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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The OED won't tell you that Mary Bennet read Adam Smith

A comment I made about the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) being an anachronism....

"If you use Google Books to read books from JA's era, you can go directly to the source, and bypass the OED, a 20th century tool"


...led Diana Birchall to ask the following:

"That's interesting, Arnie. I've always used the OED...[but] if it is no longer the thing for JA research, I'm very intrigued to know more about your method! I notice you are consulting an 1822 glossary by David Nares. Is this your main source, or have you other favorites? How
do you find them?"

I am happy to answer you publicly, Diana.

I will intersperse Nancy Mayer's answer with my own additional comments:

[Nancy] "Google Books is fantastic for finding books published within 5 years of Jane Austen's birth and death."


When my son Henry first made me aware of Google Books in 2006, it revolutinized my research, because it removed the middleman, i.e., sources like the OED--you could simply enter search words and see what came up. I have never stopped using it, I use it every single day.

The "advanced search" function allows you to search in specific date ranges, beginning (appropriately for Janeites) in 1776, and for exact phrases, and to omit certain words, etc--so you can be very precise in seeking material out, and not having to wade through thousands of "hits" to find what you suspect might be there.

So when I got the idea that "nidgetty" might be based on the word "nidget", it took me about 5 minutes to ascertain what a nidget was on a farm, to look at an image of one, and to see who had written about nidgets in JA's era. That is how I found that 1822 book, it was one of
the "hits" for the word "nidget" from that era!

[Nancy] "One has to double check, of course, that a book supposedly dated 1805 isn't really 1865. Books published before 1811 usually have the long s (sort of like f). Also, even if Google dates a book as 1808, it might be 1888 if Queen Victoria or the married woman's property act is mentioned."

Yes, I learned that early as well, i.e., that Google Books regularly produces "hits" which turn out to be outside the date range, especially with volumes of periodicals. So I always check the front of the book to see the actual printed date (it also gives a lot of practice in reading Roman numerals!).

"Even if I grant that she was one who had a compulsion to read just about everything that came her way-- I don't have to agree that she knew everything or read everything."

I have a perfect example, Nancy--the other night, I gave my brief talk at the local Austenmania event that was put on at Florida International University, about Mary Bennet as an alter ego for Jane Austen, and one of my strongest points was quoting from parallel passages from Mary's speeches and from Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations, to show that Mary Bennet is actually voicing a strong critique of the allure of wealth to those who are not wealthy, i.e., a veiled warning to Elizabeth Bennet to be careful not to be seduced by the grandeur of Pemberley.

And there are other famous sources in addition to Smith that JA shows us as having been read by Mary Bennet.

So, I _always_ back up my claims that JA read various sources with actual textual parallels which make it very probable that JA read these sources, and was pointing to them by these parallelisms.

Cheers, ARNIE

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