As Exhibit A in support of my praise for Brian Southam as a pioneer of modern Austen studies, I give you the following impassioned excerpt from his rarely cited 1971 article, “General Tilney's Hot-houses: Some recent Jane Austen studies and texts” Ariel, 2:4 (1971), 52-62:
"...someone who reads [Austen's] novels with a fresh and enquiring eye, who bothers to question the meaning and implication of the words on the page, who seeks to understand, for example, what Jane Austen means in Northanger Abbey by the wealth of detail and activity with which she surrounds General Tilney (as a pamphleteer; in his pose as a mysterious man-of-affairs, sitting up at night, as he claims, to brood upon the state of the nation; in his extraordinary kitchens, equipped (Heath- Robinsonishly?) with culinary devices of his own invention; in his possession of a kitchen-garden of staggering size and content) — someone who bothers to ask himself what Jane Austen means by all this, whether she meant anything or nothing, will get no help from Chapman, or, to be quite fair, from anyone else, editor, historian or critic alike (including Dr Craik). Perhaps the as yet unpublished Northanger Abbeys of the OET or PEL will rectify this. But it is not rash to guess that they won't. I say this on the evidence of the present record, since the notes to the novels so far published, in both editions, are so dependent upon Chapman, sometimes ludicrously so."
It turned out that Brian was in many ways a voice crying out in the wind, unheeded, because I will, at my presentation in Portland in less than 3 weeks, but nearly 40 YEARS after his Ariel article was published, be the FIRST to be extending some of his important insights about the mysterious character of General Tilney.
The problem turns out not to have been the undue stifling influence of Chapman, as Brian speculated, because Chapman is rarely mentioned these days. But that same prevailing ethos of frowning on truly radical reexamination of Austen's writing continues to rule the day. I am determined that another 40 years shall not pass in this fashion.
A Visit with the late Duke of Sussex
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