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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, November 19, 2009

James Austen's History and Jane Austen's Herstory

"There's an article by him about the benefits of studying history which seems to be without satire, and his love of "the muse of history" as he puts it obviously stayed with him and is expressed later in life in hispoem posted here."

Indeed, James Austen writes without any satire, I think it's clear that he had a tin ear for it, and that JA knew it, and that's why there was more than a laughable trace of Mr. Collins's cluelessness and pomposity in him.

I assert that James’s comments are most noteworthy to Janeites as a prime subject for JA's satire, in that, e.g., the closest thing to his mentioning anything feminine in his comments on history, was his referring to science as a “she”! His attitude was the quintessence of the sort of male-written, male-centric and "bow wow strain of" history that JA lampooned in The History of England and critiqued more directly in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

James was an intelligent guy, and, I am sure, cannot have failed to realize that this 1789 essay of his was repeatedly in her satirical crosshairs. But, on a deeper level, I wonder if he ever realized that his kid sister, in writing her novels, was writing REAL history, the kind of implicit social history that would actually speak important and meaningful truth about everyday human life in the time in which they lived, truth that people living two centuries later would actually find value and insight in, when the pompous, verbose male histories of his time are today mostly gathering dust and are only read by professional historians.

Here is a link for the full text of James's Loiterer issue, written when JA was 14. To me, it's like cotton candy--tastes good, undeniably well intentioned, but when you take a bite, you realize it's 99% (hot) air: I can just imagine JA reading it, and then, exerting maximum effort to keep her countenance, asking him "May I ask whether these important reflections proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?"

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