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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, January 23, 2012

P.S. re Always Under Good Regulation? Not Always..

I received an extremely interesting private comment about my response to Christy a short while ago under the above Subject Line.... which I was asked why I changed Man ( humanity) to Woman when telling Christy that I disagreed with her about Jane Austen's pride in her own artistic career.

That excellent question prompts me to clarify myself as follows. The reason why I reframe pretty much all comments about Jane Austen as an author in terms of Jane Austen as a _feminist_ is that I believe these were two fundamental aspects of her identity which were inseparable, i.e., were two sides of the same coin.

I.e., I perceive in Jane Austen's writings, both her fiction and even more so in her letters, an unwavering and intensely proud unwillingness to submit to the tyranny of those members of her family who did not approve of her feminist message--those who wished she would not be such a sharp poker, such a keen and fearless observer of the hypocrisies of her world.

My private commenter then went on to point out to me that Christy's summary of Anglican theology was the traditional interpretation of part of the purpose of religion based on the belief in original sin, and that Christy didn't say that Austen tamely submitted to male authorities in her family.

And my reply is to post what has become my favorite Austen quotation, when Henry Tilney rants at Catherine Morland:

"...If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to—Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?"

As I have argued in a dozen different ways, this passage is at the very core of Jane Austen's feminist, ironic critique of the domination and oppression of gentlewomen by gentlemen in the England she lived in. And the part that is relevant to my private commenter's excellent question is "....we are _Christians_..." I have repeatedly claimed that JA was by this reference including the Anglican church among the "villains" who all not only turned a blind eye to such oppression of women, but actually actively promoted that oppression, and indeed, attempted to give it the stamp of approval of God.

And so that the fact that Anglican theology purported to be gender-neutral, and to impose exactly the same moral constraints upon both male and female, was to beg the most important question! The devastating irony of the above passage is sexism _was_ an atrocity which was invisible to men, precisely because all the social and literary intercourse of the day was insisting it was so, so men could in all sincerity say "I am doing what God, the Church, the King, and the Chief Justice _all_ want me to do"!

That is why I find so deeply absurd the notion that JA endorsed and embraced such a benighted ideology, and that she struggled to quell her resistance to it, as a dutiful Christian daughter and sister should.

And so I thank my private commenter for prompting me to give this further explanation. As attuned to wordplay as I strive to me, I had missed the irony of "under good regulation", which is in the end what Christy and I disagree about so fundamentally--I do assert that JA never accepted the "good regulation" of her family, when it came to her speaking her mind about sexist injustice in the Austen family circle, and when it came to her speaking her mind through her novels about sexist injustice in the wider society.

Cheers, ARNIE

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