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Oxford World’s Classics: Persuasion

A tale of the pain and peril of human isolation not quite overcome, a modern book: Persuasion. Better known and somewhat misunderstood as a story of reprieve & retrieval: joy snatched from a descent into ever-increasing age, illness and death. But really a book of a revenant made human, of deep emotional pain & exhaustion.

The latest Oxford reissue (2008) is a good buy for the type book, a half-way house between the rich apparatus type books (Nortons, Longmans, Broadviews) and those which accompany the text with a minimal introduction or afterward (Signet, Barnes & Noble). It includes the appendix, Austen and the Navy by Vivien Jones found in the 2008 Oxford Mansfield Park, where Jones corrects and adds information ignored in Austen’s idealized depiction of the navy; and also Henry Austen’s biographical notice first published in 1817 with the dual posthumous edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion; and the cancelled chapters or Austen’s first version of an ending for Persuasion.

I assume many readers will immediately see the use of such an appendix, and importance of Henry’s biography (albeit brief and impossibly hagiographic), but might perhaps think these cancelled chapters are superfluous to anyone but the scholarly student of Austen. Not so. They contain passages which suggest how Austen might have worked the book up to three volumes had she lived: for example, the Crofts seem to know that their brother had been engaged to Miss Anne Elliot, and be working to bring them together.

They have the potential for high drama, clashes as well as comedy, and in both the 1995 BBC and 2007 Clerkenwell/WBGH Persuasions, two slightly differing strong scenes are created towards the ends of the films out of this first ending: both Nick Dear and Simon Burke chose to dramatize Wentworth’s (for him) traumatic agonized offering of Kellynch Hall to Anne on the supposition Anne is to marry Mr Elliot. They have textual authority for a Lady Russell acting with an arrogant hostile sneer reminiscent of her inner reaction (as recorded by Austen) when she was told that Wentworth had engaged himself to Louisa Musgrove, only here it is directed at Wentworth and makes him (but only momentarily) despair (the 1995 version) or feel a renewed repugnance (the 2007), and Anne (in the 2007) feel intense anxiety and distress at the misunderstanding Lady Russell is fostering.

When in 1980 Oxford broke with the tradition of printing Northanger Abbey with Persuasion, they filled in the slender book with the cancelled chapters, and in 2004 added Henry’s biographical notice. One might have hoped they would include James Austen-Leigh’s important 1870/1 memoir of his aunt’s life; but alas, they published this separately in 2002 with Henry Austen’s two different biographical notices, Anna Lefroy’s Recollections of Aunt Jane, and Caroline Austen’s My Aunt Jane Austen: A Memoir, edited by Kathryn Sutherland.

How does this edition compare with others of the same type, the full apparatus and minimal editions? Deirdre Shauna Lynch’s introduction shows the latest trends in Austen criticism in emphasizing how the book’s time frame is overtly rooted in a specific time and place, between the capture of Napoleon and his escape, and in reading it through historical lens; in line with the other Oxfords, feminism is now avoided, so (ironically) the introduction comes most alive towards the end when she moves to discuss Anne’s debate with Harville over women’s roles and natures but still remains muted.

As an introduction for most readers, Gillian Beer’s essay in the rival half-way house edition, the 1998 Penguin (reissued 2003) is much better. It’s much more accessibly written, clear and simple; while short, her essay adds a new insight that has begun to affect readings (and films): the novel may be regarded as a kind of dream ghost-like love story which dwells on the silent intensely rich life of the disregarded heroine (a “solitary island”); Beer praises Austen’s effective frequent use of free indirect speech as an attempt to create this world of subjectivity kept in check; at the same time she notes the signs of its unfinished state.

Since the text has been freshly edited with an attempt to hold closer to Austen’s spelling and punctuation, I’d have recommended this one over the Oxford, but that it lacks the cancelled chapters and biographical notice, and thus represents a sad falling away from the 1966 Penguin edition of Persuasion by D. W. Harding, which made readily available for an inexpensive price for the first time in the century James Austen-Leigh’s transformative 1870/1 Memoir of Austen, together with the penultimate cancelled chapter (but for the last paragraph the second cancelled chapter is almost exactly that of the final chapter of the book as presently published), and a long excellent essay by him on the novel and memoir.

Among the minimalist editions, the Signet with Margaret Drabble’s introduction is yet another clearly-written insightful essay, and if the reader is not persuaded (pun intended) that the cancelled chapters, biography and other critical pieces are of service, there is an argument that Drabble’s edition (as in the case of her introductions to the Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma and Northanger Abbey Signets) is the best reading edition of Persuasion for the average reader. She edits sensibly (based on Chapman) and in her introduction discerns in Persuasion a new progressive outlook in the book’s inclusion of more fringe people, a new generosity of spirit towards the fallen and injured, a remarkable turn towards rooting experience in natural forces of all types and more & lower social worlds.

Unfortunately (as with the other new afterwards of this series), the afterward to Drabble’s Persuasion, Diana Johnson’s piece is embarrassingly simple-minded and wastes pages: she was perhaps instructed to appeal to undergraduate composition students with an explicit numbering and description of Austen’s techniques that assumes Austen was writing consciously with a marketplace like our own in mind.

So if you don’t share Drabble’s political vision or reading of the book, the similarly minimalist (but still respectably edited and framed) Barnes and Noble 2003 Persuasion, introduced by Susan Ostrow Weisser may then be marginally better for you than Drabble’s. In lieu of the overtly dumbing down afterwards offered in the latest Signets, and like the other Barnes and Noble’s Austen texts I’ve reviewed, there is a full note on the film adaptations, and a selection of little known unusual 19th century commentary. I particularly appreciated the excerpt from Sir Francis Hastings Doyle, which taught me where a fantastical elaboration of the rumor of Austen’s seaside romance came from: Mr Austen and his daughters are said to have been travelling through Switzerland and received the news of her lover’s brain fever on their way to Chamouni (resembling some of the recent books and films about Austen and Tom Lefroy). And the unashamed frankness of others: “Through [Persuasion] runs a strain of pathos unheard of in its predecessors” (from Scribner’s Magazine, 1891). Weisser provides a genuinely unidealized and persuasive account of Austen’s life; and she gives you an overview of the book which is sensible, readable, openly humanist and woman-centered. And the cover illustration is appealing too.

There is a tradition in cover illustrations for Persuasion: picturesque scenes of Bath or a plain-looking grave young woman. Hence the picture that graced the green 1964 Signet (introduction Margaret Drabble), the first version of Persuasion I ever read—and loved dearly.

The choice of Amanda Root and Sally Hawkins for the lead role in the two recent film adaptations follows this illustration history.

This tradition for covers is also followed in two of the full apparatus editions, both of which are excellent (and include the cancelled chapters called by Galperin the “original ending”) and offer picturesque scenes of Bath on their covers: Patricia Meyer Spacks’s 1995 Norton critical and William Galperin’s 2008 Longman Persuasion, e.g., from the Longman:

Although (alas) brief, Spacks’s introduction focuses us sharply on the book’s inwardness and (resembling Mansfield Park in this) sociologically-detailed and mapped text; she picks a excellent set of essays; A Walton Litz’s finely discriminated account of landscape in the novel; Robert Hopkins’s account of its modernity (its sense of chance, time) and how it reverses a number of attitudes found in Austen’s earlier novels (on first love for example); Mary Astell seems to sum up much that has been said variously; Claudia Johnson defends, and most interesting, Cheryl Ann Weissman writes of the book’s elusive schemes, in-depth and mysterious heroine & haunted fairy tale atmosphere.

Galperin’s Longman Persuasion makes good choice of contemporary materials and reiterates his (perhaps provocatively startlingly and not really persuasive point of view in a short and much more clearly written (than his book) introduction to the Longmans. He makes his case more in his choice of secondary materials. Instead of the usual reprint of Austen’s letters to Fanny Knight about who to marry and the importance of love, he reprints letters by Austen during the hard time of choosing a place to live in Bath, and the few towards the end of her time there which register her dislike and the one letter from Lyme. There is also a long section of reviews.

If for nothing else, his choice of illustrations makes his book desirable. He makes visible to the reader the realities of the places Austen describes. For example, he reprints a contemporary print of Lyme:

Finally, a third: Linda Bree’s Broadview edition. She breaks from the traditional covers to show us Montreal Harbour, c 1875, a photograph by William Notman. Her long introduction begins with some central unproven assumptions (Persuasion is the title Austen would have picked; it is essentially a finished book); however, her analysis of the extant text is so sensitive and insightful she provides much suggestion about what could have been elaborated out of the text we have: for example, Anne’s life “imprisoned in the wall of solitude and silence” is broken in upon unusually by Mr Elliot and thus she is strongly attracted to him; in a longer book, she might have spent time considering his courting of her seriously—and nearly made a common mistake, but not one the heroines were allowed before this book. It’s not that she now lacks “firm opinions” but that she lacks the “status and power” at Kellynch to give them “the authority they deserve” (pp. 25-27). Bree’s secondary materials include an annual register of naval and military events at the time of the book, and excerpts from the poems discussed in the novel.

The editions of Persuasion resemble those of Pride and Prejudice; although far fewer (because nowhere near the best-seller), they are basically books made by people deeply sympathetic to and respectful of the novel, prepared to try to make it available for all types of readers. Unlike Mansfield Park and Emma, there are no central burning controversies or faultlines regarding how to understand the book. Many readers who love Austen love Persuasion.

Myself I own 11 editions of the novel, and one version in French and one in Italian, plus one separate edition (Chapman’s) of the cancelled chapters. At one time it was my favorite of Austen’s novels, despite its manifest flaws. Now I am (like Austen herself) a bit bothered by the heroine’s near perfection (which to my mind makes her submit to and validate what she should not, what nearly destroyed her), and I wonder whether this harmony is the result of its relatively unfinished state; she hadn’t the time for her usual gradual performance which (I agree with Virginia Woolf and many others since here) might have once again produced a book both disquieting and ultimately comforting.

RRP: £4.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed. / edition (17 April 2008)
ISBN-10: 0199535558
ISBN-13: 978-0199535552

Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and the three unfinished novel fragments. She is currently working on a book, The Austen Movies. Visit her website for further Austen related articles.

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The latest Oxford edition of Emma

Emma. The book of books. A remarkable novel where when a story or character suggestively goes through Emma’s mind since she half-gets it wrong, and sees it partially, we are invited to imagine it whole—so one novel becomes many in potential.

Like all the other latest Oxfords, the text here is a reprint of the 1971 text edited by James Kinsley (basically an emended reprint of Chapman’s 1923 text as revised by Mary Lascelles). As with Pride and Prejudice, there is no alternative first text as there is no manuscript and Austen died before a second edition could even be thought of. Like latest reprints of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, we also get exactly the same supplemental materials: brief biographical note, bibliography, chronology, and (by Vivien Jones) appendices on rank and social status and on dancing. The notes are a reprint of the 2003 notes Adele Pinch wrote.

Adela Pinch’s introduction to the latest 2008 Oxford reprint of Emma emphasizes how different Emma seemed to most novels to readers of the era; Pinch tells us how bored Edgeworth said she felt in a letter to a friend. Since it was Austen who sent a copy of her book to Edgeworth (probably out of pride in an achievement), I, for one, prefer to assume this comment never got round to Austen. Not that Austen is herself shy of criticizing other novelists harshly or (at least in her letters to her sister) at all unsure of the high and exquisite quality of her artistry. Her response to Scott’s review was to complain he left out Mansfield Park.

Pinch goes on to say that Scott’s remarkable review focuses precisely on what he felt made Emma so noteworthy he had to record it himself: its use of quiet diurnal events so understated and unextraordinary that we can be fooled into thinking the book is as real as the lives going on around us. Pinch considers this kind of texture “revolutionary” and discusses how Emma’s blunders amid such everyday experience as shopping and gossip, makes readers question how they know what they know. Fiona Stafford’s introduction to the (2003) New Penguin, takes the same stance and uses the same text: there too we begin with Scott’s review; the difference is Stafford then goes on to suggest this realism is an illusion Austen set up and continually undercuts by her use of puns, allusions, games, coded names and parody.

It is common for people writing on Emma to begin with taking it as an extraordinary achievement as well as a book somehow more fully representative of Austen’s art than any of her others. And it is now de rigueur (as Pinch and Stafford do) to single out free indirect discourse as Austen’s invention too, when in fact it may be found (though crudely done) in many earlier novels. Nonetheless, it is not true that free indirect discourse and quiet diurnal probable realism were new or unique to Emma: precisely this mood and versions of this kind of discourse can be found in novels by Charlotte Lennox, Sarah Fielding, Mary Brunton (Austen complained about one of her books perhaps because in another so like Emma that were it not for its date, it’d be called a source, Discipline), and among the French writers who Austen read, Isabelle de Charriere, Stephanie-Felicite de Genlis, Adelaide de Souza and Isabelle de Montolieu use free indirect discourse & quiet diurnal realism. Further, what Scott is actually astonished by is Austen’s ability to conjure up in an excited, spirited and original way a complexly believable ordinary character, not a fanatic, not grotesque, not in psychological extremis; that is what is beyond him he feels.

The important innovation of Emma forms the centerpiece of a central critical text of our time: Wayne Booth’s Rhetoric of Fiction where he is deeply troubled by a technique or element that he feels distinguishes modern or 20th century novels from just about all earlier ones: an unreliable narrator whose morality is appallingly bad or pernicious.

In Emma Austen did something so innovative and controlled that it was not imitated with a similar artistic consistency until Gustave Flaubert’s Emma Bovary. (It’s no coincidence Flaubert called his erring heroine, Emma.). At the center of Austen’s novel is an unreliable narrator toward whom her implied author takes an ironic or distanced stance. This in order to present us with a self-centered self-regarding, blundering as well as startlingly blind, domineering, very rich and snobbish, and at times malicious heroine.

Why did I call this perplexing? Well Austen as implied author gives Emma qualities she likes, nay identifies with: as a composite whole, Austen wants us to recognize Emma as part of ourselves. Sometimes Emma is all kindness, especially towards her father.

As numerous critics have written, it is difficult to know how we are to judge any particular character, incident or utterance when the innovation (ploy, trick) is to make the heroine, its “central reflector” (to use Henry James’s term) our unreliable and only narrator except for two chapters where the free indirect discourse is used to make Mr Knightley our reflector (I:5 & 3:5); occasional carefully unobtrusive narratives and interjections by our implied author when it is necessary for us to know some piece of history or point of view we would be in danger of misunderstanding were we to be given it by Emma (e.g, most of 1:2, 2:2, the first sentence of 2:4), and obstreperous or apparently obtuse characters who will act or have their say irrespective of Emma’s wishes (e.g., Mr Weston and Mrs Elton in the 2nd through 28th paragraph of 3:6)

Now Booth sees the development after Austen as dangerous since the reader is seduced into identifying and sympathizing with such central consciousnesses and amorality is reinforced and made acceptable. He suggests there had been unreliable narrators before, but the first one, Austen’s, is in a book that carefully discriminates between what is right and wrong by having an alert and active enough implicit author and a heroine who is basically a good person even if flawed, one whose happy ending we are to rejoice in. Myself I can think of dozens of novels where just this combination of dramatic irony, mystery and alternating sympathy and alienation is the reigning technique, and most of them those by women have narrators we are ambivalent about.

Where the problem with Booth’s analysis comes up is how sure he is that all readers admire and rejoice in Emma herself. He seems at times to forget Austen’s famous statement upon embarking on writing the book: ‘I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like’. While on the Internet among common readers of Austen, Fanny and not Emma wars have become famous, it doesn’t take long before coming across strong dissenters from Booth’s complacent delight in Emma, for his is a father’s view of his wonderfully loving, smart and finally submissive daughter (rather like Mr Knightley who he also admires very much), and thus very different interpretations of the novel.

Of those who cannot like Emma and rigorously find faults and flaws in the book or are candid in asking how we are to take a scene that seems to ask us to accept an obnoxious or now obsolete social attitude, I name Mark Schorer, Margaret Drabble, Arnold Kettle, and most recently Avrom Fleishman. Fleishman’s essay is the most intriguing since like Austen he uses an ironic tone: he presents this strange young woman without telling us what her name is (except since it’s in Todd’s book under Emma we must guess). Austen’s heroine emerges as a sexually frustrated neurotic woman tied down to an imbecilic weak (unconscious) tyrant. This over-the-top yet persuasive (you have to read the essay) interpretation stays with one because of the use of irony, and I at least was left wondering if this psychoanalysis is more accurate than we like to admit.

Fleishman’s view coheres with the more traditional approach of Schorer who sees the sexual frustration and fear in Emma and who also resembles Booth because in the end he feels Emma is rightly rewarded with Mr Knightley and qualifiedly adult contentment after she has been humiliated. Schorer’s is a punitive masculinist interpretation. For my part I find Margaret Drabble’s frank dissent and discomfort with Emma and her puzzles over where Austen is in this book and what she expects us to think and feel among all this irony the most illuminating essay in conventional print about it. Far superior to Pinch or Stafford.

This latest Oxford Emma does differ in one way from the three latest Oxfords I have reviewed: like the others, we get a detail of a picture of an attractive young woman so angled that the picture becomes a close up; however, this time the choice (as in 2003) is George Dawe’s Portrait of Mrs White (nee Watford), Full Length in a White Silk Dress (1809) and angling the camera this way makes the woman’s breasts prominent and (as it were) in the viewer’s face. So the volume participates in the recent fashion for exposure of breasts on classic or high status novels (and their sequels), a pornification which matches this decades fashion, even if the use of old images precludes also presenting an anorexic sexy model.

More appropriate to Austen’s subdued book are the images of ordinary social life which provide the covers for the books which provide full apparatuses, e.g., the two Norton editions thus far (of an 1817-18 assembly at Clifton) or the choice for the Longman Emma (ed. Frances Ferguson) of a contemporary image of Apley Priory, an 1811 mansion which included medievalizing elements that made it resemble an abbey.

Countering the insistence on the lifelike believable characters and place, is an equally strong tradition where it’s demonstrated how idyllic, leisured, insular, narrow and protected is the world our heroine is conscious of and lives wholly in.

More appropriate than a huge elegant romanticized mansion or exquisiteness picturesqueness would be a picture of a quiet country village, something anticipating Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.

I’m one of those uncomfortable with Austen’s Emma. I don’t see what Emma has done to merit the apparently happy ending she is rewarded with. It may be that Austen is just showing how such a woman, so handsome, clever, rich, now with two comfortable homes, and a complacent disposition will live with ease. If so, I wish she hadn’t spent so many final chapters detailing the wish-fulfillment element and cannot myself believe that Jane Fairfax could so quickly forgive, unless again we are to see status at work and Jane’s reserve still functioning to protect her. This seems a stretch in that “feel good” scene between them in the corridor of Miss Bates’s lodging. What may be said, as Margaret Drabble writes, is “society has triumphed,” and I would feel more comfortable if the irony directed at the final happy community were shafted by someone other than Mrs Elton.

You can purchase Emma in various editions at our Jane Austen Bookshop. Click here.

Price: £4.99
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed. / edition (17 April 2008)
ISBN-10: 0199535523
ISBN-13: 978-0199535521

Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and the three unfinished novel fragments. She is currently working on a book, The Austen Movies. Visit her website for further Austen related articles.

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Mansfield Park: A Review

Mansfield Park

by Jane Austen

While I’m not sure we really know how Mansfield Park rates among groups of readers, and there is evidence to suggest that like the other four novels beyond Pride and Prejudice, this one pleases slightly different subgroups of among Austen wide and varied audience, I was relieved to find that the 2008 reissue of Mansfield Park begins with a fine essay by Jane Stabler, who, while concentrating on social issues and psychology, also empathizes with its heroine’s drama of consciousness; like Margaret Anne Doody in the 2008 reissue of Sense and Sensibility, she makes a strong lucid case for regarding the novel as a radical critique of Austen’s society. Unlike the Oxford Pride and Prejudice, the 2008 MP is tailored to the specific volume. So beyond the usual appendices by Vivien Jones about rank and status in the era, and explicating dances literally and as metaphors, there is a useful brief essay on Lovers’ Vows which makes clear some of the parallels between Inchbald’s charaMP and Lovers Vows, and an appendix on the Navy, which corrects and adds information ignored in Austen’s idealized depiction of the Navy.

The explanatory notes are very thorough, essays in themselves sometimes, and there is the usual brief biography, bibliography and note on the text.

As with the new Penguin edition of S&S (where Ros Ballaster reprints the 1811 text which is not bowlderized as is the 1813), in the new Penguin MP, a decision has been made to print the first text of MP issued in Austen’s lifetime, printed by Egerton in 1814. Everyone agrees this one is riddled with small errors, and some suggest that Austen’s switching to Murray for the second, in 1816, implies she was unsatisfied with it. She corrected the second as best she could: “I return also, Mansfield Park, as ready for a 2d Edit: I beleive, as I can make it” (Letters, 11 December 1815, from Henry’s London home to John Murray).

In her original and important JA’s Textual Lives, Kathryn Sutherland argued, that the 1811 text of Sense and Sensibility and 1814 text of Mansfield Park came closer to the spirit of Austen as they were not overly polished and corrected as she thought they had been by R. W. Chapman. Up to this point, people regularly used the 1816 edition as their copy text (collated with the 1814 and emended appropriately).

I have gone into the merits of Sutherland’s case before, and shown that what we have here is an agenda fight (what image of Austen does an editor want a reader to come away with) as well as a competitive business in editions. This Oxford reissue is really a reprint of the 1816 text first established by James Kinsley in 1970: he reprinted Chapman as revised by Mary Lascelles after studying the previous collations and emendations. It seems that the Penguin people are in competition with Cambridge, for the quarrel in print has been between Sutherland on behalf of the new Penguins and Janet Todd on behalf of the new Cambridge edition of Austen.

The value of the new Penguin text is that a text is provided which has not been available before (and at a much much cheaper price than the Cambridge). The interested reader could compare this 2008 reissue of the Oxford with the new Penguin. Beyond that the Penguin people decided to reprint Tony Tanner’s profound essay on Mansfield Park, an early persuasive explication and defense of the book along Lionel Trilling lines, with the difference that Tanner did not think we need dislike Fanny; indeed like Stabler, Tanner expects us to empathize with her. The new Penguin edition decision to print along the runners at the top of the page both the original volume and chapter number as well as the chapters when they are consecutively numbered is also very useful. Perhaps this is the most useful innovation the new Penguins offer.

I come to the sticky part: a discussion of the troubling content. Full disclosure is best. Sense and Sensibility is my favorite Austen novel, and Mansfield Park my second favorite. The year I was fifteen I read Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park for the first time, and I know it has never quite left my mind since. On any given day I can easily call it to mind, and I often do. I remember very vividly the end of my first reading experience. As I came to the closing page, and read (and my brain has this etched in) “the consciousness of being born to struggle and endure,” the thought crossed my mind, “what a strong book this is, this is the strongest book I’ve ever read,” and when I got to its last sentence, I turned back to the first page and began rereading. I didn’t want this strengthening calm to end. I also remember being astonished at the blurb which called it a “rollicking comedy.” Austen was teaching me how to survive.

Further, I have submitted a proposal to give a paper at the 2009 JASNA to be called “Disquieting Patterns in Austen’s Novels.” Among my topics will be the quasi-incestuous patterns across the six novels, and I mean particularly to deal with Fanny’s intense adoration of Edmund, partly displaced onto her brother, William.

I think Mansfield Park is a novel as much about love as it is about social issues, but it’s about hidden love—so is S&S, Elinor’s for Edward, her brother’s brother-in-law; in P&P, it’s Jane’s for Bingley who has apparently discarded her and thus publicly humiliated her; Emma has Jane and Frank…and Harriet’s for everyone; Persuasion’s, Anne Elliot still cares for Frederick Wentworth and so it goes. It is a book shaped by a mind consciously harboring a tabooed, expressly forbidden love which, if Sir Thomas were to suspect in the scene where she refuses Henry Crawford, Fanny would be horrifically castigated and outcast immediately. Much of Fanny’s behavior becomes understandable when we realize how she has to work at keeping this secret; also if we perceive the distance between her and our implicit or implied author: Austen is not influenced intensely by Edmund; Fanny is. Many of Fanny’s reactions are shaped by her intense apprehension for Edmund.

Of course whether we like a book is essentially chacun a son gout. All one can do is make visible the faultlines: what’s called the book’s moralism, Fanny Price and the choice of life her character and fate endorses. As with Pride and Prejudice, I own 11 editions of this book, not counting translations into French and Italian. Revealingly, one of the more popularly-oriented of my editions, one with a minimum apparatus of a perceptive and frank introductory essay by Margaret Drabble (and brief appendix) identifies most candidly and simply what makes some readers call the book moralistic: Drabble shows how over the course of the book Fanny gradually learns to accept and then to love Mansfield Park as it “offers her safety and protection;” no more than Portsmouth is this house idyllic, but rather “full of the energies of discord—sibling rivalry, greed, ambition, illicit sexual passion, and vanity” kept, just, under control; the difference are the palliations wealth provides: space, books, order, servants, beauty.

Much critical comment has attacked Rozema’s 1999 Mansfield Park, and one of the changes she makes is to sweep away this beauty and insist on the discords and the misery of those who are forced to support the house.

According to Drabble, Austen is exposing what goes on beneath the patriarchal surface “to demonstrate . . that life is not simple, choices are not simple, we cannot have our cake and eat it too” (xii). Mansfield Park differs from Austen’s other novels in that here she makes visible what is left latent in Pride and Prejudice—Austen was not altogether ironic when she called it “too light, bright and sparkling.” P&P was written when Austen was 20; MP was revised and completed long Austen left Steventon, had lived as marginalized gentry in Bath, had had to depend on brothers when her father died; by my chronology Lady Susan and The Watsons were drafted closest in time to this novel.

On the other hand, and this is important, Mansfield Park is beautiful, it is peaceful, it is an upper class haven of reading and peace and culture. And that too is what is today unacceptable: the aspiration to that.

What is usually said to be the source of the objection to Fanny was identified early on by Edmund Wilson: “The woman reader wants to identify herself with the heroine, and she rebels at the idea of being Fanny.” John Wiltshire repeats this so persuasively he’s worth quoting at length:

“In a fascinating article about the teaching of Mansfield Park in an elite college in Delhi, Ruth Vanita has shown how her students both identified with, and dis-identified with, the novel’s heroine, the quiet, submissive Fanny Price. As Vanita writes, the students recognised in the heroine’s situation many of the lineaments of their own position. As girls they are denied privileges accorded to their brothers, for instance, just as Fanny is denied the privileges given to her cousins. But the students disliked what one might call Fanny’s coping style—her quiet dutifulness, her need to make herself valued by being ‘good’. Vanita stresses how reluctant her female students were to recognise Fanny’s courage in resisting the family’s concerted attempt to make her marry Henry Crawford. Most interestingly, she suggests that the contempt some students expressed for Fanny was really self-contempt at a female role many were in reality forced to adopt in modern Indian society.

These reactions, however, are found also in Australian students, whose social situation is not at all similar to their Indian counterparts. Anglo-Saxon Australian (and ‘assimilated’) girls are generally free to choose their sexual partners or at least this is the prevailing cultural assumption—and they are not generally treated as inferior to their male peers. They, too, despise Fanny Price. Hers is a life governed by constrictions and denials, and many young readers do not want to imaginatively align themselves with such a life, or do not allow themselves to understand how little free in effect a life may be. One cannot help thinking, though, that if the truth were told, many of these students-quiet, intelligent girls, whose inner life is sustained by reading-resemble Fanny far more than they do Elizabeth Bennet.

For my part I think the reason Fanny is disliked is she is a creature of the book she inhabits; her character and behavior are conditioned by Austen’s larger aims which, like Trilling and Tanner, include offering a perspective which finds a life worth living in giving oneself over to quiet kindness, reciprocal consideration, a principled refusal to perform falsely, to network as we say, in order to hold fast to the self, against life’s continual chaos and cruelties. The heroine of this book is consequently someone who lives on and in herself as she is; she is in a way intensely self-possessed, not to be taken over by others if she believes they are doing wrong at the same time as she has no need to change them. She would not agree with Mary Crawford’s idea that marriage is a “take-in,” but she will not perform falsely to achieve it, and we are shown what the social world is and thus way. It’s revealing at the end of the book Mary has not married but retreated to her sister’s companionship.

I submit it is this lack of valuing socializing itself and for itself, a Rousseauian impulse that is so disliked. I find Fanny to be one of the strongest feminists in Austen’s oeuvre; what in Mary is a wary caution, but cunning which gets nowhere as Mary has not divested herself of a need for society’s false admiration, in Fanny becomes a principle. Fanny says she cannot see why women should be expected to jump at a man’s offer; the deeper truth is (like all the other Austen heroines) inwardly she has no need to conform or for inward acceptance by those she find deeply uncongenial. The difference is in this book to suit its theme this trait of Fanny’s is made centrally important to her personality.

You can purchase Mansfield Park in several different editions at our Jane Austen Giftshop. Click here.

Retail Price: £5.99
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed. / edition (17 April 2008)
ISBN-10: 0199535531
ISBN-13: 978-0199535538

Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and the three unfinished novel fragments. She is currently working on a book, The Austen Movies. Visit her website for further Austen related articles.

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Oxford World’s Classics: Pride and Prejudice- A Review

Oxford Pride and Prejudice Cover

Pride and Prejudice
By Jane Austen

A Review by Ellen Moody
Gentle readers, here we are again, with diptych reviews of what turns out to be a reissue by Oxford in 2008 of its 2004 edition of Pride and Prejudice. I have complemented Laurel Ann’s review (from Austenprose). Laurel Ann’s review will give an overview of the novel, while I will focus on this particular edition and Pride and Prejudice’s overall popularity.

As before, I must agree with Laurel: the latest Oxford Pride and Prejudice is not quite as good a buy as the latest Oxford Sense and Sensibility. The two have exactly the same supplemental materials: brief biographical note, bibliography, chronology, and (by Vivien Jones) appendices on rank and social status and on dancing. The difference is the introduction and explanatory notes are by Fiona Stafford. So this Oxford half-way house series (half-way between those series which have an overload and those which have too bare an apparatus) does not tailor each edition to the specific novel. The publisher may assume their readers will not buy all six books, but the reader minded to do so will buy the same supplementary materials six times [1]. Fiona Stafford’s explanatory notes are full and very helpful; but her introduction is disappointing because much of it (to be fair, not all), and its central perspective rehashes the many times previously-discussed theme of misleading first impressions, preconceived judgements, and slow self-recognition, for which (to take just one previous example), Tony Tanner’s essay provides a brilliant and lucid exposition. [2]

To move to context, then and now: in the case of Pride and Prejudice, there cannot be any clear battles drawn over which texts to print and (if appropriate) emend. As with Sense and Sensibility we do not have in whole or part any manuscript version by Austen of Pride and Prejudice. This is lamentable since it’s thought that, like Sense and Sensibility, our present Pride and Prejudice is a much revised originally epistolary novel; it was probably the “manuscript novel, comprising 3 volumes, about the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina,” which Austen’s father sent out to a publisher in November 1797, only to see it immediately rejected. To have self-published a second book this length would have been a second costly venture, so perhaps to get Pride and Prejudice accepted by a publisher, Austen “lop’t and cropt” (Jane Austen’s letters, to Cassandra, 29 January 1813), i.e., cut and abridged her book somewhat ruthlessly. With the respectful attention Sense and Sensibility had garnered, she was then gratified to sell the copyright outright to Egerton for 110 pounds.

Thus Austen had no control over the printed texts of Pride and Prejudice at all. She was displeased by the divisions of the volumes in the first 1813 edition, blunders in paragraphing and a lack of clarity in the way the novels’ dialogues were printed, but the quick second edition (in the same year) and a third (1817) show no sign of her participation and the usual errors have begun to creep in. So there is no printed book which reflects her final decisions. The default custom is to reprint the first edition with emendation (doing basically what Chapman did), but sometimes collating the second and third. The latter option is what was done for Oxford by James Kinsley in 1973. Only with hindsight, did Austen know she could have made much more money. There is no sign she had the slightest inkling that this book above and beyond all her others would at first gradually and then suddenly by the later 20th century become a astonishingly wide best-seller.

In her review Laurel has pointed to P&P’s status. It was at first an immediately popular book among its contemporary Regency reading public. The satiric playwright, Richard Sheridan, is reputed to have said it was “one of the cleverest things he ever read” and told others to read it. Nonetheless, in the first half of the 19th century Austen’s novels were regarded as appealing to an elite taste. It was in 1870, when Austen’s nephew, James Austen-Leigh published his memoir of his aunt’s life which framed her books as sentimental romance, that the idea Austen’s books could have a general popular and wide appeal spread, and (as Henry James remarked), publishers began to work the material up.

In Jane Austen’s novels we witness a complex event of the type that the sales of the Harry Potter books represent: an initial attraction, and several intervening steps come together. After Austen-Leigh somewhat misleadingly reframed the books as nostalgic comic romances, from the late Victorian to the Edwardian era, the novels were framed as Janeism, a mixture of kitsch and arch comedy, quaint, unreal somehow, and for everyone to escape to. It is during this time we find elegant sets of books with illustrations reinforcing the comedy and sentiment of Pride and Prejudice.

In the era leading into WW1 and since, they were reframed as comfort books—an idea brought to vivid comic life in Kipling’s famous story, Janeites. Then thanks to Chapman in the 1920s Austen becomes fit matter for scholarly editions and criticism (the equivalent of Latin classics); by the 1930s, she is one of three acceptable female authors available to male readers (George Eliot, Jane and narrowly Virginia Woolf).

I belong to a large software community called Library Thing, where as of the writing of this blog 459,380 people have catalogued 29,428,407 books. A software engine there informed me I am one among 20,752 people to have a copy of Pride and Prejudice. By contrast, around 10,021 members of this community own a copy of Emma; 9,456 have a copy of Sense and Sensibility; 7,143 have a copy of Persuasion; 5,883 have a Mansfield Park; 4,988 have a Northanger Abbey.

The meaningfulness of these numbers is limited since Library Thing is made up of people who own enough books to want to catalogue them, who can do the software, and who are probably more reading types than the average person. Further, one person may own more than one or many copies of a particular book. I own 11 different editions and reprints of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in English and one French and one Italian [5]. Nonetheless, the sheer number of copies of Pride and Prejudice, and the discrepancy between this and the numbers of other of Austen’s novels owned at Library Thing are striking.

But why Pride and Prejudice above all? As Q.D. Leavis and others have shown, it’s not very different from Austen’s others [6]. Recently Laurel posted on Austenprose some revealing, albeit, typical results from a survey: Pride and Prejudice is named in among the top five favorite books grouped with Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre. Such surveys have been shown to be of limited use: people cannot be gotten to tell truth when asked what are their favorite books for real or even necessarily to tell the whole truth on whether they read the books they cite or not. People are guided in how they think their choices will make them look, what kind of statement they want to make about their reading habits. The same kind of feeling guides how they respond to book covers (people don’t want to show a book cover that will make them in their own eyes look bad to someone else). And how they see or think others see the book. [7]

But they do show us something, and that is how readers perceive the books they cite. And they perceive Pride and Prejudice as a primal archetypal and respectable romance book—to be cited in the same breath as Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. In Stafford’s introduction to this new Oxford, she ignores this, the very reason for this latest re-issue of Pride and Prejudice. The reason is not far to seek; she does not want to get caught up in the real conflicts over the book; above all, the increasingly verboten use of the word feminism [8]. By contrast, in Vivien Jones’s introduction to the new Penguin edition, Jones begins with a truth not universally acknowledged that “the experienced reader of romance” as she opens Pride and Prejudice knows just what to expect: after an ordeal (in this case the heroine learns to distrust herself), she’s given her heart’s dream of a handsome man, great wealth, prestige, and tender protective love in spades.

The question for women today is how falsifying is this vision? There seems to be but one legitimate goal for the Bennet sisters, one security (having a strong rich man), but are there no other options? There is cruelty in Austen’s depiction of a reading girl (Mary Bennet), which is reinforced by film-makers who deliberately choose flat-chested actresses and dress them up to look ugly. A rare departure is found in Fay Weldon’s depiction of Mary Bennet as lively, eager, and smarter than we realize in her 1979 mini-series Pride and Prejudice.

Yet, is it false to women’s experience of powerlessness today and the continued prestige and power of male and male heterosexual desires in the public marketplace? In pre-feminist and now this backlashed post-feminist era, women have seen that education has not given them power, and they turn to Austen’s version of romance as refuge, as places they can recuperate an identity they are not allowed to enjoy elsewhere. It is this perspective which leads to the aligning of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and all her novels with modern modern chick-lit. [9]

You can purchase Pride and Prejudice in several different editions at our Jane Austen Giftshop. Click here.

Paperback: 382 pages

Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed. / edition (17 April 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0199535566

ISBN-13: 978-0199535569

RRP: £4.99

Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and the three unfinished novel fragments. She is currently working on a book, The Austen Movies. Visit her website for further Austen related articles.


  • Supplemental materials tailored to shed light and information on the specific novel at hand is one of the great strengths of the kind of edition which provides rich supplementary materials, and of the many for P&P, I recommend no less than three: 1) the third edition (2001) of the Norton Pride and Prejudice, edited by Donald Gray, for its array of well-chosen selections from Austen’s letters, early biographical writing, Austen’s Juvenilia, and especially pieces from 20th & 21st century critical essays, which form a remarkably diverse yet coherent conversation on the novel; 2) the 2003 Longmans cultural edition of Pride and Prejudice edited by Claudia Johnson and Susan J. Wolfson, for its thick section of contemporary documents on money, the marriage market, male and female character as seen as the time, the picturesque and great houses, selections from Jane Austen’s own letters and (as there was much) contemporary reactions to this novel; and 2) the stunning achievement of David Shapard, for he has produced an easy-to-use mini-encylopedia, which (since the information is placed on alternative pages) need not overwhelm a new reader: The Annotated Pride and Prejudice (New York: Anchor, 2004). Particularly felicitious are Shapard’s choices for drawings and illustrations, e.g.
  • Tanner’s essay was first published in book form as Knowledge and Opinion: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1986):103-141; it is also found as the introductory essay to the first English Penguin Library (1972) edition of the novel, which edition was reprinted in 1986; in the most recent or new Penguin edition of Pride and Prejudice (2003), Tony Tanner’s essay is reprinted as an appendix.
  • The 2003 new Penguin (referred to in Note 1) takes the step of adhering more closely to the 1813 text (there is no attempt to standardize or modernize the text), so as with the 2003 new Penguin Sense and Sensibility, which took the unusual step of reprinting the first 1811 text of that novel. The new Penguins offer readers a somewhat different text, one which may look strange, but at the same time be closer to Austen’s original manuscript and hold some new interest. The reader who buys the new Penguin can then compare it to the usual modernized 1813 texts.
  • From Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography, edd. Michael Sadleir and Frederick Page (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980):104.
  • For Pride and Prejudice I own Jane Austen, Orgueil et prejuges, trans. V. Leconte and Ch. Pressoir, note biographique de Jacques Roubaud. Paris: Christian Bourgeois 1979, with preface by Virginia Woolf translated into Frenchy by Denise Getzler; and Orgoglio e pregiudizio, trans. Elena Grillo, introd. Pietro Meneghelli, in Jane Austen: Tutti e romanzi, ed. Ornella de Zordo (Rome: Grandi Tascabili Economici Newton 1997).
  • Q. D. Leavis, A Critical Theory of Jane Austen’s Writings, Scrutiny, 10 (1941-42), pp. 114-142, 272-294; 12 (1944-45), pp. 104-119.
  • It’s heartening to think women are at least not made ashamed of liking archetypal women’s books, and will cite Austen’s works, GWTW, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre—though they can be ridiculed and shamed out of going to a womens’ film or made to think it’s bad because they don’t think about who wrote the review or that it’s the product of masculinist values. Statistically white readers outnumber those polled, so we should note most of these lists don’t reflect at all what non-white readers say they favor or read.
  • Other half-way house editions which begin at the right place frankly, the popularity of P&P and its status as an ultimate romance, include the recent 2008 reprint of the Signet edition of Pride and Prejudice with Margaret Drabble’s perceptive and candid introduction (first printed as part of this edition since 1950). Nowadays there’s an afterword by a popular romance writer (swashbucklers and bodice-rippers are part of her trade), Eloisa James whose reading of the novel makes visible just how such a lover of romance understands the book. Ms James waxes indignant over Elizabeth’s hypocrisy. It seems Austen’s heroine is a hypocrite because she doesn’t admit how much she longs to marry, see Afterword, pp. 377-79. My choice for my students in a general education literature course is this little Signet.
  • The feminist critique of Pride and Prejudice is well-argued by Claudia Johnson in Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1988):73-75, 80-84, 87-89; also Susan Fraiman, The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet, Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development (NY: Columbia UP, 1993):69-87. A really intelligent defense and explanation of women’s novels may be found in Chick-lit: The New Women’s Ficiton, edd. Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young (NY: Routledge, 2006).