What’s the Jane Austen News this week?
David M. Shapard is an American historian with a longstanding interest in Austen and her world. He graduated with a Ph.D. in European History from the University of California at Berkeley (his specialty was the eighteenth century), and he has gone on to devote many years of his life to painstakingly annotating each of Jane’s novels. Now, his sixth and final work, The Annotated Mansfield Park has just published, and is a whopper! It’s 932 pages long and has over 2,300 annotations. Although it does have to be said that as Mansfield Park is the longest of Jane’s novels, adding 372 to the original 560 page novel (Penguin Classics version) is still quite impressive!
An annotated classic may not sound like big news, after all, most classic novels now have annotated versions, but this one we at the Jane Austen News feel is newsworthy because of how thorough it is in its explanations. Also because the annotations themselves are rather fun to read, at the same time as, of course, being informative. For example:
Until the late 18th century brought cups with handles, tea was served in bowllike dishes. The term “dish of tea” lingered, “especially among those, like Mrs. Price, who were less affluent and thus slower to purchase items in the newer style.”
A “ha-ha” is a sunken fence, developed in the 18th century for the landscaped grounds of grand houses, designed to keep livestock away from the grass while not interfering with the view. The name may have arisen “because people could see the trench only when they were almost on top of it, leading to surprised exclamations of ‘ha-ha!’”
In honour of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, Oxford University Press has published Teenage Writings; the combined content of the three notebooks of Jane Austen’s teenage writings which still survive to this day. The earliest pieces probably date from 1786 or 1787, around the time that Jane was aged 11 or 12, and show a more tongue-in-cheek side of Jane than that which we’re used to today. The stories include the likes of plays in which we never learn what’s going on, and heroines who leave home only to return again, dissatisfied with the world, by the same evening. Drunkenness, brawling, sexual misbehavior, theft, and even murder prevail.
To accompany the release, Professor Kathryn Sutherland and Doctor Freya Johnston (editors of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Teenage Writings) discuss in this video Jane’s early writings, and how they reflect the novelist she would become.
Boston College staged an interesting debate recently. Their English Department decided to host an “Austen vs. Poe Smackdown”.
“Edgar Allan Poe and Jane Austen represent polar opposites of the same literary genre. The American vs. the Brit, facing off with two wildly different worldviews, possess two markedly different styles. But only one can be arbitrarily crowned ‘the most interesting.'”
Professor Elizabeth Wallace upheld the landed gentry for Austen, while Professor Paul Lewis embraced the melancholy of Poe’s prose. Both were flanked by student defenders, dead set on proliferating superior ideas about their respective literary heroes. The arguments were that Poe documented real issues, while establishing intrigue in the narrative form and spoke of afflictions in an attempt to explain why we act the way we do, while Austen was a powerful visionary novelist operating under the constraints of her time. Wallace posited that her mere “love stories” were actually poignant political commentary that spoke of social mobility, gender and class. She said that while Poe languished in his own self pity, Austen offered up commentary on a life worth living.
Ultimately the result was that both sides of the debate left with a new-found respect for the other side. Each author was crowned with their own award, but neither was said to be the definitive best. Instead Team Poe won the award for “Psychological Terror,” while Austen was graced with the award for “Political Critique.” Everyone’s a winner.
We do love it when modern women’s magazines promote Jane Austen. The latest one to do so is Australia’s Elle magazine who’ve published their “7 Quotes That Prove Jane Austen’s Advice Never Goes Out of Date”. Their top picks were:
- “There may be a hundred different ways of being in love.” Emma.
- “Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does.” Emma.
- “A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” Mansfield Park.
- “There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart…” Emma.
- “I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.” Sense and Sensibility.
- “A fortnight’s acquaintance is certainly very little. One cannot know what a man really is by the end of a fortnight.” Pride and Prejudice.
- “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance… it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.” Pride and Prejudice.
The contestants on the popular TV quiz show were asked to name which famous novel six trios of literary characters were from. However, despite Lizzie Bennet, Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley being a choice on the board, Max named Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox as having been characters from Jane’s Pride and Prejudice. Twitter users were up in arms:
“Literally p***ed myself laughing at the journalism student that thought Zaphod Beeblebrox was in Pride and Prejudice #Pointless.”
“They have Pride and Prejudice on the board and you go for totally the wrong one, are you kidding me?! #Pointless.”
And at the Jane Austen News we thought that Mr Darcy was a hero universally acknowledged as being from Pride and Prejudice. So, not universally acknowledged after all!
Finally, one for anyone who is coming to Bath in July, and specifically between July 7th and July 16th. This is when nearby Frome will be holding its 17th Frome Festival – an annual celebration of art, theatre, music, crafts and dance. As 2017 is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, the festival will honour this milestone with several literature events, and even a recital of her little known musical composition at Christ Church in Frome. So as Bath and Frome are so close together, it might be worth seeing what’s on if you’ll be coming to see us at the Centre in July and perhaps combining your visit with one of the Austen festival events!
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