Please note that due to recent wet weather combined with low numbers able to attend, we have postponed our proposed outing to Tulip Top Farm on Saturday 17th September. There will therefore be no JASACT meeting on this day, but we aim to reconvene our tiptoeing through the tulips to a date in the very near future. Watch this space.
Prepared by member Cheng
Whilst weather in a Jane Austen novel doesn’t really impact at first reading, it is there all the time and is so crucial that it determines the structure, the course and the pace of the plot. Most of the novels start in autumn and follow the meteorological patterns and the traditional activities of the seasons:
Having arranged her characters and defined their situations , having planned her love stories and hatched the misunderstandings that might impede them, she lets the weather shape events. It is her way of admitting chance into her narratives. (Mullan)
Weather BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER and thus has a practical impact on their lives. Think of the dramatic ‘driving rain set full in their face’ that results in Willoughby’s rescuing Marianne (Sense and sensibility), of the snow confining Emma in the carriage with Mr.Elton (Emma), the rain that delays Anne in setting out for the White Hart and gives Captain Wentworth the opportunity to write his letter (Persuasion), of Jane riding through rain to Netherfield and of the effect of Elizabeth’s bright eyes and glowing face after her cross-country walk (Pride and prejudice). The weather is often the catalyst for romance.
Weather REVEALS CHARACTER. The snow during the Christmas Eve dinner at Randalls (Emma) sets off vivid little insights into all the characters present: Mr. John Knightley’s grumpy, unsociable satisfaction at having proved the folly of having setting forth at all, Mr.Weston’s hospitable nature, Mr.Woodhouse’s chronic self centredness and nervous alarm, Isabella Knightley’s horror of being separated from her children, Mr. Knightley’s calm good sense, Emma’s readiness to resolve the situation decisively and simply and then, in the hilarious climax in the carriage, Mr.Elton’s presumptuous self-importance and social pretensions. The novel has a surprising number of weather events and they all have some bearing on Emma’s character, self delusions and growing maturity. After her shock at the outcome of her attempt to be a marriage arranger comes her remorse, courage and humility the following day in telling Harriet.
Weather serves as a ‘metaphorical index of character’s inner lives and a portent of impending plot shifts’. (Lodge) Fanny Price’s vulnerability to heat illustrates her greater defencelessness in relation to Mrs Norris (Mansfield Park), just as Jane Fairfax’s quiet determination to fetch the mail in the rain reflects her desperation at her own vulnerable position (Emma, again).
Weather has a PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECT on character’s feelings and behaviour and emphasises their moods: as with the summer heat of the strawberry picking excursion to Donwell when Mrs Elton’s romantic idyll dwindles into a querulous stream of consciousness babble that ends with her ‘tired to death – could bear it no longer – must go and sit down in the shade’. The lethargy and indolence on Box Hill build a languorous mood with Emma having no energy to control her tongue. (Emma)
Jane Austen uses the PATHETIC FALLACY lightly in her work, never indulging in overblown Bronte Romanticism unless in a satirical vein – as with Marianne, gushingly transported by her passion for dead leaves (Sense and sensibility). Instead, we see Emma, affected perhaps more than any other heroine, continually conscious of the weather, looking outward at the rain from her indoors life with her father and dreading the monotony of her future. Later, rain dampens her thoughts of Harriet marrying Mr.Knightley. With the sun comes Mr.Knightly! (Emma)
Used with intelligence and discretion it is a rhetorical device capable of moving and powerful effects, without which fiction would be so much the poorer.
In Northanger Abbey Austen makes a different use of weather – to drive the plot in a wickedly funny parody of the GOTHIC novel. All the elements, rain, wind, storms and sunlight, are chosen to resemble Gothic Fiction but they are actually meant to mock.
Every bend of the road was expected with solemn awe to afford a glimpse of its massy walls of grey stone, rising amid a grove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic windows. But so low did the building stand, that she found herself passing through the great gates into the very grounds of Northanger, without having discerned even an antique chimney’. She wasn’t in an abbey!
The night was stormy; the wind had been rising at intervals……it blew and rained violently. Catherine……..listened to the tempest with sensations of awe; and, when she heard it rage around a corner of the ancient building and close with sudden fury a distant door, felt for the first time that she was really in an Abbey.
With every gloomy scene loaded with dire possibilities, comes the sun to dispel the overdone mood and restore reality.
Weather influences HEALTH. There was a 19th century belief that women, being the weaker sex, were more susceptible to ‘environmentally excited diseases’ caused by extremes of weather, damp, shock and bad air. Thus real men scorned the weather, i.e. Mr.Knightly. Marianne Dashwood, Jane Bennet, Mary Musgrove and decidedly non-macho Mr.Woodhouse could be interpreted as examples of this attitude. Doctors believed that cold feet could force the body to keep warm, thereby sapping energy and bringing on chills and fevers, as evidenced by Marianne’s walking ‘where the grass was longest and wettest’ and ‘sitting in her wet shoes and stockings’ (Sense and sensibility). Louisa’s mood was so stirred up by the strong winds on the Cob that she irrationally insists on jumping down (Persuasion).
Although Jane Austen lived through some exceptionally severe winters and grim natural phenomena, such as the aftermath of the volcanic eruption in Iceland in 1783 and the floods of Steventon in 1794-95 when ‘Mr.Austen’s family did not descend [from the upper floor] for two days’, she does not mention such extremes on her books. There are many references to the weather and its adverse effects on their plans in her letters but the only factual link between her real and fictional lives is in the oft quoted ‘orchard in bloom’ during the summer party at Donwell. The year it was written had been remarkably cold with only a brief warm spell in the middle of June.
However, on a far more personal level, the mood and tone of the latter half of Persuasion surely mirrors her feelings as she nears the end of her own life.
In Persuasion Austen uses the weather to underpin and emphasise the time of Anne Elliot’s life – her autumn years and her initial sense of melancholy and fatalism at hearing of Wentworth’s return. The novel is set in autumn and Austen suggests it’s Anne favourite time of year:
Anne, though dreading the possible heats of September in all the white glare of Bath, and grieving to forego all the influence so sweet and sad of the autumnal month in the country.
Her pleasure must arise 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 inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness.
The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory.
Through the weather in Persuasion we have perhaps the most intimate and saddest glimpse of Jane Austen herself.
- Enhoffer, Tina. “Chances Are – the role of fortune in Jane Austen’s novels”. JASNA, 1999
- Harayda, Janice. “Weather in novels: How it works, or Jane Austen and the pathetic fallacy” in One-Minute Book Reviews
- Le Faye, Deirdre. A Year in the Countryside – in Jane Austen’s Country Life. France’s Lincoln, 2014
- Lodge, David. “Weather” in The Art of Fiction, Penguin, 1992
- Mullan, John. “Why is the Weather Important” in What Matters in Jane Austen? Bloomsbury, 2012
- Warboys, Professor Michael.
The meeting concludes as usual with our secret quotes and a quiz on weather in the novels.
Our next meeting will be at the Tulip Top Farm for lunch (bringing our own picnic food). Time: 12:30, at the entrance gate.
Topics for the last meetings for the rest of the year can be found in the Schedule in the sidebar.
The August Meeting is this Saturday, August 20th, in the Friends’ Lounge of the National Library of Australia at 1.30pm. We will be discussing Jane Austen’s use of weather in her novels.
It was agreed that the topic was broad but that the definition of the brotherly qualities, as defined in Mansfield Park, be considered. That the best of brothers demonstrated filial love which encompassed provision, protection and a genuine love for family and siblings, that was beyond matrimonial love, which could be dissolved by divorce .
Austen’s family situation was one where much-loved dependable brothers provided, protected, genuinely loved and entertained their sisters and each other. Her family situation provided knowledge of men and their behaviour and knowledge of the naval brotherhood to include in the novels but Henry Austen assures us that Jane never based characters on individuals.
The family circle is seen as an innovative, social and moral power base of a fraternity of brothers and sisters.
In Fanny and William’s relationship we see
Their eager affection in meeting, their exquisite delight in being together, their hours of happy mirth, and moments of serious conference, may be imagined; as well as the sanguine views and spirits of the boy even to the last, and misery of the girl when he left her .( Mansfield Park Book 1 Chapter 2.)
Is this the brother sister relationship against which to judge others? Especially that of Henry and Mary Crawford who are cordial rather than intimate, and ultimately villains. William writes frequently but Henry rarely.
In those novels where sibling dynamics are driven by primogeniture in the case of the brothers or by brilliant marriage for sisters, where an individual’s success and that the family’s future were affected, suggests the reality of family survival in 18th century England. The narrow social group meant that lovers are often brother substitute figures, often a brother’s friend or the good brother of persons unknown. (1)
None of the heroines have effective, strong, protective brothers and all marry good brothers, dependable, intelligent, educated, sensible, morally upright and loving. Perhaps Austen is suggesting that good brothers make good husbands, as we know Robert Martin has proved himself worthy of Harriet. Henry Tilney is heroic in his devotion to his sisters, compared to the anti-hero John Thorpe in his mistreatment of his younger sisters at Bath.
Noting that the heroines of the novels don’t have wise and supportive fathers, would the addition of capable caring brothers have been an impediment to the plot?
The vulnerable women, dependent on the whims of male family members is clearly drawn and evidenced in Austen’s life experience.
Austen uses sets of brothers to contrast values and worth in drawing Edmund and Tom Bertram and the conceited younger brother Robert and Edward Ferrars who by contrast is honourable, friendly and sensible. Still family fortunes are affected by the irresponsible deeds of the less worthy. Tom’s debts affected the entitlement of his family, and Robert inherits a less desirable wife.
The actions of brothers which may appear incidental, have dynamic effects on the plot. Col. Brandon’s unnamed brother takes Eliza leaving Brandon to be Marianne’s suitor. Robert Ferrars marries Lucy leaving Edmund free to marry Elinor. Tom Bertram introduces his friend Yates with whom Maria Bertram elopes. Captain Wentworth’s brother remembered old friends and kept up a correspondence and strong friendships between himself, his sister and brother. “His inclusion in the novel provides the reason for Anne Elliot, despite her secluded life, being in a position to make the acquaintance of a dashing naval captain.” (2)
The irony of Wickham’s claim to be half-brother to Darcy suggests that breeding must be heeded. Wickham is a cuckoo in the Darcy family nest.
The financial future of the brotherless Bennet family is in jeopardy as is that of the Dashwood women as a result of negligence by John Dashwood, the weak-minded, money grabbing heir. Emma is also brotherless but is guided by the brother substitute suitor Knightley. Both George and John are ideal brothers and George as brother substitute, corrects her, guides her and shows extraordinary forgiveness and forbearance , proving himself to be an ideal brother figure and husband. Just as Edmond Bertram is a classic leading man, kind, honest, sensible, loyal, good-hearted.
It is in Emma, that the issue of incest is glossed over. Engendering discussion, it is seen that in the closed communities of the novels the security, familiarity and comparable class of cousins is an accepted pairing, given there is little chance of geographical or social mobility. In both Mansfield Park and Emma, the brother-sister relationship is shown to be a solid relationship where sisters are valued and respected.
Austen is concerned to show the home as inviolable in times of change by cementing sibling loyalty, strengthening the home and spiritual and moral values it represents and unions among relatives as some of the novels end .
The navy family is expected to provide a future brotherhood for Anne Eliot, a worthy society compared to the emptiness of the gentry about her.
- Souter, Kay Tomey. Heads and arms and legs enough: Jane Austen and sibling dynamics (JASNA)
- Whalan P. The men in the background. Sensibilities Dec 2005 p 32
The July Meeting is this Saturday, July 16th, in the Friends’ Lounge of the National Library at 1.30pm. We will be discussing brothers in Jane Austen’s novels.
Prepared by member Jenny.
Does Jane Austen deal in moral absolutes? Philosopher Marcus Adamson (whom we heard at this year’s JAFA symposium) believes she does and that they would “help to heal the modern world.” He suggested that the moral truths and certainties she presents and which are known to us all are needed in modern life where everything is open to doubt.
Philosophy encourages us to question meaning. Morality often seems to depend on the context be it religious or secular. Absolutes are inflexible truths.
Jane Austen in her books certainly presented moral viewpoints but today’s group was doubtful as to whether her work, in fact, includes any moral absolutes per se – an ethical view that particular actions are intrinsically right or wrong.
Various philosophers and critics have studied Austen’s work through the prisms of their particular philosophic preferences. Her work appears to reflect Christian, Socratic and Aristotelian influences as well as modern bourgeois virtues.
Sarah Emsley in her book Jane Austen’s Philosophy of the Virtues discussed various approaches. Archbishop Richard Whately in 1821, regarded Austen as a Christian writer but felt she was very reticent about religion. He wrote that she had:
a merit which is much enhanced, both on the score of good taste, and of practical utility, by her religion not being at all obtrusive… In fact she is more sparing of it than would be thought desirable by some persons.
Canadian academic and critic, Bruce Stovel believed that the first prayer written by Austen helps to illuminate her novels. In 1994 he saw as central to the story of Elizabeth Bennett, Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse the process by which the heroine arrives at the:
knowledge (of) every fault of temper and every evil habit in which we have indulged to the discomfort of our fellow-creatures and the danger of our own souls. (MW 453)
Equally it can be argued that Austen shows us how to look at ourselves and analyse and identify our own moral characters, to meet the Socratic challenge to “know thyself.” Elizabeth Bennet after reading Darcy’s letter says,” Till this moment, I never knew myself.” (PP 208). She suddenly realises how her temper, habits and actions have been blind, wilful and prejudiced. Similarly Emma recognises the discomfort she has caused Miss Bates: “Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life…she felt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates.” (E376). Marianne confesses to Elinor: “My illness has made me think – It has given me leisure and calmness for serious recollection…I considered the past ; I saw it in my own behaviour…nothing but a series of imprudence towards myself, and want of kindness to others…(SS 194)
Alasdair MacIntyre asserts that: “It is her uniting of Christian and Aristotelian themes in a determinate social context that makes Jane Austen the last great effective imaginative voice of the tradition of thought about, and practice of, the virtues.”
Austen reflects the Aristotelian doctrine of the mean with Anne Elliot in Persuasion considering the idea of “proportions and limits.” Thinking about Wentworth:
Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character, and whether it might strike him, that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought she could scarcely escape him to feel that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness as a very resolute character. (P 1178)
Thomas Rodham, a current virtue ethicist, perceives Austen’s books as “serious moralising plays underneath the veneer of romantic comedy – they are a moral education masquerading as entertainment,” he stated in The Philosopher’s Beard blog in 2012. According to him, virtue ethics understands the good life in terms of personal moral character, or becoming the kind of person who does the right thing for the right reasons. Rodham argues that Austen presents an ethical life in which success for her women depends on the development of moral character through a series of moral trials during which they learn how to apply the bourgeois virtues of prudence, amiability, propriety and dignity. Thus Austen demonstrates not what to do but how to do it. The distinction between the easy acceptance or rejection of authority and the complicated process of contemplation helps determine when authority is right and when individual judgement is right which is at the heart of Jane Austen’s philosophical approach. Elizabeth Bennet provides an example when she counters Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s demand that she promise never to marry Mr Darcy with the words:
I am only resolved to act in the manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or any person so wholly unconnected to me. (PP 358)
One member of the group chose to look at the resolution of the novels to clarify Austen’s moral position. She felt that Anne Eliot’s final speech to Captain Wentworth concerning her original decision to break off their engagement demonstrated both self-analysis and a return to a moral position (P 231)
Austen, an omniscient author presents her moral vision as well as moral content. Her moral gaze sees right through people to their moral character and exposes their follies, flaws and self-deceptions. True morality requires a balance of many types of moral theory and no one view can cover them all whereas a moral absolute must have no circumstantial, cultural, societal or religious preferences.
Jane Austen herself seems to speak through Elizabeth Bennet when she reflects “But peope themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them forever” (PP 43) suggesting that behaviour is relative and thus there are no absolutes.
Another source (from JASNA) pointed out that similar faults given in different contexts result in different outcomes. Thus while flattery destroys Maria Bertram, Emma is not. In Austen absolutes were modified by independence of thought.
While Mary Bennet was seen as the only absolute character in the novels, Mr Knightley was the most moral. Sir Thomas Bertram also appears as an absolutist but he discovers that his approach fails to achieve the outcomes he desired, rather it succeeded in distancing members of his family without teaching wise morals.
It would appear that Jane Austen was far too well read and far too intelligent to be satisfied with such an extreme as moral absolution. Her view is complex and nuanced. She requires that her characters recognise the need for moral discrimination and contexts with “a good-humoured acceptance of human frailty” (Knox-Shaw in Jane Austen in context).
The meeting ended, appropriately, on a quiz about Austen’s bad, or, shall we say, less moral women!
Next meeting, July 16, we will be discussing brothers in Austen’s work.
The June Meeting is this Saturday, June 18, in the Friends’ Lounge of the National Library. We will be discussing ‘moral absolutes’ in Jane Austen’s novels.