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

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Privacy of Fears

Christy Somer wrote the following in Austen L and Janeites:

"...Though Jane Austen obviously felt anxiety and fear around love (the loveless marriage), sex (pregnancy), and money (maintaining an aesthetically pleasing and fiscally comfortable environment), she also seems to have cultivated a reasonable and balanced trust in her family and religion -at least enough so as to help diminish those very private concerns when they arose."

You've articulated your opinion very well, Christy, but your opinion is one with which (as you already know, I am sure) I could not disagree more. I understand that what you've described, above, is the Jane Austen that you (and many other Janeites) perceive in her novels and letters, but I (and many _other_ Janeites) perceive a very different (and in some ways an opposite) Jane Austen in those same novels and letters.

My Jane Austen was a self-aware world class literary artist who hungered for recognition of her genius, and would have loved to be known and appreciated as an artist in the way Shakespeare was known and appreciated by the world even then in her era. And I believe that she had a very complicated, mixed relationship with family members and close friends which varied considerably in regard to trust issues. And she had a very very complicated relationship with organized religion. And I believe that she'd have made some sort of ironic joke about our dialogue on this topic, if she could read it! ;)


[Christy] "However, the mystery and power of language and composition finds its way of expressing itself no matter how the conscientiously precise artist tries to present a controlled and tidy picture of naturally layered contradictions."

And I also strongly disagree with that well-articulated opinion. My studies have proven to me, a thousand times over, that what I have seen in her novels and letters is not the inevitable byproduct of "a controlled and tidy picture of naturally layered contradictions", but is entirely intentional and thematically significant.


[Christy] "Ethically, is Jane Austen’s right of privacy (that private, venting space with Cassandra) being violated in such a way that her novels and life are read in ways never thought of by her? "

Based on my understanding of Jane Austen, not in the slightest, in fact I believe she'd be thrilled that her novels and life are being read in ways she deeply wished them to be thought of. I think she'd feel that since all the individuals being discussed have been dead for well over a century, that what mattered most were the ideas and themes she was so passionately engaged with in writing her letters and novels.


[Christy] "I believe Cassandra always counted on Fanny Knatchbull disposing of these letters -never dreaming that senility and loss of control would take over their destiny. "

And I believe that Cassandra, even though she was not entirely on the same page with JA in terms of all of JA's social and psychological agenda, felt a sacred duty to preserve enough of her sister's concealed meanings so that they could one day be discovered. And I think JA would have been outraged at the presumption of anyone destroying letters she wrote which she knew very well had been kept by CEA, and therefore it was clearly done with her consent.

But most important, in my opinion, it's good to have _both_ of our points of view on these subjects (as well as any others, which are expressed with sincerity and based on the kind of study that JA's writings deserve) expressed clearly and strongly, so that Janeites reading along can each make up their own minds.

Cheers, ARNIE

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