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more generally interesting than Elizabeth Bennet, and can it be unimportant to us to recall in these pages the actual lives lived by our not very remote ancestresses? I think those of us who have known charming old ladies who were born in the closing years of the eighteenth century can trace in them many of the qualities that we find in Miss Austen's young girls-the refined and slightly formal speech, the gentle dignity and delicate consideration for others, of which perhaps Jane Bennet is of all her characters the best type.
ject that is significant. The criticism that holds that because a man writes about an ass he thereby writes himself down an ass, that if he writes of an idiot he proves himself the hero of the story, one had thought was dead and gone. And why, pray, is a girl of seventeen who has never been outside her own village less interesting than any other theme? We must not forget that when we say a subject is not interesting to us we are really expressing not the defect of that subject, but our own limitations. We mean that we have little knowledge of it and less sympathy. And with human beings, so long as they are genuine, not affected, there is hardly one that would be uninteresting did we know him as he really is. I think of that wonderful feat of sympathetic insight achieved by the most cultured woman of the Victorian era when she showed us the heart and mind of the little dairy-maid Hetty Sorrel. We may not like the character, but who can say that it is not interesting?
Miss Austen's women indeed are her strong point. They are genuine types, yet absolutely individual. They express themselves differently from the women of our generation, but have we not all met the silly inconsequent Mrs. Bennet, though in our days we find her in a lower social class? Is not the delightful Mrs. Elton still among us, with the "abundant resources in herself" of which she never tires of talking, and her constant effort to find some new gaiety or social distraction, her scorn of women, and her constant brag of being a married woman? The priggish Mary Bennet, who spends her life over books and remains a fool-the petulant Mary Musgrove, who is always feeling slighted by her husband's relations, yet never happy unless she is with them to have the opportunity of another quarrel-Mrs. Norris, who has all sorts of contrivances to save sixpence and who does all her good deeds by proxy-Mrs. Jennings, with her eternal talk of beaux, the mild, sensible, womanly Mrs. Weston, the coddling mother, Isabella with her indispensable doctor, the little silly Harriet Smith, do we not know every one of them among our contemporaries in spite of all outward differences?
"Come now," said Thorwaldsen to Hans Andersen, "write us a new story. I wonder if you could make up one about a darning needle?" And that is how The Darning Needle came to be written. Miss Austen has given us stories about very little more than darning needles, but what has she not worked into them? She has shown us the heart and mind of a whole generation of women.
It is a stock remark that Miss Austen's women have no mind and very little heart, but is it really true? Their mental interests were not ours, and compared with ours they had very few. But their mental powers, wasted as they too often were, seem quite equal to ours. They are better letter-writers than we. Or perhaps it is only that Miss Austen is a better letter-writer? I do not think many girls of twenty are more witty or more sensible or
The mind of a girl of seventeen-who has shown us that better than Jane Austen? The real, essential human creature hiding there under her imma
turity, her small affectations, her ignorant outlook on a world of which she knows nothing. At the first glance it would seem that the Poles are not further apart than the modern highschool girl and Miss Austen's heroines. Indeed, in externals it is so. The modern girl in her serge suit and sailor hat tramping home flushed and eager from the hockey field, is indeed a different being from the girl of a hundred years ago in her Empire frock of thin muslin or silk, her dainty stockings and shoes never meant for outdoor wear-the little coddled heroine who felt half a mile too far to walk alone, who sprained her ankle if she ran down a hill, and was thought hoydenish if she walked three miles through muddy lanes on an autumn morning. Yet just as despite all differences of dress and bodily habit the woman's frame was the same organically and potentially as it is to-day, so the womanly mind peeps out in Miss Austen's heroines the same, in spite of all its queer wrappings, its quaint diction, its conventional dress, essentially the same as it is to-day. As we see sometimes in a picture gallery an ancestress curiously like her young descendant, so may we not recognize in many a girl of to-day the modern representative of the sweet-tempered, witty, wholesome Elizabeth Bennet-the open, imperious, clever, unpenetrating Emma Woodhouse; the self-centred and rather sly Jane Fairfax; the impetuous, sometimes silly, but wholly refined and simple Catherine Morland; and, best picture of all, Anne Elliot, serious, intellectual, consecrated by the beautiful endurance of a life-long sorrow-a woman who hides, beneath a reserved and shrinking exterior, a great heart and an unconquerable soul.
I claim that in Miss Austen's characters we get the genuine stuff of womanhood, the stuff that remains the same though the background, the scen
ery, the dialogue, the incidents, the costumes vary from age to age. It must always be remembered that a novelist has to dress the souls as well as the bodies of his heroines in the costume of their period. The dress that drapes the minds of Jane Austen's heroines is reticence as to their deepest feelings-a reticence that is a remarkable contrast to the absolute unreserve with which things matrimonial are discussed in their circle. If ever we find one of them breaking through this reserve it is either because, as with Marianne Dashwood, she has fed on romances until she has lost sight of the actual world in which she lives, or because, as with Lydia Bennet, she is destitute not merely of conventional modesty, but of every decent womanly feeling. The normal among them are reticent. They do not tear a passion to tatters. The finer emotions, the great stresses of feeling, were not, in their day, things to be openly discussed. Love scenes were to be hinted at, not detailed. Sir Walter Scott invariably turned aside from the delineation of passionate love. He says himself, somewhere, that he could not lift the veil, feeling too much the impropriety of doing so. And long after his day this was a convention universally respected. Charlotte Brontë was perhaps the first to throw it aside, and when her passionate genius wreaked itself on expression the world was ripe for the newer ideal. But we are all the products of our ancestry and our environment, and it is hardly fair to blame Miss Austen for sharing the universal feeling of her time as to the indelicacy of revealing the mysteries of the supreme passion.
Indeed, in the light of many recent novels, we may, not unreasonably, feel an admiration and an envy of the deliIcate reticence that we find in the earlier novels of the nineteenth century. In our days we have gone to the
other extreme: the veil of the temple has been rent in the midst and there is no longer a Holy of Holies.
whose thoughts are mainly of love, and whose talk is mainly of marriage, yet who remains undiscovered even to herself for years, and when she does realize her affection it is of a calm yet thoroughgoing order which suits well with her healthy frame, her cheerful temperament, and optimistic outlook.
But in every woman Jane Austen has depicted we see the unerring lines of the women of that time with all their charm and their limitations, their virtues and their defects; their tenderness, their ignorance, their devotion to home ties, their want of education, their absolute dearth of public interests, their concentration upon the idea of marriage, as women's minds always will be concentrated on that when there is nothing else for them to think about, when they are shut out from the thoughts and the interests of men; and in this antiquated mental costume she has painted the face and the form of the real woman as she knew her, and as we know her.
This reserve in Miss Austen's novels is probably the cause of her being charged with want of passion. "There is no passion in her books, it would not be lady-like," says Mr. Lord. This seems to me an absolutely mistaken estimate. It is veiled, hidden even from the woman herself, tremulous, womanly entirely, but it is there. The passion of love, though in its essentials it may remain the same, yet modifies itself greatly through the centuries, and the passion in Jane Austen's day was not the passion of ours; of what it was on the man's side, indeed, we are left in almost complete ignorance. But, as regards the woman, we see her feelings depicted with the most perfect art, that art which is nature. They love, as they do everything else, after their kind; and, if one thing in Miss Austen's work more than another reveals the master hand, it is, to me, the gradations and the variations she shows us in the love of her women. A passion of tragic intensity is as rare in Miss Austen's books as it is in life. Seldom, very seldom, do we encounter it in either. Once only-in Persuasion -do we get it from her pen, but that once she has given it perfectly. Sense and Sensibility we have the two sisters, one showing the undisciplined emotion of a passionate untaught nature, but not the genuine stuff of feeling-the thing that can wear out life but not itself; the other sister breathing the calm yet deep affection of a very self-restrained and unselfish character. In Pride and Prejudice we again get the contrast of two sisters: Elizabeth, who alone, I think, of all Jane Austen's women feels a longing for companionship of mind, and Jane, who is the perfectly ordinary pretty girl attracted by the perfectly ordinary young man. In Emma we have a girl
The whole circle is not rounded. There are types of women known to us that we do not find in her gallery. There are omissions that we find it hard to account for. Clergyman's daughter as she was, living all her life in a country rectory, we find only a single instance of that habit of "considering the poor" that we are accustomed to regard as a prominent trait in women of that class even more then than now.
And, since I have touched on her clerical surroundings, one cannot fail to remark the entire absence of spirituality or religious earnestness in any one of her clergymen. Edmund Bertram feels that the Church is the right profession for a younger son, particularly as there is a family living. Henry Tilney is mainly occupied in decorating his house, erecting suitable farm buildings, and getting the garden in order. Mr. Collins is a most delicious picture
of ineptitude and pomposity-one is sure that Jane Austen knew Mr. Collins well! But in all there is no touch of zeal or religious emotion.
When Matthew Arnold published his selected edition of Wordsworth he told us in the preface that he could read anything in Wordsworth with pleasure and profit, anything but Vaudracour and Julia. Truth compels a similar confession here. I can enjoy all Jane Austen's women, all but Fanny Price. Fanny is, like Eve, "too amiably mild"; too good, too proper, and too conscious of her own goodness and propriety. But with what consummate art is suggested the dead-alive, proper, dull atmosphere in which she grew up to be what she was! Fanny would make an admirable clergy woman when she was Edmund's wife. The slight tincture of censoriousness which never scolded but only manifested itself in disapproving mildness was the exact thing for Edmund's rectory. It suited it to perfection. I can fancy Fanny a few years later, attired in dove-colored silk, a Paisley shawl and a coalscuttle bonnet, demurely sitting in the rectory pew, gazing with eyes of meek reverence at Edmund in gown and bands as he preached the driest of sermons. I can fancy Fanny's affectionate clasp of her little girl who has dropped off to sleep, and her glance of mild disapprobation at the smock-frocked Hodge, who is audibly snoring. Yes! Fanny was cut out for her fate. But, I confess it with regret, she bores me exceedingly.
These considerations teach one tolerance. There may be I do not know if there are people who admire Fanny Price as I admire Anne Elliot or Elizabeth Bennet. After all, it is all a question of taste. But how in the world, I ask myself again and again, how did Jane Austen do it? It matters nothing whether we should like or dislike to be limited to her little
world. Probably we should all dislike it intensely. But how did she manage to paint it as she did? There they are, full rounded, with all the atmosphere, the half-tones of real life, quiet, natural, English-fifty people perhapsand they have made their creator immortal. There is not one of them that shows marked originality, there is no new beauty of feeling, no reaching forth towards something greater than they could express. We may quite agree with much that has been said against her work; some of the talk may be, as has been said, "the very smallest of small beer," yet we read her books again and again and with ever new pleasure.
There are, however, two more remarks of Mr. Lord's to which I must take exception; one is his endorsement of the opinion that she gives us as her main theme "the rather uninteresting doings and very uninteresting sayings of totally uninteresting people." As to the doings and sayings in themselves I quite agree; as to the people, no. They were uninteresting until Miss Austen touched them. Most of them are not people we should choose as our companions. But they are interesting to us not because they are clever, or beautiful, or because they do great deeds, or undergo remarkable adventures, but simply because they are human. She has shown us the universal in the particular, the beautiful in the commonplace. We know very little, and it is a great part of her art that we are kept in ignorance, of their inner life, and what we do know of it is told us in hints and suggestions. In the real world people do not draw up their chairs and recount to each other their history from childhood as they used to do in old-fashioned plays. We get it by hints, by the expression of the face, the tone of the voice, the smile, the tear, the flash of a new thought, or the involuntary laugh.
tried to write like men and have been great failures. We do not want women who try to look at things with a man's eyes, or men who try to look at things with women's eyes. What we want is that both shall see truly, and truly tell us what they see and how they see it. We want the woman's touch in the woman's work quite as much as we want the man's special manly excellence in his.
By these things we, rightly or wrongly, according to our insight and experience, place them. So with the characters of these novels; there they are with all their history behind them, and their little, pathetically narrow life so unlike ours, but interesting, always interesting.
We read Jane Austen glibly if we do not find beneath all the gaiety and the externality the sane, strong, sweet nature that accepted life with all its sorrow, all its deprivations, and cheerfully made the best of it. I think, after all, Macaulay was not so far wrong in ranking her next to Shakspere.
There was something in her nature like his not only the keen observation, the sense of comedy, the delicate satire, the genial humanitybut also the power of getting outside her own feeling, and projecting, not itself, but its interpreted, harmonized result in external form. And she died at forty-two!
The other remark with which I must join issue is that the fact of Miss Austen's work being feminine in tone "implies a restricted range of vision." Why of course it does! But had the term been "masculine" instead of "feminine," would not that equally have implied a restricted range of vision? Who can claim an unrestricted range of vision? All we can see is that very small part which we are endowed with the faculty of seeing. And if Miss Austen has given us, as she has, perfect pictures of the women of her time, of their talk, their doings, their thoughts and feelings, their daily life; if she has given us an admirable background in the landscape of Charmouth and Lyme Regis and Portsmouth; if what she has seen, she has seen so truly, so delicately, with so womanly a sympathy and recorded for us with so exquisite a grace as perhaps no other has done, shall we say of her that her range of vision is restricted? Her heroes are, I grant, sometimes lay figures, but are they more so than the heroines of Scott or of Dickens? Men's heroines are at least as bad as women's heroes. And the idea that the masculine outlook is a truer one than the feminine is, I think, to be combated in the interests of art. A man's outlook may be wider, it is not deeper or more delicately discriminating. We have had women novelists who have The Nineteenth Century and After.
She told us what she saw. But the finest portrait she has given us reveals, I think, much of her own thought and feeling in the character of Anne Elliot. Too modest to make a great claim for herself, she has been acclaimed with more and ever more renown. While she was writing, the splendid romances of Scott were issuing from the press, and he was among the first to hail her great achievement. But to her belongs the honor of showing us what Scott with all his power could not show us-the charm and the grace of a perfectly ordinary but sincere and loving woman.
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