Ms. Bronte apparently had never read P&P
Posted by Patrick on January 15, 1998 at 17:12:47:
In response to Making the ordinary, the everyday the ideal , written by Erin on January 12, 1998 at 23:33:51
] Yes, balance is nice, and for Austen it is the guiding virtue,
I don't think we can conclude this as a matter of fact. It is, surely, a matter of interpretation. Among the sources we have that bear on the question are her novels. They do not lead me to the conclusion that balance was the "guiding virtue" for Austen. It is arguable, in other words.
] I cannot base a correct understanding of Austen's 'morality' (and the disclosure of it in her novels) on what she did not articulate, even though such an idea may be tempered by the possibility of self-censorship on Austen's part.
I understand that. My point is that the impossibility of an author - especially a woman - publishing a work in which "immoral" behaviours took place must be taken into consideration along with other types of evidence. I don't suggest "basing your understanding" on such a point - only taking the point into consideration.
] A frequent visitor to our pages once described to me why she enjoys Austen so much. I think it's a wonderful description of the virtue of Austen's work:
there is a lot of fun to be had from the Janeite point of view (clothes, dances, love, romances...) but the moral infrastructure is so awe-inspiringly solid and functional--stainless steel-clad principles like surgical instruments for dissecting society's ills!
I think it is possible to disagree on what those stainless steel-clad principles might be. If we do disagree, then what does that imply? The quote seems to me to suggest that JA was monolithic, and transparent in her views, but if that were so, surely intelligent, motivated people would be able to agree on what those views were.
] For further proof that Austen's world is ordered by rational reflection (I'm sublimating the term!)...
Further proof? Let's be careful with our terms :-) I haven't seen proof of anything yet - just your (very interesting and welcome) opinion and argument. And no opinion expressed by Ms. Bronte would constitute proof of anything, in my humble view.
Austen proves that the free-choosing self (ie., happy and fulfilled) is possible, and that the individual may not be alienated from society as a result of such freedom, ie., living authentically to one's truth.
Whether I agree with this depends upon what you mean by "alienated from society." Was Lizzy alienated? Was Darcy?
] Bronte is part of a movement where the source of truth is the limitless...insanity itself; and Bronte's characters suffer for her version of personal authenticity.
I knew there was a reason I wasn't interested in Bronte's work.
] In contrast, Austen articulates her ideal through balance/symmetry:...
I see no reason to accept the italicized statement above. What can you offer by way of support for this view?
...balance/symmetry (i) of individual characters and their choices --brought about by reflection (which necessarily has to be rationally-based for her),
Again, why do you think so? You keep telling me that balance, symmetry, rational order are important to JA, but I don't see it in her novels, and I don't see why you think it is so.
Although "balance" has a nice ring to it, we need not suppose that it is always good. We can make a case that objectification of the world in various ways - quantifying, measuring, analyzing the world - are bad, or at best, neutral, but certainly not good for humans. Consider the rose. One way to "know" a rose is to measure it. You can measure its height, its stem circumference, its tensile strength, the wavelength of light reflected from its petals, and the number of days it blooms each year. This set of numbers, augmented by any other measurements you wish, provides nothing in the way of an experience of the rose. All those numbers would be available to someone who is blind or someone who lives where there are no roses. One view or scent of a rose reduces those numbers to insignificance. And I see no virtue in "balance" between time spent measuring the rose and time spent looking at it. In my own humble opinion, the same ideas apply to the world very widely, not just to the rose.
This idea seems to me to be what JA had in mind when she wrote P&P. The rose is "other people." The major characters in the book can be divided into two classes: Lizzy and Darcy, and everybody else. (A word about the Gardiners in a moment.) Lizzy and Darcy smell the rose, everyone else measures it.
Lizzy and Darcy are (or want to be) engaged with other people, in a way that no-one else is. Lydia, obviously, is concerned only with herself. Other people are a source of bonnets or someone to dance with, nothing more. Mary is no more involved with others than Lydia is, and nor are either of their parents. Kitty does little except moan, but it is difficult to parse the moans in such a way as to read engagement with other people into them.
Charlotte wants only to be comfortable. She is sufficiently independent of others that she can marry Mr. Collins (thus setting a sort of standard). Lady C. doesn't care what anyone feels or thinks, Sir William cannot distinguish one person or situation from another, Caroline wants to marry Darcy for his money and status but does not care enough about him to learn from their time together what sorts of opinions are likely to annoy him.
But Lizzy and Darcy are different. They are open, questing, looking for real, authentic contact with another human being, and prepared to risk everything for it. This is an emotional stance. The rational stance, after a life of not finding such contact, would be to suppose that it is impossible or nearly so, and to stop looking. To settle. But neither does this. So, in my reading, P&P is not about balance, it is not about reflection or rational order. It is about the tyranny of the quantitative, objectifying view that produces a fatally stratified society, and about how to overthrow that tyranny through emotion, through genuine emotional connection to another human being. It is seismic and revolutionary, it is all about upheaval and passion, not about carefully managed balancing.
The Gardiners, by the way, should probably be classed with Lizzy and Darcy, though we have too little information about their early life to trace the course of their development. Still, they serve as beacons calling to Lizzy and Darcy, and their presence is not inconsistent with the remarks above, in my view. Jane and Bingley are another problem. Ultimately, I would put them in with "everyone else" on the grounds that neither is passionate about life, neither is actively searching for contact the way that Lizzy and Darcy are. They are dull, but lucky.
Just my humble opinion, of course.
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