Thursday, April 20, 2006

Sense of Sense and Sensibility

In Sense and Sensibility Austen contrasts two sisters and their very different styles of courtship- one, Marianne- all emotion, the other, Elinor- all common sense and decorum. Since this Austen novel is paired with a focus on Allegra who is meteoric, passionate, emotional, and self centred we are encouraged to compare her to Marianne ( who is a secondary character in S&S).

In S&S Marianne falls head over heels for the gallant and adventurous Willoughby. He turns out to be a rat...well, perhaps not a rat, but while he "courted" Marianne when it came down to the crunch other virtues ( wealth, position) had more weight. Marianne, in her depression at Willoughby's betrayal goes out in the rain and becomes ill [but recovers]

Allegra is lesbian and her lover Corinne appears at first as adventurous and impulsive as Allegra but turns out not to be as she seems, we are told. Corinne betrays Allegra; Allegra tells Corinne secrets, stories and Corinne steals them and tries to sell them and fails. [It is speculated that Austen was lesbian as she never married and of course writes stories, and her early manuscripts were rejected.] Allegra discovers Corinne's betrayal. " How dare Corinne write up Allegra's secret stories and send them off to magazines to be published? How dare Corinne write them so poorly that no one wished to take them?"

She leaves in the rain in only a T shirt , drives to her parents and stays in bed for 3 days (compare to Marianne's outing in the rain in S&S) There are secrets revealed in S&S too. Elinor's love interest Edward is secretly attached to Lucy but this secret is revealed by Lucy's sister causing much upset in vaious quarters. In the end though Lucy succumbs to the lure of wealth also and accepts the "better" offer of brother Robert instead, leaving Edward conveniently for Elinor. But what about Marianne? She ends up with Col. Brandon, a nice older man, who cares for her. And what will happen to Allegra? If she leaves Corinne for good who will she end up with.

Fowler in the Austen Book Club is taking situations from not the Austen's main character but secondary ones. "It wasn't Jane Austen's fault that love went bad. You couldn't even say she didn't warn you. Her heroines made out well enough but there were always other characters in the book who didn't finish happily...These were the women to whom you should be paying attention, but you weren't"

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Some ideas to ponder

Here are thoughts I have had about the very modern society of the Jane Austen Book Club in contrast with the characters and society of Austen's books, and particularly to begin with, the novel Emma.

Some questions about Emma. What if Emma had not realised her faults and her true affections and not fallen eventually for Knightly, or if Knightly had not been so constant in his affection for Emma and been completely turned away by her foolish and sometimes cruel behavior? Would Emma have remained unmarried, still admiring/loving Knightly from afar? What if Knightly had married Emma's friend?

Jocelyn is unmarried. She had a relationship with Daniel but this was lost and Daniel married her best friend Silvia. Don't you get the feeling Jocelyn still loves Daniel? Silvia and Daniel are separating and the narrator says of Jocelyn " It was occurring to her for the first time that she was losing Daniel too. She'd handed them over, but she'd never given him up. Now, while she was breeding her dogs and dusting her lightbulbs and reading her books, he had packed his bags and moved away."

Breeding. This is an important issue. For Jocelyn as it is for Austen and her character Emma.
" We thought how the dog world must be a great relief to a woman like Jocelyn, a woman with everyone's best interests at heart, a strong matchmaking implulse and an instinct for tidiness. In the kennel, you just picked the sire and dam who seemed most likely to advance the breed through their progeny. You didn't have to ask them. ..." Wouldn't it be nice if love/marriage was this simple? This is Emma as she starts out, the controller, the matchmaker. She "knows" what is best for Harriet, for Mr. Elton, for herself. But of course, like Jocelyn she doesn't really know what is best at all. What Austen points out is that what is necessary is a moral compass of sorts, a love compass. Emma starts without one but gains direction in time. Jocelyn learned but perhaps too late. It isn't just class as Austen makes quite clear ( in my view) in all her books. There is something else that is more important.

An incident of note in the back story of Jocelyn...the picnic with her friends with her mother and Jocelyn makes cruel and cutting remarks to her. This compares to the incident at Box Hill where Emma makes cruel remarks to Miss Bates and Mr. Knightly rebukes her. Daniel rebukes Jocelyn: "That was kind of mean Jocelyn ...After she cooked all that food and all."

...and it is just after this incident that he reveals to Jocelyn that he loves Sylvia not her.

I get the feeling Jocelyn feels she missed her chance. She likes Austen because Austen recreates a world where it is all possible again, where people ALMOST make the wrong choices but are saved and all works out in the end. Is real life like that? Not for some. Does Jocelyn wish she could go back and do things differently? Of course, don't we all? Austen herself was unmarried- like Jocelyn. Did she have the same feeling? Austen didn't breed dogs and dust light bulbs- she wrote books instead.

The choice of who we marry is perhaps one of the most important choices we make. It is no less fraught with false leads in our day and age and society than it was in Austen's day.

But we all have our own private Austen. This is jumping ahead a bit, but reading the comments at the back of the book about Austen and her novels...everyone has a different take. For example ( from Martin Amis) Jane Austen is weirdly capable of keeping everybody busy. The moralists, the Eros and Agape people, the Marxists, the Freudians, the semioticians, the deconstructors- all find an adventure playground in six samey novels about middle class provincials. And for every generation of critics, and readers, her fiction effortlessly renews itself." Jocelyn you see is reading herself into the novel and Fowler who wrote the Book Club is reading herself and her characters into the novel and we read ourselves into it. Which tells me that Austen captured some of the complexity of life in her novels about middle class provincials and that is something!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Emma- My take

I have found the synopses of the Austen books in the back of The Jane Austen Book Club to be woefully insufficient. Here is a full summary but in addition I want to give my take on Emma emphasising the points which I think are most pertinent to The Jane Austen Book Club.

The question in Emma is “What is love”. It is not so much about marriage as it is about "courtship”. How does a woman determine when she is really in love and who she should marry, a “suitable match”. Breeding and class are important ( to Austen) not for themselves but for the personal qualities that came along with them (or should) in her day, and Austen is very pointedly acerbic about those who judge quality solely on the basis of wealth and position and critical of marriage which is not accompanied by a depth of feeling. Emma is also about how blind one can be when it comes to “love” and what “love” really is.

Emma starts out a spoiled, class conscious, prig.

The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having
rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little
too well of herself; ... The danger, however, was at present
so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes
with her.

In the book Emma decides to play matchmaker for Harriet and does it- as Austen might say- “very ill”. Marriage and love is a serious business and not to be trifled with and Austen must teach this lesson to her character, Emma. This she does through the character of Knightly. Emma seems oblivious or dismissive of the real currants of feeling swirling around her. She ignores the attentions of Robert Martin to Harriet ( and discourages Harriet’s obvious affection for him) thinking him beneath her friend's station.

Instead she tries to put Harriet in the way of Mr. Elton the new vicar thinking him more “suitable” ( read higher class) even though Harriet doesn’t “love” Mr. Elton. This backfires on Emma as Elton thinks the attention means he has a chance with Emma herself. He doesn't care for Emma but is impressed by her status and wealth, while Harriet has neither. This Emma is unaware of at first.

Emma is susceptible however to the artificial charms and flattery of Frank Churchill the son of a neighbour who doesn’t really care for Emma at all but uses her to mask his secret engagement to Jane Fairfax (granddaughter and niece of a couple of impoverished but respectable ladies of the town.) Instead Emma imagines that Jane is involved in an affair with Jane’s former employer Mr. Dixon, a married man. She is also jealous of her as she rivals Emma in accomplishments.

Emma seems unaware that Mr. Knightly ( her brother-in-law and long time friend of the family) whose concern for Emma is constant, if at times critical, has any interest in her other than fatherly.

Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see
faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them:
and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emma herself,
she knew it would be so much less so to her father, that she would
not have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not being
thought perfect by every body.

"Emma knows I never flatter her," said Mr. Knightley,

Knightly calls Emma out when her behaviour is below what he expects of her, especially when she is cruel to Jane’s aunt, Miss Bates, a poor- of lower status- but a sweet lady. Meanwhile Harriet mistakes Knightly’s kindness and respect to her as affection, while Emma, finally realising she doesn’t really care for Frank, thinks he might be a match for Harriet, which is far from Harriet’s mind taken as she is now with Knightly. Only when Emma believes Knightly might care for someone else (Harriet, Jane) does she realise her own affection for him. Nothing is as it first appears to Emma. All is surprise.

The knots are all eventually worked out, and we the readers, frustrated at times by Emma’s blindness, see her gradual enlightenment to the virtues of Mr. Knightly and her own fallibility. Harriet marries Robert as she well should, following her true affection, Mr Elton marries some rich lady as materialistic as himself, Frank’s love of Jane can be revealed when his controlling aunt dies and Emma, well, she falls in love with Knightly just when she thinks she has lost his favour. She wouldn’t have been happy with Knightly at the beginning of the book of course but because of the incidents through the book and what she learns about herself and what “suitable” means to her she is a changed woman and is no longer the stuck up, know it all, youngster she was.
So we start out in the Jane Austen Book Club in March at Jocelyn’s discussing Emma.

We are encouraged to compare Jocelyn to the character of Emma. There are things in her relationships that are similar to Austen's Emma and things that contrast.

That's for the next post.

Posting trouble

I seem to be having some trouble getting my posts to appear properly( in IE only- no problem in Foxfire or mozilla based browser) . Trying to sort it out.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Austen online

I realised that I don't have copies of all of Austen's books ( something for me to watch out for at the up-coming book sale!) However, I have discovered that they are on line! Thank you Project Gutenberg! Since it has been a while since I have read Emma or Sense and Sensibility I can refresh my memory with a few keystrokes! Wonderful.

He was not an ill-disposed young man,
unless to be rather cold hearted and rather selfish
is to be ill-disposed:
OUCH THAT'S AUSTEN but he was,
in general, well respected; for he conducted himself
with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Jane Austen Book Club

I like this book. I like it very much. It could fall apart I suppose, but it is quirky, it is holding my interest and it is making me think. First about Emma because that is the book the book club focuses on in the first session ( March -how about that?) but in which we mainly meet the cast of 6 book club characters through the very acerbic "group" narrator and we get some of Jocelyn's and Sylvia's back stories.

I like Fowler's style. There's something very, I don't know, surprising about her prose. She'll be describing something and then throw in something unexpected. Sample:

There were porcelain lamps in the shape of ginger jars, round and oriental and with none of the usual dust on the bulbs because this was Jocelyn's house. The lamps were on timers. When it was sufficiently dark out, at the perfect moment they would snap on all at once like a choir. This hadn't happened yet but we were looking forward to it. Maybe someone would be saying something brilliant.

She can be very funny.
"I think Jane is being ironic here", Prudie suggested..."she has an ironic wit, I think some readers miss that. I am often ironic myself., especially in e-mail. Sometimes my friends ask. Was that a joke?"
"Was that a joke?" Allegra asked. ...

Then further on Jocelyn says "The pretty marry the pretty the ugly marry the the detriment of the breed."
"Is that a joke?" Prudie asked

The book is set in California somewhere I believe but the author quotes Robertson Davies. Is there a Canadian connection?

Jocelyn and her dogs, Emma cf dog show Interesting. Nobility and wealth, money and breeding.

I have started April/ Sense and Sensibility but will leave thoughts on that for a later date.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)