(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jane Austen WAS Mary Bennet!

In Austen L, Ellen Moody wrote the following about Jane Austen's education:

"Austen knew no Greek. It was not taught in the schools. Pope made a fortune by translating Homer because most people (men too) couldn't read Homer. She had a little Latin -- less than Shakespeare. What she picked up from her father teaching her brothers with her alongside. But she was probably not held responsible for really learning much. She was a girl."

I responded as follows:

Ellen, you are speaking about Jane Austen as if she were a passive Barbie doll who dutifully accepted whatever educational crumbs were tossed in her direction by her father and brothers. The veiled learnedness of the Juvenilia, and also of the several entries in the Loiterer which I have previously speculated were actually written by JA at age 13-14....

...all point toward JA's having been, from an extremely young age, a self-directed autodidact, who took full advantage of access to a pretty good home library at Steventon and basically taught herself everything _she_ was interested in!

Ellen: "For the rest I find it somewhat painful. Her comments on Lady Jane shows she is not taking seriously the young woman's horrible death, how she has not thought about how the young woman was thrown away. In this connection Radcliffe is incomparably more humane and adult. She knows when she is reading history and when it is filled with cruelty and takes it seriously. Novels are different. Austen is treating history as a novel."

No, I claim that JA shared Radcliffe's compassion for women treated abominably, but the difference is that Radcliffe did not engage in the same sort of parodic mimicry that JA did.

Ellen: "I know that her satire of Mary Bennet is targeted at hypocrisy, pretense at understanding, in a sense crass stupidity, but the way it's used and functions is to degrade reading girls -- of which surely she was one. She hits at herself. I don't like the grounds of her slurring of girls' schools. Why should there not be pretense if pretense means learning real history. I realize she is trying to protect herself but at the expense of women who had she thought about it should have been her allies. And would be in decades to come. It's the same thing when she makes fun of emotional novels where the story is justified - and Radcliffe too. There's she's jealous and understandably but it does not make her any more likeable. "

Ellen, if you only realized that Mary Bennet IS Jane Austen (in exactly the same way that Miss Bates IS Jane Austen, too), then you'd realize that you are 180 degrees off in your understanding of why JA presents Mary Bennet as she does in P&P. If you understand that the reader of P&P is not seeing Mary Bennet as she really is, but is seeing Mary Bennet as _Elizabeth_ Bennet sees Mary, then it changes _everything_! Just think about how Emma so grossly misunderstands Jane Fairfax, and you will realize that JA has, via her sleight of hand, done exactly the same thing with Lizzy vis a vis Mary!

Mary is not a hypocrite, Mary is not stupid, Mary is not vain---Mary is actually a true and worthy scholar, musician, and feminist, as Colleen McCullough so aptly portrayed Mary in her sequel a few years ago, and as Steven D. Scott so aptly described Mary in The Talk in Jane Austen, and as I have written on numerous occasions, including these:

I am certain that it was enormously cathartic for JA to concoct these parodies, a way of not going mad in a male-dominated society that could never accept a full blown world class female genius who was not afraid to expose all of that society's hypocrisies and crimes against women.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: