At the close of each group read we have had on Austen-L, members
have been asked to write up some final concluding thoughts they
have about each novel. So I wrote the following:
I am first of all really glad people are actually writing up their final thoughts and in a candid way now that we have finished our book. We didn't really do it after we finished Emma.
So I'd like to say that yes I agree that many of our differences over MP are the result of how differently some of us identify with this or that character. In MP Austen seems to press some very hot buttons, and call up from within a number of us deep personal affiliations (or obsessions to use a less kindly word). I too identify with Fanny, and though some of my responses are coterminus with Juliet Youngren's, some come from quite different experiences from hers. I'll specify two. First, when I was very young--9 months old--my mother went to back to full-time work permanently. Thus I was farmed out to relatives. I was not poorer than my cousins; in fact, I was richer, but I was still something of an alien. I think the reasons I feel the same chords operating in Jane Eyre is that I am responding to just this aspect in both books which finds an analogue in my personal life. Fanny standing in front of the door and feeling reluctant to go in because she has too often been greeted with anything from indifference to outright hostility or jeers or some shaming experience sends shivers down my spine. I found myself when I went to graduate school among a solidly middle class group of people--who goes for a Ph.D. in English--and as someone from a solidly working class background with a thick Bronx accent and various differing ways I too have learned that when I open the door I am often not wanted. I would rather stand out in the rain and get wet than go in where I shall have to endure what Richard Sennet identified as the hidden injuries of class.
On the other hand I equally identify with Maria Bertram. I kept saying I saw parallels between her and Fanny and perhaps that's because I recognize that apparently radically different responses to the same situation are often not so different as people think. I felt for Maria--and correspondingly when Henry Crawford so expertly, so coolly, so cavalierly was able to brush her off after Sir Thomas came home my flesh crawled at this repellent cool savoir faire.
Here I will not specify personal analogues, but rather say how much I admired Helen Battersby's apt quotations, especially since she accompanied them with her own comments and parsing of them in brackets. One problem with our discussions is that we have not often enough rooted them in the text. It's easy to pervert a text and misread it when you don't quote it. Paraphrasing is a fine art which allows for just one word to be overemphasized or skewed and talking about incidents without the full context allows for similar perversions (on which see below). With respect to Maria and Henry's relationship, I especially admired her quotation at the close of one paragraph and comment as follows:
"She loved him; there was no withdrawing attentions, avowedly dear to her. He was entangled by his own vanity, with as little excuse of love as possible, and without the smallest inconstancy of mind towards her cousin-- [may I interject that people CAN find themselves caught up in adulterous situations even despite true love of their partner]"
I want to say yes oh yes. People still tend to view Austen as an old maid who because she never had a full sexual encounter somehow was naive. No. It seems to me some of the comments we have had which testify to a rigidity of mind which is startling, an either/or response to life are far more naive. Henry loved Fanny deeply, but he had deeply responded to (or loved) Maria too, and one can go to bed with one person while loving another, while indeed not loving or even particularly liking the person you are going to bed with.
My general view is that voiced by Helen and many others that the book is realistic. I find it romantic to demand that people be seen to grow and change. Not everyone has that capacity, and most people when they change change within limits, and in fact Austen shows this again and again and not only in her major characters.
I said I would make a comment on long quotations of texts or other people. I would agree it goes against Netiquette to repeat the whole of someone message with the little triangles on the side and then say something very short, like I agree, or even not so short, as in a few paragraphs. But I like the way John Hopfner and others present us with a genuine conversation, and the last thing I would want to do would be to snip anything. The rejoinders and repartees are part of what makes his postings so enjoyable to read. And I also like the way Henry Churchyard will quote one person sometimes at length and perhaps just make one comment and then go on to another. The medium of a list is hard to turn into a conversation. I am grateful to those who quote texts I don't own (as Henry sometimes does) or give me long lists of information. It saves me work and enables me to judge what they are saying without having to go to look at the book.
I also think most contemporary critics and we here we don't keep the text closely enough in mind. And it's not only that I think the best critical commentary is finally rooted in close reading, but I firmly disagree with what some of us have been suggesting I fear in an effort simply to smooth over differences and make harmony once again as we look forward to NA. I'm for courtesy, civility, kindness at all times, but I don't think that some of the readings of MP we have had in this list are at all supportable. There is such a thing as a perverted and outrageous misreading of a text. John Sutherland in his Is Heathcliff a Murderer does readers of Jane Austen a real service when he makes mince meat of Warren Roberts's Jane Austen and the French Revolution, a book based on the ridiculous idea that Austen was all the more intensely interested in politics because she hardly ever brings it up. We might just as well say she's interested in ghosts, and proceed to talk about the invisible ghosts in her books. Some of the readings of MP that have appeared on this list--and readings of one another's posts have been wrong, have been quite deliberate perversions of a text in order either to attack some perceived failure in value that the writer holds dear or to quell another poster if only by tiring him or her out. It reminds me of Lady Catherine de Bourgh's way of having the last word which Austen knew so grated--and was so successful in its way too. I will not go on to say which ones seemed to me outrageous; this would be invidious and I believe wrong. But that all that we have said here is equally just to MP or Austen or the characters in her book is not so. Rather let us leave it to ourselves each as individuals to decide where we draw the line for something that is subjective and yet true to the text and something that talks about a text that is not there or is hated for reasons that have little to do with it.
I am however glad the strong subjective element in our reading has been brought out firmly by Juliet. This too should be admitted. Too often a reading has been presented as right rather than mine. I think criticism would be much improved if people would begin with their personal response and admit that the reading however objectively demonstrated through the text is nonetheless a product of a particular' sensibility (in our modern sense of the word). Now that makes me think of how I identify with both Marianne and the two Elizas while longing to be more like Elinor and admiring and feel deeply touched by her. But that is another post.