.”

“And what are they?”

“A general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar.”

“Upon my word! I need not have been afraid of disclaiming the compliment. You do not think too highly of us in that way.”

“I should no more lay it down as a general rule that women write better letters than men, than that they sing better duets, or draw better landscapes. In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.”

Henry Tilney has spoken. Here endeth the lesson.

Your Sunday Austen Meditation

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Church of AustenologyWelcome to the Church of Austenology (and happy Easter to those who celebrate). Here is today’s lesson:

The Musgroves, like their houses, were in a state of alteration, perhaps of improvement. The father and mother were in the old English style, and the young people in the new. Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove were a very good sort of people; friendly and hospitable, not much educated, and not at all elegant. Their children had more modern minds and manners. There was a numerous family; but the only two grown up, excepting Charles, were Henrietta and Louisa, young ladies of nineteen and twenty, who had brought from school at Exeter all the usual stock of accomplishments, and were now like thousands of other young ladies, living to be fashionable, happy, and merry. Their dress had every advantage, their faces were rather pretty, their spirits extremely good, their manner unembarrassed and pleasant; they were of consequence at home, and favourites abroad. Anne always contemplated them as some of the happiest creatures of her acquaintance; but still, saved as we all are, by some comfortable feeling of superiority from wishing for the possibility of exchange, she would not have given up her own more elegant and cultivated mind for all their enjoyments; and envied them nothing but that seemingly perfect good understanding and agreement together, that good-humoured mutual affection, of which she had known so little herself with either of her sisters.

This came up in the past couple of weeks in relation to an acquaintance who has what we consider an outsized ability to get what she wants (and sometimes stuff we want that she doesn’t) from other people, much of it in our opinion based on youth, looks, and personality. Said acquaintance is also a remarkably shallow person, concerned more with appearances and fortune than with intellect or meaning. We were stewing over a particular incident privately and then remembered this passage. Certain material things–fortune, luck, tickets to certain sporting events we wish to attend–might be showered upon her; but we would still not exchange with her. Thank you, Jane, for the lesson in perspective.

Here endeth the lesson.