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Austen Chat: Episode 2

August 3, 2023

Jane Austen & Goodness: A Visit with Brenda Cox

The Clerical Excercise

The Clerical Exercise  (See credits below for details.)

Though never preachy, Austen’s novels have a rich moral depth that was heavily influenced by her faith. In this episode, we chat with Brenda Cox, author of Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. Brenda spent many years and several trips to England researching everything from Austen’s private daily devotions to the role churches played in the many social reforms of her time. We discuss all this, plus:

  • Some crucial words in Austen’s novels that hold deeper religious meaning than you might think,
  • A crafty countess who used a legal loophole to spread her Methodist faith, and
  • A helpful way to finally remember the difference between a parson, a rector, a vicar, and a curate. (We don’t get into archdeacons, sorry!) 

Brenda S. Cox has been researching connections between Austen’s life and work, the Church of England, and associated events and leaders. She is the author of Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, and her work regularly appears online at Jane Austen’s World and Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She has written for Persuasions On-Line, given talks to several JASNA Regions, and was a breakout speaker at the 2019 and 2021 Annual General Meetings.

Show Notes and Links

Brenda Cox's blog: Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen

Articles mentioned in this episode:

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Listen to Austen Chat here or in your favorite podcast app: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other streaming platforms 

Credits: From JASNA's Austen Chat podcast. Published August 3, 2023. © Jane Austen Society of North America. All rights reserved.  Image: The Clerical Exercise by F.G. Broyn after G.M. Woodward (approx. 1760-1809). Wellcome Images, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.  Music: Country Dance by Humans Win.


This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

[Theme music]

Breckyn Wood: Hello, Janeites, and welcome to another episode of Austen Chat, a podcast coming to you from the Jane Austen Society of North America. Today with me I have Brenda Cox, who recently published a book called Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen's England. Brenda is a true Renaissance woman. She's been a linguist, an engineer, a teacher, and is now an Austen scholar, a budding novelist, and an active blogger on all things Austen is called Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen.

Breckyn: Hi, Brenda. Welcome to the show.

Brenda Cox: Thank you. Glad to be here, Breckyn.

Breckyn: Okay, so, before we talk about your book, I'd like to start with a segment called "Desert Island." You're stranded on a desert island, and you can only bring one Austen work with you. Which do you choose and why?

Brenda: Well, my temptation would be to cheat because I used to own a big, fat pink volume which had all of Austen's novels in it.

Breckyn: Everyone's going to try and bring the complete works!

Brenda: But, if I had to choose just one, right now I think I would choose Mansfield Park, just because it's long and I feel like there are depths in it that I have not yet plumbed. And so, I could probably read it over and over again and get lots of new things out of it, maybe. I mean, all of them I reread and get new things out of them, but that one might have more in it that I haven't noticed yet.

Breckyn: That's a great choice. I think that might be Austen's least favorite work, at least to a modern audience? But I have come to appreciate it a lot more. I wrote a paper about it recently, so I'm with you. I think Fanny is a wonderful heroine. I think it's a great novel. Good choice. Okay, let's talk about Fashionable Goodness. You mention in the introduction that this project originally started as an idea for a novel. So, at what point in the process did you change your mind and decide to write nonfiction instead?

Brenda: Well, I was researching for the novel. I wanted to include faith in the novel because it's important in my life, and I realized I didn't know much about it during that time period. So, on a trip to Bath with my husband, we were walking up to St. Swithin's Church, which is actually mentioned in Northanger Abbey. John Thorpe calls it Walcot Church, and it's also the place where Austen's parents were married. We were on our way up there, and we passed a sign for the Countess of Huntingdon's chapel, which was founded in 1765. And I thought, oh, that was here during Jane Austen's time. So, I went in and looked around. It's now an architecture museum, but you can still see how the chapel was set up. And I just started to learn that there were new stories and people about that time that I had no idea of. So, I began researching those more and more and discovered that there wasn't a good resource for Austen fans to find out about all these things. So, my notes for my novel, which I still haven't written, turned into a nonfiction book for Jane Austen fans so that they could learn those stories, too.

Breckyn: Yes, it's a really great resource. You've compiled so much information in this book. It's really incredible and impressive. So, you said the idea started when you were on a trip to Bath, and then you ended up going to England several times to do research for this book. So, in addition to St. Swithin's, which you mentioned, what are some of the sites you visited and what did you learn there?

Brenda: Well, I went to a lot of churches in Bath, and I also tried to track down the sites of all the chapels that were there in Jane Austen's time. I spent a lot of time in the main library in Bath, and I also went, of course, to Steventon and Chawton to the churches there. And I did a lot of research in the Chawton House library, and I can't even begin to tell you the things I learned, but there are things in every chapter of my book that I learned from those trips.

Breckyn: Well, and the cover of your book, I thought, was just this very pretty but maybe just a generic picture of a Regency couple in front of a church. But that's a real church from Austen's life.

Brenda: It's based on the church in Alton. It's a kind of artistic rendering of the church in Alton, which is the main town that's close to Chawton, where the Jane Austen House Museum is.

Breckyn: And so that's the church that she would have attended regularly?

Brenda: She would not have attended this particular one regularly. Her brother probably would have, and she would have known this church.

Breckyn: Okay, so you mentioned in your book that there are words in Austen's novels that have religious connotations which go over most modern readers' heads. In fact, you gave a presentation at the 2022 Annual General Meeting in Victoria about Austen's faith words. Can you tell us more about that? What are some of those keywords?

Brenda: Well, of course, we know that language is always changing, so even in Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney talks about the word "nice." 

Breckyn: I love that scene. And it was a nice day, and this is a nice book, and I'm wearing a nice coat. He's like—I love his sarcasm.

Brenda: And that's the way we talk now, right?

Breckyn: Exactly.

Brenda: But then it was a new usage of the word "nice" because language was changing. And there are quite a few words that had strong religious connotations in Austen's time that we use in a more general way these days. So, when we read in Pride and Prejudice that Mr. Darcy was given good principles, what he meant was he was given good, sound religious principles, but he was left to follow them in pride and conceit, not in humility, as the Church teaches. So, Austen is giving us a little religious lesson there, actually. In Sense and Sensibility, we keep hearing that Elinor Dashwood is exerting herself to do her duty. Well, what that meant was she was trying to overcome her own selfish tendencies to do her duty to love her neighbor as herself. There is also the word "serious"—generally meant religious. The word "candor" meant thinking the best of people, which is almost the opposite of what it means now. "Manners" was also a word for religious behavior, so all those words had different meanings then. I discovered a lot of this from a book by Stuart Tave called Some Words of Jane Austen, which talks about many different words she used and how she uses them. His book is fascinating, but it tends to ramble. And so what I've done, because my background is in engineering, is I put everything in charts and tables so you can find it easily.

Breckyn: Again, that's what makes it such an excellent reference source. If you have a question about something specific in Austen's time, look in the index, flip to it, it will be clearly laid out for you. Brenda has done so much of that legwork for all of us Austen fans. So, we have three surviving examples of prayers that Austen wrote in her lifetime, which you include in the appendix, and they're really lovely. We're so used to Austen's wit and irony that it's kind of surprising to see her so vulnerable and earnest. Why would she have written these prayers down? And what would they have been for?

Brenda: Well, we don't know for sure. We just know a little bit about it. But the prayers are obviously modeled after prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. They're in the same kind of style with similar content to those things, although they're also personal to Austen in that you see some of the themes in her novels also in her prayers. But at that time, her family apparently read morning and evening prayers together each day. 

First, that would have been led by her father, who was a clergyman, but after he died, they probably continued this custom. And it appears that they may have used these prayers sometimes because one of them is titled "For Evening Prayer." So, they were probably using it when she and Cassandra and her mother and maybe Martha were together and were praying in the evenings. Again, we don't know that for sure. It could have been her own private prayers for bedtime, but it seems more in the style of the congregational prayers that were usually read.

And as for people writing down their prayers, we do know that Samuel Johnson, who was a writer that Austen very much admired, published a book of his personal prayers, even though he wasn't a clergyman. So, apparently it was something that people sometimes did. Some people contest whether these prayers were actually by Austen, but they're written—they're copied out—apparently in the handwriting of her brother James and her sister, Cassandra, and her brother Charles wrote on them, "My sister Jane's prayers." So, it seems to me pretty solid that she wrote those.

Breckyn: Is it just because it's not in her handwriting that they're not certain?

Brenda: Yeah, and I think because it took a while to show up, but it came from some of the descendants of her siblings, so it seems strong to me.

Breckyn: Some of Austen's most famous buffoons are clergymen, right? Mr. Collins, Mr. Elton, Dr. Grant, the glutton. Why do you think Austen did that, considering her respect for the Church?

Brenda: Yeah, that's another good question. Well, you have to remember, too, that three of her heroes are clergymen. We think of Mr. Collins because he's one of the most obvious funny characters in Jane Austen, but Edmund Bertram and Edward Ferrars and Henry Tilney are all clergymen. And she makes them good people, you know, they're not perfect, but they are honest, conscientious people. But Jane Austen would have known lots—would have known, she did know—lots and lots of clergymen, including her father and two of her brothers and a lot of her friends and relatives and acquaintances. They were all clergymen. So she had seen all different kinds. 

Breckyn: It's a very common profession of the time.

Brenda: It was a common profession, and especially in her strata of society, that's who her connections were. I believe she mentions over 100 clergymen in her writings. So, she knew a lot of people.

Breckyn: Wow

Brenda: And some of them would have been more positive characters and some probably more negative characters, and she noticed that and wrote about it. But Jane Austen, of course, used satire all the time, which means you're noticing something in society and you make fun of it or exaggerate it so people will also notice it and, hopefully, make things better. And I think she wanted to challenge a bit the clergymen who were doing their jobs for their own advancement, like Mr. Elton and Mr. Collins, or who were just looking for their own comfort, like Dr. Grant. And so, she put those characters in her novels so people would notice them. The same kind of criticisms of the clergy appear in satirical cartoons of the time. And I did a whole talk about that at one of the AGMs. You can find the article on Persuasions On-Line.

Breckyn: And you can see the images, if you look that up. Those are funny.

Brenda: Yes. And she was doing the same kind of thing.

Breckyn: So just because there are clergymen who are silly or ridiculous or who are bad people, that doesn't mean that she thought all the clergy were bad. She has ridiculous mothers; she has negligent fathers. Not everything in her books is just a straight autobiographical commentary on what she thought about that group of people, right?

Brenda: For sure.

Breckyn: It's a lot more complicated than that.

Brenda: And she didn't like to write about perfect people. I mean, she said pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked. 

Breckyn: Exactly.

Brenda: She didn't want to write about that, so she wrote about very real sort of people. And these are probably some of the people that she saw. Good clergymen and not-so-good clergymen.

Breckyn: And to go back to one of the prayers that you have recorded in your book, there's a line where she says, "let us not be Christians in name only." And so that was really important to Austen, that she points out the hypocrisy of the clergy because she cares, because she wants them to be earnest, and Christians not just in name only.

Brenda: That's right. And at that time, you could become a clergyman just if you had a gentleman's education and the right social connections.

Breckyn: Right.

Brenda: You didn't have to have any other qualifications, really. And that changed in the following generations.

Breckyn: I really like Edmund Bertram. I think, again, he's a modern audience's least favorite hero. But I like him a lot because he's so earnest, he's so good. Even though he has this major flaw in his attraction to Mary Crawford and his complete blindness towards her, he is a good man. He's trying really hard to tend his flock, as you said, and that's really important. The duties of a clergyman matter to him deeply.

Brenda: Yes. He's trying to do the right thing. Yeah.

Breckyn: I think he's really admirable. Okay, so this is something that I have always wondered about, Brenda. Vicars, parsons, rectors, curates. What is the difference? Is there some kind of mnemonic device that we can use? It's like trying to figure out the monetary system in a Dickens novel. Like, how many shillings are in half a crown? I do not know. Please help me.

Brenda: Well, I can't tell you about the money, that is not my specialty, but I can tell you about those words. So, Jane Austen almost always used the word "clergyman" for one of these leaders of the Church. "Parson" could refer to any country clergyman. It was becoming, in her time, a more old-fashioned term, so that's why we have Admiral Croft, who's kind of an old-fashioned gentleman, who uses it. Or it could be a derogatory term, which is how Mary Crawford uses it. Those are the only two times we hear the word "parson."

Breckyn: Is it sort of like a country bumpkin? Is that the connotation of the word "parson"? You wouldn't have a parson in London.

Brenda: A little bit. Yeah, they wouldn't use the word so much that way.

Breckyn: That's interesting. I had never noticed that, but I'm going to pay attention for that now.

Brenda: It didn't have to be derogatory like that. But the other words, now, are quite crucial, actually, in her novels. So, there were three different kinds of clergymen. There were rectors. Mr. Collins talks about his "rights as a rector." The difference between these three is what they receive in terms of the tithes. So, everyone in the parish had to tithe to the clergyman of the parish, so they had to pay 10% of their income. The rector had the right to all of the tithes. Okay? So, he had those rights. You can remember that because the word "rectify" means "to make right." The rector had the rights to all the tithes.

Breckyn: I'm so glad you actually have a mnemonic device to help me out. This is great.

Brenda: And the parishes—whether they had a rector or a vicar was a traditional thing. So some parishes had rectors, some had vicars, and that had been set down for generations. But in parishes with a vicar, somebody else was the rector, maybe the squire of the parish, maybe somebody who lived a long way away was the rector. And the vicar only got part of the tithes. And that faraway rector, who was probably not even a clergyman, got the rest of the tithes. So, the vicar would usually get about a quarter of the tithes. There's only one vicar in Jane Austen. Do you know who that is? 

Breckyn: Is it Mr. Elton?

Brenda: It is Mr. Elton.

Breckyn: Which is why he is gold digging for a rich wife?

Brenda: That's right. Which is why he didn't have enough money to marry someone poor like Harriet.

Breckyn: And Emma should have known if she was paying attention.

Brenda: If she weren't so clueless.

Breckyn: Okay.

Brenda: But the vicar usually got the animal products, so maybe a tenth of the eggs that were laid in the parish, a tenth of the baby sheep or whatever kind of animals they had in the parish. But it depended on the parish what the traditional agreements were.

Now, a curate—the word "curate" meant, and can mean, any clergyman—anyone with responsibility for a parish, because curate comes from "a cure," which meant "care." He was responsible for the care of the parish. But in Austen's time, a curate meant, specifically, a person who was just receiving a salary. He wasn't receiving any portion of the tithes except whatever salary the rector or vicar was paying him. So, in some parishes, rectors might have more than one parish that they had the living for, and they would hire a curate for the parishes that they couldn't live in and serve. The curates usually earned about 50 pounds a year or less, which was barely enough to live on.

Breckyn: Not much.

Brenda: And that's why Charles Hayter in Persuasion, Henrietta's sweetheart, can't afford to get married because he's not getting enough money. A curate might also be an assistant to a rector. Dr. Grant has a curate who Mary Crawford says does all the work, although Dr. Grant apparently did the preaching. Or they might be a substitute. Henry Tilney had a curate who led the services in his parish while he was in Bath or at Northanger Abbey. So, the curate was the lowest rung of the clergy.

Breckyn: I want to go back because I don't think you said this explicitly, but you told me that when we think of vicar, think of the word vicarious, like, there's our other mnemonic device.

Brenda: Vicarious, because it's in the place of someone else.

Breckyn: These are genuinely going to help me remember the difference. So, something that surprised me in your book was how influential women were in the Church at the time. Like, of course, they couldn't be clergy, but they could still be active and involved in their religious communities. Who were some of these important women that you came across in your research?

Brenda: Well, my two favorites are the Countess of Huntingdon and Hannah More. So, I've already mentioned the Countess of Huntingdon's chapel in Bath. She was an amazing lady. At this time, the Methodists were still within the Church of England. They were trying to revive or reform the Church of England. And the Countess of Huntingdon became a Methodist and wanted to share what she saw as the true faith with other people. But the Methodist preachers were having a really hard time finding places to preach because the more orthodox Church of England clergymen wouldn't let them preach. So, she was a noble woman. She had the right to have chapels attached to her residences and to have chaplains that she got ordained and who served her.

Breckyn: Like in Mansfield Park, right? Sotherton, they've got the chapel.

Brenda: They had a chapel, although they had left off daily prayers. Which shows you the state of that family; Austen's making a little comment there. So, what she did was--she went all around the country building houses for herself and then having big chapels attached to them, which were open to the public. And she could get these Methodists ordained as her chaplains, and they could preach in her chapels all around the country.

Breckyn: So, was this like a loophole?

Brenda: A loophole, that's right. She was using a loophole. She actually established more chapels and had more chaplains than she had the right to. And eventually she started one that was too big in London, and she got sued for it by the local clergymen. And that's when her denomination had to leave the Church of England.

Breckyn: Oh, wow.

Brenda: Because of that. But she was making amazing contributions. She also started a seminary. When a group of Methodist students got kicked out of Oxford, she started her own seminary for these—not quite nonconformists, but almost.

Breckyn: She was busy woman. 

Brenda: She was a busy woman. And then Hannah More, of course, was a writer who was far more popular than Jane Austen in her day. Her writing style doesn't appeal to us today.

Breckyn: Was she writing fiction or nonfiction?

Brenda: She wrote mostly nonfiction. She wrote a novel called Coelebs in Search of a Wife, which Jane Austen actually mentions in one of her letters. But she was mostly writing nonfiction, really criticizing the upper classes. And they ate it up. They loved her. And she was from the middle classes, but she had connections. She was a favorite of Samuel Johnson and of David Garrick, the actor. So, she had these connections in society. And they, I guess, supported her work. William Wilberforce also—she worked with him to abolish slavery and to start the Sunday school movement, which educated the poor all over England. She did some just amazing things in her life.

Breckyn: Wow, that's incredible. Yeah, I want to talk about some of those things now. A large portion of your book focuses on the enormous amount of good that the Church and its members accomplished during Austen's lifetime. You mention William Wilberforce working to abolish the slave trade, efforts to educate the poor and the working classes, the institution of prison reforms, and charitable societies created to address issues such as animal cruelty. So, where do we see these social shifts in Austen's works and in her letters?

Brenda: We just see them in bits, really. She mentions a visit to a prison with her brother, who was a magistrate. Of course, in Emma and Mansfield Park, she mentions the slave trade. And I've got a long explanation in my book of how I understand what she said. It's been controversial.

Breckyn: So where is that in Emma? Because I know all of the mentions in Mansfield Park to Antigua—Sir Thomas has plantations there, which would have had enslaved people, but I didn't realize that it was in Emma as well.

Brenda: It's in Emma when she's talking about the governess trade being almost as bad as the slave trade.

Breckyn: Oh, right, she talks about—yeah.

Brenda: Which one is more guilty.

Breckyn: Okay. Yeah, that is a very slight mention. It's easy to miss, but it's there.

Brenda: And it does condemn the slave trade. Yeah, so she mentions that. One of her nieces says that Jane and Cassandra taught some poor girls to read. So, she wasn't directly involved in the Sunday school movement, but that was kind of the beginnings of it, with people who were educated teaching those who were uneducated. That's a lot of what the Sunday school movement was about. It's also clear from her letters that she was helping the poor in her area, like she was doing sewing for the poor. She was distributing money that her brother Edward gave her. And we see that, of course, also in Emma; we see Emma going to visit this poor family. But at this time, England was starting to urbanize, and with the Industrial Revolution, people were moving to the cities. And this kind of local charity wasn't enough anymore. So, groups—mostly the Evangelicals—started bigger organizations to try to help the poor because the problems had gotten bigger with the move to the cities.

Breckyn: Speaking of Wilberforce, explain to our listeners what your title, Fashionable Goodness, means, because— in addition to abolition—Wilberforce wanted to reform the behavior of English society, right?

Brenda: That's right. He wanted to reform the manners of England. And, as Edmund Bertram explains to us in Mansfield Park, manners meant people's behavior—how they acted out their moral values. And Wilberforce, the Evangelicals, other Christians of the time, wanted to transform the moral values of England because during the Regency, we all know stories about the Prince Regent and how . . .

Breckyn: The Debaucher.

Brenda: . . . horrible he was in many ways, and those behaviors were fashionable. We even see that in Mansfield Park because Mary Crawford is like, "Oh, adultery. It's not really a big deal. It's just that they got found out."

Breckyn: "Just keep it hush hush."

Brenda: Yeah, keep it hush hush, and it's okay. And Edmund and Fanny both are like, "No!"

Breckyn: Right.

Brenda: "This is not okay!" So, Jane Austen was actually promoting the same moral values that Wilberforce and friends were promoting. Now she does it— one of the reasons we love Jane Austen is because she's never preachy. Hannah More, unfortunately, was very preachy, and people at that time would read that. But Jane Austen just weaves those moral ideas into her fiction. She shows us with Wickham and Willoughby that gambling and promiscuous behavior are not acceptable and not good. But there were people in the upper classes and in the lower classes who thought those things were just fine. She also shows us with Sir Walter Elliot that extravagance and vanity and getting into debt are bad things. But the upper classes—that was very fashionable to do those things. And it really hurt the tradesmen and the poor people because they didn't pay their bills.

Breckyn: And she's always showing instead of telling explicitly.

Brenda: And she does that brilliantly.

Breckyn: Right. And a good example is such a stronger teaching method than just a sermon—which is why we're still reading Jane Austen instead of Hannah More.

Brenda: But the goal of these people was to make goodness fashionable. And that's why I called the book Fashionable Goodness. And, amazingly, they succeeded. We think about the Victorian era that came just a little bit later, when goodness was fashionable. There were problems in that era, too. There are always problems in every society. But they did succeed in making good moral values—bringing them into fashion.

Breckyn: Right. When we think of the Victorian era, we think of monogamy and fidelity and a ton of charitable organizations, right? I didn't realize that all these reforms—when I think of animal cruelty or prison reform or anything like that, I think of the Victorian era. So that's something that your book taught me, was that this was actually starting even before then. The Regency era sort of paved the way for that, and then the Victorians took it and ran with it.

Brenda: That's right. It started with that Evangelical movement in that time period.

Breckyn: So how has the process of writing this book changed the way that you read Austen, Brenda?

Brenda: I still love her characters and her plots, but I can see it a little more deeply now. I notice more, I guess the moral values that she was teaching in those very subtle ways. It just makes it stronger to me. What she's trying to say because I've looked more deeply.

Breckyn: Your paper that you wrote, or the article on faith words, has really changed how I see Austen as well. Because, of course, we know that words have changed meaning over time, but I hadn't realized how often those seemingly innocuous words hold very deep moral and religious connotations that we don't really see. So, I would definitely recommend that people go back and put those particular glasses on when reading, especially Sense and Sensibility. That's what you really focused on in that presentation, and it's fascinating how much it crops up.

Brenda: Well, I have another article in Persuasions On-Line about Marianne Dashwood's repentance, because that just struck me as I was reading the Book of Common Prayer to try to get a feel for what Jane Austen read every day of her life. And there's a prayer for repentance at the beginning of every service. And I was like, oh, this is the same kind of thing that Marianne Dashwood is talking about when she recognizes how far she's gone wrong and how she wants to get right. She was repenting.

Breckyn: So much of Austen is characters who know what the right thing is, but the arc of the novel is it entering their hearts, right? And entering their manners and their behavior. So, Marianne was taught good principles; Darcy was taught good principles. They were all raised in good Anglican families, but their growth as characters is for them to really feel those things, to be converted in their hearts.

Brenda: That's right. And you see that in Pride and Prejudice with both Elizabeth and Darcy. They both go, "Wow, I never knew myself before."

Breckyn: Right.

Brenda: And they're experiencing repentance, actually.

Breckyn: It's beautiful. Brenda, thanks so much for talking with me today. Where can listeners find you online?

Brenda: Well, my blog is at brendascox.wordpress.com. It's called Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and there you will find links to places where you can get my book, Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen's England. And I would love to see you there on my blog.

Breckyn: Great. Thanks so much.

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Breckyn: Okay, everyone, it's time for another scoop of JASNA News. As our members know, our annual journal, Persuasions, is a must-read collection of articles about Austen's writing, her world, and her legacy, written by scholars and fans. And there's always something for everyone in each issue. Well, we're happy to report that the latest issue, Persuasions number 44, will be mailed soon. If you've chosen to receive a printed copy with your membership, keep an eye on your mailbox. And for those who have a digital membership—or who like to read their Jane Austen essays on a Kindle at the beach, for instance—an ebook version will be available as well. For a sneak peek at what's in store, we've invited the editor of Persuasions, Susan Allen Ford, to tell us a little about this year's edition. Thanks for joining us today, Susan. What can we look forward to in this issue?

Susan Allen Ford: Well, hello, everybody, and thank you for inviting me. As you probably know, there are always two sections in Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line issues. The first section is essays that originate from the AGM, our Annual General Meeting. And the other section is comprised of essays that are in what we call a Miscellany. They're an assortment, a variety. This year, the AGM essays come from the Victoria meeting, "Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens," and there are 13 of those. The first one and the last one actually, are essays that emphasize the garden theme and sort of bookend the set.

The first is by plenary speaker Emma Clery, and she's writing on Sense and Sensibility and Cowper, one of Jane Austen's—and, of course, Marianne Dashwood's—favorite poets. She's really thinking about why we should read him now. He deals with issues of race and world peace, but also lots of ecological concerns. He's really a poet of the landscape. That's a fascinating essay, and, you know, you will want to run out and read Cowper right after you're done with that one. And then the essay by Cecily Van Cleave that ends the section is about Priscilla Wakefield and other women botanists of the period. It's very much recovering some historical background that most of us don't know anything about.

Then for the Miscellany, we have seven essays. Renissa Gannie's essay that starts the section is a very personal one. She looks at—or her idea is trying to kind of complicate the postcolonial approach to Jane Austen and to Charlotte Brontë by looking at how Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre served her as she was growing up in Guyana and how they really helped her kind of understand that she needed to follow her own ideas. There's an essay by Azar Hussain on the problem of working out Edmund Bertram's income, which I think is fascinating. He goes through all the evidence and kind of sifts through it. There's an essay that I truly love by James O'Rourke on what Miss Bates knew. It's a kind of Batesian view of Emma. And I'm really convinced that everyone should just be reading only the Miss Bates sections for a while just to figure out what she says and what she knows.

The only other thing that I would add is if you can't wait anymore or you're really hungry for something like this, remember that Persuasions On-Line is up there too. It came out on December 16 with essays also from "Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens" as well as its own Miscellany. So, there's plenty to read.

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Breckyn: Now it's time for "In Her Own Words," a segment where listeners share a favorite Austen quote or two.

Jeanne Talbot: Hello, this is Jeanne Talbot from the San Diego Region. I've been asked to share with you one of my favorite Jane Austen passages. This is from Emma, volume two, chapter nine. Miss Bates is entreating Emma to join them at their home to hear Miss Fairfax play the new pianoforte. Emma begins with, "'I hope Mrs. Bates and Miss Fairfax are—'

'Very well, I am much obliged to you. My mother is delightfully well; and Jane caught no cold last night. How is Mr. Woodhouse?—I am so glad to hear such a good account. Mrs. Weston told me you were here.—Oh! then, said I, I must run across, I am sure Miss Woodhouse will allow me just to run across and entreat her to come in; my mother will be so very happy to see her—and now we are such a nice party, she cannot refuse.—"Aye, pray do," said Mr. Frank Churchill, "Miss Woodhouse’s opinion of the instrument will be worth having."—But, said I, I shall be more sure of succeeding if one of you will go with me.—"Oh," said he, "wait half a minute, till I have finished my job;"—For, would you believe it, Miss Woodhouse, there he is, in the most obliging manner in the world, fastening in the rivet of my mother’s spectacles.—The rivet came out, you know, this morning.—So very obliging!—For my mother had no use of her spectacles—could not put them on. And, by the bye, every body ought to have two pair of spectacles; they should indeed. Jane said so. I meant to take them over to John Saunders the first thing I did, but something or other hindered me all the morning; first one thing, then another, there is no saying what, you know. At one time Patty came to say she thought the kitchen chimney wanted sweeping. Oh, said I, Patty do not come with your bad news to me. Here is the rivet of your mistress’s spectacles out. Then the baked apples came home, Mrs. Wallis sent them by her boy; they are extremely civil and obliging to us, the Wallises, always—I have heard some people say that Mrs. Wallis can be uncivil and give a very rude answer, but we have never known any thing but the greatest attention from them. And it cannot be for the value of our custom now, for what is our consumption of bread, you know? Only three of us.—besides dear Jane at present—and she really eats nothing—makes such a shocking breakfast, you would be quite frightened if you saw it. I dare not let my mother know how little she eats—so I say one thing and then I say another, and it passes off. But about the middle of the day she gets hungry, and there is nothing she likes so well as these baked apples, and they are extremely wholesome, for I took the opportunity the other day of asking Mr. Perry; I happened to meet him in the street. Not that I had any doubt before—I have so often heard Mr. Woodhouse recommend a baked apple. I believe it is the only way that Mr. Woodhouse thinks the fruit thoroughly wholesome.'

And I must leave off there as Miss Bates, a great talker on little matters, as Jane Austen introduces her to us in volume one, she will talk on for another three pages here. I love this example of Miss Bates's voluble chitter chatter as it demonstrates Jane Austen's superb understanding and delineation of individual characters and their voices. And because Miss Bates hears all the news and gossip in Highbury, she frequently innocently tells us things that we easily miss, hints slipped in by the author, which are lost in her voluminous monologues. Did you catch the hint in this example that Mr. Frank Churchill was left alone in the house with Miss Fairfax, with just old, deaf Mrs. Bates as oblivious chaperone?

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Breckyn: Well, that's it for this episode. Thanks for listening, Janeites. If you're interested in joining the Jane Austen Society of North America or learning more about its programs, publications, and events, you can find them online at jasna.org. That's J-A-S-N-A dot org. Join us again next time, and in the meantime, I remain yours affectionately, Breckyn Wood.

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“If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.”

Northanger Abbey