of the Work
of Jane Austen
Jane Austen 1775-1817
Sense and Sensibility
Pride and Prejudice
Misjudgments ended as individuals learn more about each other
Differences between appearances and reality
a young woman becoming an adult and its difficulties
Moderation and Social Conservatism...
- She sets her novels within the known hierarchy and then examines it.
- The criticism of the system is only ever so far.
- She never envisages an alternative social structure.
- Problems are moral and psychological within characters.
- Whig principles are detectable (eg Darcy)
- There is much that should be systemic - as in Social Anthropology
- Mansfield Park has much reciprocal give and take (compare with structuralism)
- Give and take is for generosity and selfishness - but these acts are personal not systemic.
- Giving can be manipulative and selfish as well as simply taking.
- Yet the context, the environment, is a system (of class out of agriculture).
- The rural life is rooted and understood, and enhances who we are.
- Urban environments are comparatively rootless.
- Whilst the rural class society does elevate bad people, it is always compensated.
- Jane Austen's approach is to say anyone can be good and she opposes snobbery.
- Yet she seems to approve of power so long as it brings outresponsibility and good manners.
- Lesser people can't achieve the potential available.
- She also approves of appreciating good small ordinary pleasures.
- A point may be that human life would be the same whatever the social structure, if she envisaged another.
- People are basically the same.
- Some characters do move between environments, usually between city and country, but they adjust with their moral senses.
- There is also social mobility, but within the realism of the system.
- She describes what she knows
- The small country town
- The village and those in it like shopkeepers.
- Up a bit are lawyers and others (Gardiners in Pride and Prejudice).
- At the top is the landowner (Darcy or Knightley)
- She looks at the noblesse oblige, how important it is to get a good report, wealth and power without social concern (Lady Catherine).
- Our social, psychological and moral behaviour are based on patterns available to us.
- Expectations create maps for living and we take from what is possible.
- Little is free and spontaneous in human relationships.
- Nurture is more significant than nature
- Jane Austen is a social novelist in that she is acutely sensitive to environment and conditioning.
A critic of romanticism...
- Preferred orderly, witty Dr Johnson to Romantics of her day.
- Comedy is based in realism.
- Self-imposed limitations of range in her choice of subject and area of social concern
- Not limited in her awareness and presentation of all that can happen on the human scene.
- Northanger Abbey. Whilst the gothic novel is over sensational and rejected, it nevertheless forms categories and reflects social life.
- Catherine is not going to be haunted like one of Mrs Radcliffe's heroines, although she's not going to be kept awake by the supernatural and storms and other melodramatic paraphernalia, she is kept awake, she is haunted. Northanger Abbey is in its way a haunted house. Villains are social not supernatural.
No central tragedy...
- She is not a tragic novelist.
- The bad things are never the hugely tragic and final.
- She does not put a tragic character at the centre; she is not like Charlotte Bronte
- Emma rather than Jane Fairfax is at the centre
- The seedier side of life is represented, but not at the centre.
- Much is about self-education, realisation and moral improvement.
- Whist there is the threat of falling down this doesn't get to the main characters.
The aim of it all...
- These are happy ever after novels.
- Success is getting a marriage.
- Characters meet, threats are all around and they must get the marriage partner before the end.
- It's the convention, but a symbol that contains all else.
- Genteel ladies without money might marry had to get themselves married off (Charlotte Lucas thus puts up with marrying the creepy vicar Mr Collins).
- The alternative is becoming a governess (Jane Fairfax in Emma suffers Mrs Elton to get the job).
Life is limited and preset...
- How do people know what they know?
- They read it in novels.
- Marianne in Sense and Sensibility had read that she would not be able to fall in love passionately more than once.
- Marianne uses romantic cliches from late eighteenth-century literature.
- In certain kinds of minds, nature imitates art. Harriet copies people in novels
- In Northanger Abbey people are not less in love because they follow expectation.
Approved people and daft people...
- Jane Austen approves of reflective characters.
- Introspection leads to self-discovery.
- Self-knowledge is a virtue (Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Knightley differently in Emma, Anne Elliot subtly in Persuasion).
- Characters held up for readers' moral disapproval are incapable of introspection
- A psychologically deficient character cannot separate selfish purposes from the truth about oneself
- It is possible however to have a good character who is simple, though even here there is some introwpection.
- There is a spectrum from crude caricature to characterisation
- There is the grotesque (like Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice)
- Some of these expand, develop, and learn, whilst others stay as they were (Mr Collins and Lady Catherine).
- There are complex characters like Emma and Anne Elliott.
- In between more subtle complexities (like Harriet in Emma, or Mr Woodhouse).
Characters retain their sense of self throughout, and are not her personality.
Characters by literary style...
- The most complex need an introspective style
- Very conscious "stream of consciousness" results like fiction much later.
- Drama or author's commentary simply would not reveal enough of the character.
- Emma (an "imaginist") works out in her own intelligent mind that she can't be very much in love as there isn't enough struggle involved. Her method is analytically linguistic, looking at her lack of "sacrifice" and being "clever", and self revealing by use of "my delicate negatives".
- Then there is description, a half way house (Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park).
- But description is not needed as the mouth says it all for grotesques.
- A character's dialogue presents itself as vulgar or stupid or indeed sensitive or intelligent.
Complexity and ambiguity...
- Individuality is a complex thing.
- Mr Woodhouse is loving and selfish - forcing his way because he loves, whcih could be selfishness.
- Mansfield Park is a novel without clear moral condition: Fanny Price sees through the stylish, intelligent and witty Crawfords, but Fanny Price is without obvious positive social attributes.
- Is Jane Austen is praising a colourless apparently simple person and condemning style, intelligence and wit?
- Or is she saying that even those with such capacity can be brought down by bad environment and education whilst anyone can rise to be morally strong?
- Fanny and brother William are also superior regarding selfless love.
- But Fanny is a rival of Mary and so there is unclear moral ground here.
- Fanny does have to adjust and fend for herself when away from Mansfield Park's security and in Portsmouth to return to her family, so makes adjustment.
Summary points from a dialogue between David Daiches and Barbara Hardy, in Watts, C. (intro.) (1976), The English Novel, Questions in Literature series, London: Sussex Books, 15-30.