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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, October 13, 2011

P.S. re Clarkson on Novels

As a followup to my last post, and, as promised, apropos Diane Reynolds’s catch of Jane Austen covertly alluding to abolitionist Thomas Clarkson re Clarkson’s sexist view of women reading novels, here is what I said at the JASNA AGM a year ago:

"Maria Jerinic, for example, has suggested that the normative interpretation of Northanger Abbey as a Gothic parody ‘ignores the importance Austen assigns to women reading, regardless of genre.. The object of Austen’s parody and the real threat to women… is not the gothic novel but it is men, particularly men who wish to dictate to women what they should and should not read….’ Jerinic argues ‘that Catherine Morland is not manipulated by her reading experience, rather she is validated by it.’ ”

I love that last line! Jerinic wrote the above as part of a chapter entitled “In Defense of the Gothic: Rereading Northanger Abbey.” in the well known book, Jane Austen and the Discourses of Feminism. Ed. Devoney Looser. New York: St. Martin’s, 1995

I strongly recommend Jerinic’s article in particular, because she quickly gets to the heart of the matter and nails it—and I am sure she’d be glad to know about JA’s sly veiled allusion to Clarkson in this regard, which supports her claim, with which I am in 100% agreement.

It seems so clear now that Clarkson is being skewered pretty strongly in P&P, on his views about music and novels, being so absurdly rendered in the person of Mr. Collins. That may seem shocking, because Clarkson after all was, on a societal level, a real hero. But it should not be surprising. I have collected a number of examples now of JA skewering even those men who are not monsters, and who do much good in the world, but who are nonetheless sexist.In a way, it was particularly galling to have such a famously good man be so publicly and vociferously wrong _only_ on issues that pertained to women.

One of JA’s core points, it seems to me, was that, yes, there certainly are really evil men out there who do atrocious things to women. But those predators are fairly obvious. JA was particularly concerned in depicting those men who seemed _ordinary_ and _good_, but who, being the majority, wound up inflicting the largest share of injuries on women, without ever being aware of doing so.

All the same, I admit I was more than a little surprised to see the face of Mr. Collins superimposed on the body of Thomas Clarkson!

Cheers, ARNIE

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