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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jane Austen and Miss Bates the great talkers on little matters

The following is what I wrote nearly two years ago in Janeites, in response to someone's comment about Jane Austen (JA) not writing about happy spinsters, and I believe what I wrote even more strongly today than I did when I wrote it then. It's no coincidence that Henry Austen, James Edward Austen Leigh and so many others (especially the male critics) tried to minimize JA's literary achievements, constantly paying her the backhanded compliment of saying, yes, she created perfection, but on a tiny stage. JA was well aware that her writing would seem like it was concerned with "small potatoes" to readers without deep insight, and what better way to covertly laugh at those minimizers than by covertly depicting herself as Miss Bates, literature's most famous talker on little matters, and inviting those same readers to minimize Miss Bates? JA (and Miss Bates, in the novel) had the last laugh, albeit a very private one.


My Feb. 2008 message (my comments are not in quotes):

"Austen did not write a story about a happy spinster because stories about Happy spinsters did not sell very well then and don't sell well now, unless the woman is of a certain age."

Uh.....Miss Bates? I think Miss Bates is JA's most beautiful and delicate self portrait. It is only because we see Miss Bates through Emma's eyes that she seems to be a motormouth ditz..Just ask Agatha Christie----Miss Marple is one part Miss Bates, one part Miss Austen.

"They do not want to see her a a woman who looked about her with clear eyes eyes, who saw things as they were but was not a bitter, biting, nasty old woman.
How can people find solace and comfort in a bitter, hatefilled, frustrated old maid?"

I for one don't believe JA was a bitter hate-filled frustrated old maid. But I DO believe she often, and very cleverly, expressed a great deal of bitter, sarcastic, ironic feelings and perceptions in her letters and novels. Much of it veiled.

She was like most people, with a great deal of anger and bitterness, but also with an even greater deal of love and empathy. The balance with her was definitely positive. But make no mistake, Miss Mitford was entirely correct when she characterized JA as a local terror, someone who was feared by all local hypocrites and snobs for what she might say to them.


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