We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Janeism in a Snarky, Pornified & Desperate Era · 29 April 06

Dear Harriet,

Thank you for alerting me to the new Janeisms in blogs on the Net. I steeled the inner woman and went over to read a few after reading the description you sent me of the new Austenblogs online:

"If you really want to see what the New Janeite is, you have to dip into Austenblog, if you haven’t already. Pemberley is like some kind of 1950s Janeite, all feminine, no brain. Austenblog is something else … these are the ones getting just familiar enough with the ins and outs of JA culture that they’re preening themselves because of it. It’s a giveaway that their emblem is of a cup of tea ‘with snark.’ ... It’s a hard kind of nastiness, suspicion, intolerance, thinking they are dead right and everybody else is a fool – very off-putting attitude."

They’re vacuous. Austenblogger is probably by one individual who doesn’t tell her legal name anywhere. Another reminded me of the woman on Janeites who produced an essay collection (was it?) of Austen as the earliest chick-lit, the woman who went on about Jane Austen "kicking ass." I didn’t read enough to get to any sarky/snarky stuff, but could see it would fit. The phrase (I won’t repeat it) is part of the buying into mindless macho violence and part of the increasingly porn aesthetic seeping into the "art" we’re surrounded by. But then I clicked on, and eventually came to a picture of the Austen home life that reminded me of the cosy sentimentality nostalgia of Edward Austen-Leigh (by a 20 year old from Stanford). While some of my female students wear clothes that make them look like Barbie dolls in lingerie (complete with spangles on their erotics zones, i.e., where their nipples are in their blouses), others write descriptions of pregnancy and babies that are unreal gush, cloying flat idealizations worthy 4th rate Victorian keepsake albums. Perhaps you’re right and these blogs add new sneers and a sense of entitlement. Your own phrase though says it all: "It’s all facile – nothing sinks in ‘for real’."

I do agree that the new Janeism on the Net connects to "ads for college Girls Gone Wild videos (with the girls offering blow jobs as if it were the equivalent of inviting someone in for a cup of coffee), the hard-edged journalism" and blogs which contain superficial naive preening.

And yes in the comments in the plain diary blogs, one can come across a "chorus of up to 100 comments all simpering, ‘How wonderful you are!’ ‘You are so brave!’ ... ‘You are such a penetrating writer!’": "What is this lemming like instinct everybody seems to have to chorus in with sighing, admiring, positive comments? Why the hell don’t people say what they really think?" You’re right. They are not naming themselves and need not present a social self. My guess is they are being supportive and thus presenting themselves as good people before their own eyes. This sort of thing can be dangerous, for real physical life can erupt onto the Net: this happened in the case of Allison Crews1 (vide this one) who died of a drug that probably should not have been on the market (and this take on the unfortunate young woman).

Two pictures. One, a Vogue photo I found near a site filled with pornographic images of actresses—there were dozens of nude photos of women who presumably want to have a respectable career, who chase after Emmys and Oscars and Golden Globe awards; we would not have seen anything like that from actresses until the last 15 years. (Women may have had to go to bed with men to get jobs acting, but they didn’t advertise themselves as open whores). The photo transforms the imagery and familiar characters of The Wizard of Oz into disturbingly louche individuals drawn helplessly to a leering New York City:

The other, a shimmering art photo by Laurie Simmons’s (born 1969 and exhibited in the Met): Pink Bathroom (1984) shows us a woman turning herself into a doll.

She looks in a dark mirror and sees a bare head with nothing on it. The thought may be one I read last night in John Stuart Mill’s Subjection of Women: "What is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing—the result of forced repression in some directions, unnatural stimulation in others."

Who wouldn’t want out? Do read Hilary Mantel on anorexia in this dark light.

On Wompo, the members were citing living women poets who they said were "essential" to them. Well, not LeCarré (says she smiling, nor even Miss Sayers). Jane Austen’s 6 famous books are for me essential texts if by essential what is meant is writing that has shaped my life and meant so much to me that I really think I would have been different but for it, or at least it provided a rationale for me to make some central choices in behavior or outlook. And what did it provide? A genuinely intelligent counterweight of irony and idealism – and yes, prudence.

I also like this meditation on the difference between physical or real life and virtual or writing selves:

"The people I’ve really liked most on the net, I wonder if I would ever have become friends with them if we’d met in person and I only knew them through their social persona, not their writing. What is truly disconcerting is that most of the people – no, practically all of them – who are my real life chosen friends, if I had met them through their writing, I’d never have paid another
second’s attention to them! Science and math types…people who are thoughtful and observant or cheery and funny, but who write like sixth graders…It makes you wonder about the nature of
friendship. And then there’s that awful moment of truth, when you first see what somebody you like, actually writes like. It reveals everything…"

I particularly like this comment: "It makes you wonder about the nature of friendship." I’ve been brooding about this for the last couple of years, as well as how groups of people (inaccurately labelled society or communities) really organize themselves. A way to look at Net friendships positively is simply that you never would have gotten a chance to reach the part of the person that means and fulfills a part of you they couldn’t have reached. What happened to that part before the Net? It rarely had fulfillment.

So new parts of us can flower here. And some of this on blogs, but blogs are only as deep or intelligent or knowledgeable or truthful as the people who write them.

I couldn’t agree more that, "As females we are receptacles of perception, and it is a great adventure to drink in and reflect the world as we do," this seems to suggest you agree with me that there is a different way of seeing the world which is intrinsical feminine, female—whether culturally induced or reinforced it’s hard to say. For me as you know Austen is an English 18th century fount of l’écriture-femme.

I meant to tell you that Mr Drake and I put out on our sidewalk in front of our house some of the accumulated utter junk (he calls it shit) of 25 years which we’ve been stowing in our attic. This includes the original ancient and filthy storm windows we found on this house when we first rented it. In less than 10 minutes a heavy-set man in an old truck dressed in overalls was prowling through it to see if there was anything he could snatch away. People came to take old bags of sand, of white stones, one roller skate, feeble lawn chairs, the left-over stool of a 38 year old wooden kitchen chair we sat on the first year we were married.

Tomorrow is Spring Cleaning Day in our neighborhood and the same scene has been enacted this evening in front of many houses: someone puts out a pile of disgusting garbag-y items, and within the hour other people seem to emerge from some hole on the ground and can be seen crawling all over the pile. Could they be that desperate? Some takers come in SUVs and decent clothes; no matter, none of them have any shame whatsoever, no more than people in my neighborhood who put such stuff on their lawns and hold "yard sales." It reminds me of how Hilary Clinton made out a tax form one year where she claimed $6 items. Before she was President’s wife and Senator, I bet she’d have had a yard sale.

I had better get to bed. Tomorrow we go to Sweet Briar to attend Yvette’s recital, on Sunday another concert and a May Day celebration. Caroline and Rob will be there and so too our digital camera.

Sylvia Drake

1 What to do? I read LeCarré’s The Constant Gardener with my students, show the film, assign Marcia Angell’s "The Body Hunters". How can one prevent the pharmaceuticals from hurting vulnerable people? Remarkably stupid defenses of her (defenses. Dr B too) were put on the Net after this young woman’s death.

Posted by: Ellen

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  1. When I first read it, I thought it said Jainism. I forgot what Jainism is.
    Jennica    Apr 30, 7:08am    #
  2. Dear Jennica,

    Janeism is a word for people who are mindlessly enamoured of Jane Austen. It was first used by Henry James, and the type he meant Miss Schuster-Slatt finds typical of the Republic of Pemberley. I should have explained.

    Her idea (and I agreed) is Janeism has gone into a new phase. Reading the Austenbloggers, I thought I found the older gush-sentimental anti-sex outlook there too.

    jim    Apr 30, 7:32am    #
  3. Miss Schuster-Slatt wrote to Janeites as follows the other day:

    "Jeannie, I fully agree, and was also fully aware, of everything you so eloquently say about the difference between first passionate but maybe trivial or wrong headed love and a really good long time mellowed marriage: I know this from personal experience as well as intellectually. But I was making two distinctions. One, there may still be a difference between a long happy mature marriage that started with the passionate spark – and one which is perhaps equally happy but arose from a different commencement. Secondly, there is that revealing fact that in the particular relationship between Marianne and Brandon, Jane Austen deliberately never lets us see them enjoying each other’s company, or Marianne liking Brandon in any way except feeling sorry for him. She tells us Marianne will love "in time," and we believe her, but my point is that I think the full blown mature marriage that begins with a spark, may in some way, perhaps subtly, be different from the full blown mature (and happy) marriage, that comes from other beginnings. We know that even some arranged marriages can be more wonderful and work out far more successfully than incredibly romantic love matches that fizzle and fail. But I wonder…because Peter and I were insanely passionate young lovers, and now we are a pair of fat incredibly prosaic middle aged people who have been faithful to each other in mind and body for nearly 40 years. Yet when I look into his sparkling dark eyes and he into mine, there is that familiar and exciting click of recognition, the whole passionate past of unique personal union rises up when we give each other that special smile. Our first fine careless rapture is still alive; if only warmly hallowed in memory, it is still glowing, and our trust has never been broken: a rare and wonderful thing. Neither of us ever loved anybody else, and we are each other’s solace. I know this isn’t common, but I think it is what Jane Austen (who never had it but found her joy elsewhere) awarded to a few of her characters in marriage.

    Jeannie wrote:

    <"This may be why the love of Elizabeth/Darcy, Anne/Wentworth, and Emma/Knightley is more satisfying to us. They are NOT heedlessly passionate romances -- not in the sense of Willoughby..."

    Right. They're not. They're tested, refined, matured. But if the couples weren't "in love at first sight" (and Peter and I weren't - we knew each other for years as friends, I was even married as a teenager to someone else, before falling in love!) their love was founded with a healthy alloy of physical and romantic attraction. We *feel* the passion between each of these couples. It rises off the page. It's why her novels are so sexy. :-)

    Jane Austen tells us Marianne is truly happy in her marriage, because "Marianne could never love by halves." Jane Austen is never wrong, and I believe Marianne was happy in a mature, tempered, loving marriage. I don't doubt that she loved her husband deeply. But I think that her marriage lacked the component of personal physical romantic attraction. It wasn't 100% there. Jane Austen makes very sure to tell us everything Marianne wanted *was* there, in her carefully use of the "could never love by halves" line. I think that everything the "broken," experienced Marianne wanted, was there, yes. Let's look at the text again, for Jane Austen was nothing if not exact: Marianne's "whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby." Note the choice of words! Her heart is devoted - yes. She dearly, tenderly loves her husband and father of her children, not by halves, and the strength of this feeling is as complete and intense as her DEVOTION ever was to WIlloughby.

    Right. But Jane Austen *does not say,* and carefully omits ever giving the impression, that Marianne feels the physical passionate romantic passion she felt for Willoughby, just as intensely now for Brandon. Marianne's not loving "by halves," refers to her unshakable devotion, which I certainly believe in wholeheartedly.

    I therefore conclude - and I'm glad I looked into this - that Marianne has a very, very happy, devoted, loving, warm marriage. But she never again recaptures that passionate feeling. And that passionate feeling is a clear component in the marriages between Darcy and Elizabeth, Anne and Wentworth, etc. Oh yes it is! And oh no it isn't between Marianne/Brandon! Jane Austen is saying it is *possible* to be wholly happy in a devoted marriage that did not stem from an intense passion. But that marriage (and this is all I am saying, do not envy it) is in its nature a little different than one that *does* stem from an initial, original intense passion. They're just - not - quite - the - same. Yet Marianne may not have *wanted* that anymore: *she was burnt once.* She isn't someone who's going from passion to passion.

    Oh, just look at her choice of words and see if I'm not right: < she found herself, at nineteen, submitting to new attachments

    Submitting. Hm. A dutiful word...Would that exact phrase be used about Elizabeth? No.

    Austen wrote":

    <"and that Marianne found her own happiness in forming his, was equally the persuasion and delight of each observing friend.

    Persuasion! Her friends were "persuaded" - but with Jane Austen's carefully chosen words, she specifically avoids saying they were *right* in their persuasion. These are the same friends who wanted to force her into that marriage, and now desperately want to believe that they were right!

    <"They each felt his sorrows and their own obligations, and Marianne, by general consent, was to be the reward of all."

    By general consent! But there's something a little odd about a marriage made by general consent. A true love is not made to please the general family. Was Anne's marriage made by general consent? Was Emma's?

    I think these little hedging language indications show us that Jane Austen is not talking about a marriage that is quite the same as an Elizabeth/Darcy, Anne/Wentworth, Emma/Knightley marriage. Marianne *is* completely devoted. She adores her kind, dear husband. She must be eternally thankful to have such a fine life - more than she ever expected, since she expected to fall sacrifice to an irresistible passion, or live with her mother. Marianne didn't WANT irresistible passion anymore. She was cured of that. She was a new, healed Marianne, a girl who had been broken, who had been through things the other heroines never went through, and was *fundamentally changed.* She didn't get passion in her marriage, as other lovers in Austen (including Elinor and Edward), eventually did - irresistible passion *in the framework* of well burnished, sane, happy marriage. I rest my case.

    Examining the text a bit more I find something else interesting...the phrase, that Marianne first planned on "remaining even for ever with her mother, and finding her only pleasures in retirement and study" - tenderly stated as if it is a noble thought, but still a little exaggerated and silly. As if Marianne, in her laudable effort to reform, was going a little too far in making such a resolution. A little like her earlier dramatic declarations of never finding a man she could marry. Marianne is still Marianne. But what's interesting is that this decription, presented ironically here, is actually not far off from being a description of what Jane Austen's own life was! She lived with her mother - she worked at her books. Her life was largely retired. She didn't have this deeply happy marriage. Yet one of the many things I love about her - and one of the many reasons I'm in awe of her - is the rationality, balance, and unembittered quality of her mind, her contentment with her lot. I always think of Anne's reflection that she preferred her own elegant mind to anyone else's pleasures, as what Jane Austen must have thought about herself.

    How many facets to that mind...I may not believe in Secret Subtexts as Arnie does, but I do believe that minute examination of the words Jane Austen chooses reveal more - and more - and more."

    In reply I wrote:

    We've argued so often about the rightness and nature of Brandon and Marianne's match at the end, I call it an old argument. Other old arguments are about the attractiveness of Edward, the Fanny Price's character. Where you stand tells more about you than Austen I suspect. Austen does invite personal replies of this type -- it's what is at the center of all Janeisms.

    I think Brandon and Marianne's marriage is supposed to be as ideal as Elinor and Edward's -- that is to say, both have flawss of self-blindness as the characters do. Brandon is the man of sensibility of the book, its disillusioned romantic, melancholy (like Marianne) and highly moral. Willoughby is callow, self-centered, one whose lies do real harm. It's true that Austen often keeps sexual feeling implicit and subtextual, but the closing paragraphs of S&S are de-eroticized -- as are the closing paragraphs of Emma.

    What I'd infer from this in the case of Sense and Sensibility is the point of view we find in Edith Wharton at the close of Summer, where the romantic young girl is impregnated, the cad deserts her for a rich woman, and the kind older man then gets to possess her. Austen is not as bleak for Brandon has many sterling qualities and her couple will be happy, but Marianne's was a prudent choice given what the world is and her vulnerabilities.

    Speaking as Elinor's sister,

    chava    May 1, 7:57am    #
  4. Miss Schuster-Slatt wrote off-blog:

    "I was a little bemused by that piece by Allison who died – it seemed 1000% clear to me that she did not write the blog about being a 15-year-old mother. No 20-year-old girl did. And someone commenting on her death mentioned it was no hoax – which set all my alarm bells ringing. Funny word to use, since it was just what I’d been thinking! But then I did read her blog, and that was real enough, she was a lesbian. Her style was nothing like the one on that Mom site, so I guess she did get some professional writing help with that. Perhapsshe committed suicide in some way but who knows? The whole thing is very strange.

    I replied:

    Very interesting what you said about Allison -- she died from a drug that has since been taken off the market so her death could be attributed to lax standards in the overseeing US agency. Early on in blogging I got myself into bad trouble over this case. I wrote a blog where I said I thought the great happiness couldn’t be sincere, and wondered if she had been depressed. How had her family treated her? (Psychologists say very important in people who are led to self-destruct is family non-support and destructiveness.) I noticed the long working hours, and of course child care is hard work and continuous. I actually had her mother writing to me, justifiably crazed and angered over hideous postings on the Net attacking the poor girl. There had been postings appearing to believe the unbelievabe assertions of utter contentment and self-esteem (Dr B's or Bitch's among them), and postings from reactionary types attacking the girl, Dr B and all "leftists" and "liberal thinking."

    I deleted that blog. It taught me a lesson not to write about living individuals even if the Net seems vast. It is a lightning rod story. I had not thought the thing was a hoax or written or polished by someone else in the first place.

    Miss Drake
    chava    May 7, 7:21am    #

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