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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

In Defense of Fanny Price

July 10, 2014 | by

Mansfield Park at two hundred.

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A publicity still of Billie Piper as Fanny Price in a 2007 adaptation of Mansfield Park.

Poor Fanny Price. The unabashedly mousy, pathologically virtuous protagonist of Mansfield Park—which turns two hundred this year—is Jane Austen’s least popular heroine. She spends most of the novel creeping around the periphery of the titular park, taciturn and swallowing tears; she tires after the briefest of physical exertions; she looks down on her wealthier cousins for engaging in flirtatious amateur theatrics; and for most of the book’s five hundred pages, she refuses to voice her long-held love for her cousin Edmund.

Austen’s own mother reportedly found Fanny “insipid”; the critic Reginald Farrer described her as “repulsive in her cast-iron self-righteousness and steely rigidity of prejudice.” Even C. S. Lewis—in the voice of his demon Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters—let loose a vitriolic rant about Austen’s most priggish heroine, calling her “not only a Christian, but such a Christian—a vile, sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouselike, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and-butter miss … A two-faced little cheat (I know the sort) who looks as if she’d faint at the sight of blood, and then dies with a smile … Filthy, insipid little prude!” Even if we are to separate Lewis from Screwtape, it’s difficult to see Fanny as anything but, to quote Nietzsche’s famous description, “a moralistic little female à la [George] Eliot.”

And indeed, those who defend Fanny tend to see her as a Christian heroine in the mold of a Dorothea Brooke. As the Austen biographer Claire Tomalin puts it, “it is in rejecting obedience in favor of the higher dictate of remaining true to her own conscience that Fanny rises to her moment of heroism.” But to read Mansfield Park as a kind of Middlemarch is to miss the far more complicated story Austen has told. Fanny Price’s story is less about her individual virtue, or her richer relatives’ lack thereof, but about class, about privilege in its most insidious form—before the term ever cropped up in contemporary social justice discourse. Fanny isn’t moral or upright because she wants to be, but because the role—along with a whole host of so-called middle-class values—is forced upon her. For all we know, she may well wish to be as carefree, as filled with dynamic sprezzatura, as Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennet, Austen’s more fortunate heroines, but the social dynamic, and the circumstances of her birth, deny her the security necessary for such frivolity. Fanny has too much at stake to be easygoing. Read More »

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Cordelia Bleats, and Other News

July 4, 2014 | by

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A production photo from King Lear with Sheep, via Modern Farmer.

  • Edmund Wilson on the Fourth of July circa 1925: “The last random pops and shots of the Fourth—the effortful spluttering and chugging up a hill—the last wild ride with hilarious yells on its way back to New York. Then the long even silence of summer that stretches darkness from sun to sun.”
  • And here’s a handbook for firework design from 1785. (Note: The Paris Review does not endorse the unsupervised construction or detonation of homemade pyrotechnical devices from any era, past or present—unless you’re reasonably sure you know what you’re doing, in which case, have at it.)
  • Forget King Lear with people—that’s old-fashioned. What you want is King Lear with Sheep. “The actors are actually incapable of acting or even recognizing that something is expected of them.” (Because they’re sheep.)
  • “Here’s the problem for someone trying to give Pride and Prejudice a contemporary twist … Jane and Lizzy Bennet are twenty-two and twenty years old, respectively. This means that, in the novel’s world, the two are pretty much teetering on the edge of spinsterhood. The whole twenty-three-year-old-spinster idea will not resonate, of course, with contemporary readers.”
  • Is Moby-Dick something of a roman à clef?

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Clean-Living Canines, and Other News

May 23, 2014 | by

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Carl Reichert, Paar Doggen

  • Jane Austen read her own reviews, and took scrupulous notes: “Austen appears to have compiled the reactions of her readers from letters, hearsay, and direct conversations and recorded them on a set of closely written pages around 1815, before her death at the age of forty-one, two years later.”
  • From now till June 21, you can apply for a residency with Write A House, a new program with a terrific mission: to renovate homes in Detroit and then to give them, permanently, to writers. One of those writers may be you.
  • Dogs have a kind of moral code—one long hidden to humans until a cognitive ethologist named Marc Bekoff began to crack it … If three dogs are playing and one bites or tackles too hard, the other two are likely to give him the cold shoulder and stop playing with him, Bekoff says. Such behavior, he says, suggests that dogs are capable of morality, a mindset once thought to be uniquely human.”
  • Today in artificially intelligent cyborg assassin news: “a team of scientists destined to doom us all has developed the first bionic particles fusing organic materials and synthetic semiconductors, in a project they openly admit is ‘inspired by fictional cyborgs like the Terminator.’”
  • “In 1835, the Finnish linguist Elias Lönnrot published The Kalevala, a compilation of traditional epic poetry. In his home country, The Kalevala is now considered to be one of the most important works of literature of all time … Five photographers traveled to Kainuu in Northeast Finland, the birthplace of The Kalevala, and explored the mythology through contemporary photography.”

 

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Characters Get Together

January 28, 2014 | by

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Wilshire Boulevard ca. 1959. Photo: Roger Wollstadt, via Flickr

There were extenuating circumstances. I was in LA for work, and I had known, intellectually, that it would be warm in California—hot, even. But when you’re deep in a New York winter, who really thinks to pack a sundress?

The lightest thing I had was a pair of jeans. So on a particularly Saharan afternoon, I ducked into a thrift store and grabbed a cotton dress off the rack without trying it on. When I got back to my room and changed, I noticed that the dress was brief. It wasn’t until I had donned my sandals that I realized the dress was in fact too small for me. Oh well, I thought. Better to look silly than to burn, as Saint Paul would most certainly not have said.

The bus let me off some distance from my destination. I didn’t mind; I like to walk. But I was the only pedestrian on that stretch of Santa Monica. Then, as the wind whipped my flimsy skirt up around my thighs, motorists started honking. One car slowed so the driver could catcall me.

If you think this is flattering—and no woman reading this does—think again. Read More »

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Blue Monday, and Other News

January 20, 2014 | by

Edgard Farasijn, Sad News (detail), ca. 1880, oil on canvas.

 

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Darcy and Elizabeth Go to Summer Camp

January 1, 2014 | by

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In honor of the new year, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from the past twelve months. Happy holidays!

This summer, in honor of the Pride and Prejudice bicentennial, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill held its first annual Jane Austen Summer Program, described informally as the “Jane Austen summer camp” and inspired in part by the Dickens Project at UC Santa Cruz. Our correspondent kept an illicit diary of his experiences, excerpted below.

Thursday, June 27

4:35 P.M. I have been hoodwinked into wearing many hats at this conference, some of them literal. E-mails from the braintrust inform me that I am to play Mr. Darcy at the Meryton Assembly on Saturday night, to which end I must shave my beard and attend two sessions of Regency dance instruction, all while perfecting my scowl. During convocation, I scan the order of the dance: “Braes of Dornoch”; the “Physical Snob”; “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot.” The more boisterous sounding the dance, the more I fear for my newly fitted tights and breeches on generous loan from the Playmakers Repertory.

Professor James Thompson of UNC is our first plenary speaker. Thompson explains the etiology of the program, suggests that next year’s gathering will likely focus on Sense and Sensibility, and floats the idea of one day holding a summer conference about “Austen and the Brontës.” From the collective intake of breath, he may as well have been talking of 2Pac and Biggie. Thompson also expresses gentle alarm over suspected "crypto-Trollopians" in audience, a joke that lands with shocking force among this mix of academics, various regional representatives of JASNA, garden-variety superfans, Ladies of a Certain Age Wearing Sun Visors, archaic dance enthusiasts, and one very precocious eleven-year-old who takes notes at each of the plenaries. I give thanks that Thompson is a friend and banish anxiety over the tights. Read More »

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