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A Jane Austen Essay – Austen’s Intentional Deprivation of Matriarchy

Emma features prominently in this Jane Austen Essay
A Jane Austen Essay by Mark Massaro, M.A.

Through the absence, or the duplicity, of mother figures, Jane Austen presents the perceived illusion of matriarchy within the Regency culture.

During her lifetime in England, patriarchy dictated the treatment of wealth, the home, the government, and relationships, which suppressed the leadership role of females.

Emma Woodhouse quickly became the lady of the house.

While Austen’s novels deal with these issues, the absence of strong and positive maternal figures highlights the muting of that designation. Those characteristics was usually reserved for the protagonists. Supporting characters, like Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice, Fanny Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, and Mrs. Allen in Northanger Abbey, actively contribute to undermine the conventional role of mothers as moral and spiritual guides through ignorance, manipulation, or selfishness. Deceased characters also affect the actions of the present day, through the mystery of Mrs. Tilney’s death in Northanger Abbey, as well as the absence of Mrs. Woodhouse in Emma. Austen uses these maternal characters to highlight social prejudices that contribute to creating these tropes by using irony and humor, and how an unjust system is in place to continuously silence strength in female leadership. By depriving the protagonists of mothers, a void is left that allows an interruption from matriarchal legacy by having the female protagonists subtly challenge older men in power.

The traditional women of this era were completely reliant on their male relatives, or through their own marriage, and this dependence not only supported the patriarchal society but was created by it in the first place. In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte says, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance” (61). Women’s social, economic, and financial safety was based on their relationships to men, a condition which provided and maintained the foundation for this culture and, because of this, females were cast in a subordinate role. Educations relied entirely on perfecting their social roles. Austen’s protagonists often gain insights and experience as they learn from situations outside of their prescribed schoolings, which Austen tends to reward with true love or self-awareness. The mother roles that do exist within Austen’s world seem to contribute to maintaining this patriarchy as they sometimes become obstacles for the protagonists to deal with directly.

The Jane Austen News includes a Judi Dench film-off!Lady Catherine, in Pride and Prejudice, is the extreme of maintaining the patriarchy, as well as embodying an illusion of matriarchy. While she is viewed as an antagonist, she is simply a product of her system, which could be viewed as tragic. She is first introduced as the widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, which defines her as her marriage connection. Considering Darcy, her nephew, she is under the assumption that she is “entitled to know all his dearest concerns,” while, in reality, she does not (355). Her assumption of control, or of possessing an influential role of her nephew’s personal decisions, presents this illusion of matriarchy. Lady Catherine becomes an obstacle for Elizabeth to circumvent. Elizabeth is disrupting the old or traditional social order through her and Darcy’s deviation from his intended match, and Lady Catherine becomes agitated with this expression of freedom from cultural conditioning. Elizabeth directly presents Lady Catherine’s lack of power when she states that, according to Lady Catherine, their marriage has been “declared to be impossible” yet Lady Catherine has journeyed there to ask if there is an engagement (355). Elizabeth, in a sense, effectively exposes Lady Catherine’s own perceived power through circumventing each question by answering with a new question or answering drolly. Elizabeth states, “that if he (Darcy) is so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make an offer to me,” and Lady Catherine “hesitated for a moment” (355). This scene effectively presents how Elizabeth has power over a matriarch due to the latter’s fabricated sense of power. The new generation is usurping the past generations necessity for tradition.

A shadow-self of Lady Catherine is Fanny Dashwood, in Sense and Sensibility. Fanny’s perceived power is by proxy through the manipulation of her husband, John Dashwood. While she lacks power, she acts as a puppeteer, swaying her husband through careful wordplay and timing by manipulating the established gender roles. This reduces John, who embodies power because he is male and landowning, to a weak instrument for his wife’s selfish motivations. Fanny also contributes to maintaining the system by actively using it for her selfish ends. The article, “Women Owning Property: The Great Lady in Jane Austen,” written by Rita Dashwood, states that,

In contrast to the way Georgian genteel women have been represented by scholars of the period, the great ladies in Jane Austen are not portrayed as either creators of spaces, managers of their property, or socially conscientious members of their community. Instead, they share various negative characteristics, with most of them being described as despotic and arrogant. (107)

Again, like Lady Catherine, Fanny is a product of the society in which she was born. To make matters worse, Fanny contributes to it, solidifying the foundation of patriarchy, which is a shame because her manipulations are calculated and intelligent. This begs the question as to why social maneuvering and spousal manipulation became a trademark within Austen’s characters. Emma, in Emma, seems to have barely avoided this fate through gradual self-awareness and witnessing of relational consequences, though she never actually had any obstacle to overcome, besides herself. Men, possessing a societal freedom when in control of wealth, are also a product of their society, yet are less tragic. The circumstance of being a white male with wealth allows them to possess societal freedom and individual choice by way of a prescribed path without having to succumb to arrogance or selfish acts for survival. Darcy, Edward Ferrars, Capt. Wentworth, and Henry Tilney are examples of this concept, despite the origin of their finances being vastly different. Money becomes the determining factor, defining the foundation of relations, the authenticity of character, and choice of romantic prospects. The anxieties of acquiring a tarnished reputation or prohibited from inheritance are never a factor for these men because the society operates in their favor. These men are allowed to retain their honesty and sensibility and never succumb to desperate acts in order to survive.

The absence of a matriarchically order can showcase more than having one to deconstruct. When a maternal figure is lacking, a void becomes louder than an actual presence. Emma’s mother, though deceased, still influences events throughout the present day. Her maternal influence was her governess Miss Taylor, who, although caring, can still be considered hired help. Emma had economic and social power over her own maternal figure, which lead to Emma being ‘slightly’ spoiled and “the power of having rather too much her own way,” due to the fact that she had “been mistress of his house from a very early period” (1). Emma is thrust into a powerful role at such a young age created in her the illusion of matriarchy. This is also evident in her reliance on the class system when marriage was being considered between two parties. Emma’s relationships are based entirely on her status and not because of who she is as a person. In the beginning, Emma thwarts Mr. Martin and Harriet’s pairing because a rebellion against the patriarchal foundation was needed for it to commence. Austen complicates the established foundation by rewarding risk taking with relations. Kathleen Dougherty, the author of “Marriage and Friendship in Jane Austen: Self-knowledge, Virtue, and the “Second Self”,” claims that, “In Austen’s world, those who choose well choose for virtue and compatibility, not merely status or security. And a seeming lack of status can even be overcome if one’s character is thought to be good enough” (Dougherty 54). Through Emma’s trials, with her own self the obstacle, she creates a moral system which is removed from the patriarchic foundation. The absorption of her mother’s role within the society has evolved with Emma’s winning battle over her own conditioning. Her true character overwhelms the societal illusion.

Austen’s absent mothers subtly undermine male authority. They are not partaking in it whatsoever. The void causes a vacuum for creating unlimited potential within the heroines, something that the patriarchy would be threatened by. Despite there being a loss, it allows the opportunity for social shifting. Emma is the epitome of this. Frances L. Restuccia’ article, “A Black Morning: Kristevan Melancholia in Jane Austen’s Emma,” discusses this, as Restuccia writes, “Emma begins by offering a glimpse of the abyss–sustained throughout the novel by the accumulation of lost, dead, and dying mothers–for which it attempts to provide compensation.” Emma has social luxuries and engages with the members of her community as if they were puppets. More importantly, she influences them and this freedom and control occurs after she is the only female living in Hartfield. Her father is considered impotent by social standards, with being designated as feeble and nervous, much akin to an infant baby. His greatest actions are merely walking the grounds or entertaining guests. Emma has no paternal influence over her, allowing her to flourish as an individual with power. She has freedom because she has personal choice. Knightly reinforces Emma to conform to the Regency’s social standards with his moving into Hartfield, establishing a dominant male presence within the home.

We see Mrs Allen ‘guide’ Catherine far more in Northanger Abbey than Catherine’s mother does.

Despite the absent mother remaining present within the story, Austen also uses them as a literary technique to highlight character traits with the mystery surrounding the death of Mrs. Tilney in Northanger Abbey. Catherine Morland, the youngest heroine, has several women in the position of matriarchy. Mrs. Allen is the obvious choice as she is the one to support her entrance into the social world. Mrs. Allen shares with her the societal rules, as Austen writes, “she was admirably fitted to introduce a young lady into public, being as fond of going everywhere and seeing everything herself as any young lady could be. Dress was her passion. She had a most harmless delight in being fine” (10). Mrs. Allen represents this false authority and Austen categorizes her as a woman, “whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them” (10).  Mrs. Allen’s presence is presented as superficial and playful due to Austen using sarcasm her description of Catherine’s chaperone in view of society. Mrs. Allen’s greatest power is her ability to camouflage herself within her social structure, which lessens her illusion of power even more than the others. Nothing about her is special and her individuality, and power, is drowned under the weight of maintaining the patriarchal order. An impressionable girl like Catherine would gravitate toward a force that stands out of a crowd.

Learning about the death of Mrs. Tilney allows Catherine to formulate her own perspective, and version, of events that occurred before her connection with the Tilney family. Another void is opened and it allows Catherine to momentarily escape the Georgian society. Catherine delves into a fictional world where the monsters are defined by their murderous actions instead of their inability to recognize power in matriarchy. Mrs. Tilney’s absence elevates her into becoming something more than another Mrs. Allen, who is merely existing within the society. The search for answers about Mrs. Tilney’s death mirrors a yearning for a mother figure. Catherine is passionate about learning more. Austen writes, “Catherine had never heard Mrs. Tilney mentioned in the family before, and the interest excited by this tender remembrance showed itself directly in her altered countenance, and in the attentive pause with which she waited for something more” (131). Catherine is temporarily elevated away from patriarchy as well, and she becomes a heroine within a story that will lead to adventure, discovery, power, and an ability to self-govern, something that her actual society denies her. The absence of Mrs. Tinley allows this flight of fancy to occur, something that Mrs. Allen or her own mother would be unable to do. This allows Catherine to actively engage with General Tilney, circumventing safeguards like matriarchal figures.

Austen’s heroines need a minor escape from the patriarchal structure to realize the individual power that exists outside of domineering men and complacent women. In Austen’s world, the protagonists are journeying on unaccompanied explorations, creating their own sense of the world. In the article “Motherhood and Reality in Northanger Abbey,” written by Elvira Casal, the concept of embarking on solo journeys are necessary for emotional growth and connection. Casal writes:

The heroines of the novels are daughters, not mothers, and the novels focus on the stage of a woman’s life when she is least likely to feel close to her mother. Falling in love and marrying involve reaching outside a person’s original family for love, affection, and validation. Choosing a husband therefore implicitly requires the daughter’s emotional movement away from the mother. (146)

Elizabeth’s would-be husband

This scenario plays out in many instances in Austen’s texts. Mothers, or mother figures, represent traditions, usually imploring the heroines to make socially safe decisions and prevent societal risk. If this is the model that mother figures promote, then Elizabeth would have married Mr. Collins and Catherine Morland would have married John Thorpe. Safe decisions adhere to tradition, therefore losing individual choice and succumbing to patriarchy yet again. Women traditionally married to survive, promoting arrogant men, like Thorpe, or pompous men, like Collins, as suitable candidates, while forsaking good men like Mr. Martin or Capt. Wentworth due to their untraditional status.

The void of a maternal presence affects characters differently. There is a freedom with loss, as well as a grief.  Emma becomes a valued member of her town. She suppresses nothing. Catherine Morland creates her own experiences without influence from her mother or Mrs. Allen. There is no intermediary between her and courtship or adventures. The void of a mother figure results in creating unrecognized freedom from the patriarchal influence. Mothers were not present to steer their daughter’s paths along the established and conformed road. On the contrary, women a bit older than our heroines, not only exist in patriarchy, but they contribute to it with false power. Fanny Dashwood employs her husband’s gender for her personal use. Instead of challenging patriarchy, she accepts it and practices it. Lady Catherine not only accepts it but actively represents it. She operates under the pretense that she has power because of her lineage while her wishes seem to be ignored.

No matter the significance, Austen’s heroines have a loss of a powerful maternal presence in common. Some can find that the lack of a matriarch only reinforces patriarchy but there is significant evidence to suggest that power is created because of that loss. Austen subtly challenges her societal foundation by severing the link between generations, and by undercutting a powerful maternal authority, the heroines begin to rely on their own individuality for direction, sustenance, and power. They are personally prosperous, despite lacking maternal influence or societal power, and their wit and sensibility are often rewarded. As the possession of wealth being usually denied, with inheritance going to males, and women lacking supremacy of their fates, Austen’s heroines had to rely on their character for survival and guidance, and the lack of mother figures allowed for this situation to occur.

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Work Cited

Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sandition. Oxford World’s Classics. 2008. Print.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. ed. Robert P. Irvine. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2002

Austen. Jane. Sense and Sensibility. Penguin Random House. 2014. Print

Casal, Elvira. “Motherhood and Reality in Northanger Abbey”. Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal. JASNA. No. 20, 1998. 146-153.

Dashwood, Rita. “Women Owning Property: The Great Lady in Jane Austen”Jane Austen and Philosophy. Edited by Mimi Marinucci. Rowland and Littlefield. 2017.

Dougherty, Kathleen. “Marriage and Friendship in Jane Austen: Self-knowledge, Virtue, and the “Second Self””Jane Austen and Philosophy.Edited by Mimi Marinucci. Rowland and Littlefield. 2017.

Restuccia, Frances L. “A Black Morning: Kristevan Melancholia in Jane Austen’s Emma.” American Imago, vol. 51, no. 4, 1994, p. 447+

 

About the author of this Jane Austen essay

Mark Massaro received his Master’s Degree in English Literature from Florida Gulf Coast University with a focus on 20th Century American Literature. He is an English Instructor at two universities. When not reading or writing, he can be found in his black Chucks at a bonfire in his home state of Massachusetts, talking with friends and listening to classic rock. His creative works have been published in Literary Juice Magazine, The Pegasus Review, and The Mangrove Review. His happiness is being next to his wife, with their son in his arms, and their golden retriever curled up nearby.

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She Was Only Anne – On Anne Elliot in Persuasion

Anne Elliot
This article about Anne Elliot is by Rosario Mesta Rodríguez


When we think and talk about Jane Austen’s heroines, we tend to associate characteristics such as happiness, bravery, resourcefulness or intelligence to their personalities. And we are right: Jane created numerous female characters such as Emma or Elizabeth Bennet that make us smile everytime we read their feats. We don’t usually associate Jane Austen with sadness or depression. And this time, I have to say, we are wrong: Jane didn’t always write about happy women. In fact, there is a special character that has always stood out within her literary women: Anne Elliot. Although distant, different, melancholic, resigned and sad, she has been rewarded with the recognition of the public, that, undoubtedly, fell in love with her extraordinary personality.

I’ve always wondered why Jane Austen created someone so different from the sort of characters she usually did. Melancholia and sadness construct the development of the whole novel. Undoubtedly, we should point out that the personal circumstances of the writer at the time is one the main reasons why this book is so different from the others, but also the changes that English society was going through at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. 

The Nineteenth Century Woman

Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the middle classes started to grow due to changes in commerce and economy, and so did the level of literacy among people. The novel began to become popular, especially among women. For the first time, people wanted to read, they demanded books, they had a desire to be more conscious about the world, their surroundings, and themselves. By reading, people became more aware of their own feelings, personalities and for the very first time, the internal landscape started to gain ground on the material things in life and on outward appearances. Romanticism showed the disappointment of the society with the rationalization of the Enlightenment. People looked for other concepts such as feelings and emotions. As such, pessimism prospered and the whole range of the negative feelings began to be explored with Red and Black by Sthendal and the Letters of the young Werther by Goethe as standard bearers.

At this moment in history we must analyze how these new currents affected women, who had (as always) a more difficult time. Not only did their access to popular literature arouse doubts among the most conservative sectors, but they were also frowned upon for the introspection and sentimentality that flooded them.

And this is because there was a well-established ideal female model in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, and everything that went beyond its limits was called abnormal, dangerous, unnatural. This model was largely propagated by the manuals of conduct, which were hugely popular among society. Jane Austen herself could even be an assiduous reader of some of them, as shown by the inclusion of Fordyce’s Sermons in Pride and Prejudice

The Manuals of Conduct

The manuals dictated rules that ranged from the appreciation of one’s own body to female education, domestic economy or even behavior and body language in social gatherings. The woman was limited by an ideological corset that asphyxiated her reality. One of the premises that has struck me most has been the concept of melancholy. The authors of the manuals (always men), were repulsed by the revolution that brought with it Romanticism, and they affirmed with vehemence, and sometimes with violence, how the melancholy, sentimentality and depression that began to be treated in the wake of the increasingly popular readings, was inappropriate for women.

In fact, this didactic literature begins a huge campaign in favor of the perfect woman, and, among its qualities, joy stands out. A woman could not afford to be sad, depressed or taciturn, since women should be the nucleus of the family unit; always attentive, willing and energetic to meet the demands of children and husbands. Joy, for John Bennet, was “a most desirable quality in a woman” (41), “a striking quality is her constant cheerfulness” (On a Variety of Useful and Interesting Subjects calculated to Improve the heart, to form the Manners, and Enlighten the understanding, 40).

A Father’s Legacy by John Gregory presupposes that a spirit always on the rise “will make your company much solicited (36) and in the sermon XIII by Fordyce it is said that “the woman considers herself here a saint who must support everything. Men should look for a shy, complacent, sweet and patient woman who must be at home, not fighting outside and getting her clothes dirty” (112).

According again to John Bennet, women had no reason to be sad, since “men are perplexed with various anxieties of business and ambition, are naturally, more thoughtful, profound and melancholy; They were certainly formed to sooth and to enliven. It is one of the greatest blessings we derive from their society, and from the most sacred of all connections “(42). He goes on to affirm that “men melancholy is as remote from the true point of gracefulness, in the sex, as ill-natured wit, or ironical pertness” (43). 

Perfection in Persuasion

I find it quite curious to see how this theme contrasts with the novel Persuasion. Jane builds a character that rebels against all modeling of women. Anne Elliot allows herself the luxury of being sad, of not hiding it from others, as well as getting angry. She does not care for what society might think of her. The death of her mother during her youth and the loss of her true love certainly leave their mark on Anne.  Since then, she resigns herself to living as the person in charge of the welfare of her family, without anyone worrying about her, she becomes blurred with time, and this leaves her vulnerable, opaque:  “but Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people with real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister: her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way, she was only Anne “.

In addition, the saddest of all the heroines faces a family opposition that leaves her even more alone. We can see the indifference of her family within Elizabeth Elliot’s speech before travelling to Bath: “Then I am sure Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath”. She is aware of this treatment and apparently, she is resigned. “excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation or real taste”.

Step by step, she becomes more and more invisible: “She could do little more than listen patiently, soften every grievance, and excuse each to the other; give them all hints of the forbearance necessary between such near neighbours, and make those hints broadest which were meant for her sister´s benefit”. Paradoxically, Austen also uses music to show Anne’s lack of connection with those around her.  “Anne had been always used to feel alone in the world”.  Although the other “girls were wild for dancing” (48), Anne is isolated from the group, sitting removed from them at the piano – in music she had been always used to feel alone in the world.

But she does not want to cause grief, she knows that she is the first cause of this situation and her mistakes, and carries with them her whole life. She no longer holds grudges, melancholy transcends her life. She does not follow the examples of perfection that manuals and society try to instill in women, she is a woman who suffers, who has anxiety crisis’, “she was ashamed of herself, quite ashamed of being so nervous, so overcome by such a trifle, but so it was; and it required a long application of solitude and reflection to recover it”. 

It’s OK To Be Sad

With the example of Anne Elliot, Jane Austen vindicates the imperfect woman, the one who also suffers, because through suffering comes self-growth. Jane claims in Persuasion that sadness is also part of women’s lives and that it fulfils an essential function. Sadness reduces attention in the external world to focus on the inside. This favors self-examination, reflection, analysis. Anne goes through a complete exploration of her own knowledge of herself throughout the novel, and in a way that few Austen’s other heroines do. Anne was not just Anne, Anne shows us her act of bravery by letting us know that sadness is just another emotion. It is the emotion that most leads us to intimacy with ourselves and with others. 

*****

About the author

Rosario Mesta Rodríguez is a Spanish librarian who is obsessed with Jane Austen and with the Victorian Era. She’s currently studying a PhD in Conduct Books for women in Eighteenth Century England. Books are her passion. 

 

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Jane Austen: Why do Millennials Love her so Much?

Why do millennials love jane austen

Why do Millennials Love Jane Austen?

A guest blog by the wonderful people at Country House Library.

A long dead 19th century author who wrote about the rather limited lives of women, in a time when success was defined by who you married, might seem a strange crush for the modern millennial, yet on Instagram the hashtag ‘#janeausten’ brings up over half a million hits and counting.

Part of this is surely down to her abilities as a writer – powerful observations, smart and witty dialogue, and the kind of independent and intelligent female leads that Hollywood still hasn’t quite caught up with. However, that only explains her general appeal, whereas on my own book website, she continuously tops the bestseller lists amongst 18-30 year olds in particular.

So what is it about her that appeals so much to young women today?

She was a Woman Ahead of her Time

“I was so intrigued and inspired by Jane’s life.” Sarah, 23

From many of the comments we receive it seems the attraction might well be Jane herself. As an author who generated her own income she was considered unconventional, to say the least, and simply outrageous to many. As was the fact she never married; in fact, Jane turned down a marriage proposal – an experience she drew on when writing Pride and Prejudice, where Lizzie Bennett turns down two of her own, even if she does end up marrying in the end.

Jane would have been a Social Media Influencer Today

“I find Jane Austen so inspiring as a young writer.” Vikki, 26

By becoming a writer, Jane gave herself a voice and the ability to express herself to women of her age and class – something that was especially powerful at a time when there were no female politicians, and few women in public life whatsoever, and conventional wisdom suggested that the only way to have any real power was to share a pillow with a successful man.

She was also a great letter writer, keen to share news, gossip and ideas on a daily basis, although tragically few survive as her sister burnt most of them at Jane’s request. Something else that might chime with a generation facing being worse off than their parent’s one, is that Jane’s life was far from secure. She struggled with money all her life, and often had to rely on her parents. Sound familiar?

 Click the image above for the perfect gift idea!

She Invented the Reality TV Genre

“She can make everyday life and situations sound so interesting. Also, her humour is perfect!” Emma, 30

Prior to Jane Austen, most published novels were either vast historical epics or moody, gothic affairs, which, had they been made into films, would surely have needed a cast of thousands and a special effects budget running into the millions. Jane’s novels, meanwhile, placed the reader as a fly on the wall in the fashionable drawing room of the day, meaning that Sense and Sensibility and Made in Chelsea actually have a surprising amount in common.

 Click the image above for Country House Library’s editor’s picks!

A Drawing Room or a Coffee Shop – What’s the Difference?

“I just love her writing, it’s so eloquent.” Zara, 19

Considering that previous generations had a dependence on a well-oiled night in a night club for dating opportunities, it’s hardly surprising that millennials drink less, with nearly a quarter now abstaining completely. As such, they are far more likely to choose a digitally arranged and predominately sober meeting in a coffee shop – which if you think about it, is not that different from a pen-and-paper arranged meeting in a Regency drawing room. Plus, Jane’s characters, like Pride and Prejudice’s unstoppable Elizabeth Bennet, are independent, fun, witty, clever and usually two steps ahead of any man in the book, which makes for a pretty good dating model for us all.

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We hope you enjoyed this article “Why do Millennials love Jane Austen?”. For more information and to browse the beautiful books at Country House Library visit www.countryhouselibrary.co.uk

Country House Library is a community of people who can’t get enough of reading, discussing and looking at books. They have hundreds of vintage books for sale (including a huge range of Jane Austen titles to choose from). 

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Rachel Dodge on Writing “Praying with Jane”

The inspiration behind "Praying With Jane"

Author Rachel Dodge details the inspirations and process behind her new book Praying with Jane.

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“Prayers Composed by my ever dear Sister Jane”

 

My first introduction to Jane Austen’s prayers, over a decade ago, happened by chance. I was in graduate school, working on my master’s thesis on Pride and Prejudice, when I found them at the back of the Chapman edition of Austen’s novels (in the Minor Works volume). At the time, I thought the prayers were beautifully written and wondered why I had heard so little about them.

Continue reading Rachel Dodge on Writing “Praying with Jane”

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Don’t Insult Your Children, Give Them Jane Austen by Allison Burr

Give Them Jane Austen by Allison Burr

Don’t Insult Your Children, Give Them Jane Austen by Allison Burr

My kids saw that scoundrel Willoughby at Chic-Fil-A last night.

Or so they thought.

Willoughby - a cad by Jane Austen

We had just finished our chicken sandwiches and waffle fries and were headed off to Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God concert, but all four kids stopped dead in their tracks when they saw the unsuspecting dark-haired, large-eyed teenage boy behind the counter. I could read their body language; if this was indeed Willoughby, as they frantically whispered in my ear, he would surely do something reprehensible at any moment.  And they weren’t going to miss it.

Much to their chagrin, we ushered them out the door, and the Willoughby look-a-like was left to finish his work without further danger of besiegement.

In their overactive 10-, 8-, 7-, and 3-year-old minds, they had seen a villain behind the counter. The details of this poor boy’s true identity are of no consequence. The more important reality is that Jane Austen had captured their hearts and imaginations, and my children have not yet entered adolescence.

This surely qualifies as a parental milestone.

Now, I know the purists contend that the consumption of the screen portrayal should never precede the consumption of the written. I don’t hold to that particular standard (but undoubtedly have my own purist standards in other areas). As such, when we began the several-hour long 2008 BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, my kids were immediately enthralled and the questions came with great rapidity.

With my finger perpetually on the pause button in order to field the inquiries, I responded to these (and more) from both my daughters and my son:

How could John Dashwood be so weak? And Fanny be so evil?

Why don’t Elinor and Edward marry each other?

Why exactly is Marianne so foolish?

What does Elinor mean when she says she doesn’t disapprove of Marianne, but only her conduct?

Why doesn’t Willoughby act like a gentleman?

Colonel Brandon is the hero; right? Why can’t Marianne see that?

Why is Lucy Steele engaged to Edward when Edward is clearly meant for Elinor and Lucy seems so sneaky and unkind?

How can Mrs. Ferrars be so utterly vicious and yet everyone is falling down to worship her?

Can we please, please, live in a cottage by the seaside and string up seashells in the garden?

Other than the last one (which breaks my heart to say probably not), I delighted in pausing the visually stunning jewel to help my young children frame the story, discern wisdom from folly, and mourn over the broken hearts of Colonel Brandon and Elinor.

The sumptuous period dress, the breathtaking landscape, the awe-inspiring country manors, and the rapid-fire colloquy amongst some of Austen’s most remarkable characters were exactly the type of feast my kids deserved. Not a culinary feast, mind you; but a literary, moral, and visual one.

Go-to books for a JaneiteWhy settle for one-dimensional twaddle that insults the Imago Dei status of your children, when you can bring them before the work of a master craftsman from another era?

No, my children did not understand every aspect of the witty repartee.  Nor could they grasp the magnitude of the moral and social norms under Miss Austen’s microscope.  But every morning, I read my children the Bible, and they also read it for themselves.  We require this in our family, even while knowing that they cannot possibly understand the depth of the riches contained therein.  But their current ages and developmental limitations should not preclude them from partaking in the banquet table in whatever ways they are able.

In the same way, when I first began reading Austen’s works 16 years ago, in a Brit Lit college course, I am quite certain I appreciated only a minuscule percentage of what Jane Austen was doing.  Two years later, I spent a semester researching and writing an honors thesis on the French Revolution’s impact on Austen’s body of work.  Clearly, I was smitten with her literature and desired to dig deeper.  And yet, every time I revisit Emma or Pride and Prejudice, I surely continue to miss nuances and connections, all these years later.  But I keep savoring the feast, both by book and by screen – and it is altogether better to do so alongside the inquiring, hungry minds of my children.

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Note: I recommend, without reservation, this series of 12 audio lectures by Professor Jerram Barrs of the Francis Schaeffer Institute on the life and works of Jane Austen.  The series is free for download, after a quick registration process, courtesy of Covenant Seminary.

Parental disclaimer:  Because my children are so young, I skipped the (brief) opening scene of the 2008 BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, and instead gave a brief synopsis to my children of an immoral man victimizing a young girl. 

 

*****

About the author Allison Burr:

Allison Burr resides in Franklin, TN, with her husband and four children. Allison Burr is primarily a homeschooling mama, but also an adjunct professor at New College Franklin, co-founder of Sword & Trowel, and resident domestic theologian at TruthBeautyGoodness.

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“Praying with Jane” – a Review by Laura Boyle

praying with jane

In Praying with Jane, Rachel Dodge has managed to present Jane Austen’s life “in a style entirely new”, taking a closer look at the heart behind the one of the most beloved authors of all time. Much of what is known of Jane’s life comes in the form of her (censored) letters and the reminiscences of family members. While these details paint a cheerful and amusing picture, that which made Jane, Jane, lies at the heart of the three existing prayers we have that she wrote for use during evening prayers. We do not know why she wrote them- whether out of an overflow of devotion or at the bequest of some family member, but the serious, heartfelt tone, when examined, adds a deeper shade to our understanding of the writer.  These are no “vain repetitions”, but rather intimate, whole life lessons, summing up the core values of a woman once noted for her desire for anonymity.

In this book, Rachel Dodge closely examines each line of each prayer, in a day by day format, allowing for a 31 day devotional, to be used either in succession, or occasionally. Using Jane’s own historical background as well as Ms. Dodge’s extensive knowledge of Austen’s fictional works, the prayers are placed into context in Jane’s life, along with insightful ways to apply them to our own, often busy, lives. Each day includes related scripture as well as a call to prayer and worship as the reader seeks to apply Jane’s prayers to her own life. This breaking down works amazingly well to draw out the depth of Austen’s own writing and brings the reader a greater appreciation of Austen’s already acknowledged genius with language and the human heart.

Continue reading “Praying with Jane” – a Review by Laura Boyle

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Jane Austen: Family Therapist?

jane austen family

by Patrice Sarath

Bath High Street. I think Austen would still recognize the place. (photograph by author)

One of the joys of re-reading Jane Austen’s novels is finding something new each time, bringing with it a deeper understanding of her characters and the society in which they live. Although Austen is known as a romance writer (and, I would argue, the inventor of modern romance structure), I find her illustration of family dynamics to be the most appealing aspect of her work, and the reason she has fans around the world, across time and culture. She invites us into her life and times, and we recognize ourselves and our families in her characters.

Sometimes a re-read lets me see something I’ve missed the dozens of reads before. For instance, in Pride & Prejudice, when Jane catches cold and has to stay overnight at Netherfield, I had read the book countless times before it occurred to me that this wasn’t a ‘Regency thing’. It was just as embarrassing for Jane as if it had happened to someone in the 21st century. Mrs. Bennet’s brazenness in engineering the whole thing became even worse when I looked at it from that standpoint. Can you imagine — going to a stranger’s house for tea and then having to stay overnight for days? And the doctor has to come? Poor Jane!

Continue reading Jane Austen: Family Therapist?

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Austen Superpowers: Self-Awareness & True Love

Jane Austen superpowers in Emma
Austen Superpowers: Self-Awareness & True Love
Kindly reproduced here with permission from its author, Laurie Viera Rigler, who is also the author of the popular Jane Austen Addict novels.

Can self-importance, meddling, and delusion be considered superpowers?

Hardly. And yet, the self-congratulating and clueless titular heroine of Jane Austen’s Emma rises above being the character that Austen thought that no one but herself would like. In the course of the story, Emma has a series of aha! moments about herself. More important, she acts on that self-awareness.

via GIPHY –Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, a brilliant adaptation of Emma.

In a Jane Austen novel, a lady can only earn her cape by acknowledging that there are are huge cracks in what she once thought was the truth.

Once she tears down that wall of delusion and replaces it with wisdom, the heroine-in-training develops more self-awareness, more self-empowerment, and more capability to create happiness than she ever had before. That is what Emma does. For that is what Austen superpowers are all about.

Emma’s Austen superpower #1: Acknowledging one’s cruelty and choosing kindness instead.

Emma realizes – with the tough-love help of her dear friend Mr Knightley – that she really was unconscionably cruel to the babbling Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic. For Emma, Knightley’s confrontation is a painful moment of self-awareness. But instead of retreating in angry pride or mortification, Emma attempts to make amends, paying a visit to Miss Bates, humbled and penitent, and works hard to restore herself as a friend.

via GIPHY And we couldn’t agree more. Jonny Lee Miller is Mr. Knightley to Romola Garai’s Emma in another fine adaptation.

 

Emma’s Austen superpower #2: Acknowledging one’s vanity as a weakness to be conquered.

Emma is shocked to learn that Frank Churchill, the man who has been openly flirting with her, is actually secretly engaged to a woman he had fake-gossiped about with Emma. What’s more shocking, however, is Emma’s realization of how her own vanity made her the perfect target for Frank’s duplicity. Emma realizes that Frank’s public admiration of her had flattered her vanity. And that flattery had rendered her blind. Though she is miffed at Frank for toying with her feelings when he was in reality engaged to another, Emma takes responsibility for her own vanity and weakness. She is especially pained when she realizes that her public flaunting of being the supposed object of Frank’s affections caused Frank’s fiancée a great deal of pain. She is also humbled and grateful for her lucky escape – imagine how much more painful her newfound self-awareness would have been if she really had fallen in love with such a man.

Emma’s Austen superpower #3: Acknowledging one’s blindness to the fact that what you want has been right in front of you all the time.

Emma has been raised to think well of herself, but she takes it much further than the typical indulged child. Emma is, in a sense, the queen of her little village of Highbury, with all but a few deemed to be her inferior subjects. One of the few neighbors whom she considers to be her equal is her old friend Mr. Knightley, who is her brother-in-law and, though sixteen years her senior, still a relatively young man. And yet Emma has never seen Mr. Knightley as anything but a friend, has never considered marriage to him or any man a possibility, except perhaps to Frank Churchill, and that because of a childhood fancy. That is, until the sneaking awareness of her dawning feelings for Mr. Knightley begin to niggle at the back of her brain after Emma’s former governess Mrs. Weston decides that Mr. Knightley is in love with another young woman in Highbury. But Emma’s true feelings for Mr. Knightley hit her full force when yet another young lady, Emma’s friend and protegée Harriet Smith, announces that not only is she herself in love with Mr. Knightley, but she also believes he returns her affections.

via GIPHY Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma in another excellent adaptation.

It is then that “it darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!” That revelation, however is anything but glorious, for what if Mr. Knightley is indeed in love with Harriet? Even if he isn’t, how could a man who scolded her for being cruel to Miss Bates ever think such a woman worthy of his love?

In Jane Austen, self-awareness + right action leads to true love.

For the seasoned Austen fan, it comes as no surprise that Emma’s awakening takes her to to a perfect happily ever after. In the world of Austen stories, true love is the reward for unflinching self-examination and consequent action to bring the world back into balance. Yes, we Austen fans know what happens next. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to read and re-read Emma till the book covers falls off. Or stream the movies in between readings. Or ever get bored watching it all unfold.

via GIPHY Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam in Emma

 

Because we could all do with a long hard look in the mirror sometimes. And if Emma can do it, surely we can, too? Maybe all those readings and re-readings and screenings of Emma are getting us ready for our own aha moments. One can only hope. Or better still, observe. And act.

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Austen Superpowers: Self Awareness & True Love was written by Laurie Viera Rigler – the author of the Jane Austen Addict series. Visit her at her website www.janeaustenaddict.com