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Jane Austen Rewls

I've always enjoyed the dialogue and characterizations in Austen's novels, but never bothered to try to make an argument for why her novels are awesome. I don't do analysis of literature. I just like something cause i like it. Good thing there are people out there who will do that for me.

From Charlotte Brontë, who found only "neat borders" and elegant confinement in her fiction, to DH Lawrence, who called her "English in the bad, mean, snobbish sense of the word", many thought her limited to the small world and small concerns of her characters. Some of the great modernists were perplexed. "What is all this about Jane Austen?" Joseph Conrad asked HG Wells. "What is there in her? What is it all about?"

Stupid Charlotte Brontë with her stupid secret attic wife book. Bwah!

Emma, published 200 years ago this month, was revolutionary not because of its subject matter: Austen's jesting description to Anna of the perfect subject for a novel - "Three or four families in a country village" - fits it well. It was certainly not revolutionary because of any intellectual or political content. But it was revolutionary in its form and technique. Its heroine is a self-deluded young woman with the leisure and power to meddle in the lives of her neighbours. The narrative was radically experimental because it was designed to share her delusions. The novel bent narration through the distorting lens of its protagonist's mind. Though little noticed by most of the pioneers of fiction for the next century and more, it belongs with the great experimental novels of Flaubert or Joyce or Woolf. Woolf wrote that if Austen had lived longer and written more, "She would have been the forerunner of Henry James and of Proust".

Like Lorelei Gilmore, i've been wanting to read some Proust. Not for any intellectual reasons, but because Monty Python references him.

She was perfecting a technique that she had begun developing in her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. It was only in the early 20th century that critics began agreeing on a name for it: free indirect style (a translation from the original French: style indirect libre). It describes the way in which a writer imbues a third-person narration with the habits of thought or expression of a fictional character. Before Austen, novelists chose between first-person narrative (letting us into the mind of a character, but limiting us to his or her understanding) and third-person narrative (allowing us a God-like view of all the characters, but making them pieces in an authorial game). Austen miraculously combined the internal and the external.
The novel's stylistic innovations allow it to explore not just a character's feelings, but, comically, her deep ignorance of her own feelings. Out of vanity, encouraged by the promptings of Mr and Mrs Weston, Emma has persuaded herself that Frank, whom she has never met, might be the perfect partner for her.
Her capacity for self-congratulation deceives her about even the workings of her own heart. Austen does not tell us this, as George Eliot would eloquently tell us: she simply lets us inhabit Emma's consciousness, simply lets us see the world according to Emma.
"The Passions are perfectly unknown to her," Brontë declared, sounding like a character whom Austen would have delighted in depicting. She had been recommended Pride and Prejudice by George Eliot's partner, George Henry Lewes, who was partly responsible for Eliot holding Austen in higher regard than most of the other great novelists of the 19th century. Lewes's 1859 essay in Blackwood's Magazine is still one of the most perceptive analyses of Austen's powers.

But instead of description, the common and easy resource of novelists, she has the rare and difficult art of dramatic presentation: instead of telling us what her characters are, and what they feel, she presents the people, and they reveal themselves. In this she has never perhaps been surpassed, not even by Shakespeare himself.

That said, i still love Pride & Prejudice best. The characters are great. The snarky and convoluted comments from Mr. Bennet, the ludicrously snobbish and out of touch declarations by Lady Catherine, even the nervous flutterings of Mrs. Bennet - it's gold! I've often wished i was clever enough to insult someone so politely as Elizabeth Bennet could.

By min | December 5, 2015, 12:21 PM | Boooooks | Comments (0)| Link

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