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<---More Recent 79. Austen's Accomplishments 78. Satire and Irony 77. Eastwell Park Earlier Answers-->

Name:Lenok Dans
Question 81 Could you give me the information about the linguo-poetical significance of the word-combination in the descriptions of the characters in Pride and Prejudice?
Reply Dear Lenok,

On the basis of this . . . I don’t think I can satisfy you. I almost wrote ‘this question’, but it seems to function better as a joke or parody. As you know, not only was I good at jokes and parodies but constantly on the look-out for them, so I could thank you on this basis for an extra one. In the unlikely event that this is intended as a real question attended by real anguish, I apologise--but think you should then rephrase this in terms that would make sense in, say, your local newspaper. In particular, ‘linguo-poetical’ is not in general acceptance as a technical (or indeed non-technical) term, and when combined with ‘significance’--things begin to look a little daft, as you no doubt intended. As Shakespeare’s Polonius might put it, ‘“linguo-poetical significance of the word-combination” is good’—but only when considered as humour.

With best wishes,

Jane Austen

March 24, 2005 03:52:09 (GMT Time)

Name:Shayna O'Connor                     Top
Question 80 How did Jane Austen contributions help our lives and society today?
Reply Dear Shayna,

I can’t say I can accept the hideous responsibility for your huge question. Contemporary uses of my work which provide a new form of literary canonisation from below in the form of film or tv adaptation or novelistic rewrites are in themselves not markers of literary or artistic merit, but they do give me undeniable cultural prominence: wit and the satire of silly or malevolent people hold the key; I also resume the virtues of great predecessors like Fielding and Richardson, Dr. Johnson, and in a less obvious way, Shakespeare, especially in Mansfield Park. It isn’t always clear whether I’m achieving ethical centrality or merely facilitating a commercial opportunity, and people have said I ‘m a bit of an ideological drag chain, encouraging thoughts of heritage and ‘let’s hear it for unimproved estates’ which will excite few now-a-days. Henry James was pointing out as early as 1905 how I seemed to encourage activities by cultural entrepreneurs and commercial sharks. And I have had my detractors: Mark Twain, Emerson (‘imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society’), and D H Lawrence, who had me down as a mean snobbish, (‘knowing in apartness’) old maid. But in my way I stood for liberty in the form of favouring spontaneous affections over prudential arrangements. I offer an ethical drama, pleasing at the level of texture and structure, and so entertaining as well as instructive. I was a great writer who translated to other media, thanks to the non-accident that part of my achievement was a kind of stagecraft and close study and appreciation of theatrical techniques. My heroines are all loveable, and I marry a certain political and psychological acuity to well-adapted decorums of style and presentation: now for your own conjectures, my dear.

With best wishes

Jane Austen.

March 15, 2005 01:53:25 (GMT Time)

Name:Briane O'Connor                     Top
Question 79 Why is Jane Austen important?
What did she accomplish?
How did she accomplish it?
Reply Dear Briane,

I am Jane Austen, you ascribe importance to me I’m reluctant to claim for myself. Indeed, my beginnings were modest enough as a family entertainer writing skits, squibs and something like lampoons which parodied the literary devices of the day. For myself I was more set on financial independence, as a poor spinster, than literary greatness, but delays in publication and increasing mastery of my art made greatness come as a by-product.

In a generation of minor novelists I realised the legacy of great novelists earlier in the century like Fielding and Richardson, with a technique of presentation which made you seem intimate with the characters, and mordantly intelligent voice-overs in the manner of Samuel Johnson, and a knowledge of theatrical presentation I stirred into the literary brew. In terms of both structure and texture my novels conduced to narrative satisfactions, and I was alert to the ideological repertoire of characters as well as their personal plusses and minuses. My novels also conduct a sort of dialogue among themselves, so that Persuasion, for example, corrects the snobbish emphases of Emma and Mansfield Park. I was said to have laid the ground for the Victorian novel, but my verbal formulations and crackle of epigrammatic wit and concision actually outguns them. I reflected, though not in an immediate way, the effects of some of the great events of my time, including the Napoleonic wars.

My afterlife includes endless adaptations and rewrites and completions, and as Henry James pointed out in 1905 I was a regarded as a commercial opportunity well before the age of film and television brought a new impetus. This forms a new sense of a sort of ‘canonisation from below’, and my stock has never been higher. But my detractors have had something to say: Mark Twain and Emerson couldn’t stand me, and even later English writers like Dickens and Hardy gently correct my too-great emphasis on the higher classes of society by painting a more inclusive social picture. People also make of me what they themselves find: Pride and Prejudice was translated into a sense of how to catch a rich man, but much of my creative energy went into letting the reader admire the strength Elizabeth initially shows in resisting complacent male advances and ‘offers’, despite financial pressures and the plight of the family. Offering Ethical and ideological drama as well as ‘just people’, witty, satirical, intelligent and, to an extent, humane (that’s me), few can resist me, though there are disconcerting moments, like the narrators’s rejoicing over the death of Dick Musgrove in Persuasion. Now for your own observations and explorations.

With best wishes

Jane Austen.

March 15, 2005 00:41:44 (GMT Time)

Name:Kenneth Tabor                     Top
Question 78 Can you explain to me how Austen uses the elements of satire and irony in her novels?
Reply Dear Kenneth,

I must apologise for the delay; things have cut across my ability to tackle this question and as it happens could detain us for weeks. Every small step one makes through the novels one falls over fresh instances of irony and satire, whether at the level of buffoon characters, verbal faux pas, chopped logics, silly ideological repertoires, and mercenary motives etc. It might strike someone that the realisation that my novels do contain such elements is already more sophisticated than the answer itself need be. The fact that there are such elements is a highly significant point about a genre, the novel, which doesn’t strictly need them.

Perhaps I was a displaced Tory satirist, an Alexander Pope buckling down to supplying prose and beguiling narratives, a lady novelist who slightly resented the role as usually construed. Strictly, though, here are a few pointers (not dogs, incidentally): I satirise chumpish estate owners. But why bother? Sir John Middleton in S&S is a kind man; but in tthe ‘ economy ‘of the novel Sir John is a ‘bad thing’: he admits those pickers and stealers, the Steele sisters, to good society (a somewhat paradoxical description), or cannot understand the precise nature of John Willoughby’s mercenary villainy, or finer feelings, like those of Marianne Dashwood. The transcendent meanness of the sisters’ half-brother John and his nasty wife Fanny, allied to metropolitan ambition, is a high satirical point in the opening chapters, and Fanny née Ferrars’ mother is a great villainess who attracts satirical descriptions from me. The point is, these people are outwardly respectable, cornerstones of society, and therefore this qualifies the idea that I am a wholly ‘conservative’ satirist. I seem to like satirising great ladies who get out of hand (awkward for feminists who want to conscript me?): Lady Catherine of P&P and Mrs Churchill in Emma are good examples. Perhaps I didn’t support patriarchy, but was so keen on getting published I pulled punches a little? General Tilney of NA, though, is a satirised patriarch, a snob, a conspicuous consumer, a rapacious speculator whose desires for more plunder know no bounds, so that he does correspond in the end to the Gothic villainy which at the outset merely heated heroine Catherine Morland’s fevered young brain, apparently pointlessly, or even harmfully. Elsewhere I satirise modernisers who want to improve ancient estates, not a problem most of you have nowadays, but also worldly-minded mercenariness, associated with a metropolis also said to be at war with ‘respectable attachments’ in MP. And so indeed it proves in the novel. In Persuasion I savage malades imaginaires and people who, though rich, are poor in spirit, mean-mindedness and snobbery (Sir Walter Elliot and his daughter Elizabeth, especially, but also sister Mary the Uppercross moaner), with the effect of dividing young people, against all kind of ‘mortmain’. In Persuasion my satire helps ‘promote’ People of the ‘lower orders’: warm-heartedness, and kind hearts (at Lyme, e.g.), are way above coronets at last. I also satirised arrogance in treatment of the old and poor, and old maids in particular (Emma and Miss Bates in Emma). Satire and irony are themselves enrolled as techniques. I hope this stimulates your own imagination to further discoveries.

with best wishes

Jane Austen

March 14, 2005 22:36:41 (GMT Time)

Name:David Barton                     Top
Question 77 Are there any references to Jane Austen visiting Eastwell Park near Ashford?
Reply Dear David,

Sorry for the delay in responding to your query. You, know, it’s so long since I was living and my biographers are so assiduous that sometimes I feel they must know more about what I was doing than I do myself. Alas! In the indexes of the distinguished and extended biographies by Claire Tomalin, David Nokes, John Halperin, Park Honan and Deirdre Le Faye (in Jane Austen: A Family Record), the place-name you give does not appear. However, in David Waldron Smithers, Jane Austen in Kent (Hurtwood, 1981), there are several mentions, with a handsome illustration, showing that ‘I was there’. ‘George Finch Hatton (1747-1823) married Lady Elizabeth, daughter of the Earl of Mansfield, and their son Daniel married a daughter of the Earl of Warwick. Jane [that’s me!] stayed with them at Eastwell and liked them all but found Lady Elizabeth and her daughter to have little conversation: ‘They came and they sat and they went’ (November 1813), pp.65-66). You may wish to obtain the book yourselves. Once more, I’m sorry for the hold-up.

With best wishes,

Jane Austen

February 7, 2005 23:16:53 (GMT Time)