Classic Remarks 2: Does Jane Austen belong in the literary canon?


Some argue Jane Austen writes “fluff” and others argue she belongs in the canon because she writes witty social commentary.  Do you think Austen belongs in the canon? Why or why not?

Some people are bozos whose literary ears are clogged with the fluff of snobbishness (as opposed to the stuff of flobbishness, which I thought I made up for this pun but can actually mean something about the nature of spit. Google “to flob.”). Jane Austen isn’t quite a personal favorite yet but she is indisputably a worthy member of the world’s literary canon.

emmatitlepageMy experience is a bit limited, I admit. I read Emma once and have frequently seen bits of Austen films, mostly 2005’s Pride and Prejudice. My mother and sister are major Austen fans, and I’ve discussed the stories with them extensively. A most trusted and literate friend read every one of her novels for a college course and has also discussed them with me. The books themselves made him a committed Austen fan. Thus I feel confident in what I assert.

Austen seems to achieve with near perfection just about everything she sets out to achieve in her stories. The country gentlemen and ladies of her England are not larger than life, they are alive. They are not heroes or heroines, but fallen children of God in which both their sin and His grace are revealed. And these revelations come not through melodrama, nor thrilling adventure, nor the many contrivances which seed most of literature both low and high. They come through men and women interacting as men and women really do, and no less real for living in words rather than flesh. Her characters are fictional, but not false.

The question of reliable or unreliable narrators is irrelevant with her, because you can always rely on her women to describe the world exactly as they see it, and can always be sure that they are missing much. In following these women’s inner journies, the reader in turn learns how much he is likely misunderstanding about the people around him. Journeying together, the reader and protagonist’s eyes are jointly opened to the depth and mysteries that each human being holds within them, no matter how they appear outwardly.

Depth, mysteries, and also foolishness. Delve deeply enough and some amount of foolishness will be found in everyone. I think Austen understands that, as perhaps very few authors do. She also understands that acknowledging this foolishness is a way towards humility, good nature, and wisdom.

Austen is often funny—so much that it has been common for her novels to be called comedies—but she does not write jokes, gags, or any of the exaggeration which is normally associated with funny stories. Rather, we laugh as we truly see ourselves revealed in her characters. Such as when Emma gets so fed up with a busybody woman (whose natterings have also exasperated us the readers) that she finally puts her down wittily—we laugh, and then soon feel guilty as we realize how cruel it was for Emma to do that. We’re grateful that she has as wise and honest a friend as Mr. Knightley to call her out, and become grateful for our own friends who have done the same for us at various times.

There are gentler laughters throughout Austen’s books as well, but all come from careful observations of the follies and foibles of real persons. Every exaggeration a character makes is also one that has been made either by ourselves or people we know. Their every mistake and every triumph are relatable. The art of accurately describing people can claim Jane Austen as one of its finest practitioners.

Austen’s one break from reality is how all major issues are satisfactorily resolved by the book’s end, but that is a concession to fiction that elevates her stories from mere observation of human nature to truth-bearing tales with the power to affect peoples’ lives. I wish more exalted novelists would make such a concession.

In leaving, I encourage you to peruse this collection of what Austen’s peers in the literary canon have said about her. If they believe her one of the most deserving of their ranks, what fool could object?

C.S. Lewis:

These are the concepts by which Jane Austen grasps the world. … All is hard, clear, definable; by some modern standards, even naively so. The hardness is, of course, for oneself, not for one’s neighbors. … Contrasted with the world of modern fiction, Jane Austen’s is at once less soft and less cruel.

Sir Walter Scott:

That young Lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with.

G.K. Chesterton:

I fancy that Jane Austen was stronger, sharper and shrewder than Charlotte Bronte; I am quite sure that she was stronger, sharper and shrewder than George Eliot. She could do one thing neither of them could do: she could coolly and sensibly describe a man.

Next up:

Is Romeo and Juliet a tragic love story or an ironic comedy? Should we take the play seriously when its protagonists are so young?

Add me on Goodreads!


Salutations!

Trivial update here. If you hadn’t noticed, the sidebar now features the Goodreads widget, showcasing the books I’m currently reading. I joined Goodreads quite recently, so if you have your own account, feel welcome to add me as a friend. Here’s a handy link to my profile.

You can read abbreviated versions of my book reviews there, and also see other books I’ve given a quick star rating to. I haven’t explored many of the site’s other features, but it looks like it can be a fun place for bibliophiles to meet and share book recommendations and discussions.

Happy reading!

Classic Remarks 1: Is “Jane Eyre”’s Rochester an attractive brooder or dangerous manipulator?


Is Jane Eyre’s Rochester an attractive and brooding love interest, or dangerously manipulative?

Right. So I’ve never read anything by Charlotte Brontë. Krysta gives her answer here, no doubt intelligent, truthful, eloquent, and informed by the book. My answer will be (mis?)informed by Google Image Search.

rochesterHmm. Dark mane of slightly greasy hair that sometimes falls almost to the collar. Long sideburns, sometimes slicing sinisterly along the jaw, sometimes of a thin cowardly sort that tries to sneak under the squarish chin like a saddle-strap that might at any moment let its rider fall from the horse. Thick brow frequently furrowed. Darting, suspicious eyes. Mouth either scornful or disdainful. Nose very firm in its nosiness (whatever that means).

edward_rochesterDon’t think I like him. It’s the facial hair that disappoints, really. No strength, no honesty to it. Everything else is alright, I suppose. In many of these pictures he could use a good trip to the barber, but in some he’s cleaned up fine. But those sideburns. Man, either wear them boldly like a declarative statement, or don’t wear them at all! These are sideburns that want you to think well of them without actually doing the job of properly framing the face in an attractive, manly way. I call that dangerously manipulative.

d51087dd967e3f83f429223e38334613But wait! Timothy Dalton did away with the sideburns for his turn as Rochester. Here his face declares itself openly and without adornment. That’s honesty for you! His posture is a bit elitist, perhaps, but at least his hair is appropriately groomed, and apparently washed. Mouth not overtly disdainful.

Very well, I think I’ve reached my conclusion.

Jane Eyre’s Rochester is dangerously manipulative. Except when played by Timothy Dalton, when we can assume he’s probably a fine chap who can safely be considered an attractive and brooding love interest by the ladies, if they so choose.

So, my attractive and brooding readers, what do you think of Jane Eyre‘s Rochester, either his character or his lack of strong facial hair?

Next up:

Some argue Jane Austen writes “fluff” and others argue she belongs in the canon because she writes witty social commentary.  Do you think Austen belongs in the canon? Why or why not?

Classic Remarks: I arrive fashionably late to Pages Unbound’s party


Greetings, greetings, hello and hope all’s well! I’ve arrived at last. So kind of you to wait! Got turned ‘round on the way over, but found my way at last. It has been awhile, hasn’t it?

Hope there’s still room for me in the literary blogosphere! I do miss this place. Rather…rather terribly, in fact. Some wonderful people used to knock on my metaphorical door every-so-often to see what I had to say, to converse a bit on topics we loved. Books, mostly, and sometimes movies, and other things. Always about stories, though, and their importance in our lives. I still do that quite a bit outside of blogging, but I’d like to tap into this community again. Many of you excellent hobb—I mean, many of you excellent people have continued blogging, and grown at it, and become even more wonderful and accomplished than you were when I first met you. Congratulations! Keep at it!

We’ll see what happens with The Warden’s Walk going forward. You might notice I have an actual, real book review up! And of a book that’s only a decade old! Well to be frank, I don’t know what my next review will be of, or when it will be, but I’m going to try to find ways to post more regularly. And that’s why I’ve arrived late (fashionably, I hope) to Pages Unbound’s party.

Since July, my prolific long-time blogfriends at Pages Unbound have been hosting a weekly meme of their own creation called Classic Remarks. Every Friday they ask a question about the “canon” of classic literature and invite other bloggers to join them in discussing it. Fantastic idea, if I do say so (You do.).

I’m joining in, late as I am. But with a few tweaks to the rules, because it’s my blog and I can post how I want! Right. That’ll silence the critics. (Voice inside head: You’re not popular enough to have critics.) Shh! Right. Where was I? Oh yes. See, I simply haven’t read many of the books their topics address.

So where I know the book, I will answer intelligently, truthfully, and hopefully eloquently. Where I don’t know the book, I’ll fudge it. Neither of the three qualities I strive for in the former case should be expected in the latter. If they do appear, cry “Hallelujah!” for the mercy of God and take a swig of your favorite beverage.

First up: Is Jane Eyre‘s Rochester an attractive and brooding love interest, or dangerously manipulative?

I’ve never read Jane Eyre or seen an adaptation. Huzzah!

fudge

 

Beren and Lúthien, a centenary publication — John Garth


In a wood filled with a cloud of white flowers, a soldier walked in the spring of 1917 with his wife, and she sang and danced for him. To that battle-worn lieutenant, J R R Tolkien, Edith’s dance was an unforgettable glimpse of unearthly joy in the midst of sorrow and horror. It inspired the story he saw […]

via Beren and Lúthien, a centenary publication — John Garth

A new Tolkien book is always exciting! Granted, this sounds like it might not have any new material that isn’t already published in other books. But still, the story of Beren and Luthien is one of my absolute favorites, and I welcome the chance to read even many variations of it in its own book, accompanied by the lovely art of Alan Lee.

Also, as a little heads-up for you guys, I’m preparing another book review of a more recent (well, no more than 10 years old…) fantasy novel, so look out for that in the next week or so. Happy reading!

Listen to the Almost an Inkling webinar live!


Greetings and well-met! Mythgard Institute’s “Almost an Inkling” flash fiction contest is finally at an end.  The submission and voting links for Week 6 “Speculation and Subcreation” are still open, although I’m not sure if they are intended to be. The Weeks 5 and 6 winners are to be announced TODAY at a live webinar session at 4pm Eastern Time. Follow this link and click the big Register button next to the Halloween Extravaganza.

Currently on the webinar the Tolkien Professor, Dr. Corey Olsen, is touring Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings Online and explaining Middle-Earth lore using in-game locations. It’s actually pretty interesting!

When the LOTRO section finishes, the flash fiction contest winners will be announced, and any winners attending the webinar will have the chance to read their submissions publicly. I have a simple haiku for my Week 5 submission and a more mythical story for Week 6’s “Speculation and Subcreation” theme. If you want to know what my story is, pop over to the voting link now to read (and maybe vote) for it!

Am I almost an Inkling?

Mythguard Institute asks for your original flash fiction!


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Two weeks ago Mythguard Institute launched a flash fiction contest open to all comers that will last six weeks in total (ending on Halloween). Sorina Higgins, lecturer and Charles Williams blogger, seems to the main representative for it. In Week 1 they asked us to write a maximum of 333 words about a portal to another world, and the results were some fantastically imaginative, original fiction. As stories are submitted, they are posted online, and anyone can vote on their favorites. After voting closes, two winners are chosen: one by the popular vote and another by the judges. Additionally, runners-up are counted, and the prizes involve publication and the opportunity to read one’s story(-ies) at a webinar. Exciting stuff!

A friend of mine and fellow blogger (I’m not sure if they want to be named to the public yet) was chosen as runner-up by the judges, and I must say it was a cracking good tale. My own story got an honorable mention by the same judges, which suggests I did at least something right. I’ve tried again for last week, Week 2, on a topic about hunting dragons.

Voting is still open for Week 2, so why don’t you all head over to the link here, read some fun stories, and cast votes for the ones you like best? You don’t have to read them all, if it seems too daunting (there are 48, after all!), but they’re all short and sweet. Have fun reading!