Today in Janeites, the comment was made about my recent series of posts about poop (both horse and, now that Diane has enlightened me, also human) on the streets of poor neighborhoods of English cities in Jane Austen's time, that my accent on this subject was a bit juvenile.
I replied as follows:
I am confused. Are you saying that it was juvenile of Jane Austen
to make a repeated subliminal point about these horrible living
conditions suffered by the likes of Miss Bates and Mrs. Smith and their
neighbors in Highbury and Bath? Or is it juvenile of me to be bringing
forward all the relevant evidence I can find in JA's novels, to support
the claim that this was clearly an important issue to JA, or else she
would not have kept returning to it, even into the last year of her life?
I happen to find the humor funny--so would most people who enjoy clever
R-rated humor, and there are quite a lot out there, including a lot of
women. But as I emphasized, this is a kind of gallows humor on JA's
part, because the laugh comes with a bitter aftertaste, when you realize
that Jane Austen herself must have at times lived in such conditions
while in Bath!
So, would it be adult, and honorable, to keep quiet about Jane Austen's
evident passion about this subject, just because it is unseemly?
It was also suggested that Austen's readers would have known about the conditions of the streets
but would have been experienced in avoiding such nuisances.
I replied---yes, and a lot of good that did those poor people who had to endure such
dreadful conditions every day of their lives. Did you read that passage
I quoted the other day from Reeve's history of Bath? It sounds to me
like there was no avoiding the omnipresent poop in the Lower Town of
Bath, if you lived there.
Let me step back one pace and put this in a larger context.
Last night, my wife and I really enjoyed watching the first episode of
the new Showtime series, Masters of Sex, about the pioneering research
of Masters & Johnson from the Fifties to the present, which forever
shattered so many destructive myths about female sexuality, and
demolished the taboos which allowed those myths to survive for more than
a century after medical science could have eliminated them. In the
episode, Masters encounters shocked and horrified responses when he (a
dedicated humanitarian doctor) urges his hospital to support his planned
research into human sexuality.
There is an eerie resonance of that historical pattern in the way that
delicate subjects like sex and poop in the streets have been addressed
in Austen circles.
If we want to really understand what life was like in Jane Austen's
world, we're not going to get to the core of it by watching even the
best documentary about, e.g., Regency Era dance---JA clearly felt it of
vital importance to include in her fictional worlds all the ugliness,
brutailty, unfairness, and tragedy that most ordinary people endured, so
that the Darcys of that world could have their Pemberleys.
So I will continue to honor Jane Austen's memory, and her passion, by
bringing forward all sides of her world, as she depicted it.
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter
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