Prepared by members Sue and Cheng
As last year, we cancelled our April meeting, as many of us had attended, the weekend before, sessions of this year’s Jane Austen Festival Australia.
Symposium on Jane Austen’s Men
According to the original program there were to be 6 speakers in the Symposium, but on the day we had four. The same thing happened last year, and both years it was the two male speakers who didn’t turn up. Coincidence?
Janet Lee: “Oh what a Henry”: the brothers of Jane Austen
Edward Austen Knight, c. 1788
Janet Lee’s presentation primarily comprised brief biographies of Austen’s brothers:
- James, b. 1765: went to Oxford at 14. He wrote poetry, and edited the Loiterer magazine. Lee told us of the theory that an article in this magazine by Sophia Sentiment was in fact written by Jane Austen, and that this would then be her first published work. His daughter was Anna.
- George, b. 1766: had some form of disability, possibly epilepsy, and did not live with the family.
- Edward, b. 1767: adopted by a wealthy distant cousin, made formal in 1783, when he took on the name Austen-Leigh. He didn’t go to Oxford, but did a 4-year Grand Tour. His daughter was Fanny, and it was her son Lord Brabourne who found the Jane Austen’s letters.
- Henry, b. 1771: was the first child born at Steventon. He went to Oxford, joined the regimentals. He had various careers: militia officer, banker, minister. He was the brother who got into the most scrapes, including bankruptcy, but for Jane was the popular can-do-no-wrong brother.
- Frances, b. 1774: joined the Navy when he was 11 years old. He rose to the position of Admiral of the Fleet. He married the family friend, Martha Lloyd, when they were both 63.
- Charles, b. 1779: joined the Navy when he was 12 years old, becoming Rear-Admiral. He was one of Jane’s first readers.
Cassandra was born in 1773, and Jane 1775. Lee made the point that given the number of children and the large age range, they did not spend a lot of time all living together, but they wrote letters and visited each other, demonstrating the importance of family. Unmarried women had to be supported by brothers, as Edward did for his mother and sisters after their father died. After Jane died, Cassandra owned the copyright, while Henry negotiated the publishing of her books.
Katrina Clifford: Friendless, brotherliness, openness, uprightness: Naval men in ‘Persuasion’
Clifford commenced by reminding us of Louisa’s enthusiastic speech on sailors to Anne at Lyme. She:
burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy: their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.
Anne’s reaction is quieter, more rational, but no less positive about these people who “would have been all my friends”. Clifford argued that this group of sailors is unique in Austen’s novels. We see how they live, work and think, at home, not at war, as the novel is set during the so-called False Peace of the Napoleonic Wars. The naval community was, Clifford said, often accused of clannishness during Austen’s times.
Lyme, she said, is where we see this naval community the most, and where Anne becomes most aware of the community she lost in rejecting Wentworth (just as visiting Pemberley enables Elizabeth to see the life she’d rejected). Property in Pride and prejudice, becomes community/company in Persuasion. Naval company, Anne sees, is more warm than her father’s dinners of display.
Persuasion conveys much about the character of naval men, in particular:
- Brotherliness: kinship terms are used to describe the community, such as “brother-officers”. Henry V had used the term “we band of brothers” but Clifford argued that Admiral Nelson used it to convey a caring for the well-being of all, including the family, which is what we see depicted in Austen’s naval community. An example is the care taken of Captain Benwick after the death of his fiancée. Clifford also mentioned the “fraternity” catch-cry of the French Revolution, but said that Austen’s concept of “fraternity” included women. “We” says Mrs Croft. Anne and Captain Harville, she said, speak like siblings.
- Blurring of gender expectations: Clifford argued that Persuasion “dismantles gender boundaries”, blurring distinctions between masculine and feminine. Harville talks of the role of women in society, and Wentworth in the navy; Harville speaks on how men feel, demonstrating a female-like emotional openness. The naval community is depicted as a meritocratic community in which woman are recognised for their abilities: Mrs Croft’s intelligence, Mrs Harville’s nurturing skills, and Anne’s ability to hold her head in a crisis. The Navy is shown to support a genuine attachment to family and an interest in home: Captain Harville made the home livable, and Benwick has feminine qualities and yet is not seen as effeminate. Men at sea must do domestic work, and women at home need to do practical things. Women who found themselves on board during battle would take on various duties, including being nurses, and powder monkeys for canons.
Clifford suggested that Austen was proposing that the Navy might present a model of how Britain could move forward as a nation, that she is presenting a framework for society.
Heather Nielson: Suitors in ‘Emma’ and ‘Persuasion’
Nielson commenced by referring to the final scene in the 1995 film version of Persuasion which showed Anne on board with Captain Wentworth. While this is not in the book, she said, it is a fair extrapolation.
Nielson quoted Gore Vidal’s statement:
Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps twenty players, and Tennessee Williams has about five, and Samuel Beckett one – and maybe a clone of that one. I have ten or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.
… and proceeded to look at some similarities in Austen’s characters across the novels. Anne (described by Harold Bloom as having “rational perceptiveness”), for example, shares an ability to see logical consequences with Fanny Price and Elinor Dashwood, while the “eroded and abraded” Elizabeth Elliot presents a vision of what Emma might have become without the presence of Mr Knightley. Then, she said, there are the upstarts, such as Mrs Elton and Mary Musgrove.
Nielson then moved on to look at the suitors in Persuasion – Captain Wentworth, William Elliot and Captain Benwick. It’s Captain Wentworth, she argued, who needs “persuasion”.
Anne is, she argued, initially attracted to William Elliot – to his knowledge of the world and his apparent warm heart – but she’s uncertain. She’s learnt to distrust Lady Russell’s advice. She also distrusts his sudden interest in their family, and finds him, perhaps, too agreeable. This shifts him from being a credible suitor, like Captain Benwick and Pride and prejudice’s Colonel Fitzwilliam, to being more like Wickham and Willoughby. These, and Henry Crawford, she described as “chameleon suitors”.
They are chameleon because they exude “excessive agreeability”, while being something quite different. Yet, while honesty is good, people do also need to temper forthrightness. She exemplified this by the scene in which the Mrs Musgrove expresses sadness about her late ne’er-do-well son who had served under Captain Wentworth:
There was a momentary expression in Captain Wentworth’s face at this speech, a certain glance of his bright eye, and curl of his handsome mouth, which convinced Anne, that instead of sharing in Mrs. Musgrove’s kind wishes, as to her son, he had probably been at some pains to get rid of him; but it was too transient an indulgence of self-amusement to be detected by any who understood him less than herself; in another moment he was perfectly collected and serious, and almost instantly afterwards coming up to the sofa, on which she and Mrs. Musgrove were sitting, took a place by the latter, and entered into conversation with her, in a low voice, about her son, doing it with so much sympathy and natural grace, as shewed the kindest consideration for all that was real and unabsurd in the parent’s feelings.
True gentlemen and women, in other words, must be able to discriminate, but manage their expression of it. Jane Austen’s dedication of Emma to the Prince Regent is an example of Austen’s “social palliation” (or, “civil falsehood”, as we JASACT audience members muttered to ourselves), given what we know to be her attitude to the Prince’s treatment of his wife.
Continuing with Emma, Nielson contrasted the plain, English Mr Knightley, with the “dandified, continental” Frank Churchill (as he is described by critic Darryl Jones).
Gillian Dooley: Men and music
Dooley presented her thesis that in Austen music does not “confer good character” on men and that, generally, Austen’s heroines should beware men who make music with them. The heroes tend to be those who appreciate music, who listen and turn pages, rather than practitioners themselves.
She commenced her discussion with Sense and sensibility, pointing to Marianne who had to have a man who concurred with her in taste. Willoughby’s “musical talents were considerable” we are told. By contrast, Edward Ferrars appreciates Eleanor’s playing as a lover not a connoisseur. Similarly, Colonel Brandon appreciates Marianne’s playing early in the novel:
Colonel Brandon alone, of all the party, heard her without being in raptures. He paid her only the compliment of attention; and she felt a respect for him on the occasion, which the others had reasonably forfeited by their shameless want of taste. His pleasure in music, though it amounted not to that extatic delight which alone could sympathize with her own, was estimable when contrasted against the horrible insensibility of the others …
Dooley went on to look at other novels:
- Pride and prejudice: Darcy listen to Elizabeth intently at Rosings, and fosters his sister’s musical ability
- Mansfield Park: Mary Crawford is a good musician, and Edmund and Fanny her listeners
- Emma: Jane Fairfax and Emma both play but Emma “knew the limitations of her own powers too well to attempt more than she could perform with credit” while Frank Churchill “was accused of having a delightful voice, and a perfect knowledge of music; which was properly denied; and that he knew nothing of the matter, and had no voice at all, roundly asserted.” Frank, the deceiver, can sing! Music plays a significant role in the novel’s plot machinations. Emma misses Mr Knightley’s jealousy regarding Frank, and Frank’s interest in Jane. Mr Knightly on the other hand appreciates music with a moral discernment.
- Persuasion: Anne mostly plays for herself: “She knew that when she played she was giving pleasure only to herself; but this was no new sensation. Excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation or real taste. In music she had been always used to feel alone in the world”. Captain Wentworth, was of course, that “short period in her life”. He was, Austen tells us, “was very fond of music”. Dooley sees Captain Wentworth as one of Austen’s best male characters – and he likes music, but is not a musician.
Keynote Speech. Gemma Betros: Jane Austen’s Waterloo
Britain was just emerging from 22 years of war (1793 – 1815) with France and Dr. Betros first gave a succinct outline of these wars and the politics of the period.
Jane Austen lived most of her life during war-time and, like many of her fellow countrymen, did not refer to it very often in either her letters or novels. It was “like permanent bad weather” that was to be faced stoically.
Yet the results were inescapable in her daily life. Her own naval brothers’ activities, Henry Austen’s militia duties and later his bankruptcy, the presence of French emigres such as her own cousin Eliza, were events close to home.
Over 1 million British men fought and the wounded and disfigured returned soldiers were to be seen everywhere in the streets.
The fear of invasion was constant – in 1807 the entire nation was mobilised for war and a mock invasion was practised. Recruiting and taxes must have seemed never-ending.
Newspapers gave conflicting reports and were often delayed. The news of the victory of Waterloo on the 18th June took several days to reach London and was only confirmed by Wellington when he returned on the 21st.
Jane Austen was a war novelist, a uniquely sensitive one. Her works are suffused with war.
Dr. Betros listed many examples of characters and events in her novels related to the wars – General Tilney, Lydia and Brighton, William Price and Admiral Croft.
In Sanditon was the only use of the word ‘Waterloo’, when Mr. Parker regretted having named his house ‘Trafalgar’ rather than Waterloo House.
Persuasion illustrates the social changes during and after war and the character of Anne Elliot, waiting, evokes the troubles of war.
The common belief that Jane Austen’s supposedly sheltered life led her to ignore the realities of the age was very effectively refuted, for indeed the history of those times infused that of her novels.
Dr. Betros’ recommended reading list:
- Brian Southam, Jane Austen and the Navy
- Jenny Uglow: In these times: living in Britain through Napoleon’s wars, 1793 – 1815
- Jocelyn Harrris: A Revolution almost beyond expression: Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’
- Mary Favret: “Everyday war”, English Literary History, Vol. 72, No. 3 (2005)