Persuasions #10, 1988                                                                                                                                            Pages 11-21


Jane Austen and the Anti-Heroic Tradition



Classics Department, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York 13323


Throughout the life of Jane Austen, the world’s political situation was in flux.  The Napoleonic Wars ravaged the face of Europe as old regimes were toppled by new orders.  But when we read her novels, it seems that she remained untouched by the forces buffeting the world: she maintained a strict silence about the political and military events of her age.  However subtly they may have influenced her work, the Napoleonic Wars and discussion of the slave-trade are barely allowed to intrude into her fiction.  To explain her refusal to deal with these topics directly, some scholars have argued that she considered the world of politics above her head, others that she felt if beneath her notice.  Nobody has yet noticed, however, that Jane Austen’s refusal to write on historical themes has a literary precedent in ancient Rome.  Like Jane Austen, the Roman love-poets eschewed political and military themes and focussed instead on the private loves of unimportant people.

The general opinion has been that Jane Austen felt excluded, as a woman, from discussions of political events.  Her nephew’s memoir makes this suggestion and it has found supporters.1  But women in her novels do talk about current events.  Anne Elliot, in Persuasion, because she loves a sea captain, has made herself acquainted with Admiral Croft’s military accomplishments, while her aristocratic father has not; Fanny Price, in Mansfield Park, asks about the slave-trade, and Jane Fairfax in Emma draws a bitter parallel between the life of a slave and that of a governess.2  Surely, of all the women in Jane Austen’s novels, these are the least likely to violate her notions of decorum.  If they could talk freely about contemporary events and issues, so could she.

Gilbert and Gubar in Madwoman in the Attic suggest that Jane Austen regarded political and military history as a parade of men posturing in fancy clothes.  Consequently, they argue, Jane Austen ignored history because history ignored women.3  Their position is supported in Northanger Abbey by Catherine Morland, who, a novel reader herself, makes a shrewd criticism of history:


“I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.  The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all, it is very tiresome; …”4


Underneath Catherine’s naïve prattle, Jane Austen makes a modern criticism of history, that is written for, by, and about men, truly “his story” rather than “herstory.”  But there is a literary precedent for Austen’s emancipated view in Roman poetry.  Her rejection of historical themes evokes a common topos in classical literature, the refusal to reproduce Homeric epic.

The epic poems of Homer established a certain attitude towards literature, that it preserves those events that are worth preserving.  As Helen tells Hector in the Iliad, the gods have sent them these troubles so that they might be a subject of song for later generations.5  That is to say, the subject of literature should be great men and their deeds; the purpose of literature is to record such men and such deeds adequately.  Epic poetry concerns great men caught in the act of greatness.  Such men might be flawed, but they have great flaws, like pride or anger.  Set against the background of the Trojan War, the wrath of Achilles served as the focus of the greatest epic.  After Homer, epic poems continued to be written about mythological heroes and historical kings.  Panyassis wrote an epic about Hercules, Vergil about Aeneas, and Choerilus of Samos about Alexander the Great.

In the third century BC, poets began to rebel against the authority of Homer.  The most important poet of the age, Callimachus, based his entire literary platform on the refusal to write “a poem that was unified and continuous, telling in thousands of lines about kings and heroes,” that is to say, an epic poem.6  This refusal became a topos in antiquity, called by modern scholars the recusatio.7  Callimachus’ preference for the small, the delicate, the uninflated, the subtle, was to have an important effect on his contemporaries, on the Roman poets two centuries later, and, I suggest, on Jane Austen.

Despite Callimachus’ protests, however, epic poetry continued to be written both in his own age and in Rome, where Vergil recreated Homeric epic for a Roman audience.  But Callimachus had his followers in Rome as well.  Consciously setting themselves in opposition to Vergil and Homer, Propertius and Ovid looked to Callimachus for their inspiration and claimed him as their model in rejecting epic poetry.  The critical vocabulary of the age reinforced the dichotomy: epic poetry was weighty, harsh, serious, and long, while Callimachean poetry was light, gentle, comic, and short.

But Callimachus would have been shocked by the Romans’ distortion of his ideas.  Despite their declared admiration, his followers reshaped his recusatio.  First, the meaning of epic poetry was expanded so as to comprehend poetry about all rulers, contemporary as well as legendary.  Consequently, Propertius tells an agent of Augustus that to write the praises of the emperor would violate Callimachean principles, even though the real Callimachus took every opportunity to praise his royal patrons, the Ptolemies.8  Second, the tone of Callimachus’ recusatio was proud and scornful of epic writers.  The Roman poets playfully apologized for their inability to write epic poetry.  In ironic self-deprecation, they claimed to be too weak, too frivolous, or too delicate.  Finally, and most radically, Callimachus was transformed into a love-poet.  The Roman poets invented a new genre of poetry, consistent love-elegy, a cycle of poems narrating the vicissitudes of a single love-affair.  The most famous example is Catullus’ cycle of poems about Lesbia.  Callimachus wrote only a few love poems, each addressed to a different person.  Nevertheless, Propertius and Ovid claimed him as their teacher in their books about Cynthia and Corinna.9

Although Horace was not primarily a love-poet, the following poem illustrates the Callimachean recusatio as it was reshaped by the Roman elegists; the same themes permeate the poems of Propertius and Ovid.  Here, Horace apologizes for his inability to write epic poetry, whether about Octavian, Achilles, or Ulysses.


Varius, a bird of Homeric song, will write a poem

about you that you are the mighty victor over the

enemy, in whatever enterprise the fierce soldier

under your command will undertake on horse or on ship.


We, Agrippa, neither try to tell these things nor the

grave wrath of Achilles who knew not how to yield nor

the voyages over the sea of the duplicitous Ulysses,


(we are too delicate for such great themes) so long

as modesty and the Muse in charge of the peaceful lyre

forbid me to mar your praises and those of glorious

Caesar with the lack of talent …


We sing of dinner parties, we sing of the battles of

fierce girls whose nails are cut to scratch young men,

whether we are on fire somewhat or whether, as

normally, frivolous.10


Varius is recommended as the epic poet who could do justice to Octavian’s victories because Horace is too delicate to write of any engagements save amatory ones.  But we can discern that Horace is not serious in his self-criticism.  The “grave wrath” of Achilles in Latin gravem stomachum, has the surface meaning of “heavy stomach.”  The poet who renders the massiveness of epic poetry as fat has the comic spirit, as he says in the last line of the poem.

It is tempting to imagine that Jane Austen had this poem in mind when she wrote letters of a similar nature to James Stanier Clarke, the Librarian of the Prince Regent, who encouraged her work by proposing unsuitable themes.  When the Princess Charlotte was about to marry into the Saxe-Cobourgs, Clarke suggested that Jane Austen take advantage of the situation to write a historical novel about that family.  Like Horace, she refused on the grounds that her genius was comic.  Moreover, she seems to allude to the recusatio directly by saying that she could no more attempt this than she could write an epic poem.11

This letter to Clarke and the one written out below show remarkable parallels with Horace’s poem.  Both she and Horace write to agents of the ruler who have suggested unsuitable topics.  Both writers refuse because of their professed inability to do justice to serious themes.  The next letter evokes Horace’s biting irony because Jane Austen adopts a classical form in which to cast her implied assertion that she lacks a classical education.  Clarke has offered himself as the model for the hero of her next novel.


I am quite honoured by your thinking me capable of drawing such a clergyman as you gave the sketch of in your note of Nov. 16th.  But I assure you I am not.  The comic part of the character I might be equal to, but not the good, the enthusiastic, the literary.  Such a man’s conversation must at times be on subjects of science and philosophy, of which I know nothing; or at least be occasionally abundant in quotations and allusions which a woman who, like me, knows only her own mother tongue, and has read very little in that, would be totally without the power of giving.  A classical education, or at any rate a very extensive acquaintance with English literature, ancient and modern, appears to me quite indispensable for the person who would do any justice to your clergyman; and I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress.12


Although scholars have recognized that JaneAusten’s “boast” is a delightful piece of irony, they have nevertheless believed her implied assertion that she did not have a classical education.13  But her denial should be understood in its ironic context.  Even her nephew realized that her profession of ignorance was a pretext.  She knew more than her mother tongue since she read French easily and knew some Italian.14  Moreover, she does not explicitly deny that she knows classical literature.  In insisting that the author described by Mr. Clarke would need to be educated in classical and English literature, she does not say that she is not such a person.  Indeed, since we know that she was very well grounded in English literature, we should hesitate to take the first part of that sentence at face value.

Jane Austen is tantalizingly silent about any classical attainments she may have had, but it seems probable that her father, who knew classical literature thoroughly, and who taught Latin to students both inside and outside his family, would have taught her a language that we know he passionately valued.15  True, it was unusual for women to be educated in the classics in her era, but some managed to learn Latin despite their fathers’ hostility to such enterprises.16  Jane Austen, whose father admired her work,17 would have certainly received instruction had she desired it.

Whether she read classics in the original or in translation, she was comfortable with obscure figures of classical antiquity, Agricola, Caractacus, Severus, and Lucina.18  It is true that Propertius was, and is, not widely known.  But in 1782 his first book of poems was translated into English by John Nott, whose nephew lived near the Austens and may have known them.19  If he did, Jane Austen would have had both an interest in Propertius and access to his poetry.

That she did know Propertius’ work is suggested in a letter she wrote to Cassandra:


I am sorry that my verses did not bring any return from Edward, I was in high hopes they might – but I suppose he does not rate them high enough.  – It might be partiality, but they seemed to me purely classical – just like Homer and Virgil, Ovid and Propria que Maribus.20


The classical authors at first seem to have been collected at random to demonstrate the writer’s ability to rattle off names.  But in looking at them more carefully, we can see a pattern emerge that formulates both the literary tradition and the division within the literary tradition.  All classical literature derives from Homer, and so Homer heads the list.  Vergil’s Aeneid carried Homeric epic across to Roman readers, and so his name is placed second.  Since they are epic poets, their names are paired together, in opposition to the two names that follow.  Ovid and Propertius, whose name is transformed into Propria que Maribus, represent the anti-epic tradition of love-poetry.

This is the fountain in which Jane Austen drew her inspiration, but the tradition moves relentlessly forward.  On looking into Chapman’s Austen, we find that Propria que Maribus is adapted from the Eton Latin Grammar.  This schooltext, written by William Lily, presented the rules of Latin grammar in a poem written in Latin.  The section on nouns begins, Propria quae maribus tribuuntur, mascula dicas, “Things which are deemed appropriate to males, you should call masculine.”  According to Jane Austen’s mischievous history of literature, the classical tradition, after the Roman period, passed through a schoolboy’s textbook.  At the same time, Austen may have intended a jab at the British educational system that made Latin the exclusive prerogative of males.21

Jane Austen was, to be sure, a notoriously bad speller, but when she dropped the a in quae, this omission may have been deliberate.  If it was, the meaning of the phrase is altered from “things which are deemed appropriate for males,” to “she who is also appropriate to men.”  (The Latin adjective propria is both neuter plural and feminine singular.)  The Eton Latin Grammar, with its implied exclusion of women, is set against a new voice, which is feminine and not exclusive.  This new voice, I suggest, is Jane Austen’s.  “She who is also appropriate to men” captures a quality of Propertius that she would have appreciated.  He was proud that his poems were read by women.22  (This attitude was rare in classical antiquity.)  If Propria que Maribus stands also for Jane Austen as the culmination of the classical tradition, she is truly the British Propertia, so to speak, because she adopts Propertius’ literary philosophy both in other ways and in welcoming the opposite sex into her readership.  Her most attractive men, like Henry Tilney, read novels, while the least attractive men, like Mr. Collins, do not.

Whether she read Propertius in the original or not, she knew him well enough to pun on his name.  Moreover, she recognized the dichotomy in Roman poetry between epic and anti-epic because she opposed Homer and Vergil to Ovid and Propertius.  Most importantly, she adapted the literary values of the anti-epic poets in her own works.

While epic is serious, the recusatio is comic, and like her Roman predecessors, Jane Austen insisted on the comic nature of her writings.23  Since epic poetry is grand, masters of the recusatio worked in miniature.  Propertius sings with a small mouth, and takes the narrow path on a chariot with small wheels; his battles with Cynthia take place on a narrow bed; he fears to set sail on the sea of epic in his small boat.24  Jane Austen added to this tradition of finding images for the miniature:


… the little bit (two inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labor.25


If we compare Jane Austen’s works and her artistic vision with those of these Roman poets, we can see that both struggled against the prevailing opinion that their work was not important in comparison to the books about the great deeds of great men.  Austen adopted the dichotomy in Roman poetry, which she noticed, to demarcate the dichotomy that she perceived between historians and novelists.  Just as Ovid and Propertius conceived of their art in contradistinction to epic poetry, whether Homer’s or Vergil’s, Jane Austen described her work as an antithesis to history.  Writing of Pride and Prejudice, for example, she playfully suggested that she should have added material entirely different in substance, a chapter on Napoleon.26  In Northanger Abbey too history is set in ironic opposition to the novel since “something very shocking” can allude both to gothic fiction and to a historic event, namely the Gordon Riots of 1780.27  In the same novel, she makes a glorious defence of the novel against the attacks of critics who disparage works that have “only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.”28

Propertius, Ovid, and Jane Austen reduced the importance of national events by presenting them from the point of view of the private person.  Struggling under a difficult mistress, Propertius envies the relative ease with which Augustus managed to subdue Cleopatra.29  The Roman triumph with its parade of defeated generals offers Propertius and Ovid opportunities to impress young ladies.30  Unlike Propertius and Ovid, Jane Austen never disparaged the events themselves, since she was proud of her brothers’ achievements.  Nevertheless, she protested against the notion that only the great deeds of great men are worthy of record.  Consequently, she reduced the seriousness of public events by presenting them through the filter of a private person’s reaction.  When William Price entrances the household of Mansfield with tales of a shipwreck or a sea battle, only his audience gets the actual story.31  The reader only hears about Mrs. Norris’ noisy interruptions as she searches for pieces of thread and a button.  The political events of the nineteenth century color events in the novels, but never control them.  It is more significant that Fanny Price asked a question about the slave trade than it would be interesting to learn what Sir Thomas would have told her.

To sum up, Jane Austen and the Roman love-poets share the same vision of their art.  They leave out the military and political events to concentrate on the lives of private people.  They prefer the comic to the serious, the small to the grand.  Finally, they create a world that is one half of the dichotomous whole, the other half of which is implied, so that the stories narrated are set in high relief to what is not narrated.

Some classicists see in the Roman love-poets the dawning of an emancipated attitude towards women.32  One reason for this is that they reversed the traditional hierarchical arrangement that sets warfare above the relationship between a man and a woman.  In Homeric epic, the romantic interludes offer comic relief from the bloody battlefield.  In the poems of Propertius and Ovid, the romantic interludes take up the foreground, while epic heroes are introduced as foils to the lover.  The poets deflate the pompousness of epic poetry by rejecting the belief that a warrior’s life is more important, more difficult, more worthy of poetry than the experiences of a lover.33  Moreover, both poets subvert heroic legend by presenting epic poems as love-stories.  The Iliad is the story of a woman’s unfaithfulness; the Odyssey is the story of a woman courted by many suitors; the Aeneid carries arms and the man into Dido’s bed.34  Ovid’s Heroides, letters from legendary women to their heroic lovers and husbands, presents heroic material from the women’s point of view.  The first of these, the letter from Penelope to Odysseus, may have inspired Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

In this novel, Jane Austen protests against the authority men have over literature:


“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story.  Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands.”35


In Persuasion, Jane Austen poses a challenge to the most manly of classical authors, Homer, by retelling the Odyssey as a woman’s story.  Persuasion is not so much a Georgian Odyssey as a Georgian Penelopeia, recounting the Napoleonic Wars from the point of view of the woman left behind.

The parallels between the Odyssey and Persuasion are at first striking: a man and a woman are separated for many years; the man at sea, the woman at home.  Both are courted by others.  He flirts with an attractive young girl, after his physical return, but before his psychological and spiritual awakening and return to his true mate.  She is courted by a wicked young man.  The ancestral home, Homerically termed ancient and hospitable, is now in the hands of strangers.36  But the parallels only highlight the contrast.  The ancestral home is in better hands than those of its true owners.37  The wicked suitor is actually the legitimate heir.  One character is named Penelope, but her name hits us like a splash of cold water to remind us of the difference between the worlds described by Jane Austen and Homer.  Penelope Clay, the treacherous, flattering friend of Anne’s sister, Elizabeth, has an epic model not in Odysseus’ wife, but in his wife’s treacherous maid.  Like her epic prototype, she consorts with the wicked suitor.  But since William Elliot is the legitimate heir to the ancestral estate, his union with Penelope parodies the Odyssey’s ending.

Anne Elliot is Jane Austen’s Penelope, speaking both for Penelope and for all women left behind:


“We certainly do not forget you, so soon as you forget us.  It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit.  We cannot help ourselves.  We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us.  You are forced on exertion.  You have always a profession, pursuits, business of some sort or other, to take you back into the world immediately, and continual occupation and change soon weaken impressions.”38


Both Anne and Penelope have been ravaged by loneliness, mourning, and time. Penelope had only Eurycleia, her husband’s maid, to confide in.  Her other maids joined the suitors, and her son was beginning to grow up; Anne’s family is marked by cold selfishness and empty pride.  Her only friend, Lady Russell was the one who had persuaded her to give up Wentworth eight years before.  Although Penelope asserted that her beauty was lost with her husband, Homer contradicted her by showing the effect of her beauty on the suitors, who, goaded by desire as well as greed, vied with each other to give her bridal presents.39  In Persuasion we are told repeatedly that Anne has lost her looks, by the narrator, by her father, and, most cruelly, by Wentworth.40

Odysseus’ last temptation to forget his wife was the young princess Nausicaa, who offered him the chance to start again in a wealthy kingdom.  Far away on Ithaca, Penelope is spared having to watch her rival try to attach her husband.  Anne’s situation is much crueller.  Watching the growing intimacy between Wentworth and Louisa Musgrove, she is compelled to feel the contrast between her withered youth and Louisa’s bright prospects.

Penelope and Odysseus are joined by the similarity of their minds.  At the end of their story, he, who tested everyone, was finally tested by his wife, who tricked him into revealing the secret of their bed.41  Jane Austen draws Anne and Wentworth together by presenting the cast of their minds as similar, even as all portents show that he is falling in love with Louisa.  On the walk from Uppercross to Winthrop Anne derives pleasure from meditating on the literature about autumn:


Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.42


Later, when she overhears a tender conversation between Wentworth and Louisa, she is momentarily distracted from quotation:


Anne could not immediately fall into a quotation again.  The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by – unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory.43


Captain Wentworth also finds in nature a model for the human condition:


“Here is a nut,” said he, catching one down from an upper bough.  “To exemplify, – a beautiful glossy nut, which, blessed with original strength, has outlived all the storms of autumn.  Not a puncture, not a weak spot any where –  This nut,” he continued, with playful solemnity, – “while so many of its brethren have fallen and been trodden under foot, is still in possession of all the happiness that a hazel-nut can be supposed capable of.”44


Despite their estrangement, with Anne isolated and Captain Wentworth falling in love with another, we sense that their minds are joined by a similar consciousness.  Both draw on nature to express their own experience and yet their minds complement each other rather than mirroring.  Anne sees the general background; Wentworth sees a specific object.  Anne falls into quotation; Wentworth creates a witty analogy. The basic compatibility of the two causes us to feel the same satisfaction at their reunion as we do at the reunion of Penelope and Odysseus.

Thus Jane Austen’s silence on contemporary events, which has puzzled scholars, should be interpreted in the context of the Roman recusatio.  The movement of the troops in Pride and Prejudice from Meryton to Brighton would have been narrated very differently by a historian.  Jane Austen dared to ignore the political strategies of troop movements in order to describe the effect of such movements on a family with five daughters.  As far as her novel is concerned, Lydia’s elopement far outweighs any historical consequence of military manoeuvres.  Historians present us with a world-map blocked out with each country in a different colour.  Jane Austen gives us a magnifying glass through which we can see in exquisite precision of detail the events of a tiny portion of such maps, “three or four families in a country village.”45  Focussing on the very scenes that a political historian would ignore, and in turn ignoring the political and military events of the day, her novels are essentially history turned inside out.





1  J.E. Austen Leigh, Memoir of Jane Austen, with introduction, notes and index by R.W. Chapman (Oxford, 1926), 15-16.  Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh, Personal Aspects of Jane Austen (New York, 1920), 45-49 defends her against the charge of being narrow in her interests.  Warren Roberts, Jane Austen and the French Revolution (New York, 1979), finds her reticence about history fascinating (7), but gives no account for it besides the normal one that as a woman, she felt politics outside other sphere (68, 88, 105).  Indeed, he devotes five pages (18-22) to prove that she, whose cousin’s husband died on the guillotine, and whose brothers served in the Navy, was even aware of the events that coloured her times.  All citations from Jane Austen’s novels, letters and juvenilia are taken from the editions by R.W. Chapman (Oxford; novels, 1926; Letters, 2nd ed. 1959; Minor Works, 1954).  I would like to thank Margaret Hurley, Deborah Knuth, John DeForest, Edith Lank, Amy Richlin, Edward Denney, and Gene Koppel for their criticisms and comments.


2  P 21-22; MP 198; E 300.


3  Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Imagination (New Haven, 1979), 134.


4  NA 108.


5  Iliad 6.357-58.


6  Callimachus, Aetia 1.1-5.


7  The most complete account of the recusatio is that of Walter Wimmel, Kallimakhos in Rom. Die Nachfolge seines apologetischen Dichlens in der Augusteerzeit (Wiesbaden, 1960).  See also Gordon Williams, Tradition and Originality in Roman Poetry (Oxford, 1968), 46, 50, 77, 80, 102f.  The Alexandrian Age is coming to be appreciated in our age that seems so similar.  A good account of the literary issues of the time is given by Charles R. Beye, Ancient Greek Literature and Society, 2nd ed. rev. (Ithaca, 1987), 251-86.  A more modern instance of the recusatio is Donne’s Canonization, where he contrasts the “pretty rooms” of the sonnet with “half-acre tombs.”  (I thank my colleague, Irma Rosenfeld for pointing out to me the reference.)  Fernand Corin, “A Note on Donne’s ‘Canonization’,” English Studies, 50 (1969), 89-93, discusses the poem in terms of the antimonies between epic and elegy, but does not allude to the Roman poets or the Alexandrians from whom Donne drew his inspiration.


8  Callimachus, Hymn 4.188; Epigrams 5 and 51; Aetia fg. 110; Propertius 2.1.39-42.


9  Only recently have scholars ceased to hope for lost volumes of Callimachus’ love poetry from the sands of Egypt.  See Archibald A. Day, The Origins of Latin Love Elegy (Oxford, 1938), 26-36.  For the history of Latin love-elegy, see Georg Luck, The Latin Love Elegy, (New York, 1960).


10 Horace, Odes 1.6.  For examples of the recusatio, see Propertius 2.1, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.9; Ovid, Amores 1.1 For Propertius’ identification of contemporary battles with legendary ones, see 2.1; for his mock apologetic stance, see 1.7 and 1.9; for his opposing amatory and military battles, see 2.1 and passim.


11 Letters 452.


12 Letters 443.


13 For example, R.W. Chapman, Jane Austen, Facts and Problems (1948; rev. rpt. Oxford, 1970), 36; Gilbert and Gubar, 133-34.


14 J.E. Austen Leigh, Memoir, 122.


15 J.E. Austen Leigh, Memoir, 11; Mary Austen-Leigh, Personal Aspects, 24.


16 Walter Ong, Rhetoric, Romance and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture (Ithaca, 1971), 113-41, draws an intriguing parallel between teaching boys Latin and puberty rites.  Among the women who did acquire Latin were Dorothy Osborne, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Elizabeth Carter, and Mary Somerville.


17 R.W. Chapman, Jane Austen, 43.


18 Caractacus and Agricola, NA 109; Severus, MP 18; Lucina, Letters 329.  To be sure, if she did know Latin, it is puzzling that she did not reveal her knowledge.  Madame de LaFayette in seventeenth century France offers a parallel.  According to Jean Regnault de Segrais, she concealed her knowledge of Latin for fear of arousing the resentment of other women: Segraisiana (Paris: La Compagnie des libraires associés, 1721) I, 102. (I am grateful to my colleague, Patricia Cholakian for this reference.)  Walton Litz suggested to me in a personal letter that, without knowing Latin, Jane Austen might well have picked up knowledge of the classics just as nowadays many literate people know the theories of Freud without having read him.


19 For the lives of John Nott and George F. Nott, see the entries in the Dictionary of National Biography.  George Nott was a close friend of Fanny Trollope, the mother of the famous novelist.  He attended Oxford when Jane Austen’s elder brothers were there, and like them, espoused Tory politics.  Lord Craven gave him the living at Wistanstow at the same time as he gave Hamstead Marshall to Edward Cooper, the Austens’ cousin.  Jane Austen alludes to this transaction in one of her letters (55).  For the suggestion that Nott’s friendship with the Austens and his position as prebendary of Winchester Cathedral secured Jane Austen a desirable burial site in the Cathedral, see Park Honan, Jane Austen: Her Life (N.Y., 1987), 398.  The most significant evidence for Jane Austen’s having known him is that she used his mother’s maiden name for the maiden name of Mrs. Elton in Emma.  My suspicion is that, since he did not read novels (the auction records of his library survive), this was her revenge on him for not reading hers.


20 Letters 256.


21 She criticizes the way women are educated NA 111.


22 Propertius 1.9.14, 2.34.58, 3.2.10, 3.3.19-20; cf. Ovid, Amores 2.1.5.


23 Letters 443, 452-53.  For the debt of the Roman love poets to Roman and Greek comedy, see Day, 179-206.


24 Propertius: 3.3.5, 3.1.14, 3.3.18, 1.8.33, 3.9.3-4.


25 Letters 469.  Cf. the article on Jane Austen’s art of miniature by Lance Bertelsen, “Jane Austen’s Miniature.  Painting, Drawing, and the Novel,” MLQ, (1984), 364-72.


26 Letters 299-300.  The nomenclature of novels, once called histories, is recounted by Arthur Heiserman, The Novel before the Novel: Essays and Discussions about the Beginnings of Prose Fiction (Chicago, 1977), 221, n. 2.


27 NA 112-13; cf. discussion of Roberts, Jane Austen and the French Revolution, 24-27 with bibliography.


28 NA 37.


29 Propertius 3.11.


30 Propertius 3.4.11-22; Ovid, Ars Amatoria 215-28.


31 MP 236.  This resolute subordination of public events to private response we find also in her letters.  Writing about the war, “How horrible it is to have so many people killed and what a blessing that one cares for none of them.”  (Letters 286)


32 J.P. Hallett, “The Role of Women in Roman Elegy: Countercultural Feminism,” Arethusa, 6 (1973), 103-24.


33 Ovid, Amores 1.9; Propertius 1.7, 1.9. Cf. Joy K. King, “Propertius 2.1.1-12: His Callimachean Second Libellus,“ Würzburger Jahrbücher für die Altertumswissenschaft, N.F., 6 (1980), 65.


34 Propertius 2.1.50; Ovid, Tristia, 371-76.


35 P 234.


36  P 13.


37 P 125.


38 P 232.


39 Odyssey 18.251-56, 19.124-29; 18.244-303.


40 P 28, 6, 60-61; at the end, however, Wentworth tells her that to his eyes she could never change, P 243.


41 Odyssey, 23.173-230.


42 P 84.


43 P 85.


44 P 88.


45 Letters 401.

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