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goods, which, from a military point of view, is also ineffective.” When we remember that Norway has already lost one-third of her mercantile marine and some hundreds of her personnel, we may question whether small maritime powers will support recognition of the German method. In the interests of humanity alone public opinion, if left to itself, would probably condemn this recognition. But there is a danger that the public may be persuaded by the specious arguments of the militarists against its better judgment. In order to meet such arguments it must be informed. The Contemporary Review.
If, happily, the destruction of merchantmen is prohibited by international law, a sanction must be created. If a belligerent merchantman is destroyed, the captors should be regarded as war criminals, liable to be shot when captured; if a neutral is destroyed, the captors should be treated as pirates, liable to be hanged.
Piracy has been put down, and privateering has been abandoned, by the force of public opinion among civilized nations. Is it reasonable to expect that “unlimited U-boat war-fare” will meet with greater toleration?
Hugh H. L. Bellot.
THE CENTENARY OF JANE AUSTEN.
As a callow undergraduate I remember being roused out of an apathetic stupor while attending a lecture on the history of the English novel by these startling words on the subject of Jane Austen's readers: “Rabbits cannot be expected to take an interest or see anything humorous in the sight of other rabbits performing their ludicrous antics.” Was the reason that I had failed to appreciate the subtlety and charm of Jane Austen solely due to the fact that I was dull of mind and of as commonplace a character as some of the dramatis personae of her works, and therefore unable to see the comic side of her delineation? I returned home determined to find out exactly where her power lay, what claims she really had to be called the feminine counterpart to Shakespeare. I found that the mistake I had made was not entirely due to my own ineptitude, but that I had read her too fast. I had hurried over page after page in order to reach the story, to get the hang of the plot, to find *De Gids December, 1915.
some exciting incident, for all the world as if I expected some lurid “film” drama. I had to revise my method of reading. I had to learn the hard lesson that Jane Austen was not “Aunt Jane” of the crinoline era moving stiffly in an artificial, circumscribed area, speaking correctly in an old-fashioned, effete, precise English, but a genial, kindly, yet caustic genius who wrote with her tongue in her cheek, and, like Chaucer, was not averse from pulling her readers’ “legs" unless they exercised care. Instead of a “bookish blue-stocking” I found a woman with an almost uncanny depth of insight into human character, one who realized that although life was far more important than literature, yet the true novelist exercised the function of displaying the greatest powers of the mind, and that novels are works in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. In other words, I found that new,
hitherto undreamed-of, vistas were being opened up to me, vistas which helped me to understand this complex, intricate tangle which we call the art of living. As a result of my re-reading I first felt a sense of shame at having allowed myself to be so blind to her greatness, and then a sense of mystery as to how a woman who lived so simple and secluded a life could ever have achieved so stupendous a task. Here was a girl who only lived for forty-two years, the daughter of a country parson, who never went abroad, to London but rarely, whose greatest excitement was a visit to Bath or Lyme Regis, who may or may not have suffered disappointment in love, but certainly had no grand passion, who lived through the French Revolution, Waterloo, and Trafalgar and yet makes no mention of those stirring times, leaving behind her a sequence of novels which within their own limitations are unapproachably perfect. She lived for the most part in the depths of the country at a time when rural society was even more vacuous than it is today. Small-talk, knitting, filigree work, and backgammon occupied the leisure hours of her sex, while men shot and hunted in moderation, but were always ready to accompany the ladies on their shopping excursions or to a local dance. This is the life that Jane Austen set out to describe, knowing no other. That she succeeded in imbuing this with eternal interest makes one wistfully regret that she had not Fanny Burney's chances of mixing with the great men and women of her time, and yet . . . we have her own word for it that she could not have undertaken to deal with any other type of men and women than those among whom her lot was cast.
I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit down seriously to write a serious
romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself and other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.
When the Prince Regent's librarian suggested that she should delineate the habits of life of a clergyman, she replied:
The comic part of the character I might be equal to, but not the good, the enthusiastic, the literary. Such a man's conversation must at times be on subjects of science—philosophy, of which I know nothing; or at least be occasionally abundant in quotations and allusions which a woman, who, like me, knows only her mother tongue, and has read little in that, would be totally without the power of giving. A classical education, or at any rate a very extensive acquaintance with English literature, ancient and modern, appears to me quite indispensable for the person who would do any justice to your clergyman; and I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress.
It is not surprising in the light of this to find that she has nothing in common with a great moral teacher like Dostoievsky; her religion never obtrudes itself into her writings; she had no formal gospel to propagate.
She was neither Pantheist, Monotheist, Agnostic, nor Transcendentalist; that she hated Evangelicalism while recognizing its good points we know. Heartlessness is the only crime that she finds it in her heart to condemn unsparingly.
We do not go to Jane Austen for descriptions of natural beauty; she has neither Hardy's nor Wordsworth's passion for scenery; she does not use hedgerow delights nor grim mountain peaks as a background for her characters, any more than she treats of man in his relation to his environment. In other words, she has no poetry; she avoids the heroic, the romantic, and the ideal. She does not prove the human soul for motives, nor does she seek to illuminate or display them as later novelists have done; as Mr. Warre Cornish says, she has no need to construct her characters, for they are there before her, like Mozart's music, only waiting to be written down. She does not use her narrative power as Fielding did to tell a story and create situations, but simply as a means to an end, the unfolding of character. That is, she belongs to the school of Richardson rather than to any other of her predecessors, the school which has received such an impetus in our own day in the work of Arnold Bennett. She paints in every detail with meticulous care; with the true artistic temperament she refuses to pass any tendency to the slovenly, but with deliberation and exactitude sketches in every trait which will help to make the portrait lifelike. Like all geniuses she recognized both where her true métier lay and how she achieved her self-imposed task. Everyone remembers her phrase about “the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush as produces little effect after much labor.” Her pellucid vision gave her two eminent characteristics which at first sight would seem to be contradictory: her capability for seeing through all pretentiousness led her to denounce all false romanticism, as we see in her counterblast to The Mysteries of Udolpho. Northanger Abbey gave the death-blow to the hysteria caused by Mrs. Ann Radcliffe; her irony seems almost at times to descend to acerbity
... and yet at the same time her
collateral sense of humor made her kindly disposed and magnanimous in her sympathies to creatures whom other artists would have condemned without mercy. That is, she seems to combine, as Andrew Lang said, gentleness with a certain hardness of heart, which are difficult to reconcile until we have made a close study of her methods.
No greater mistake could possibly be made than to imagine her as a soured old maid, though the bust erected to her memory in the Pump Room at Bath goes a long way to give that impression.
On the contrary, she was distinctly pretty, sunny natured, gay even to frivolity, an accomplished conversationalist, a singer and a musician, possessed of a natural aptitude for and skill in games, extraordinarily well-balanced and sane in her outlook . . . an ideal wife, one would suppose, for any cultured man of the world. It is only by understanding. these facts about her that we realize the meaning of what Professor Saintsbury calls the “livingness” of her work. She writes as one who has, as Lady Ritchie puts it, “a natural genius for life.” That she enjoyed her forty-two years to the full we cannot doubt. She was no Shelley, a genius of moods, alternately in heaven or hell; she pursued an even path of placidity and content, not troubling herself overmuch with the perplexities that obsess the mind of the social reformer, nor harassed with religious doubts.
Suffering does not make her suicidal, nor has she any of that divine discontent which we usually associate with our best writers. How many of our famous men of letters were able to work in the midst of domestic interruption and make no sign of impatience? It is a small point, but quite an illuminating one.
She had no private study. As she worked with the others in the common sitting-room she would sometimes burst out laughing, go to her desk and write something down, and then go back to her work again and say nothing.
It is worthy of notice that her geniality was not of that vapid sort that proceeds from ignorance or wilful blindness to human fatuity and vice, that sings to the shallow, optimistic tune that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” It is to her everlasting credit that although she was under no delusions as to the state of humanity, she neither condemned it nor sneered at it; she had nothing of the cynic in her temperament. There have, of course, been critics who have appended that libelous label to her, but they belong to the same category which stigmatizes Thackeray and Swift as possessing the same trait. How anyone with her genius for laughter and affection, her interest in mankind or her clearsightedness could be accused of cynicism, which is a property of the owl and bat and donkey in humanity, I do not understand. She is a master of irony and satire, it is true; but these are incompatible with misanthropy, the touchstone of cynicism; of this she had not a trace. She is not of those who were disillusioned by the fever and the weariness and the fret of life. She was no pessimistic Teuton philosopher; she was too busy taking notes on the people with whom she came into contact to spend time in moralizing. She was essentially of a happy nature, and kept a strong curb on her emotions; that she felt deeply is probable, that she ever gave full vent to her feelings we instinctively know to be untrue. Her love tragedy, if she had one, was not allowed to spoil her life; she may very well have passed through the depths, but she
emerged from the conflict victorious, having battered down the forces of darkness, and continued to irradiate sweetness and light in her books and her life. Other authors might easily have been discomfited by the reception given to their work by publishers if a first manuscript had been rejected by return of post as hers was in the case of Pride and Prejudice. Not so Jane Austen; she continued to write until almost the day of her death, sure of the verdict of posterity, the only judgment upon which genius really relies. She knew that her appeal was universal and not liable to grow dim with the passage of years. Her satire and humor are as fresh today as ever they were, and as an antidote to the horrors of our time no other author can compare with her.
We commonly find that if we want to test the truth about an author, a perusal of his or her correspondence is of the greatest value to enable us to decide how far the judgments we have formed from their serious work are accurate. In their letters we take them off their guard; they are in undress, no longer the mouthpieces of divine inspiration, but flesh and blood like ourselves.
Jane Austen's almost racy letters to her sister shed a flood of light on her character and help us still further to dot the ‘‘i’s” and cross the ‘‘t’s” of
They are for the most part compositions of a quite light and trivial nature, dwelling on topics such as might interest any country-bred girl. Dress looms large, and so does small-talk about the everyday round of work and amusement, people met, dances, and the like. But all through them we see the same shrewd, Puck-like spirit darting hither and thither, we hear the silvery laughter of the girl who painted Mr. Collins and Mrs. Jennings; they are obviously written by a girl who cannot help seeing the funny side of everything, who is vividly interested in people and their idiosyncrasies; the deeper things in life are not discussed, not because she was shallow, but because there are some things which language is incapable of expressing, where silence is the only true speech. Those traces of bitterness which occasionally disturb us in her novels appear again here. “Only think of Mrs. Holder being dead! Poor woman, she has done the only thing in the world she could possibly do to make one cease to abuse her,” may stand as a typical example out of many; but no one could contend that such phrases are deliberately cynical; at the worst they are but thoughtless witticisms, and really hurt no one. Jane Austen was entirely devoid of malice. She suffered fools more or less gladly; she would try the barb of irony to laugh them out of their folly, but they were not like those others, at the opposite end of the scale, “pictures of perfection,” which she confesses made her sick and wicked. The puzzle is that so highly gifted and all-seeing a genius should have adopted such a detached, tolerant attitude towards humanity. There have been many who have found fault with her for not waxing indignant at the follies of society. These assert that she has no moral sense, but surely to instil into us the necessity for mutual tolerance and unfailing humor in our dealings with our neighbors is in itself a moral act of the highest order. The first thing that strikes anyone who has tried reading Jane Austen's novels aloud is the dramatic power displayed in the conversations. No novelist ever made his or her charac
ters express themselves so simply or forcibly in their parts as she does. It would seem that we have lost in her one of our greatest playwrights. The unfolding of character in dialogue has not been better done by any of our dramatists, and has certainly not been approached by any other novelist. No novels make so immediate an appeal when declaimed as hers do. Even youthful audiences who are popularly supposed to be incapable of appreciating the subtlety of her wit are quickly entranced. Think for a moment of that famous second chapter in Sense and Sensibility, where Mr. John Dashwood is converted by his wife with regard to his ideas as to their duty to his widowed sister and her daughters. It is conceived and executed with an exactness of phrase and economy of words that irresistibly calls to mind that parallel scene in King Lear where the old man is deprived of his retinue. With what deft strokes are we shown the whole of a person's character in one short, ironic sentence.
Mrs. Jennings was a widow, with an ample jointure. She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, and she had now, therefore, nothing to do but to marry all the rest of the world.
The vulgarity of the Steele family is shown in their use of “prodigious,” “vast,” “beau,” and the like words, in their notorious letters omitting the personal pronoun; we recognize the type at once. That is the secret of Jane Austen's power: she has seized upon the salient, ineradicable characteristics of the type which is always with us; the unstable lover, the gossiping, scandal-mongering old dame, the young impressionable girl who could not bear the thought of her sister marrying a man with so little “sensibility” that he could not read