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Dear friends and readers,

I was reminded of the central perspective I take on Austen's books for my study of the Austen films by a recent thread on the Austen lists and a query a friend sent me about a paper she's writing on Mansfield Park. I found myself skim-rereading Avrom Fleishman's brilliant innovative Reading Mansfield Park, skim-rereading Isobel Armstrong's little intertextual and close reading of Mansfield Park (done from the same by then consensus point of view), and two excellent  close-reading articles specifically on the star-gazing scene between Edmund and Fanny at Mansfield: Maggie Lane's "Star-Gazing with Fanny Price," Persuasions, 28 (2006):150-165 and. Kathryn Libin "Harmony, Nature, and the Unmusical Fanny," Persuasions 28 (2006):150-65

The scenes are done so movingly in the 1983 BBC  and 2007 Mansfield Parks (screenplays Ken Taylor and Maggie Wadey respectively):

The lines come from the book almost verbatim in the 1983 MP -- the use of the window adds a strong contemporary element:  looking out a window to see a dream image is a common motif of the era (Sylestre Le Tousel as Fanny, Nicholas Farrell as Edmund)

But nearby there is the allurement of the glamorous Mary Crawford, and the vanity  and sexual competition of the Bertram girls over Henry Crawford

It's a passage that fits into the childhood education, memory/imagination themes of the novel, order, peace: the 1983 movie has Edmund recite these lines from Cowper -- Scenes must be beautiful which daily views please daily/Whose novelty survives long knowledge and the scrutiny of years.  It's a passage that fits into the childhood education, memory parts of the novel.  Fanny and Edmund both are not keen on the social world. They are happiest loving to study and read together; Mary's music and her harp are part of the artificial world, the social one.  Fanny certainly is losing out against Mary for Edmund at this point, true, but in the end she will win Edmund -- as nature, order, peace, memory rooted in the past.


Again the pair star-gaze but this time the language is derived from their shared desire to escape the parties and vanities outside, an explicit rejection of experience of social life (Billie Pipe as Fanny, Blake Ritson as Edmund)

Something is lost by putting them under columns, and yet this motif found in Hubert Robert paintings where the feel is similarly retreat into picturesque feels right

Austen's lines are dropped as I say and escape through dreams and reverie is the idea here. But they do escape, as they cannot in Lost in Austen (2009). . In the sadness of star-gazing of Jane and Mr Bennet, the social world seeps in and impinges everywhere even in Austen land.

09 Lost in Austen (Hugh Bonneville as Mr Bennet, and Morven Christie as Jane)

POV, Amanda also standing by helplessly; here the social world impinges on the private one (Jemima Rooper as Amanda)

Here Mr Bennet has been escaping by studying the new astronomy; he can do nothing he feels to save Jane from marrying Mr Collins. The gazing is very sad.  The POV on the second far shot is Amanda's: again we have columns, only this time accompanied by modern touches of a chair on wheels. Perhaps the darkness of candlelight is overdone:

There's a Chekhovian feel to the novel and yearning that is found in the 83 and 07 movies; the 09 has lost its connection with the earlier idealized city (Moscow) and seeks to retreat in Austen land itself.

Maggie Lane's essay  is centrist, nothing we didn't expect, but well done. Lane says the passage is about artistry and MP is reflexively about what is beautiful art. Kathryn Libin "Lifting the Heart to Rapture" on sublimity and music is also nothing revolutionary but is good: it's about sublimity, what is the true sublime. The landscapes of the skies matches the landscapes of Cowper and Mansfield Park. Sublimity links Burke and Radcliffe to MP. There is something very Shelley like in Fanny -- and makes me think of what Elinor wryly calls Marianne's passion for dead leaves & anticipates Shelley's ode to the west wind.

For my part I think the 1983 and 2007 MP reflect accurately some of the most profound themes of the novel (if truncated in 2007 MP).  The novel's Christianity is implicit not explicit but this is part of God's heavens. In Elective Affinities (Goethe) the stars also play a role as there is a serious theme about astronomy and mathematics as reflecting the world's order and this comes into Lost in Austen intuitively.

As for Avrom Fleishman's book on political novels, his witty ironic essay on Emma exposing the heroine as possibly neurotic, and certainly an obtuse hypocrite when it comes to her behavior, especially about sex. Basically he accepts Lukacs and has no women historical novelists except as tokens; he also sees the limitations of Wayne Booth's naive love for Emma as an cynosure of all the ideals of womanhood that inhabit his middle to upper class mind.

So it's no surprise that there are some limitations in his basically fine and insightful book on MP.  He's a normalizer.  Written in 1967 it shows that "way back" then people did read Austen aright and they saw the significance of the slavery part of the novel. Fleishman demonstrates that MP is a serious critique of the society of which MP is the pinnacle. It's not a defense of the society, but it is not a "plea for connection" or connectedness. Only one of its subjects is the misery that isolation can bring; the novel does stand up for retreat  For seeking refuge where you can if you are lucky enough to land in it. Austen does not hate her characters (Crawfords) for their refusal for "full self-realization" because they are subtle versions of Fielding's Biflil.  They don't recognize as "self-realization" what Austen does, she presumes her reader might; they don't know why they are half-miserable. They just are.

I did think the Fleishman pulls a kind of fast one when he tries to push away the problem that Austen is not conscious of the depths of what she is seeing by the argument and demonstration that "the psychology of Jane Austen's novels is clarified by modern discoveries, but is not dependent on them." In other words he says that she sees what he is seeing though she does not have the language to say it in reasoned words. I'm not sure of that. No where in her letters or as her narrator do we see any full sign she does understand the kind of morality based on the amorality of all around us, what I'd call the bleakness she sees.  We do not know that she is upheld by some faith in some other order "beyond" in the way of Fielding either for he says he is explicitly, puts a providential design in his books so they end full circle on a benign order. Austen's books do not end this way.  They end in petered out ironies with a few characters forming a new circle in which to "struggle and endure" with one another.

His error over where the dialogue on the stars occurs (he thinks it's at Sotherton) occurs is unimportant.  It's not at all true that people didn't vet articles in the 1960s. If anything they proof read more carefully.  The Net is a red herring in this argument.  What happens on it is irrelevant; it has just added to an explosion of scholarship and information added both in public and through places like JStor.

I was cheered to see in his bibliography many others taking off from Trilling at the time. For his essay builds on Trilling.  Trilling is the more accurate than he. Trilling faces up to the novel. So (I recall) does Tanner.  Isobel Armstrong is what I'll read next -- she takes a feminist turn on Fleishman and Trilling -- probably through Tanner and  intertextualities. She read MP in terms of other books in the era the way she does S&S.



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 13th, 2011 01:50 pm (UTC)
Parallels with Radcliffe, Scott, Goethe
Diane R wrote this morning of Udolpho:

I have embarked on a summer read of the Mysteries of Udolpo. So far I have completed the first chapter. Radcliffe spends a good deal of time on lyrical descriptions of the naturalworld, and as Ellen writes of the stargazing scene in Mansfield Park, nature versus civilization is established in the first chapter as a dichotomy, where the simplicity and purity of the natural life Emily and her parents lead is contrasted to the artifice, corruption, deceit and destructiveness of civilized (court) life as described by the family's visiting relatives. I do see parallels to Austen, especially MP, in the concerns for cutting down trees to "improve" estates. I found especially lovely the father's description of the old tree with the hollow that could hold a dozen (?) people and where he would sit as a child, entirely protected from the rainfall by its dense leaf cover.

At the end of chapter one, Emily's mother dies, and I was catapulted forward to some of the 19th century literature I have been looking at, particularly Uncle Tom's Cabin and the death of Little Eva, and the death of the mother in Far, Far World and of the grandfather in Queechy. I thought about how seldom death enters an Austen novel, and how differently she handles it. The only deaths I can actually think of are the Dashwood father in S &S and the reported death of Mrs.
Tilney in NA. Henry Tilney is at pains to de-romanticize that death, and the death of Mr. Dashwood has no Christian, redemptive quality -- on the contrary, it is the vehicle for showing the hardness and self-deception of the human heart."

Edited at 2011-06-13 01:51 pm (UTC)
Jun. 13th, 2011 01:50 pm (UTC)
Parallels with Radcliffe, Scott, Goethe
The nature versus artifice is also found in Scott and Goethe. Cottom's The Civilized Imagination is on Austen, Radcliffe and Scott. Another figure focusing on this is Goethe. They all find like Sade that nature is as dangerous as artifice.

I don't know what edition of _Udolpho_ Diane is reading; the Oxford World classics has an introduction by Terry Castle which while it may go overboard in claiming the gothic feel of the book has been overdone, makes the point that this early chapter is sentimental. Emily grieving too much is very like Marianne and her mother. An implicit lesson here is against the sensibility which (unlike Austen in the early part of S&S_) Radcliffe nonetheless herself just drowns us in. Still the explicit message is to warn Emily against this.

Like the Dashwoods, Emily also has hard relatives and must go live with a cold-hearted and ultimately foolish (for which she will be punished) status-seeking aunt.

The book is a sort of S&S too. People have repeatedly likened threads and themes in Romance of the Forest to S&S. I have a student essay on line where the student does this. She was influenced by my lectures:


I also agree with Diane's important point. These are secular deaths, and a secular perspective. Radcliffe we know was a liberal Whig. Ellen
Jun. 25th, 2011 04:39 am (UTC)
MP and Udolpho
I am still working my way through chapter 4 of Udolpho. This is one of several passages so far that speak directly of deity--I can't remember such overt references in Austen, though perhaps I am forgetting something. To me, it is an interesting contrast, especially to MP,where Christianity is clearly a subtext--or at least ordination and clergy issues are--and Fanny has thoughts similar to the below--or at the narrator does--but never so overtly religious. As an aside, I began reading Udolpho thinking it would remind me of NA, not MP! A lovely surprise.

Udolpho--chapter 4:

From the consideration of His works, her mind arose to the adoration of the Deity, in His goodness and power; wherever she turned her view, whether on the sleeping earth, or to the vast regions of space, glowing with worlds beyond the reach of human thought, the sublimity of God, and the majesty of His presence appeared. Her eyes were filled with tears of awful love and admiration; and she felt that pure devotion, superior to all the distinctions of human system, which lifts the soul above this world, and seems to expand it into a nobler nature; such devotion as can, perhaps, only be experienced, when the mind, rescued, for a moment, from the humbleness of earthly considerations, aspires to contemplate His power in the sublimity of His works, and His goodness in the infinity of His blessings.

Radcliffe, Ann Ward (2006). The Mysteries of Udolpho (Kindle Locations 937-942). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Edited at 2011-06-25 04:40 am (UTC)
Jun. 25th, 2011 04:41 am (UTC)
MP and Udolpho
I just love that long passage Diane quoted. It reminds me of why I prefer _Udolpho_ to _Emma_ :) and why I like Radcliffe so, even better than Smith (who I know I ought to like better ,so to speak). If it's no trouble to copy and paste from the Kindle set up, I'll never tire of these.

As to Diane's comments: while I'd love to agree and say Austen had this passage in mind, I have to be honest and say 1) it's rather they are both on the same wavelength of the era; and 2) Radcliffe generally educated Austen. I think Austen learned her inward techniques from Radcliffe above all. Radcliffe, Smith, Edgeworth and Burney set the terms, the plot-designs that she followed. So I wouild use the passage as analogously illuminating the meaning of the passage in MP. Unless you have _idiosyncratic detail_ unique to the two books, you can't argue for source. Samuel Johnson said that long ago.

It shows a trend of mind the two shared of course. Note the absent mother in _Emma_. The dying father and grief for him in _S&S_ And now I'll go out on another heterodox limb: I don't thnk Austen was religious; the reason there is little overt religion in her novels not even generally in the way of Radcliffe was her impulses were basically secular. She could not see beyond the limited family world she lived in or get much literature to help her build another world view (say from Rousseau, or other philosophes) so it's more like Johnson who also has been wrongly Christianized. The man had doubts that's why he dreaded death too. Lately there's been articles saying the prayers attributed to Austen are by Charles. No one knows for sure.

Jun. 25th, 2011 04:43 am (UTC)
Fanny's genius and rhapsody
I would say that Fanny thinks her mind "formed" by Edmund, but Edmund is more than a little dense and obtuse. He has guided her reading, but when it comes to moral judgements, it's clear he becomes very muddled. All that is meant by forming her mind is her reading; that's a lot and not to be neglected, but that is all.

She has her own inner genius. It's that idea that differentiates her; so too Austen's other superior characters.

There are older essays on the Enlightenment that deal with this but the best discussions (clearest, easiest, with passages quoted that are important) are still to be found in William K. Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks, Literary
Criticism: A short history, Chapters 13-16. This will take you through a history of attitudes, from Addison and Lessing through "genius, emotion and association" where the heart of this lies. It's true her characters correspond to the neo-classical universal concepts, that is they are not the product of specific and immediate cultural changes as a result of milieu (that is adumbrated by Scott and developed in 19th century fiction). But she consciously probably thought of herself as believing human nature is everywhere the same across the board. The rhapsodic didacticism you are seeing in Radcliffe and to a lesser extent Austen are consonant with Shelley.


Edited at 2011-06-25 04:44 am (UTC)
Jun. 25th, 2011 04:50 am (UTC)
By Charles?
Diana B asked where the article saying the prose prayers may be by Charles is.

To which I replied:

I'm afraid I don't remember where it came from precisely. I think it was an article by Margaret Doody where she also demonstrated (to my satisfaction) that the playlet Sir Charles Grandison though it may be partly in Austen's hand is not by Austen. The prayers are not even in Austen's hand. It's one of the family's pious traditions. The last thing Austen wrote was that satiric poem she dictated to Cassandra. That tells the woman's real spirit: satiric and there ironically pagan to the last.


Edited at 2011-06-25 04:50 am (UTC)
Jun. 25th, 2011 11:47 am (UTC)
Emma and Udolpho
Diane R:


Thanks for the info on Mrs. Austen--perhaps a touch of the Mrs. Bennett ...

I think of Fanny K when I read the following, Emma's thoughts as she surveys Done-well Abbey during the strawberry party:

"The house was larger than Hartfield, and totally unlike it, covering a good deal of ground, rambling and irregular, with many comfortable and one or two handsome rooms. It was just what it ought to be, and it looked what it was; and Emma felt an increasing respect for it, as the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding. Some faults of temper John Knightley had; but Isabella had connected herself unexceptionably. She had given them neither men, nor names, nor places, that could raise a blush. These were pleasant feelings, and she walked about and indulged them till it was necessary to do as the others did, and collect round the strawberry beds."

Of course, as manyhave noted, it's highly ironic that an abbey, probably forcefully seized during the reign of Henry VIII and given as a reward to a family that crassly supported him, would be seen by Emma as "the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding."
Jun. 25th, 2011 11:47 am (UTC)
_Emma_ v _Udolpho_: or Austen v Radcliffe
Must not lean or press too heavily on this, but the perspective we have here on Radcliffe's Udolpho versus or and Austen's MP and Emma, reveals (as literary scholars of Radcliffe who have read her Summer Tour and with real attention her Romance of the Forest suggest), Radcliffe was the much more liberal, progressive: she was a whig. With this attitude of mind we find her in veins that anticipate or create (Keats called her Mother Radcliffe) the romantic point of view which includes a view of the human imaginative which undermines the established order. Austen is o the other side in this; "back" there with the older classical or neo-classical point of view when it comes to religion (she's simply conventionally an upper class 18th century outlook which was secularizing). So _Emma_ for example, is the conservative Tory book in comparison with _Udolpho_. That Emma is rewarded at the end shows that Austen forgives her her egregious near-destruction of Harriet's future, her interference, her being a mild version of Mrs Elton (with all her ruthless harassment of Jane Fairfax over triumphing over her imposing a governess job and thus putting her in a lower place than she Mrs Elton). While until near the end or until Emma insults and then (my goodness how big of her) visits Miss Bates (in Austen there is no apology), she is a subject of hard satire and exposure, after that it's okay what she is. Austen is aware of this and has her say she's the sort of person who demands all bow to her and then they do it to let us know she's not changed, but she does give her the big prize of the novel. In all her novels we see her be-prize the characters she approves of. For me it makes Emma have a distinct odor when one thinks of passages just like the one Diane quoted about how this abbey has all this untainted and ancent blood.

At some level or with one part of her mind, Austen knew her mockery of the gothic was political and disliked the gothic for its subversion too.

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