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.