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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jane Austen the True (Radical Feminist) Christian REDUX

Nearly six months ago, I summarized some of my thoughts about Jane Austen's Christianity, as I envisioned it then:

Today, in response to a post in Austen L by Christy Somer, I have expanded somewhat on those earlier thoughts as follows:

Christy wrote: "Of course, within the Anglican world of Jane Austen’s time-line, the pursuit of self-pleasuring without the 'wedded' balance of responsibility was a sin against lust and the sixth commandment. And such behaviors were certainly not ‘collectively’ supported within the society. In reality, Jane Austen was not really ‘free’ to think whatever she wanted as a law-unto-herself. Her letters and novels tell me she continually discerned, measured, judged, and dished-out on those who seemed to live by these types of privately accommodating, selfishly-oriented rules. Any choices involving a form of renegade, free-thinking sexual-politics (for that time) would have required a duplicitous flexibility of mind and spirit. A privately fueled sophistication, so over-the-top, it would have betrayed the honor and practice of an honestly devoted Christian, who also believed in the immortality of the soul and the accountability which was demanded from the applications of such a truth."

Christy, I think (but am not sure) that your above, impassioned Philippic is a response to the suggestion [by Ellen Moody in Austen-L, echoed by myself and others] that JA may have had a sexual relationship with Martha Lloyd? When you refer to "self-pleasuring", it sounds like you are talking about masturbation, too?

In either event, I would say that you've begged the question entirely as to what constituted "an honestly devoted Christian, who also believed in the immortality of the soul and the accountability which was demanded from the applications of such a truth". We know what the official Anglican church position was on these points, but that begs the question of whether one person--Jane Austen--accepted that position, or whether she had very different ideas of what it meant to be "an honestly devoted Christian". See below for more.

[Christy] “To believe that men will be called to account for each wrong committed and each good committed is itself enough to give an urgency to human deliberations and decisions which the secular mind cannot sense...The Christian mind, by cultivating the eternal perspective, will bring a totally different frame of reference to bear upon all that touches human success or human failure, human joy or human misery, human health or human pain...[with the consciously cultivated qualities of]....its awareness of evil, its conception of truth, its acceptance of authority, its concern for the person, and its sacramental cast.” [Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind)"

Christy, you've made my argument for me! _Everything_ in that quotation can be plausibly understood to refer to exactly the sort of radical feminist Christianity that I ascribe to Jane Austen (just play Devil's advocate and try it out, and you will see)!

And of course it also can be plausibly understood to refer to the kind of non-subversive, pious Christianity you ascribe to JA.

The reason that passage is so deeply ambiguous is that its meaning depends on how a Christian defined the words "wrong", "success", "failure", "misery", "evil", "truth", "authority", "concern for the person" and "sacrament". A _lot_ of ambiguity!

In the three Gospels written by evangelists who actually had a living memory of what he said and did, we see a Jesus who often cleverly defies the powerful, mocks even those who follow him who think too rigidly and without imagination, has a very very wicked and subversive sense of humor, and challenges everyone's assumptions right and left. That is a very different Jesus from the one depicted by the evangelist John, and also by St. Paul, and also by the mainstream Protestant sermons of JA's time--the kind that her awful cousin Edward Cooper delivered, e.g., which could easily have been written by Mr. Collins. And we know what JA thinks of Mr. Collins as a spiritual guide.

So I see Jane Austen as going _directly_ to those more reliable Biblical sources (Mark, Matthew and Luke)----very consciously bypassing the hypocritical edicts of the "Pharisees" who ran and manned the Church of England during her own lifetime, which gave aid, comfort and direction to the subjugation of Englishwomen----and JA instead derived her own highly personal sense of Christianity from that authentic Jesus, and from other Biblically infused writings which gave her moral and spiritual sustenance, including secular poets (most of all Shakespeare) and novelists. And she shows us all of this in her writings.

[Christy] "While reading through her frustrations, disappointments, cutting hyperbole and fancifulness, my experience of her letters (and novels) also brings up a feeling for Jane Austen’s innocence, which has been protected, and
> which lives alongside a religious certainty. It was a creative and enclosed life which faced the rigors of mortality, and its punishments -which were enforced as a given."

And to me, that is a completely fanciful projection on your part. You've pre-decided this is who JA was, and you read everything through that lens, and just toss away the stuff (e.g., in certain of JA's letters) that simply doesn't fit--which is a lot!

[Christy] From my perspective, a much more objective and disinterested reading of the letters and novels, will continue to produce more evidence to support a solid Christian framework living within the natural human mixtures of contradiction and complexity."

And I claim that you are very _subjective_ in your readings!

"Attaching radical dimensions to Jane Austen’s life may be provocatively interesting to some modern minds; and the raising of the ordinary ‘paradigm’ into a more extraordinary otherness, so that a being radically different arises and is discovered, might attract some controversy and stimulating conversation; yet, all of this, for me, does not ring true to my spirit, and growing understanding of Jane Austen."

It is interesting that you keep repeating those same general statements (including only two days ago) every time someone brings forward fresh evidence that contradicts them.

And my response remains that I perceive a radical feminist _Christian_ sensibility everywhere in Jane Austen's writings, which I have not imposed from the future, but which was of its own time--look, e.g., at the writings of Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays, Godwin, and other radical thinkers of her day.

Cheers, ARNIE

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