Ha Jolly Ha

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Jane Austen Bashers, Go Away!

This week I have spent many free moments perusing, once again, the pages of Emma. It has been several years since I read it last, and now I see that it has value beyond the pleasure which any good story brings. Often readers, young men in particular, disdain Jane Austen's books as mere, girly romances about rich people. That is ridiculous. A more serious critic once claimed that she makes young ladies unsatisfied with ordinary fellows, who never survive Knightly or Darcy comparisons. In the face of these ill-conceived and unjust accusations, I affirm the universal worth of Jane Austen's novels. All of the books share similar principles, though they are emphasized to different degrees in the different works. In Emma, three struck me particularly: the obligations of justice determined by one's age and social standing; docility in its feminine aspect; and decorum as a means of preserving virtue. I shall try to explain clearer. The first is illustrated primarily in the character of Emma herself, in her relationship with her father. St. Thomas wrote the following of piety, which he addresses as a part of justice: "man is debtor chiefly to his parents and his country, after God. Wherefore just as it belongs to religion to give worship to God, so does it belong to piety, in the second place, to give worship to one's parents and one's country."II-II 101.1 Many of Jane Austen's heroines practice exemplary filial devotion towards troublesome parents. Emma handles her sweet but foolish father with patience and tenderness. He is a hypochondriac with little wit, yet she always honors him. She also cares for the poor of the neighborhood. However, she fails in her duties towards her less fortunate neighbors, Miss Bates and her niece Jane Fairfax. With her fortune and consequence, she owes them certain attentions which pride and selfishness lead her to neglect. Another character, Frank Churchill, reveals the weakness of his character by a tardy visit to his father's new bride. A more noble man would not have delayed, even if it necessitated the displeasure of a patroness. On to the second concept, feminine docility. Jane Austen is like the Anti-Feminist. The character of Mrs. Westin is clearly held up as a model gentlewoman, for she behaves correctly throughout the whole story. One of her greatest virtues is a submissive will, and Mr. Knightly directly mentions this as a recommendation in a wife. Emma, on the other hand, has a great attachment to her own will and a confidence in her own resources. Humbled by one mistaken judgment after another, in the end she realizes that she ought to be guided by the superior prudence of Knightly. This comes up in Mansfield Park, too; docility is noted as a recommendation of the heroine, Fanny. Finally, the matter of decorum. This is kind of related to the first point about justice, but please forgive me, since I'm a poor philosopher and my divisions leave much to be desired. Two main examples occur to me. First, Mrs. Elton is a distasteful character, and many of her vices are revealed in her lack of decorum. She assumes intimacy, patronizes obnoxiously, expresses her opinions too frankly, and demands excessive honors. If she had been raised with more proper manners, they might have curbed her pride and vulgarity. Emma also errs against decorum when she publicly mocks Mrs. Bates. That scene reveals one of the great benefits of a society with established customs of acceptable social behaviour; Emma quickly feels shame for her misdeed, a shame deepened by the obvious disapproval of everyone who witnesses the act. I believe that is the phenomenon known as nemesis in Greek, the pressure of society to do what is right. That pressure has nearly disappeared in modern society, probably because of relativism. In a healthy society, social customs flow from the moral code. There is barely any moral code left nowdays, so manners are disappearing too. Now then, enough tangents. Hopefully I have given a few reasons why anyone with traditional opinions must laud Jane Austen and why men, too, ought to read her books.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


Ok Chevalier, I'll answer these questions, but I am so darn melancholic I never can decide about these things.

1. Books I've Owned

I taught myself to read when I was four and I haven't stopped since. Still, I am young, so my personal collection is fairly small. I would guess I have around 200-300 books altogether. Most are fiction (classics, not modern) but I've got a growing collection of Pieper and spiritual works. The only poetry collections I own are of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Joyce Kilmer, though eventually I'd like to get The Sonnets from the Portuguese and some Gerard Manley Hopkins.

2. Last Book I Bought

For myself or someone else? The last book I bought was a birthday present for my best friend. It was Flee to the Fields, a collection of Agrarian essays. For myself...thats harder to remember. My sister bought me a copy of The Light Princess by George MacDonald, author of many splendid fairy tales, and I bought a whole load of books all at once for classes last semester. I guess I was most excited about the Compendium of Theology by St. Thomas Aquinas.

3. The Last Book I Read

I recently finished Kim, by Rudyard Kipling, and The Warden, by Anthony Trollope (hence my second post). Right now, I am reading The Sadness of Christ, by St. Thomas More, and Emma, Jane Austen of course. My family is also reading aloud Adam Bede, by George Eliot, and my mom and I have been diverting ourselves with The Light Princess, by George MacDonald.

4. Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me

1) Commentary on the Gospel of John by St. Thomas Aquinas - I got my hands on a copy earlier this year after reading a snipet for class. Its indescribably beautiful. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but its the kind of book you could savor your whole life.

2) The Lord of the Rings - I read it when I was about ten, and have been a die-hard fan ever since. Nota bene, I don't like the movies very much.

3) Confessions of a Convert by Robert Hugh Benson - I am forever indebted to Dr. Reyes for introducing me to this book. The ideas and the prose are both lovely.

4) Man Alive by G. K. Chesterton - No one makes fun of modernity better than he does.

5) Leaf by Niggle by Tolkien - This always makes me cry. Its a short allegory about the journey of the soul toward heaven, and I especially love the portrayal of purgatory and also the sub-creativity of man.

5. Tag Five People

My circle of blogging acquaintances is too small. Sorry don't know anyone to tag.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Extra, Extra

Obscure and unknown as my blog may be, in case anyone actually is reading, I'd like to point you to some other worthy bloggers. The Chevalier and TheresaMF are two friends with whom I had many excellent conversations at good, old Christendom College. I have also read some interesting blogs on Distributism by the brother of a friend, at http://www.billpowellisalive.com/.