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Name:Michelle Muldong
Question 70 I was asked  to have a book review about Pride and Prejudice and I need to know what literary trends and approaches were used in the novel? Please reply as soon as possible!
Reply Dear Michelle,

Trends and approaches, eh? A tall order, m’dear. Actually, to unpick the question a little, book reviews might contain this, although book reviews more usually, and modestly, give an account of what is afoot in the novel for people who won’t have read it, proceed to an interpretation of the significance of the events and characters, and, hopefully not too cruelly or peremptorily, say how good, or bad, or indifferent the work under consideration is, and for what reasons. With Pride and Prejudice, a work of mine whose worth is almost universally (not quite universally) acknowledged, this latter especially might seem a little artificial. So ‘trends and approaches’ might be substituted instead (though I don’t quite like the terms). Sometimes difficulties are best acknowledged. P&P is swimming in a current of ideas and opinions conveyed by novels, a great many by women, in my time, but my works have been so much more successful than the others and not many modern readers read them. This may be because they are honourably tendentious—i.e. want to make a didactic, ethical (moral) or political point and forget to be entertaining or realistic. Mary Brunton’s Self-Control comes to mind, with its heavily didactic gesture from the outset.

My morality is complicated—Charlotte’s prudence is not lauded, Elizabeth’s pertness is not reproved, the true voice of feeling is recommended, but hardly in Lydia’s case (the true voice of silliness?). No one is perfect (Elizabeth unjustly condemns Darcy, the good Mr Darcy is a little arrogant to start with, Mr Bennet is clever and witty but deeply misguided in his treatment of his younger daughters). In the wake of the political debate over human rights and forms of government, many novels reflect this discursive debate, and, more prominently the rights (or ‘the place’) of women was considered in the period, especially with the heroic, but also mildly disreputable example of Mary Wollstonecraft in mind (I was brought up in a parsonage and such progressive thinkers didn’t always rate). Formally I was a conservative daughter of the Anglican rectory (But Mr Collins shows I knew clergymen could be twits), but the new currents of feeling also find ways to insinuate themselves. My fiction here gains from its loose amalgam of influences – stage drama (works like those by Sheridan) would be included (an interesting genre-crossing point) combines with something from the great novelists earlier in the century—Sterne, Fielding, Richardson, especially the latter, with his subtle understanding of female psychology and female predicaments; and other great but maverick works like James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, combined with Samuel Johnson’s work as essayist, moralist and (after his fashion) wit. This last gives my fiction a conservative flavour for some, but feminist issues and the legitimacy of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ are also subtly insinuated. Social arrangements are not attacked, but the unhappiness caused by them and the distortions of feelings and life-styles which results from is conveyed.

With best wishes

Jane Austen

October 22, 2004 22:29:24 (GMT Time)

Name:Maksim Charcenko                     Top
Question 69 I been reading Pride and Prejudice for over 2 weeks now and i started to notice that Jane conveys her thoughts/oppinions throught Elizabeth. Have you got anything to say about that?
Reply Dear Maksim,

Yes, you seem to indicate the way this works. The narrator seems to creep close to Elizabeth in forms of speech, shared vision, shared intelligence and concern(s). It may be that both share a witty, almost sardonic tone, though this is most in evidence when analysing worldly-mindedness and so not cynical. The funny thing is this isn’t overtly the sort of technically advanced novel where the narrator merges with the character. The narrator does provide the sort of voice-over which can ironically seem to inhabit various heads, however briefly--cf., e.g. Darcy’s ‘tolerable powerful feeling’ for Elizabeth arising after he snubs her is briefly in shot, or Charlotte’s brief rumination to the effect that Elizabeth would surely succumb if the powerful Darcy should approach her to declare his love. Ironically, this couldn’t be more wrong, and Darcy actually does so in Charlotte’s own house, the celebrated humble abode of Rosings, but with negative results. Darcy also assumed that Elizabeth would succumb for just such reasons of social self-advancement as Charlotte herself has acted by. And of course dear Mr Collins thought Elizabeth would accept him, never mind Darcy, given the state of her bank-balance, which is clearly in his thoughts as he proposes.

Perhaps, then, the narrator shares this empathy at the level of values, of how to value or assess things with Elizabeth, palpably admiring her resistance to brute power and wealth, the priority she has with respect to the happiness of her beloved sister Jane, and the sense of shame she feels at Lydia’s elopement precisely because Lydia seems to feel none herself. The narrator and Elizabeth also share a sense of admiration for Mr Bennet’s good qualities and intelligence combined with a sharp sense of his limitations and even his harmful propensities and behaviour. There is also a sort of shared knowingness which makes the narrator and Elizabeth converge, especially when Darcy returns with Bingley and Elizabeth only is privy to his great qualities, to a sense of his love for her which she hopes he retains, and last and possibly not least, to an awareness of the money which he, not Mr Gardiner, has had to lay out to make Lydia and the Bennets half-way respectable again. This makes us share Elizabeth’s ongoing agonies over Mrs Bennet’s rudeness to the Darcy to whom they owe so much. The narrator likes living in Elizabeth’s head and also enjoys a loving irony at her expense, for example in registering her ‘astonishment’ at Darcy’s ongoing civility to her at Pemberley shortly after her fairly savage rejection of him. There is a kind of skewer uniting myself, the narrator and Elizabeth—my admiration for Elizabeth as an ideal woman, and heroine, is conveyed at one or two famous points in such letters of mine as survive. This also makes me seem like the narrator of the novel.

A probing question, then.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.

October 21, 2004 23:42:05 (GMT Time)

Name:Nikki Jordan                     Top
Question 68 I need to do a paper on which character(s) in "Emma" would be considered the "madwoman in the attic" and what anxieties about authorship and women's authority over language could she be embodying? How does she act out the (inexpressible) rage of the woman author against the constraints of the patriarchy?
Reply Dear Nikki,

This sounds like a version of ‘the angry me’ as sketched in Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic, in which the early writings, with their anarchic ictus, come winging into focus and the marriage-plots of my major works are somewhat ‘against the grain’. As the title, a reference to Jane Eyre and the situation of Rochester’s first wife itself indicates, their thesis, with its sense of feminism and the war on patriarchy in some ways works better with post-romantic literature, but anyway, as it stands, the terms of the question don’t apply too closely to Emma without modification, or supple-ification, or subtle-ising.

Firstly, Emma is herself eloquent on how she has a certain roost-ruling swagger to her life-style, pre-eminent in Highbury as a rich and ‘handsome’ young woman able to sally forth with compassionate baskets to help the poor and, it may be, dispense patronage. (One of the objects of this, Miss Bates, is a more convincing picture of oppressed femininity, the daughter of a clergyman’s widow with very little to live on. Emma is no underling like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, or Fanny Price, the heroine of my previous novel, Mansfield Park. Gender is only one determining element in matters of social status and the freedom one has to act. Again, Emma’s father is not a domineering patriarch, but exercises power, without quite realising it perhaps, as an enfeebled invalid and perhaps hypochondriac whose peevish wishes must be consulted at all times, and who has no intellectual power to keep enemies at bay. It is in this sense that Emma’s disadvantages as female heroine begin to wing their way into focus. She has no powerful male figure at home to look after her; she has to do the looking after. She is led astray by what I might allow to be described as ‘female errors’, and in this sense I took a traditional view of male-female relations and characteristics. Then again, her position is challenged by another woman, Mrs Elton, who understands modern capitalism but not traditional country hierarchies, and offers a threat to her sense of power in relation to Highbury.

Feminist criticism has to negotiate, or negotiate with, the fact of Emma’s rescue by a strong, but good, man, Mr Knightley who also authoritatively reproaches her with her faults. It looks as if Jane Eyre re-writes Emma with a much more ambiguous, almost Byronic, version of Mr Knightley. As a woman she has been brought up as a rather sheltered life, and easily becomes the dupe of Frank Churchill, in love with Jane Fairfax, not Emma herself, easily tormented by Mrs Elton given her exposed position, with her doddery unintelligent father, who ‘rules her life’; weakened also by the early loss of a clever, sensible mother. So Emma looks like a sop to patriarchy by comparison, but the disadvantages of Emma’s ‘position’, though not immediately obvious, do derive in part from her femininity. For ‘oppressed’ females in a less subtle mode, we can look to Jane Fairfax, the penurious but cultivated girl threatened with the role of governess and her relatives, Miss Bates, and her mother, old Mrs Bates.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.

October 10, 2004 23:51:50 (GMT Time)

Name:                     Top
Question 67 Is Jane Austen's work still protected by copyright or has it been moved into Public Domain?  Thanks!
Reply My dear,

Copyright has expired, and publishers now fight each other to present the edition with the best scholarly ‘image’—I imagine Oxford, Penguin and one or two others like Cambridge are the main contenders in this respect.
I really can’t keep up with it. My first publisher was Egerton of Whitehall Sense and Sensibility), my last, in my lifetime, John Murray (Emma). Brother Henry arranged a Bentley edition then at some point, much later, Oxford University assumed control, presumably under the direction of the industrious R.W.Chapman. What a great chap that man was.

When my work passed out of copyright editions proliferated—Penguin have done me, and Cambridge, but also Everyman’s Library (J.M. Dent), Macmillan also, I think, and Nelson had a flutter, and there was a Wingate ‘Chawton Edition’ (a nice idea), David Campbell, a New American Library and a Norton edition should be mentioned, the latter continuing to this day with critiques included. Allen and Unwin did a few, I think, as did Virago, and there were others, including one ‘Octopus’, who also got me in his tentacles. Of course my knowledge is retrospective. I manage to get out and about from under Winchester occasionally, you know! A character called Grigg has a ‘Gramercy’ edition in The Jane Austen Book Club (2004). I assume this is a joke.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.

October 7, 2004 22:54:56 (GMT Time)