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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fancy and Imagination: Crabbe's Definitions Known to Jane Austen



A good but very reticent friend who mostly lurks in these groups suggested that I take a look at Crabbe's widely read book, _English_  _Synonymes_, and she was spot-on, as here is what Crabbe has to say on the relationship between "fancy" and "imagination":

"Fancy, Imagination. — From what has already been said the distinction between fancy and imagination, as operations of thought, will be obvious. Fancy, considered as a power, simply brings the object to the mind or makes it appear; but imagination, from image, in Latin imago, from the root found in imitari, English imitate, is a power which presents the images or likenesses of things. The fancy, therefore, only employs itself about things without regarding their nature; but the imagination aims at tracing a resemblance and getting a true copy. The fancy consequently forms combinations, either real or unreal, as chance may direct; but the imagination is seldomer led astray. The fancy is busy in dreams or when the mind is in a disordered state; but the imagination is supposed to act when the intellectual powers are in full play.
The fancy is employed on light and trivial objects which are present to the senses; the imagination soars above all vulgar objects and carries us from the world of matter into the world of spirits, from time present to the time to come.
A milliner or mantua-maker may employ her fancy in the decorations of a cap or gown; but the poet's imagination depicts everything grand, everything bold, and everything remote.
Although Mr. Addison has thought proper, for his convenience, to use the words fancy and imagination promiscuously when writing on this subject, yet the distinction, as above pointed out. has been observed both in familiar discourse and in writing. We say that we fancy, not that we imagine, that wo see or hear something; the pleasures of the imagination, not of the fancy."    END QUOTE

Crabbe's definition would be of particular interest to us who study JA, as his influential book was first published in 1792, when JA was 15 and was already embarked on her career as a writer, and we know from a variety of evidence that Crabbe was very much on her radar screen during her entire writing career. And she would particularly have enjoyed his no-nonsense, clear way of writing---no fancy (ha ha) Latinate verbiage to cloud his meaning, mostly straightforward Anglo-Saxon words served his purposes very well. So, I think it extremely likely that JA had Crabbe's definitions in mind as she wrote Letter 91, especially when I note that JA _explicitly_ refers to Crabbe _three_ times in Letters 89-93!

And reading his definitions  reinforces my sense of JA having written Miss Bates as a woman who, as a survival strategy, plays the role of  a silly woman overwhelmed by fancy, but whose seemingly random chaotic stream of fancies are actually sophisticated poetic expressions generated by a fertile _imagination_.

So, bravo to my reticent friend, for a brilliant catch!

In my next post, I will respond to Linda's interesting and insightful categorizing of different shades of meaning of  "fancy".

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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