". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

This, written by William Deresiewicz, in the New Yorker, concerning Jane Austen the writer, is as appropriate today as in the days when Jane Austen declined for her readers the appropriate time and place of sense and sensibility. As admirers of this writer too often we forget or ignore or never realized that Austen was formed more by the Enlightenment of the 18th century than by England's coming Romantic Revolution ( -- which, perhaps then, helped hold a revolution such as France experienced at bay?)

"When we turn to Austen—and above all, to “Pride and Prejudice”—the qualities that come to mind are confidence, mastery, serenity, and tact. Especially tact. She spares us knowledge of herself, leaves us free to read the story through the window of her perfectly transparent prose. She doesn’t tax us with her personality. She keeps her feelings out of it—not her judgments, her feelings, and she never confuses the two.

“Pride and Prejudice” discredits one of our most deeply held beliefs: the idea that emotions have an absolute validity. Feelings are not right or wrong, we say; they just are. Or rather, feelings are always right, because they are—and we always have a right to them. It is a notion that was promulgated by the same feminism that helped to elevate Austen to her current eminence. So much of the feminist struggle involved asserting the legitimacy of women’s feelings. Emotions—the reality of female discontent within the patriarchal system—were the bedrock, in a sense, of the feminist argument.

But in the story of Elizabeth and how she learned to change her mind, Austen tells us something different. ... "

Again, one wonders why some (particularly genre writers and readers) persist in setting up straw men of academic and critical and feminist disdain for Austen. Is it to bolster their own sense of selves as legitimate critcs that they persist, over and over and over, against all facts (like t-baggers) in high horseing scholars, academics and literature students as knowing nothing -- while so often getting wrong the actual facts of Austen's life, times and career, or leaving out essential matters?
How many feminists have you heard sneer at Austen?
Way back when still in graduate school for my combination history and literature degree, all the women in it with me were feminists, and all of them adored Austen. Some of them even adored Heyer (that was an enthusiasm I was unable to share). I haven't seen that change much since then -- though it was indeed long ago now, and perhaps the newest generation is different. For one thing the English department and the study of literature is so well-proven now to be no lead to employment outside of being a student. The English departments have in many programs cut out their grad programs all together as their own funding, like that of all the humanities has been cut-cut-cut, and more and more English dept. faculty are made to act as admin assistants to Administration. As well the hip humanities focus is now on identity politics and culture, which tends to by- pass -- and even be actively hostile to -- our tremendous heritage of English literature.
So maybe, yeah?

But still, not among the feminists I know, young or old, will you find disdain for Austen.

In fact, even Tah-Nehisi Coates has fallen for Jane Awesome, as he calls her, in his quest to learn how to write the best fiction he can.

Hmm, I see the suggestion I made at the Book View Cafe blog that the most daring thing Austen did in P&P was to show Charlotte Lucas making herself a good marriage with Reverend Collins has shown up on the Atlantic too.

This is how I put it on the Book View Cafe:

In just about every case the young women searching for marriage in Austen’s novels do very well, ultimately. What is brilliant about Austen is she shows an enormous spectrum of successful marriages.
Even those we may turn our noses up at, as mercenary and grasping for security, are successful, because the women got what they wanted and they make it work for them — like Charlotte Lucas who manages to make even marriage to the frightful Rev. Collins work, for her.
Even Paston Eldon and Augusta’s union is successful by their own lights. Part of their success is abusing those who they feel are slighting them or are beneath them, sometimes to their faces, if their rank is low enough, and abusing them behind their backs, if their rank is too high, like Emma and Knightly. Shared malice can most certainly be a bond, alas — and not only in marriage.
Perhaps the most daring portrait of how a woman may play the hand that was given her and manipulate it up to winning trumps: Lucy Steele. She came from nothing, had nothing, no prospects, and wasn’t even really pretty. But somehow she manages to snag the very brother who gets all the moola. She gets what she wanted most of all, a marriage of security with loads of money.
The unsuccessful manipulators and choices almost all take place off-stage so to speak. We see the consequences as with Anne’s invalid friend in Bath — who gives her important information about her cousin-suitor.
Lydia is too scatter-brained and good-natured to even notice her partnership with her darling Wickham is bound for train wreck — she’s so much like her mother, but with the added security of well-married and principled sisters, who have principled spouses who are wealthy.
The most unsuccessful on-stage marriage we see is Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, and they are fortunate enough to rub along mostly pleasantly enough — though obviously not, at least for the servants. (This reader feels in many ways Mr. Bennett got off way too easily for his very great faults — but then he shares my sensibility on this, without the hypocrisy of disguising his relief at the lightness of his consequences.)
Throughout Austen we see one portrait after another of marriages, so many different kinds of marriages, all of which are as different from on another as Austen has created her brilliant characters as different from one another. And most of them appear fairly pleasant, as each couple has adjusted to each other and they rub along quite well.
And these are the people who make up entire communities of a particular set and range of class that was England of Austen’s time — and which we have our counterparts even now, even if we do many things differently.
That’s why feminists early and late love Austen, one thinks. She’s not dealing with small matters, she’s dealing with what makes a community, a nation, a world.


Eleanor said...

Patrick has discovered Austen and is reading and rereading her novels. She is a wonderful comedian, but she also has an icy sense of the importance of money. Her good characters need enough money to get by and marry. Her bad characters are selfish and greedy.

Foxessa said...

She's brilliant, that's all. :)

Another Patrick steeped himself to good result in Jane Austen -- Patrick O'Brian. He modeled much of his Aubrey-Maturin style and tone on what he learned from Austen.

But you probably are well aware of this already!

Love, C.