BOOK REVIEWS
Edited by Inger Sigrun Brodey

 Fine Fresh Hatred

 Regulated Hatred and Other Essays on Jane Austen
By D. W. Harding. Edited by Monica Lawlor.
Athlone Press, 1998. vii + 230 pages. Paperback, $29.99.

 Reviewed by George Justice.

 In Whit Stillman's film Metropolitan (1990), a young man on the make impresses the Fanny Price-like female lead with a nuanced reading of Mansfield Park. Under pressure, the lad reveals that his analysis of Austen's novel has been gleaned from Lionel Trilling's famous critical essay; furthermore, he admits (or boasts) that he no longer reads literature itself, since good literary criticism provides just as much enjoyment as novels, with a much smaller commitment of time and energy. The recently collected edition of D.W.Harding's published and unpublished essays on Austen could have provided Stillman's character with perhaps even more useful insights into Mansfield Park and the other Austen novels. These are elegant gems with a historical importance for Austen criticism and with a fresh immediacy that will equally interest experts and stimulate those who have come to Austen more recently.

 Harding, who died in 1993, was a professor of psychology as well as a critic of English literature, and the essays collected here tend to focus on "Austen's concern with the survival of the sensitive and penetrating individual in a society of conforming mediocrity." Harding's critical method combines an acute sensitivity to Austen's fictional techniques with an informed understanding of the social and historical particulars that conditioned the possibilities for the precise responses of characters in the worlds that surround them.

 In its original time, Harding's work was path-breaking. The title essay, first published in 1940 in Scrutiny (of which he was an editor), helped launch the contemporary understanding of Austen as an author engaged with her historical moment in ambivalent, even potentially subversive ways. "Regulated Hatred" attacked the then-conventional notion that Austen was a kindly writer who presented with affectionately delicate satire the foibles of her limited society. Not only was that society under attack from the aggression of her pen, but her readers (and, one suspects, many of her presentday readers) are ridiculed by the very fictions they so innocently consume: "her books are, as she meant them to be, read and enjoyed by precisely the sort of people whom she disliked; she is a literary classic of the society which attitudes like hers, held widely enough, would undermine." This essay alone is justification enough for the publication of the volume.

But there is a lot more here than an attack upon complaisant readers. "Character and Caricature in Jane Austen" is an astonishingly perceptive analysis of the different ways in which Austen presents characters in her novels. Harding describes the difference in technique and effect of Austen's "characters" and "caricatures" in their initial drawing and in their interactions in the text. Harding injects psychological analysis into his literary readings, creating the sense of Austen as a subversively comic writer: "the technique of caricature allows Jane Austen to express what a person of her acute insight must always feel--astonishment at the way the most outrageously deformed personalities are allowed an effective part in society, because society attends seriously to lip service and rationalization."

The essays in this volume cover all of the novels, including individual essays on Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey. It is not surprising that Harding prefers Persuasion's Anne Elliot to Mansfield Park's "priggish" Fanny Price, although both essays help to convey the complexity of their novels. What is surprising, though, is the attention awarded to Northanger Abbey. Harding's subtle reading captures what makes Catherine Morland charming and worthy of the attention the novel gives her. These three heroines, along with Elizabeth Bennet, fit the "Cinderella" theme, in which, as Harding explains it, the unusually perceptive and valuable heroine is placed in a family and in circumstances unworthy of her. Harding's compelling analysis of "Civil Falsehood in Emma" strikes off in a different direction, while continuing to explore the difficulty of communication in the precise social and historical circumstances which Austen registers so finely in all of her work.

 The brilliant author who emerges from these essays is the Austen also portrayed by Claudia Johnson, rather than the conservative propagandist that Marilyn Butler describes in Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Devotees of Jane Austen owe much to the Athlone Press for making this work (and many other previously published studies of Austen) available to new readers through these relatively inexpensive paperbacks. The present edition was put together by Monica Lawlor, a former colleague and friend of D.W.Harding. As the appended "Notes" indicate, some of the essays were not fully prepared for publication by Harding, and there is some repetition among the essays that were originally worked up as lectures. Furthermore, there are some embarrassing typographical errors, including a repeated misspelling of Mr. Knightley's surname as "Knightly." Still, these problems are outweighed by the value of the volume as a whole.


George Justice is Assistant Professor of English at Marquette University. He has recently completed a book manuscripr on 18th Century literature and the literary marketplace.
 

JASNA News v.16, no. 2, Summer 2000, p. 20

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