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Back when my friend convinced me to read Tess of the d'Urbervilles (the most depressing piece of literature in the history of civilization!), the edition I checked out from the library included a quote calling Tess a rare example of "goodness made interesting." Now, this actually isn't true of Tess because murder (however sympathetic the plight of the murderer, as hers is) is incompatible with "goodness"; she quite a heroine, just not "goodness made interesting."

Anne Elliott, on the other hand, seems to be, right? I've always been perplexed by the literary world's worship of her alongside its worship of evil and nigh-universal condemnation of virtue. I thought if I knew the answers to certain questions, which I've put in this poll, the state of things might be clearer to me.

Poll #1821983 The Secret of

Do you like the novel Persuasion?

Yes
11(91.7%)
No
1(8.3%)
Indifferent
0(0.0%)

If you answered "Yes" to Question #1, do you also like Gothic literature?

Yes
3(30.0%)
No
1(10.0%)
Indifferent
3(30.0%)
Never read any
3(30.0%)

If you answered "No" to Question #1, do you also like Gothic literature?

Yes
1(25.0%)
No
0(0.0%)
Indifferent
2(50.0%)
Never read any
1(25.0%)

If you answered "Yes" to Question #1, do you either ship Christine Daae with her stalker and kidnapper Erik, see Bram Stoker's original version of Dracula as a female-liberating hero, and/or side with John Milton's version of Satan in the conflict of Paradise Lost?

Yes, to most or all of the above
0(0.0%)
No, to most or all of the above
6(54.5%)
Indifferent
1(9.1%)
Never read any of the above
4(36.4%)

If you answered "No" to Question #1, do you either ship Christine Daae with her stalker and kidnapper Erik, see Bram Stoker's original version of Dracula as a female-liberating hero, and/or side with John Milton's version of Satan in the conflict of Paradise Lost?

Ye,s to all or most of the bove
0(0.0%)
No, to all or most of the above
2(50.0%)
Indifferent
1(25.0%)
Never read any of the above
1(25.0%)

If you answered "Yes" to Question #1, do you like the novel Mansfield Park?

Yes
6(60.0%)
No
2(20.0%)
Indifferent
2(20.0%)

If you answered "No" to Question #1, do you like the novel Mansfield Park

Yes
2(66.7%)
No
0(0.0%)
Indifferent
1(33.3%)

Do you approve of Anne's and Capt. Wentworth's and the text's criticism of Louisa Musgrove?

Yes
8(66.7%)
No
4(33.3%)

If you answered "Yes" to Question #8, do you approve of Fanny Price's and Edmund Bertram's criticism of Mary Crawford?

Yes
7(100.0%)
No
0(0.0%)

If you answered "No" to Question #8, do you approve of Fanny Price's and Edmund Bertram's criticism of Mary Crawford?

Yes
6(100.0%)
No
0(0.0%)

Anne explicitly defends a woman's "duty" to "submit" to others' judgement rather than her own. Do you allow for, or respect, the differences between the values of the 1810s and of today when judging Anne and her choices and actions?

Yes
11(91.7%)
No
1(8.3%)

If you answered "Yes" to Question #11, do you allow for, or respect, the differences between the values of the 1810s and of today when judging Elinor's and Marianne Dashwood's behavior, or Fanny Price's and Mary Crawford's conduct?

Yes, of course!
10(100.0%)
No way!
0(0.0%)

Do you believe it would have been imprudent and improper for Anne to have stayed engaged to Capt. Wentworth when she was 19?

Yes
6(50.0%)
No
6(50.0%)

At the end of the novel, does Anne believe it would have been imprudent and improper to have stayed engaged to Capt. Wentworth when she was 19, *if there had been no opposition from a best friend in the picture*?

Yes
3(25.0%)
No
6(50.0%)
Not enough information in the novel to answer
3(25.0%)

If chance had never thrown Anne and Capt. Wentworth together again, would she still believe that remaining engaged to him against her best friend's wishes would have made her suffer more?

Yes, she would have still felt that way.
5(41.7%)
No, she wouldn't.
4(33.3%)
That's impossible to know.
3(25.0%)

If Capt. Wentworth had died in battle (or some other way) and Anne never saw him again, would she still believe that remaining engaged to him against her best friend's wishes would have made her suffer more?

Yes, she would have still felt that way.
4(33.3%)
No, she wouldn't.
3(25.0%)
That's impossible to know.
5(41.7%)
RiffTrax or whatever snarky abridged versions of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 come out on the Internet are obligated to say the following:

Bellatrix!Hermione: I wish to enter my vault!
Goblin #1: Identification.
Harry: You don't need to see her identification.
Goblin #2: We don't need to see her identification.
Harry: She's not the witch you're looking for.
Goblin #2: She's not the witch we're looking for.

Persuasion Does The Impossible... But How?

Paradise Lost, Mansfield Park, Little Women, Lady Audley's Secret, A Little Princess, every fairy tale, every Shakespeare tragedy, every Gothic novel from The Castle of Otranto to Wuthering Heights to Dracula to The Phantom of the Opera... in all literary fandoms, it's the same song from all readers and critics: virtue sucks, evil rocks; heroes are boring, villains are awesome; any restraint, reason, or morality is always wrong, but all passion is always right all the time.


Not so in Persuasion. Jane Austen did the impossible: made virtue, morality, and choosing cold-blooded reason and duty over passion attractive; got reader support entirely on the side of a perfect heroine who "has nothing to reproach myself with." Everyone loves this book and the morals it preaches about feminine duty. I've seen that its readers champion virtue as much as the text does, a phenomenon I've yet to find repeated in any other book's fandom. Anne Elliot is perfect, yet I see that readers love her and praise her for her virtue and moral perfection rather than attack her because of it.


What I cannot not understand is, why?


Is it because, as much as I've read, I haven't read other books whose authors get their readers to support and love virtue as much as Austen does in Persuasion? They're out there, but I just haven't found them?


Is it because Austen's fandom just happens to consist of readers who, shocking as it may be, prefer virtue over passion? Definitely not! Fanny Price is a virtuous heroine (albeit definitely not as perfect as 90% of critics think), but all Janeites hate her! Elinor Dashwood is identical to Anne Elliot except lower-ranking, but I hear no Janeites worshipping her like they do Anne, Emma, and Elizabeth (fortunately, thanks to the presence of Marianne, Elinor doesn't have to get attacked like Fanny but can simply be left by the wayside). Janeites do not, as a rule, respect Proper Young Ladies* as much as Spirited Young Ladies* . Janeites love the Spirited Mary Crawford, in spite of her immorality, but do not prefer the Spirited Louisa Musgrove to the Proper Anne Elliot. What makes it okay to disapprove of Louisa but not of Mary? What makes it okay for Persuasion but not Mansfield Park to have a proper heroine rather than a lively, spirited heroine? Why can 21st century readers allow for differences in 19th century values when they admire Anne's pride in her traditional feminine submission, but not when Edmund Bertram disapproves of some behavior in Mary Crawford according to 19th century standards of propriety (of which Anne Elliot would no doubt disapprove as well)?


So Austen must have done something differently not only than other authors but than in her other books to make her readers support virtue over passion and like the Proper Young Lady* instead of the Spirited Young Lady*. But what? The writing style and values of Persuasion aren't significantly different from Mansfield Park. The conclusions alone show that:


The Heroine's Explicit Superiority to her Spirited Rival (presented through the eyes of her suitor):

MP: "...there was nothing on the side of prudence to stop him or make his progress slow; no doubts of her deserving, no fears of opposition of taste, no need of drawing new hopes of happiness from dissimilarity of temper. Her mind, disposition, opinions, and habits wanted no half-concealment, no self-deception on the present, no reliance on future improvement. Even in the midst of his late infatuation, he had acknowledged Fanny's mental superiority. What must be his sense of it now, therefore?"

Persuasion: "...the scenes on the Cobb and at Captain Harville's had fixed her superiority. ...though till that day, till the leisure for reflection which followed it, he had not understood the perfect excellence of the mind with which Louisa's could so ill bear a comparison..."


The Ideal Circumstances of the Engagement (which, according to Anne's final reasoning, are the only appropriate conditions for getting engaged):

MP: "Their own inclinations ascertained, there were no difficulties behind, no drawback of poverty or parent."

Persuasion: "...if such parties succeed, how should a Captain Wentworth and an Anne Elliot, with the advantage of maturity of mind, consciousness of right, and one independent fortune between them, fail of bearing down every opposition? They might in fact, have borne down a great deal more than they met with, for there was little to distress them beyond the want of graciousness and warmth."


One major difference between the two novels is that Anne trumpets the virtue of yielding to persuaison, whereas Fanny trumpets the virtue of adhering to your own sense of right (see her refusal to be Henry Crawford's moral guide, refuting the label of her as a Prig, which C.S. Lewis wondered wasn't so carelessly applied to Anne for her preaching to Captain Benwick about letting go and moving onin love). The one thing Anne Elliot has that Fanny Price does not is Confidence, which makes me fear that, even though Fanny's abusive childhood would realistically produce a psyche as traumatized as hers and as incapable of confidence (tragic, but inescapably true), fans can forgive a character anything except lack of Confidence, no matter what the circumstances. But Confidence is more consistent with Priggishness than lack thereof; Fanny's complete lack of confidence in herself and her beliefs makes it impossible for her to be a prig. Hers and Edmund's disapproval of the Crawfords makes them prigs, but Anne's and Wentworth's disapproval of Louisa (not to mention Anne's and Harville's completely unjust disapproval of Captain Benwick) doesn't, in Janeites minds.


And I'm hopelessly puzzled why. How did Jane Austen accomplish the impossible in this novel? Is Austen really the only author talented enough to manipulate people into supporting virtue rather than condemning it? Or is it due to some trait of Anne Elliot herself that I cannot see no matter how hard I try? Why do literary critics love both Anne Elliot and John Milton's Satan? Why do they ship Mina Harker with her metaphorical rapist in the name of female liberation (I don't get it, either) but support Anne Elliot's defense of feminine submission? Why do they love active villainesses like Lady Audley and lively but immoral women like Mary Crawford but not the lively Louisa Musgrove?


It doesn't seem fair.



* indicates terminology from TV Tropes (Curse the day I clicked the Wikipedia link that lead me to that site!)

Writer's Block: Once upon a time…

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.


~ Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
What is the first line of your favorite book?

Writer's Block: Born to do it

What is your idea of the perfect job? Do you think you'll ever get it?

Book author. I'll get it if 2 general impressions the past and present have given me are wrong:

1) That the best writers are British.
2) That people don't read anymore.
(Part 1)

 

Part 2Collapse )


Next case!

Docket ending 792672, Charlotte Bronte vs. Jane Austen: 1 count of creating "
carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden[s], with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck" and focusing on "ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses." "She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound."

Mansfield Park for the Defense, Your Honor.


(References)

I shifted a heavy burden off my shoulders yesterday: I turned in the extended paper necessary to earn my Master's Degree in English. I chose to write about Mansfield Park for 2 reasons:
1) It's my favorite Jane Austen novel, and I'd already read it dozens of times.
2) I disagree completely with the mainstream interpretation of it, and you can get a lot of mileage for long papers out of telling people why they're wrong.

I've heard stories of students undertaking projects like this on a subject they feel passionate and excited about, but by the time they finish, they're sick of the subject and never want to return to it again. My greatest source of joy by the time I finished was that that the opposite happened to me, and I love the author and the novel more than ever and feel like I could keep writing about it for years.

My greatest source of amusement is that the third-to-last paper I write in my entire academic career is the first I didn't procrastinate on, yet, as if I'm addicted to the adrenaline rush of putting things off until the last minute, I still put off writing the final two paragraphs so that I didn't finish them until 2:30 the morning it was due! Even though I didn't need to!

I still hate my concluding paragraph (I usually do), so I replaced it here with what were truly my last thoughts when I finished.

Docket ending 145074, Janeites vs. Mansfield Park: 1 count promoting rest and passivity as female virtues, 1 count promoting restlessness and activity as female vices, 1 count starring a conduct book role model. How does the defendant plead?

Not GuiltyCollapse )

(Part 2)


(References)

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