Final Thoughts, Persuasion

Final Thoughts: Persuasion

il_fullxfull.281285061

Persuasion, I must admit, is one of the novels that I was able to experience for the first time over the last few months. What a treat that it was such a wonderful read. It has definitely become a new favorite. It comes as no surprise that Austen’s last novel would be her most accomplished. After many years of improving skills as a writer, I would think you could only get better unless, and sorry to be depressing, your inspiration has a peak. However, I was not prepared for the novel to be such a triumph.

Anne Elliot is an incredibly well-rounded character. I found her emotional depth truly touching. So many of Austen’s heroine’s express their emotions outwardly. Sure, some out louder than others, even Elinor’s repressed pain bubbled over into euphoria, but Anne held steadfast and expressed her joys and sorrows in subtleties. I cannot read Anne without seeing Jane Austen. I think that she channeled a full life into this novel. Family, mistakes, heartaches, and love and the lines blurred between them. Austen gave up much in her life, but she maintained her wit, and if her novels are anything to judge by, she maintained her optimism as well. I sincerely hope so. And if not, I hope her wonderful stories were a comfort to her.

 

Standard
Final Thoughts, Gender, Northanger Abbey

On Gender–Part 2 (And Final Thoughts on Northanger Abbey)

In Northanger Abbey we have a heroine whose immaturity seems to outweigh her positive characteristics. In many ways she makes similar mistakes as Marianne and Emma, and although she learns her lessons just as painfully, she does not appear as wise by the end of the novel as the afore-mentioned characters. But she does have romantic partner that serves as a teacher poised to reprimand.

My question here is why does Austen so frequently assign a her heroes as the moral compasses and lecturers of her more misguided, young heroines?

757bcebe24143ead1e81e4749c3b0026

One thing that these three heroines in particular have in common is the lack of parental involvement in their transition into adulthood. Marianne’s father passes while she is still in the state of adolescence and her mother behaves as if helpless. Emma has spent nearly her entire life without a mother and has a paranoid, childlike father incapable of giving her any real advice, though he cares very much for her welfare. Then there is Mr. and Mrs. Morland, who have too many children to give too much focus to anyone in particular. It would appear to be the case that, in the absence of strong father figures and engaged mothers, the responsibility of guiding a young maid safely into the proprieties of womanhood, oddly enough, falls onto her future husband.

More questions I’m having trouble answering: For an independent woman who writes female characters to have independent thought and free will, why give this sort of reign to the male characters in her novels? And why do we as readers respond so positively to this bizarre romantic dynamic? If this were a legitimate essay I would attempt answers to these questions, but I am honestly perplexed.

One thing I do know is that this characteristic of their romantic relationship brings even more awkwardness to the age differences between each couple. Perhaps, then this can all be tallied up to a cultural aspect of the time, but I find myself unconvinced. I find myself even a bit frustrated with Austen for not allowing her heroines to make their mistakes and grow into adults and choose their mates while maintaining their independent will.

I may be a bit disillusioned, but I can at least take comfort in the fact that I have coined a phrase to describe this phenomenon: The Knightley Effect.

Standard
Emma, Final Thoughts

Emma: Final Thoughts

Sometimes I think I read Jane Austen for the same reason I watch movies like Sleepless in Seattle. There’s a part of me that wants to experience that tinge of apprehension in the will-they-won’t-they moment, but only because I know everything will come together beautifully in the end. It is a roller-coaster of emotions, but it’s a predictable one and always satisfying.

I feel this delightful anticipation most of all with Emma. Although I think in part it’s because I always connect with Emma’s fear that Mr. Knightley wants to marry someone else, even though I know he doesn’t, but I believe it can mostly be attributed to the fact that we aren’t told explicitly that our hero and heroine are in love until nearly the end of the novel. Sure, we know it is headed in that direction, and we can feel the tension building, but, unlike the four preceding novels, there is no admission of love by either of the two, either to themselves or one another, until Emma discovers her feelings later in the story.

I admit that this is the first time I’ve ever noticed this small fact. Regardless of whether or not this was a conscious decision; this is an abrupt shift in Austen’s style of romantic suspense. I can’t help but wonder if this change was the result of a major event in her life that occurred before Emma was written. The death of Austen’s father in 1805 and the moving of her family from Bath to Chawton both happened before Austen began working on Emma in 1814. This would clearly affect anyone’s views on life and love. However, this notion of mine does not account for Mansfield Park, which was the first novel to be written at Chawton.

I do not know much about Austen’s relationship with her father, but I suspect that he may have been in her thoughts during the writing of Emma. Even though he is something of an absurd character, Mr. Woodhouse is described with a tone of affection. Though his health concerns are nonsensical, they stem from his deep love for and innate need to protect his daughters. Emma herself is quite attached to her father and shares his separation anxiety in a smaller degree. Perhaps this could even explain the fatherly attentions of Mr. Knightley to Emma and his efforts to guide and correct her because of his love and respect for her.

jane-austen-emma

Clearly this is all purely conjecture. Not to mention that I have not really accounted for what might have happened in Austen’s life in the nine-year gap between her father’s death and the beginning of writing Emma. So for now, I will do Jane Austen the courtesy not to speak for her on the subject, especially without further research. Nonetheless, I will continue to muse on the possibility of Emma containing Austen’s ruminations of a lost loved one.

Standard
Final Thoughts, Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park: Final Thoughts

000tf3td

This has been my first reading of Mansfield Park, and, though I hate to say it, it is my least favorite Austen novel so far. It certainly had some redeeming moments, and I appreciate Austen’s sharp wit and keen social analysis as ever, but I found many of the characters infuriating, the story progression extremely slow, and the plot almost nonexistent.

I think that the character of Fanny Price is a highly accurate depiction of a young woman in her situation, but the tremendous anxiety that surrounds her from the necessity of walking on eggshells around the Bertrams and wasting away over the seemingly unobtainable Edmund had my stomach in knots with little resolution for satisfaction. Of course, the suffering of others, even fictional, need not be entertaining to be worth pondering, but the problem boils down to this: Fanny Price is boring, and most of the people who surround her are tedious.

wouldfannyprice3

Almost all of the major changes to the story were in regards to setting, and usually it was simply a matter of switching rooms and people. Everything ticked along for the first two-thirds of the novel from room to room, and then suddenly there was an avalanche of closure. Most of the loose ends were neatly tied up without ever being fully undone. I have loved Austen for so long that I find it difficult to insult her. Nonetheless, I much prefer the other novels of hers that I have read, (which are, for the sake of full disclosure, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and a few pages of Northanger Abbey).

I think that it would be fair to describe Mansfield Park as the “Mumblecore” of Austen novels. If you are unfamiliar with this film genre, it has quite a slow progression and is highly conversational with less emphasis on structure and plot development. Much of the focus falls onto the characterization, resulting in a more lifelike depiction that is not overly dramatized like most traditional cinema. That sounds like Mansfield Park to a T, am I right?

6a00d8341c54b153ef011570e730bb970b-800wi

Although I must admit that I prefer the film application of these techniques, I am sure that I am somewhat blinded by my presentism. Perhaps the subtleties of human interaction, which are largely subjective to the constructs and conventions of your era, are more difficult to connect with out of the context of personal experience. Instead, the huge, overarching themes that are so unique to humanity and yet universal–love, fear, hope, family and so on–we can relate to no matter the year because they have, in some way, touched all of our lives throughout history for better or for worse.

Even though it wasn’t the most thrilling experience, I am glad that I shared Fanny Price’s journey. It has helped me to better understand the social aspects of Austen’s world and her other novels.

But I probably won’t be going back for seconds.

Standard