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the poets with understanding or fire, the staunch, sound, unselfish heroine who bears her own tragedy without any outward sign, but spends herself in sympathizing with weaker natures in their misfortunes; the pedant, the snob, the haughty, the supercilious, the impertinent . . . all are here drawn with unerring accuracy.
I know nothing in our literature to compare with the concluding paragraphs of Sense and Sensibility. Ninetynine out of every hundred authors would have made Marianne a tragic heroine, but Jane Austen realized that she was not great enough for that; she was audacious enough to risk an anti-climax in order to secure verisimilitude.
Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract by her conduct her most favorite maxims. She was born to overcome an affection formed so late in life as at seventeen, and with no sentiment superior to strong esteem and lively friendship, voluntarily to give her hand to another! --and that other a man who had suffered no less than herself, under the event of a former attachment, whom, two years before, she had considered too old to be married, and who still sought the constitutional safeguard of a flannel waistcoat!
doubted whether any novel starts quite so happily as this:
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife"-after which delightful touch of irony we are immediately introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, who proceed to squabble over their daughters' chances of securing the rich young stranger's hand and purse in a dialogue which touches the top note of humor.
Elizabeth Bennet is Jane Austen's as she is nearly everyone else's favorite heroine.
"I must confess," she writes to her sister, "that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print." On her Jane Austen has lavished the best of her own inimitable humor, high spirits, gaiety, and courage, so that she takes high place among the great women in fiction, and becomes no mean companion for even Clara Middleton or Clarissa Harlowe.
The alternate attraction for and repulsion from Darcy which Elizabeth felt is drawn with the sure hand of the great creator; and then, while we are still absolutely absorbed in the swaying fortunes of the principals, there quietly creeps upon the scene one of the most famous characters in comedy, Mr. Collins. His interview with Elizabeth when he formally proposes to her is in Jane Austen's richest and happiest style. So long as humor lasts that chapter cannot fail to bring joy to the human heart. It is as universal in its appeal as the "Bottom” scenes in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Bottom was, after all, only Mr. Collins in one stage of society as Dogberry was in another) or the Falstaff episodes at Gads Hill and Eastcheap.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who "if she accepted any refreshments seemed to do it only for the sake of finding out that Mrs. Collins's joints of meat were too large for her family," is
As for the villain, Willoughby, we read that "he lived to exert, and frequently to enjoy himself. His wife was not always out of humor, nor his home always uncomfortable; and in his breed of horses and dogs he found no inconsiderable degree of domestic felicity."
The opening sentences of Pride and Prejudice might almost be taken as a test of our ability to appreciate Jane Austen. She has a knack of beginning in an exbilarating, startling way on most occasions, but it may well be
another character over whom the Comic Spirit sheds its harmless but mirth-provoking rays. The whole novel abounds in rich personalities without whom the world would be the poorer, but we are most of all concerned with the happiness of Elizabeth, who, like others of Jane Austen's heroines, finds that true love which is all-powerful can spring from “the cold fountain of gratitude no less than from the volcano of passion.” Jane Austen's lovers are remarkably free from passion. After Pride and Prejudice, in popular estimation, comes Mansfield Park. Tennyson, for one, preferred the latter, but the general run of readers know their Pride and Prejudice well and Mansfield Park not at all. There is, of course, more emotion and drama in the earlier of the two, but Mansfield Park is freer from exaggeration and contains the never-to-be-forgotten impertinent and meddlesome Mrs. Norris. In no novel do we so quickly pick up the thread of the plot; by the third page, as Mr. Cornish says, we are quite at home, know everybody, and even begin to look forward to the final event. After the ill-natured Mrs. Norris, who will not take Fanny Price because “I should not have a bed to give her, for I must keep a spare room for a friend,” Jane Austen probably hated her sister, Lady Bertram, more than most of her other odious characters.
She was a woman who spent her days in sitting nicely dressed on a sofa, doing some long pieces of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter when it did not put herself to inconvenience.
In this novel we see strongly brought out a trait that is particularly noticeable in all Jane Austen's novels, the mutual confidence and sincerity of feeling displayed between brother and
sister: she never tires of emphasizing this side of life. Emma is the most consistently cheerful of all the novels. E. W. Lucas considers it to be her best, her ripest, and her richest, the most “readableagain” book in the world. Comedy reigns supreme with never the vestige of a cloud to spoil the serenity and the joy. No one is very wealthy or very poor: the whole action takes place in the village of Highbury among a set of people who meet daily. The gradual dawn and growth of love between Knightley and Emma, who makes matches for everyone but herself, is uncannily well brought home to the reader, and their final lovescene is one of the happiest in literature. The vulgar and patronizing Mrs. Elton and talkative Miss Bates are a joy forever, particularly the latter, who, though “neither young, handsome, rich, nor married, without beauty and cleverness, was yet happy and contented. She loved everybody, thought herself a most fortunate creature and surrounded with blessings.” Northanger Abbey is most interesting because of its historical value as an attack on the artificial school of romanticism which was so popular among young girls of that time. Catherine Morland's discovery of the roll of paper which she is convinced are love-letters is one of the most successfully satiric studies in the whole range of Jane Austen's work.
Darkness impenetrable and immovable filled the room. A violent gust of wind, rising with sudden fury, added fresh horror to the moment. . . . Human nature could support no more. . . . Groping her way to the bed, she jumped hastily in, and sought some suspension of agony by creeping far underneath the clothes. . . . The storm still raged. . . . Hour after hour passed away, and the wearied Catherine had heard three proclaimed
by all the clocks in the house before the tempest subsided and she unknowingly fell fast asleep. She was awakened the next morning at eight o'clock by the housemaid's opening her window-shutter. She flew to the mysterious manuscript. If the evidence of sight might be trusted, she held a washing-bill in her hand.
No longer could the Catherine Morlands dare to put any faith in The Castle of Otranto or The Mysteries of Udolpho style of literature. By this one blow did Jane Austen clear the ground for the manly, healthy, historical romance of Scott and disperse the whole gang of foolish frighteners of youth who filled the minds of young girls with unimaginable horrors and sentimental tomfoolery.
Persuasion, the last of her novels, begins with as famous a sentence as that which I quoted from Pride and Prejudice, describing the joy which Sir Walter Elliot took in “the Snob's Bible,” the Baronetage, and is famous for the fact that it contains about the only memorable incident recorded in any of her work: the accident that befell Louisa Musgrove on the Cobb at Lyme Regis. Here, too, occurs one of those rare descriptions of natural scenery of which, as a rule, Jane Austen is so sparing. She shows that she could observe when she wished inanimate objects in Nature with as acute an eye as she usually brought to bear on humanity. It was only that her fellowmen interested her more than Nature did. She watches them lynx-eyed, and, as her biographer says, “she never drops a stitch. The reason is not so much that she took infinite trouble, though no doubt she did, as that everything was actual to her, as in his larger historical manner everything was actual to Macaulay.”
In all her gallery, as Macaulay noticed, she left scarcely a single
Living Age, Vol. VIII, No. 370.
caricature, and it is in this that Jane Austen approaches most nearly to the manner of Shakespeare. To be humorous, it has often been pointed out, it is necessary to exaggerate abundantly. Jane Austen has gone a long way to refute what else might seem an irrefutable argument. Scott and Tennyson both spoke of her work in glowing terms, and from their day to this she has had no detractors among the greatest critics (with the sole exception of Charlotte Brontë), but only increased the circle of her readers. Her plots, like Shakespeare's, were not in a high degree original or ingenious, her work is almost devoid of incident: she repeats not only her situations, but in a lesser degree her characters. But, as G. K. Chesterton says, no other woman has been able to capture the complete common sense of Jane Austen. She knew what she knew, like a sound dogmatist; she did not know what she did not know, like a sound agnostic: she knew more about men than most women, and that in spite of the fact that she is commonly supposed to have been protected from truth. If that was so, it was precious little of truth that was protected from her. When Darcy says, “I have been a selfish being all my life in practice though not in theory,” he approaches the complete confession of the intelligent male. Womanly foibles have never before been so mercilessly exposed; compared with her astringent tonic properties, the satire of Addison or Steele is as barley water is to ammonia. Her pen has the point of a stencil and the sharpness of a razor-edge: there is nothing in her work of the vague or the shadowy; every character stands out like a cameo, every sentence was true to the ordinary speech of her day, and yet possesses that unfathomable universal quality which makes it
ring as fresh and as true after a The Fortnightly Review.
CHRISTINA'S SON. BY W. M. LETTs.
When the mosaic of daily life is in the making, the pattern is not apparent. It is afterwards that this pattern is seen to have changed day by day. Many small things happened that summer in the little round of tennis parties and picnics. Rosa's conscience was still active, and where she could include Lucilla in the festivities it was done. But Christina did not happen to meet the girl. She had not the strength or the spirit for great exertion, and she had the constant fear of spoiling or limiting her children's gaieties. She found her own pleasure in a dozen small occupations in her house and garden; a leisurely walk in the sunshine; a rest on the sofa with a book, a chat with one of her contemporaries, these were Christina's chief enjoyments. She was deeply occupied in Rosa's trousseau. Her brother Edmund, always her favorite brother, had shown himself generous. He had arrived one morning in cheerful congratulatory mood. To Edmund marriage was the one and only object of a woman's life, and he congratulated Rosa accordingly. Edmund, stout, prosperous and well clad, was a pleasant figure. Christina felt a warm glow of pleasure in him as he sat in her little drawing-room. “A very good match,” he repeated for the tenth time; "she's a good little girl to be sensible. You'll miss her? Of course you will, my dear girl. But we parents can't
hundred years as it did on the day when it was first written. S. P. B. Mais.
think of ourselves, can we? There'll be the visits home to Granny, eh?” Edmund patted her knee and gave a chuckle. “I wouldn't say that before her, of course. But between ourselves, well, well, they never expect that development, do they? But you'll like to be a grandmother, Christina. It keeps up one's interest in the world, doesn't it? Keeps one young . . . yes, yes. Now there's her trousseau, my dear. See what you can do with a hundred pounds. Yes—of course you'll take it from me. There, there!” Edmund was benign. He inquired after Laurence, whom he distrusted not a little. He suspected Laurence of dangerous inconvenient things called “notions.” He had never liked the boy, but he was at pains to conceal this from Christina, who, of course, knew it by instinct. “I hope he has no thoughts of marriage yet,” said Edmund; “hard work is what he should think of.” Christina made her little boasts proudly. Mr. Marshall, one of the partners, had spoken very highly of Laurence. It was likely that he might get a rise if young Mr. Jeffers went to America, as he proposed to do, and then Laurence could marry if he wished. The mother felt piqued by the indifference of the uncle. She upheld early marriages for young men. “Besides, he'll be thirty soon, and it's natural for a man to want to settle down in his own home.” “But what would you do?” Edmund asked. “Oh! I should be all right."
Christina had made the same answer "Mother, Laurence really ought since first her babies had drawn her to be warned about Lucilla." thoughts from self. Somehow she “Warned? What do you mean?" would be all right if only their happi “I mean they're being talked about. ness were assured.
Oh! yes, the Wallers and the Nesbits "Time enough if he marries at were joking about it. Mr. Nesbit thirty-five," said Edmund; "hard work said he hoped Laurence wouldn't never kills a man.”
burn his fingers. I have tried to be “He's delicate."
decent to Lucilla this summer, but "Only sons always are, my dear personally I think she's impossible. girl."
But Laurence is forever championing Christina was silent. She was fond of her, and then there was that dreadful Edmund but he had never understood affair of the picnic." Laurence.
“What affair?” Another day had its bearings on the “That picnic to Matlock Bath. pattern of things. It was a hot Laurence and Lucilla got separated August Sunday and Rosa, a little out from the rest. He says he never of temper, walked with her mother to meant to, so of course he didn't, but church.
I believe Lucilla did.” "I don't see why Laurence shouldn't "Rosa! we must be just." come," she said; "why are men never “Yes, but I know her, mother. She to do anything disagreeable? Women hurt her foot, or pretended she did, take it as a matter of course that and they both missed the others, and they'll go to church even if it is hot, the train, and had to come on by a and if the sermon is certain to be dull. much later one. Of course people Yes, I blame the system, mother.” thought they did it on purpose.” "What system, dear?"
"I never heard all that, Rosa.” "The old Victorian system that "No, we didn't want you to be ordained that men must never be bothered; we never do. But really asked to do anything tiresome. Why Laurence ought to be careful, if it's should men never be bored? Women only for Lucilla's sake. Of course he are suffering bores gladly all day long doesn't mean to marry her, so he Do I ever interrupt Mr. Ingleby when shouldn't get her talked about." he's talking about things I don't Christina's thoughts that morning understand? No, I listen smiling. But in church wandered far from the you wouldn't catch Laurence listening General Confession and Absolution, to a Mrs. Ingleby in the same way." and, later, from the Litany.
"That's just life," answered Chris- She thought with a deep regret of tina vaguely.
Hermione, who was even now in the "But it shouldn't be. If ever I novitiate at the Sisterhood in Westhave sons I'll bring them up to a hampton. She had gone to the ceredifferent system.”
mony of Hermione's clothing as a Christina smiled but said nothing. novice with a feeling akin to repulsion. She never argued with Rosa: perhaps This deliberate initiation into a hard she still thought of her as a child. Be- and self-sacrificing life was repulsive sides she was very hot and tired. to her. It did not occur to her that a
Rosa had not received an expected girl's betrothal is akin to it and an letter from Jack Brown that morning, augury too of renunciation and trial. and her attitude towards life was a But she had come away soothed little out of foous.
and uplifted. The ceremony had