And They Is Us
Janeites: Austen's Disciples and
Edited by Deidre Lynch.
Princeton University Press, 2000. x + 223 pages.
Reviewed by Patricia Latkin, Jolin Pawelski, and Linda Relias.
Introduction: Sharing with Our Neighbors
The Divine Miss Jane: Jane Austen,
Janeites and the Discipline of Novel Studies
Claudia L. Johnson
Jane Austen's Friendship
Mary Ann O 'Farrell
Sensibility By the Numbers: Austen's
Work as Regency Popular Fiction
Barbara M. Benedict
Austen's Earliest Readers and the
Rise of the Janeites
Decadent Austen Entails: Forster,
James, Firbank, and the "Queer Taste" of Sanditon
The Virago Jane Austen
Free and Happy: Jane Austen in America
Mary A. Favret
In Face of All the Servants: Spectators
and Spies in Austen
Jane Austen and Edward Said: Gender,
Culture and Imperialism
In its simplest definition, a Janeite is someone who loves Jane Austen not wisely, perhaps, but too well. The elitists say: Oh no! Jane belongs to a "small circle of cultivated minds." She is a writer "not for the public at large." She belongs to us.
Is either reading correct? Deidre Lynch takes no sides in the proprietary battles over Austen, frilled bonnets, and popular culture. She has assembled the brightest voices in the Austen world to take stock of the adulation, to see if the Janeites deserve (and deserved) all that bad press.
"Janeites" as a word has been with us more than a century. It was coined (as "Janite") by George Saintsbury in his preface to a 1894 edition of Pride and Pvejudice. Janeiteism in the last decade has meant video and movie adaptations, completions and sequels of her novels and fragments, news stories, reviews, and appreciations-something for everyone, including issuance of papers of such limited appeal that it is a burden to read them. The fact that there is a Jane Austen Society, and branches, only adds more fuel to the furor. There is a new feeling in the air about Jane Austen, that now, in spite of her being a household word, it's okay to be "hopelessly devoted to (Jane)," as O. N. John noted in another context.
The essayists in this fine new book are all seasoned pros. Some (Johnson and Sales) have their own books on Austen; some have contributed chapters elsewhere; Galperin's The Historical Austen is forthcoming. (Brian Southam, though not an essayist for this volume, was the first writer to pen a paper on the Janeites.) Most of the aspects of Janeiteism are explored: Austen's earliest readers--and did they become Janeites; boundaries between elite and popular cultures and amateur and professional readerships; and scenarios from the 19th Century's Lending Library to an Oscar-studded present.
Yesterday's Janeite was a fanatic awash in uncritical adulation. Today, the word is almost complimentary. Dear Reader, we have met the Janeites. And they is us.
The title of Claudia L. Johnson's essay, which was previously published in boundary 223 (1996), seems to connect Austen with The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler, an entertainer with a large and devoted gay following. To exemplify what Janeite reading looked like "before criticism and readings per se existed," she considers Kipling's "The Janeites," then goes to early-2Oth Century Janeites and Janeiteism. This group, described by D. H. Harding, in 1940 as "gentleman of an older generation than mine," include Lord David Cecil, Sir Walter Raleigh, E. M. Forster, and, most significantly, R. W. Chapman who, in 1923, gave us his edition of the novels--the first scholarly edition of ANY British novelist. Johnson continues with the Mudrick/Booth insights of the '60s and concludes with a discussion of the "prestige" of the marriage plot in academic readings of classic fiction and the other ways courtship plots can be read.
Mary Ann O'Farrell begins by speculating on having Austen as a personal friend and ends with a quote (Edith Uunila's) from The New Yorker on the occasion of the 1979 inaugural meeting of JASNA.
I read her when I am sick or feeling sorry for myself: I read her when I'm trying to understand people or the way the world is. Jane Austen is like a friend. I think I can truly say that I am a friend of Jane’s.
In between she parallels Emma's dislike of Jane Fairfax with Charlotte Bronte's dislike of Austen, then parses the Elizabeth Bennet/Charlotte Lucas friendship.
In her essay, Barbara M. Benedict considers the development of the circulating lending libraries and their readership, Austen's novels were, she points out, "constructed and presented to audiences in the mold of circulating fiction: as the episodic adventures of familiar, sympathetic heroines, designed for a rapid read."
William Galperin traces the novel's struggle for respectability, then discusses the reviews and comments on Austen's published novels. Sir Walter Scott's 1816 review as well as lesser known reviews are discussed. He provides insight into the posthumous publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (1818) with its "preemptive" biographical note by Austen's brother Henry, then traces the rise of the novel in the 19th Century.
Under her clever title, Clara Tuite discusses the evolution of the country-house novel from Austen to 20th-Century gay (or presumed gay) writers.
Katie Trumpener contends that the early 20th Century women novelists Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, and Antonia White were especially influenced by the "darker" Austen novels Mansfield Park and Persuasion. In 1890, Austen's novels were reissued to an audience of enlightened women who embraced the suffragette movement in England. To these new women, "Austen's politics are clearest in the brief but powerful moments in which she evokes the social and economic plight of women, chronicling the sufferings of impoverished widows and poor dependents,..or linking the labors of governesses to the sufferings of the slave trade." Trumpener further examines E. M. Delafield's The Optimist (1922) as a reworking of Mansfield Park. Then she discusses E M. Mayor's The Rector’s Daughter (1924) as a novel that pays homage to Persuasion. The essay reminds us that Jane Austen was an inspiration to the writers in the Virago series.
According to Mary A. Favret, the success of and interest in Austen's work in America took different paths than those in England and remain today. Most compelling is her discussion of the 1940 Hollywood movie that recreated Pride and Prejudice as an English Gone With the Wind, with the Bennet girls decked out in antebellum dress as refugees, if not from Tara. from Longbourn.
Roger Sales studies the role of servants in the 1995 BBC television version of Persuasion. He describes the use of the servant's point of view as a camera's vantage point in various interior scenes in Uppercross and Bath. We see that Anne herself is cast as an upper servant in her duties early in the film. She eavesdrops on conversations, hearing fragments of encounters between characters. She becomes a governess figure at the house of her sister Mary where she cares for her nephew. The essay contrasts Nurse Rook's role as that of a benevolent spy while Mrs. Clay is the enemy and seductive spy within the Elliot family in Bath. Sales explains that because Austen's world of the gentry held little privacy, their encounters, romances, and arguments were acted out in front of an audience of silent servants.
Although relatively little in what Susan Fraiman calls "the vastness" of Culture and Imperialism is given to Mansfield Park, reviews of Said's 1993 work suggest otherwise. Said's reading that Austen sought to establish Mansfield Park as the symbol of what was good and right is not uncommon, of course, but not the only way the novel is read. Fraiman's thoughtful essay considers many aspects of the Said intersection with Austen.
Patricia Latkin operates Jane Austen Books, Joan Pawelski retires as editor of JASNA Newswith this issue, and Linda Relias is Regional Coordinator of the Illinois/lndiana Region.
JASNA News v.16, no. 3, Winter 2000, p. 24-5
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