David Frum: Two Cheers for the Welfare State
Liveblogging World War II: April 17, 1941

Jane Austen Blogging: Oh Dear...

Mark Mitchell writes:

Why We Need Jane Austen or How to be a Gentleman with Examples Good and Bad: Kearneysville, WV. I am currently teaching a course that includes several works of literature including Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Right from the start I must admit that I was not trained in an English department so I am hampered to the extent that I’m rather inept at reading great works of literature for their sublimated eroticism, their homo-erotic subtexts, and covert commentaries on sexual, racial, and economic oppression. It is, then, with apologies to those who know better that I read literature as a naïve lover of a good story, good writing, and commentary on the unchanging human condition...

Oh dear.

I did not catch any homo-erotic subtexts in Pride and Prejudice. But for sublimated eroticism and for for sexual and economic oppression--well, reading Pride and Prejudice for its sublimated eroticism and its not-at-all covert commentaries on sexual and economic oppression is not in opposition to reading it as good story, good writing, and commentary. It is of the essence and at the heart of reading it as good story.

For example:

Elizabeth looked archly, and turned away. Her resistance had not injured her with the gentleman, and he was thinking of her with some complacency, when thus accosted by Miss Bingley: "I can guess the subject of your reverie." "I should imagine not." "You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner—in such society; and indeed I am quite of your opinion. I was never more annoyed! The insipidity, and yet the noise—the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all those people! What would I give to hear your strictures on them!" "Your conjecture is totally wrong, I assure you. My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow." Miss Bingley immediately fixed her eyes on his face, and desired he would tell her what lady had the credit of inspiring such reflections. Mr. Darcy replied with great intrepidity: "Miss Elizabeth Bennet"...

And

Mr. Bennet had very often wished before this period of his life that, instead of spending his whole income, he had laid by an annual sum for the better provision of his children, and of his wife, if she survived him. He now wished it more than ever. Had he done his duty in that respect, Lydia need not have been indebted to her uncle for whatever of honour or credit could now be purchased for her. The satisfaction of prevailing on one of the most worthless young men in Great Britain to be her husband might then have rested in its proper place. He was seriously concerned that a cause of so little advantage to anyone should be forwarded at the sole expense of his brother-in-law, and he was determined, if possible, to find out the extent of his assistance, and to discharge the obligation as soon as he could. When first Mr. Bennet had married, economy was held to be perfectly useless, for, of course, they were to have a son. The son was to join in cutting off the entail, as soon as he should be of age, and the widow and younger children would by that means be provided for. Five daughters successively entered the world, but yet the son was to come; and Mrs. Bennet, for many years after Lydia's birth, had been certain that he would. This event had at last been despaired of, but it was then too late to be saving. Mrs. Bennet had no turn for economy, and her husband's love of independence had alone prevented their exceeding their income...

I wonder if any students were brave enough to point out that the novel gets much of its good-story charge from its sublimated eroticism and its overt commentaries on sexual and gender oppression--those pieces of it that Mitchell sneers at so?

And it does get worse. Mitchell claims that: "it is the women who are in want of a husband and the men of fortune, while not disinclined to marry, are surely not obsessed with the idea." But surely Darcy has got it real, real bad for Eliza from chapter 34, and has it bad for her from chapter 6? She, by contrast, does not have it bad for him until chapter 50.

I wonder if Mitchell will next write about Anna Karenin as a novel about railway safety...

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