She is to be Jenny

349px-janeaustensilhouette-svgDear Sister, — You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire, and perhaps wondered a little we were in our old age grown such bad reckoners, but so it was, for Cassy certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago; however, last night the time came, and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon happily over. We have now another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy, and a future companion. She is to be Jenny …” — George Austen (Jane’s father), Steventon, December 17, 1775.

Today is Jane Austen’s 241st birthday! It has been a long time since I posted anything here — two years since I posted at all regularly. I have been planning to revive this blog with some sporadic posts, and what better occasion to begin than Jane Austen’s birthday? I don’t plan on posting very often, but I hope to at least keep up with collecting links to articles on Mansfield Park I have read and found interesting.

Links: November 2012

I have been so busy that I haven’t had much time for writing lately. I do have a couple of posts that I have been slowly working on, but they probably won’t be ready for awhile. However, I have read a few posts about Mansfield Park that I found interesting. I don’t agree with everything written in these posts, but I at least found what they had to say thought-provoking.

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen” (July 1, 2012) on Speaking of Books

What forms one’s character?  This question, implicitly set forth by Austen in her masterpiece, Mansfield Park, is similar to the question posed in Plato’s Meno, “Can virtue be learned?”  By transplanting the young ten year old Fanny Price into her Uncle Thomas Bertram’s household at Mansfield Park, the question is examined.

Mansfield Park” (September 1, 2012) on The Classics Reader

Remember, wherever you are, you must be the lowest and the last.

Such is Fanny Price’s fate in Mansfield Park, where, as the consummate poorer relation, she grew up in constant reminder of her position in her mother’s sister’s family, the Bertrams.

Damsels in Disgust” (October 11, 2012) on Beyond the Dreamline

A quick skim on Goodreads throws up a series of criticisms remarkably similar to those damning Bella Swan – Fanny is too passive, too timid, too moral and submissive. Why, people demand, is she not more like Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse? Why, I ask, should she be? Austen had already written about Elizabeth and Emma. Why on earth should all the female protagonists of her books, indeed of any books, all be the same? Real women certainly aren’t.

I have never read the books discussed in the first half of “Damsels in Disgust”, but the defense of Fanny Price is interesting.

Befriending Men in Jane Austen’s World” (October 12, 2012) on The Squeee

I’ve often wondered why in Jane Austen the interesting new acquaintances of the heroine’s age are often men rather than women. If the women are bad, they are petty, malicious, proud and inconstant. If the women are good, they are giggly, unintellectual, sometimes sensible, never really deep or profound. (We’re not talking about the heroines themselves). Perhaps Jane Austen preferred the company of men? (We seem to see quotes from her letters favourable things about the gentlemen she met). Was she trying to tell us something by having the heroines be friendlier (in a platonic sense) to men than women?

This post is not just about Mansfield Park, but several of Jane Austen’s other novels as well.

Classics Challenge: Mansfield Park” (October 21, 2012) on The Briarfield Chronicles

The passage shows that Fanny is the deeper, more superior sister, because she genuinely enjoys reading for its own sake, unlike Susan who only reads to appear genteel. Jane Austen here is having a sly dig at those people who are intelligent enough to read good books, but don’t care to be intellectual. While Fanny is intellectual and thoughtful, Susan is merely quick and intelligent. The originals of an idea or thought should be read to appreciate the author’s thoughts the best, and yet Susan prefers Fanny to interpret those works for her, because Fanny is easier to understand. This shows Susan can be shallow, and is learning only for self-vanity and interest. Susan is overall a sympathetic character, so I hope you don’t dislike her. Many of us are more like Susan than we care to admit.

Disclaimer: I do not necessarily endorse or agree with everything contained in these posts (or the blogs that they are on). I have linked to them to them simply because I enjoyed reading them or found them otherwise interesting.

“Yes, Vanity Is a Weakness Indeed”

I wrote in another post (“A Gratifying Proposal”) about a couple of similarities between Mr. Darcy (of Pride and Prejudice) and Mr. Crawford (of Mansfield Park). Both men are considered (and have vanity enough to consider themselves) great catches. Both perform a great service for the woman they love. (Darcy saves Lizzy’s sister Lydia’s character and Crawford helps William, Fanny’s brother, on in his profession.) Lately I have been thinking about further similarities between the two men.

Both believe that the woman they love must want to marry them. Mr. Darcy later tells Elizabeth, “What will you think of my vanity? I believed you to be wishing, expecting my addresses.” (P&P, Ch. 58). Even when Fanny refuses Mr. Crawford, he perseveres: “He had vanity, which strongly inclined him in the first place to think she did love him, though she might not know it herself” (MP, Ch. XXXIII).

It is also interesting that both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Crawford change because of the woman they love. Mr. Darcy becomes more polite, humble. Mr. Crawford becomes more gentle and serious — less flippant. Still, there is a difference. Darcy’s change is, we are led to believe, permanent. He makes an effort to show Elizabeth, “by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to. How soon any other wishes introduced themselves I can hardly tell, but I believe in about half an hour after I had seen you,” he adds (P&P, Ch. 58). Elizabeth observes the change in Darcy.

“[S]he heard an accent so removed from hauteur or disdain of his companions, as convinced her that the improvement of manners which she had yesterday witnessed however temporary its existence might prove, had at least outlived one day. When she saw him thus seeking the acquaintance and courting the good opinion of people with whom any intercourse a few months ago would have been a disgrace … the difference, the change was so great, and struck so forcibly on her mind, that she could hardly restrain her astonishment from being visible. Never … had she seen him so desirous to please, so free from self-consequence or unbending reserve, as now” (P&P, Ch. 44)

Mr. Darcy himself admits that he has changed, and, what is more, that he needed to change.

“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. … I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves … 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 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 showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.” (P&P, Ch. 58)

Mr. Darcy was always a good man, as Elizabeth tells him.

“Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence? …. The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it; but in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were always noble and just; and in your heart, you thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you.” (P&P, Ch. 60)

Because of his good principles, Darcy’s improvement has a better chance of lasting, and we have no reason to think that it does not — though his transformation is not complete, for, as Lizzy observes, “he had yet to learn to be laughed at” (P&P, Ch. 58).

Crawford’s reformation, on the other hand, does not endure. His temporary change was apparent. Fanny observes it. “[H]is continued attentions—continued, but not obtrusive, and adapting themselves more and more to the gentleness and delicacy of her character—obliged her very soon to dislike him less than formerly. She had by no means forgotten the past, and she thought as ill of him as ever; but she felt his powers: he was entertaining; and his manners were so improved, so polite, so seriously and blamelessly polite” (MP, Ch. XXIV). She continues to notice improvement in Mr. Crawford. When she sees him in Portsmouth, “she thought him altogether improved since she had seen him; he was much more gentle, obliging, and attentive to other people’s feelings than he had ever been at Mansfield; she had never seen him so agreeable—so near being agreeable; his behaviour to her father could not offend, and there was something particularly kind and proper in the notice he took of Susan. He was decidedly improved.” (MP, Ch. XLI).

If he had persevered uprightly, the change may have become genuine (instead of assumed), but his habit of doing whatever he felt like doing was too strong, and he fell, running away with another man’s wife. He lacked the good principles that Darcy had. “[R]uined by early independence and bad domestic example, [Crawford] indulged in the freaks of a cold-blooded vanity a little too long.” When invited to meet Mrs. Rushworth again, “Curiosity and vanity were both engaged, and the temptation of immediate pleasure was too strong for a mind unused to make any sacrifice to right” (MP, Ch. XLVIII).

In the end, Mr. Darcy overcomes his pride and vanity, while Mr. Crawford “was entangled by his own vanity” (MP, Ch. XLVIII).

 

Jane Austen Sighting

I was flipping through my copy of War and Peace, and was surprised to find this illustration:

The illustration (by Feliks Topolski) resembles the portrait of Jane Austen from the memoir of her by James Edward Austen-Leigh. Which portrait, in its turn, was based on a sketch of Jane Austen (c. 1810) by her sister Cassandra Austen.

 

My copy of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy was translated by Rosemary Edmonds and illustrated by Feliks Topolski (London: The Folio Society, 1978).

  

Jane Austen is everywhere!

Brother and Sister

“You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”

“Brother and sister! no, indeed.”

— from Emma, by Jane Austen, Volume III, Chapter II.

When Mrs. Norris comes up with the idea to take her niece, young Fanny Price, in, Sir Thomas debates and hesitates. “He thought of his own four children, of his two sons, of cousins in love, etc.;—but no sooner had he deliberately begun to state his objections, than Mrs. Norris interrupted him with a reply to them all” (Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Chapter I).

“You are thinking of your sons—but do not you know that, of all things upon earth, that is the least likely to happen, brought up as they would be, always together like brothers and sisters? It is morally impossible. I never knew an instance of it. It is, in fact, the only sure way of providing against the connexion. Suppose her a pretty girl, and seen by Tom or Edmund for the first time seven years hence, and I dare say there would be mischief. The very idea of her having been suffered to grow up at a distance from us all in poverty and neglect, would be enough to make either of the dear, sweet-tempered boys in love with her. But breed her up with them from this time, and suppose her even to have the beauty of an angel, and she will never be more to either than a sister.” (Ch. I)

Sir Thomas agrees to the plan, stressing, however, that it ought not to be “lightly engaged in”. When Fanny arrives, Mrs. Norris undertakes “to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram” and that “they cannot be equals”. So well does she accomplish this, that very few in the family ever forget that Fanny is the poor relation — including Fanny herself. “There was no positive ill-nature in Maria or Julia; and though Fanny was often mortified by their treatment of her, she thought too lowly of her own claims to feel injured by it.” (Ch. II).

She is obviously considered a dependent. Mrs. Norris says of her publicly, “I shall think her a very obstinate, ungrateful girl, if she does not do what her aunt and cousins wish her—very ungrateful, indeed, considering who and what she is.” (Ch. XV). On another occasion, Mrs. Norris tells Fanny, “The nonsense and folly of people’s stepping out of their rank and trying to appear above themselves, makes me think it right to give you a hint, Fanny, now that you are going into company without any of us; and I do beseech and entreat you not to be putting yourself forward, and talking and giving your opinion as if you were one of your cousins—as if you were dear Mrs. Rushworth or Julia. That will never do, believe me. Remember, wherever you are, you must be the lowest and last” (Ch. XXIII). That even strangers see that she is not considered one of the family, is shown by what Mr. Crawford says of her, “Now she is dependent, helpless, friendless, neglected, forgotten.” (Ch. XXX).

As Fanny is not brought up as a sister to her cousins, all of Mrs. Norris’s assurances come to naught. Fanny’s having been suffered to grow up under mistreatment and neglect within his own family, was enough to make at least one of the “dear, sweet-tempered boys” care for her. In the end, Sir Thomas’s son Edmund falls in love with her.

“With such a regard for her, indeed, as his had long been, a regard founded on the most endearing claims of innocence and helplessness, and completed by every recommendation of growing worth, what could be more natural than the change? Loving, guiding, protecting her, as he had been doing ever since her being ten years old, her mind in so great a degree formed by his care, and her comfort depending on his kindness, an object to him of such close and peculiar interest, dearer by all his own importance with her than any one else at Mansfield, what was there now to add, but that he should learn to prefer soft light eyes to sparkling dark ones.” (Ch. XLVIII)

By this time, however, Sir Thomas is “sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, prizing more and more the sterling good of principle and temper, and chiefly anxious to bind by the strongest securities all that remained to him of domestic felicity” (Ch. XLVIII). He joyfully consents to the marriage of his son and Fanny.

“With so much true merit and true love, and no want of fortune and friends, the happiness of the married cousins must appear as secure as earthly happiness can be. Equally formed for domestic life, and attached to country pleasures, their home was the home of affection and comfort” (Ch. XLVIII).