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!


mamie said...

"Money and breeding are never far from anyone's mind." This is certainly connected to Jocelyn - her kitchen, the accoutrements of her place, the food served (such lovely up-scale choices)and so on. Not that any of this ever made her happy even as a child when her life was so controlled by her mother. I don't think she was "in love" with Daniel but she has come to think of him (and Sylvia) as just such a part of her life that she almost owns them now.
By the way, who is the narrator in the Book club parts, the "we"? Six participants are listed and named, so supposedly it is one of them who is speaking. Maybe it changes from chapter to chapter. I'm only on "April" now so will watch for that as I go along.

canary said...

Yes, it seems to be a group narrator- now one now another of the group...one not the subject of the comment. I noticed that right away.

Jocelyn's search for a mate- if we can put it that way (as Jocelyn might!) is without direction. She just doesn't know how to go about it. And this is exactly the subject of Austen's books. How people go about that, for good or ill- she gives both "positive and negative" examples - is of unending interest. Some decide on appearance,or let us say "a fun factor", some on wealth or status or both, some on some other quality- stability, some harder to define quality of goodness or caring. Austen sets these situations up and then plays them all out... but she invariably saves her main character for a happy ending.

mamie said...

Helpful comment re the narrator. Quite a good technique, I think. I just finished Allegra's chapter. She made her decision to fall in love with Corinne on a "fun" factor - "because she lied" (very daring, very brazen)only to be betrayed when she told her secrets and Corinne used them in her writing. Interesting. Kind of funny too (I guess in an Austen kind of way - see, I'm catching on) in that Allegra is most highly insulted by the fact that the stories end up getting rejection slips.

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)