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Sunday, August 3, 2014

“Jane Austen’s Periods” by Mary Favret: What do you make of it?



Over this past weekend, I came across what might just be the strangest and slyest example of academic literary criticism that I have ever read---and that spans a few thousand articles and chapters by now. Rather than tell you what I find so strange and sly about it, I will present you with an edited down version of the article, containing  excerpts (drawn almost entirely from the first section of the article) which seem to me to be parts of an unspoken, implicit message to the reader, and invite those of you so inclined to tell me what you see and what you think.

Then, in my followup post in the next day, I’ll tell you what I see and think about the article, and also extrapolate from it in a fresh direction.

“Jane Austen's PERIODS” by Mary A. Favret in Novel Vol. 42 #3 (2009):

“Did Jane Austen have a PERIOD? Did she have PERIODS? How would we know if she did?..To say Austen has a PERIOD or belongs to a PERIOD, regardless of the exact PERIOD attributed to her..But to ask if Austen had a PERIOD is to venture differently into the past, and with less assurance of once-and-for-all-ness. She may never have had a PERIOD. She may have had a PERIOD and then stopped having it. She may have missed some PERIODS but not others. She may simply have had a regular series of PERIODS…In entertaining the PERIODICITY of PERIODS—that they come  and go and come again…there is another tradition that links her with the rhythms and spells of PERIODICITY…."All six, every year" was the famous response of philosopher Gilbert Ryle when asked if he read novels…
For Jane Austen, the question of PERIOD has proven elusive, sliding into repetitions and LAPSES. The difficulty may have something to do, like the mythical phases of the moon, with a desire to comprehend the phenomena of girlhood, womanhood, and spinsterhood. ,,,What Lynch calls "her problematic femaleness . . . compounded by spinsterhood and childlessness" has prompted Austen's PERIODIC PERIOD troubles …A sentence, of course, is also a type of PERIOD: for Woolf, those teenage PERIODS recurred for the rest of Austen's life. Unpublished girl and/or published spinster, over the decades since her death Austen has been awkwardly inserted into the history of English literature.....Without the culturally visible markers of marriage and motherhood, the unattached female's relationship to her PERIOD remains unmarked, its dating open to question…In Austen's case in particular, the PERIOD of writing appears to come and go  and come again …Woolf rewrites the opening of Sleeping Beauty, the sort of girl who, as she comes of age, prickes her finger, bleeds, and sleeps for a PERIOD of a hundred years.
…Even as she wrote about romance, Jane Austen wrote about PERIODS: [Favret then analyzes a half dozen textual excerpts from the juvenilia and novels containing the word “period, finishing with this example]
… In her last finished novel, Austen performs her most ambitious restructuring of history, but she does so with what seems greater urgency, against greater odds. At the heart of the novel is the question of the PERIOD, whether it will open to the temporal bleed of past, present, and future or remain fixed and closed. "It is a PERIOD indeed! Eight years and a half is a PERIOD!" cries Captain Wentworth, and his outburst has none of the Knightley brothers' PERIOD self-assertion: it is a wail of despair.”

What do you make of that?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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