Monday, December 27, 2010

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Enya singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is really lovely.

From her CD: And Winter Came

Conclusion: After Austen

Conclusion: After Austen

In the conclusion of her book, Sarah Emsley asks the questions, "What happens to the virtues after Austen? There is certainly an Austen-inspired tradition of the country-house novel and/or the novel of manners, but is there a tradition of novels after Austen that represents the classical and theological virtues as a coherent, positive, and flexible tradition of ethical thought and behavior?" Emsley suggests that the writers who come the closest are George Eliot, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

George Eliot and the Duty to Sympathize

Emsley points out that Eliot sees, like Austen, "the dangers of life lived according to an inflexible moral code", but, unlike Austen, believes the "route to virtue is found through sympathy with the feelings of others." Emsley cites examples from several of Eliot's works showing that for Eliot, "sympathy is not just the first of the virtues, but also the end of the virtues. Sympathy is not necessarily the path through to the other virtues, including justice and faith. It appears an all-encompassing virtue that is related to love, but even more closely related to tolerance...In Eliot's life, faith had already disappeared, and moral duty alone remained."

Ethical Deliberation in Henry James

Looking at several of James's novels, we see "His characters analyze, agonize, and make excruciatingly careful discriminations about ethics," writes Emsley, "but they rarely act, and they have little confidence that thinking about ethics will lead to positive ends, let alone to happiness and fulfillment...Morality has become hazy, and the process of deliberation, judgment, and action that is so essential for Austen's characters no longer seem possible...By the time of James's later novels, virtue seems not just a mysterious desert, but an unfathomable sea." For James the focus is not on practicing the virtues, but the analysis of ethical deliberation. Deliberation, not over doing what is right, but over what will make one comfortable. The focus is on values, not virtues, and values can be negotiated. Emsley states, "for James the main virtue becomes knowledge...Like many writers influenced by nineteenth-century skepticism, both James and Eliot found it difficult to imagine faith and hope as active parts of the moral life."

Edith Wharton and the Value of the Authentic Self

Emsley believes that "Wharton's novels, like those of James and Eliot, lack some form of hope. Hope does not require happy endings, but it does require faith in something positive." Where Austen's characters worked to balance the virtues, Wharton's characters work to balance authenticity and sincerity of the self. Using Wharton's novels as examples, Emsley shows that for "Wharton's hero and heroine the ruling virtue is love...she focuses on sincerity and love as common values."

Austen's Achievement

Emsley convincingly argues that these writers, Eliot, James, and Wharton, focus on a single virtue, whether it be sympathy, knowledge, or sincerity, rather that the range of the virtues as Austen did. Austen does not limit herself as these other writers do, and is unique, as MacIntyre points out, in her "extensive understanding and demonstration of how these virtues can be lived as well as analyzed philosophically." Throughout her book, Emsley emphasized "the development of virtue as a process of learning to handle the tensions among the virtues in a flexible way, while still adhering to absolute standards of ethical behavior. The source of those absolute principles is Austen's own Christian faith, which firmly underlies her work and the world of her novels."

In Emsley's opinion, Pride and Prejudice is Austen's "most compelling treatment of the practice of the virtues...Both Elizabeth and Darcy are subject to a reexamination of their own minds before they can understand each other...That [they] together come to understand justice through the educative power of love is central to the brilliance of this novel." Emsley describes Jane Austen as "the most recent effective, imaginative, and great writer who engages in her novels with the tensions and balances among the classical and theological virtues."
These thoughts are taken from the Conclusion: After Austen of Sarah Baxter Emsley's book, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

My new favorite Christmas song is apparently not new at all. The lyrics come from a poem written by Christina Rossetti in 1872, set to the tune Cranham by Gustav Holst. Listen to Sarah McLachlan sing it here. The poem is below.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Balancing the Virtues in Persuasion

Chapter 7: Balancing the Virtues in Persuasion

Jane Austen tells us of Anne Elliot, the heroine of Persuasion, that she "had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she got older." Anne is tested as no other JA heroine is tested. In most cases the heroine learns about virtue along the way and gets her man relatively quickly, but not Anne. Anne must wait eight and a half years. Emsley convincingly argues that it is "Firmness, specifically firmness in resisting persuasion, is a central concern for Austen in this novel. When is firmness a good thing, and how is firmness related to strength, fortitude, and hope?...this novel provides further clues to Austen's Aristotelian and Christian view of virtue, which can help to illuminate the other novels and explain how Austen sees the virtues in harmony as well as tension with one another." Emsley goes on to point out that for JA "ethics has to do with character rather than rules," citing the example of Anne confiding to Wentworth, at the end of the novel, that she was right in taking Lady Russell's advice, even though it was the wrong advice. Anne tells him, "I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise...I should have suffered in my conscience."
The primary tension early on in the story for Anne and Wentworth is that of firmness. Wentworth's motto being, "let those who would be happy be firm." When asked by his sister, Mrs Croft, what he wants in the woman he marries, he tells her, "a strong mind with sweetness and manner." We are told that Anne was not out of his thought when he gave this description, but he is thinking perhaps her mind is not strong enough. Wentworth equates firmness with a strong mind, not realizing that Anne does possess a strong mind. Wentworth must reevaluate his definition of firmness when Louisa (who he had praised for being firm) is firm to the point of stubbornness, and as a result causes herself great injury. And it is Anne's strong mind that sees them through the situation. After Lousia's fall at Lyme, Austen tells us, "Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justice of his own previous opinions as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him, that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits."

Emsley states, "Austen's reference to the proportions and limits on desirable qualities recalls Aristotle's doctrine of the mean, in which virtuous qualities have proportions and limits. Though Wentworth himself does not realize it, he does think that to be sometimes persuadable is a good thing...Perhaps one of the reasons he dislikes the idea of persuasion is that in the situation where it most mattered to him, he failed to persuade Anne to marry him..." Wentworth now begins to value Anne's strength of mind, asking for her opinion on how best to break the news to Louisa's parents. When recalling the accident, he confesses to Anne, "She would not have been obstinate, if I had not been weak." Wentworth is beginning to review his own character. Coming to the self-realization that it was his weakness of pride that has cost them years of happiness, "I was proud, too proud to ask again." Perhaps now he is also reassessing his swift judgment of Anne that he made all those years ago. Emsley writes, "Thus Wentworth has come to question firmness, and in doing so has learned something of Anne's Aristotelianism, as well as of her Stoic fortitude and Christian patience and humility." Austen tells us, "he had learnt to distinguish between the steadiness of principle and the obstinacy of self-will, between the daring of heedlessness and the resolution of a collected mind...[Anne's] character was now fixed on his mind as perfection itself, maintaining the loveliest medium of fortitude and gentleness."

Emsley argues that, "For Anne, the primary virtue is hope." Anne keeps her spirits up, takes joy in being useful to her family and the Musgroves. She does avoid a false hope, or expectation, but does not wait for happiness to find her. Anne could apply the description of her friend, Mrs Smith, to herself when she observes, "A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more, here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from nature alone." Austen's use of the phrase "elasticity of mind" shows that the virtue of hope is not stagnate, but must be exercised and used.

It is not only Wentworth who must discern the balance of the virtues in himself and others. Anne, on meeting her cousin Mr Elliot, observes his character. She does not approve of what she remembers of his character, but leaves open the possibility that he has changed. She cannot put her finger on it right away, but realizes that, "There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others." What Anne at first thinks is Mr Elliot only being "too generally agreeable," she later realizes, through Mrs Smith's enlightenment, is a true and great character flaw.

Anne is constant, and, as Emsley says, "Constancy is closely related to faith...[Anne] is loving, hopeful, and faithful. Persuasion raises the problem of firmness and then shows that elasticity and flexibility are more important to the practice of virtue than is firm adherence to rules...Persuasion is in fact Austen's clearest articulation of her interest in both classical and Christian virtues...If she had lived to revise this novel, perhaps she would have made the references to virtue more subtle, as they are in other novels, but as it is in Persuasion...[it] contains the closest thing to an explicit theory of the unity of classical and Christian virtues."

These thoughts are taken from the seventh chapter (entitled, Balancing the Virtues in Persuasion) of Sarah Baxter Emsley's book, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues. Next up, Conclusion: After Austen

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Learning the Art of Charity in Emma

Chapter 6: Learning the Art of Charity in Emma

Emma is a young woman who knows her own happiness, but, as Sarah Emsley suggests, she does not always know the happiness of others. She seems to have it all, but in the course of the novel, she is brought to the realization the that perhaps she does not know it all. Emsley says, "I read Emma as primarily responsible for her own moral education, and education in charitable thought. Her education is dependent on her choosing to change..."

This idea is contrasted with critics who have argued that it is Mr Knightley who tells Emma what to think and how to act, but Emma, as we learn, can do this very well on her own. But her conversations with Mr Knightley help her to stop and think. Emma does not suffer from too much solitude, in fact, she does not allow enough time for self-knowledge. Emma spends most of her time arranging the lives of others and must learn that charity is not about power.

Her first moment of realization is when Mr Elton, whom she had destined for her friend, proposes- "making violent love to her." She is then forced to stop and think. "Emma sat down to think and be miserable.- It was a wretched business, indeed!" She realizes that she had "taken up the idea...and made everything bend to it. Emma admits to herself, "The first error and the worst lay at her door. It was foolish, it was wrong, to take so active a part in bringing any two people together...She was quite concerned and ashamed, and resolved to do such things no more." When Emma sees Mr Elton again she is reminded that it was she who brought about the misunderstanding. "...his sight was so inseparably connected with some very disagreeable feelings, that except in a moral light, as a penance, a lesson, a source of profitable humiliation to her own mind, she would have been thankful to be assured of never seeing him again."

Later after Harriet sees the Martins, she hurries to Emma's, "Oh, Miss Wodehouse, do talk to me and make me feel comfortable again," but Emma has learned something from her experience with Mr Elton. "Very sincerely did Emma wist to do so; but it was not immediately in her power. She was obliged to stop and think. She was not thoroughly comfortable with herself." Emsley states, "Emma's discomfort at this point is not enough to seriously reexamine her initial judgment that Robert Martin is not good enough for Harriet, but it is enough to make her stop and think. And if she does this often enough, Austen implies, she will approach a better understanding of truth, and will be better equipped to behave charitably to others. What charity is not, therefore, is looking after others by telling them how to live. This is Mrs Elton's idea of charity (Jane Fairfax)...Mrs Elton also sees charity as a matter of style...what those in power offer to those without power."

A positive example of charity is that of Miss Bates. Emma admits, "I really believe, if she had only one shilling in the world, she would be very likely to give away sixpence of it." Emma often shows generosity to Miss Bates and others who are poor, but, as Emsley argues, "her charity her is mostly action, not thought." And it is not empty action, to be sure, "enter[ing] into their troubles with ready sympathy, and always gave her assistance with as much intelligence as good will." What Emma must discover, therefore, is how to be charitable in her thoughts.

Emma's second moment of realization is at Box Hill after teasing Miss Bates. It does not come immediately, and may not have come at all, if Mr Knightley had not said something- prompting Emma to think. Although it is Mr Knightley who initially opens her eyes, it is Emma herself who "as she reflected more, she seemed but to feel it more. She had never been so depressed." Toward Miss Bates, Emma begins to realize, "She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so; remiss, perhaps, more in thought than fact; scornful, ungracious." Emsley argues, "Mr Knightley has chided her only for the one public remark, but Emma's consciences tells her that she has been thinking scornfully of Miss Bates all along, even while sending her pork and paying her visits...In fact, Emma's own conscious is more severe in judging her thought and action than Mr Knightley is. The realization that she has not loved her neighbor as herself..."

Again it takes prompting for Emma to have her third moment of realization. When Harriet comes to Emma gushing that she wishes to marry Mr Knightley and has some idea of him thinking along the same lines, Emma quickly becomes aware "that Mr Knightley must marry no one but herself!" Austen describes Emma's mind as one that "makes rapid progress." Emsley writes, "This description is important: Emma has the kind of quick mind that can analyze behavior thoroughly. Her intelligence is sharp, but her initial perceptions are a little dull, perhaps because she is so confidant of her social position that she lacks the critical impulse...Intellectual self-examination may be painful, whether one is analyzing the difficulties of acting charitably toward other people, or the complexities of romantic love."

The virtuous life is not a perfect one. It is, like Emma, "faultless in spite of all [it's] faults." Emsley makes the point that, "Austen suggests, one may achieve something like perfect happiness, not happiness as an end result, but as a process open to revision."
These thoughts are taken from the sixth chapter (entitled, Learning the Art of Charity in Emma) of Sarah Baxter Emsley's book, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues. Next up, Chapter 7: Balancing the Virtues in Persuasion

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fanny Price and the Contemplative Life

Chapter 5: Fanny Price and the Contemplative Life

Fanny Price, the heroine of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, is probably the least liked, and the least understood of all of Jane Austen's heroines. Fanny is more like Elinor Dashwood or Anne Elliot in that she is already virtuous, but she must learn to trust her judgment. Emsley writes, "In this chapter...I argue that she is interesting because her liveliness is in the life of the mind. She is thoughtful, contemplative, and actively engaged in thinking through the situations she confronts in the course of the novel. She is neither dull nor passive. She is temperate, she engages in serious philosophical contemplation, and she may be Jane Austen's strongest heroine."

In the beginning of Mansfield Park we get a glimpse of Fanny as a young girl. Her Aunt Norris sees her education as deficient because she had not learned to recite the facts that Maria and Julia have learned. Jane Austen, however, tell us that it is Maria and Julia who are, "entirely deficient in the less common acquirements of self-knowledge, generosity, and humility." This criticism is also applicable to Mary Crawford. Emsley points out that "self-knowledge is a virtue for all Austen heroines." We are reminded of Elizabeth Bennet- "Till this moment I never knew myself."

Critics of Fanny are on both extremes. Some say she is too submissive, that she gives in too easily. Others say that she is too priggish and hard-headed. She does give into her Mansfield family, making sacrifices for them daily, but in matters of import she does not just roll over. Because she is so obliging, Henry, once he has decided to marry her, counts on her "graces of manner and goodness of heart." Mary tells her brother, "You will have a sweet little wife; all gratitude and devotion." When she does reject Crawford on the basis of his past behavior, everyone is shocked. In making this decision, she is sacrificing the good opinion of those she loves (not to mention sacrificing worldly goods). She exhibits the virtue of fortitude when, like Elizabeth Bennet, she refuses the marriage proposal because she does not believe it to be right. Emsley says, "She may have been docile in the past, easily serving others and never asserting herself, but to speak out, to resist, and to hold fast to her decision is not proof of morally prim and proper behavior, but of strong, independent judgment coming from someone long used to submission."

Fanny is aware of the workings of her mind and heart in a way that few others are. Even Edmund does not realize this to be the case. When Fanny tells him, "I am afraid we think too differently, for me to find any relief in talking of what I feel," he responds, "Do you suppose we think differently? I have no idea of it." Edmund is used to Fanny and he always agreeing as they had used to, but his blindness to Mary Crawford's failings makes this impossible. Later he will realize that Fanny's opinion was the right one, and that he was not in love with Mary but "the creature of my own imagination."

When Crawford flatteringly tells Fanny "Your judgment is my rule of right," she exclaims, "Oh, no!- do not say so. We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be." Emsley suggests that, " Of all of Jane Austen's heroines, she is the one who reaches philosophical wisdom."

Edmund (and others) think perhaps that Fanny has refused Crawford because she "could tolerate nothing that she was not used to...habit has the most power...and novelty the least." But this is shown in several instances to not always be case. One example of her finding pleasure in something new is the trip to Southerton which she enjoys very much. Jane Austen shows Fanny as one who is not stagnate, but growing. Fanny's plants and books, both representing growth and development, are mentioned several times throughout the novel. Fanny values the seasons, the changes outdoors, "the growth of the laurels and evergreens."

Fanny is used to knowing her own heart, unlike Crawford who is not "in the habit of examining his own motives and of reflecting to what the indulgence of his idle vanity was tending." Emsley states, "The distinction between good and bad habits depends on one's definition of comfort...The definition of comfort is important because peace is moral comfort, whereas ease is only the avoidance of irritation."

Fanny does not, suggests Emsley, only consider what is best for herself, but what is best universally. "Part of Fanny's wisdom involves not just the strength of her own mind and the rightness of her own judgment but also the ways in which she thinks in the context of tradition and authority...Fanny Price is Jane Austen's contemplative heroine. She is virtuous and wise, and she knows how to be temperate."

Jane Austen tells us of Edmund and Fanny at the end of Mansfield Park, "With so much true merit and true love, and no want of fortune or friends, the happiness, of the married cousins must appear as secure as earthly happiness can be.- Equally formed for domestic life, and attached to country pleasures, their home was the home of affection and comfort..."

These thoughts are taken from the fifth chapter (entitled, Fanny Price and the Contemplative Life) of Sarah Baxter Emsley's book, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues. Next up, Chapter 6: Learning the Art of Charity in Emma

Wodehouse contest winner

Just a short break from Sarah Emsley's book to announce the winner of the Wodehouse contest. Drum roll please...and the winner is- Drew and Lydia! Congratulations! Your prize will be- well, what else- a Wodehouse book! Is there anything better? Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and the Beauty of Justice

Chapter 4: Pride and Prejudice and the Beauty of Justice

One of the reasons Pride and Prejudice is so intriguing is because it is controversial. There are those who take JA's words to her sister literally when she said the novel was "too light & bright & sparkling." But when reading these words in context it is clear that she is joking, "it wants...a long Chapter...of solemn specious nonsense."

Then there are those who see this as a serious novel in which Elizabeth must lose all of her wit and vivacity to subject herself to Mr Darcy. It is seen as JA speaking as a feminist to other enlightened feminists, showing the reader what was (but should not have been) accepted during the 1800s. Emsley says, "I argue...that the change in Elizabeth is not due to repression and humiliation, but to a liberating process of education that leads to Christian humility. Humility in Pride and Prejudice is not abject self-abasement, but a right sense of one's own fallibility, and it is not just something Elizabeth learns in order to submit herself to Mr Darcy, but something that they both learn so that they may together submit to God in the context of Christian marriage."

Emsley goes on to say that she does see P&P as the most serious of Austen's novels, but not on account of the French Revolution or the Napoleonic Wars, but "because it deals with the issues of courage and justice." She states, "Both the seriousness and beauty of Pride and Prejudice arise out of Austen's concern with how to get from sin to justice. Part of the answer to the question of this process has to do with humility, part of it also has to do with anger, and most of it has to do with love."

Is love an important enough topic for a JA novel? Are readers of P&P just escapists, indulging in a fantasy world which culminates in the perfect marriage? Although the movies may give this impression, this is hardly the theme of the book. As Emsley argues, "Tragedy is never far away in Pride and Prejudice, and the brilliance of Austen's heroine is that Elizabeth can see the materially disastrous consequences of acting according to conscience and the good, yet she does the right thing anyway...The question of judgment and education are not frivolous, nor is the problem of how to bring about the right kind of learning. Austen's question throughout Pride and Prejudice is Plato's question in the Meno: 'Can virtue be taught?'"

Emsley also points out that some critics of Austen think of her as bitter and hateful, writing only with biting satire. Words in P&P such as anger, prejudice, and judgment rub people the wrong way. Emsley says that "Anger, strangely enough, is closely tied to the practice of amiability." As Aristotle noted, the excess of amiability is obsequiousness. Mr Collins and his unbearable "arrangement of elegant compliments" is the evident example here. Emsley says, "The unfortunate Mr Collins aspires to the virtues of civility and humility, and it would be impossible to say that he falls short of them, for he far exceeds the mean in both cases...Excessive civility turns into pompous behavior." On the other extreme we have Lady Catherine. P&P describes her thus, "Lady Catherine was generally speaking- stating the mistakes of the three others, or relating some anecdote of herself." When Elizabeth is civil towards both, she is learning to practice the virtues- especially amiability.

A key scene in the book is the first proposal scene of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth. They both attempt to be civil but lose "all compassion in anger." Elizabeth "tried, however, to compose herself to answer him with patience, when he should have done." Darcy becomes "pale with anger," but speaks to her "in a voice of forced calmness" and "with assumed tranquillity [sic]." Emsley suggests that anger is not always a bad thing, as Darcy and Elizabeth struggled with the competing virtues of amiability and truthfulness before becoming angry, and the outburst of honesty and anger that followed was not resentful or revengeful, but brief and perhaps necessary.

Elizabeth's very next meeting with Darcy at Pemberley demonstrates that he has been practicing amiability. Emsley points out, "Righteous anger is a tremendously difficult concept, and it is next to impossible to practice in a virtuous way, and yet in the first proposal scene both Elizabeth and Darcy are justified to some extent in their anger with each other...They are trying to find the truth." Near the end of the novel, Darcy says to Elizabeth, "How you must have hated me after that evening," Elizabeth responds, "Hate you! I was angry perhaps at first, but my anger soon begin to take a proper direction."

Another 'no, no' word is 'prejudice.' Emsley writes, "If prejudice is understood as prepossession, or adherence to principle, it is quite different, and much more acceptable, than the idea of judging adversely in advance of the situation or the facts...Good judgment always relies to some extent on prejudices in favor of the good- the difficult thing is determining when a judgment is too hastily made...Judgment involves discrimination, another unfashionable word, in order to make sure that it is good judgment. Tolerance, compassion, and sympathy invoked without limits are just as dangerous as prejudice, discrimination, and judgment made without reason."

In other words, it is not wrong that Elizabeth and Darcy make judgment calls about one another, but the timing and the way in which they do it. When Elizabeth first reads Darcy's letter, she is too angry to do him justice, but she does read it, and reading the letter, argues Emsley, is the first part of her education. When she realizes the truth about Wickham, her reaction is, "How humiliating is this discovery!- Yet how just a humiliation!- Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind." Elizabeth does not beat herself up about it, though, once she realizes, "Till this moment I never knew myself," she begins to think of others- of Jane and Bingley.

When Darcy helps Wickham and Lydia, Emsley says, "Darcy has had to humble his pride and act with compassion, not condescension. And Elizabeth is humbled not because he has condescended to help her family, but because she feels anew the injustice of her early treatment of him."

Sarah Emsley sums up her chapter thus, "It is in the education of judgment that virtue can flourish; courage and justice and love are the serious ideals of Pride and is not an ethical manual or treatise, but a serious and comic novel of morals and manners." At the end of JA's novel, Elizabeth writes to her Aunt Gardiner saying, "I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but no one with such justice."

These thoughts are taken from the fourth chapter (entitled, Pride and Prejudice and the Beauty of Justice) of Sarah Baxter Emsley's book, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues. Next up, Chapter 5: Fanny Price and the Contemplative Life

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sense and Sensibility: "Know your own Happiness"

Chapter 3: Sense and Sensibility: " Know your own Happiness"

Many people have seen sense and sensibility as things to be pitted against each other. That it is a case of 'either, or'. Marianne tells Elinor, "to be guided wholly by the opinion of other people. I thought our judgments were given us merely to be subservient to those of our neighbors, this has always been your doctrine I am sure." Many have see Elinor, as the personification of sense, in this light - one who only takes into account propriety and manners. Elinor, however, states, "My doctrine has never aimed at the subjection of understanding. All I have ever attempted to influence has been the behaviour. You must not confound my meaning."

Emsley tells us, "In Sense and Sensibility the virtues that come under Austen's more intense scrutiny are the social virtues of amiability, tact, and honesty; the heroic virtue of fortitude, and the Christian virtues of love and faith. This is not to say that other virtues (such as temperance) do not come into play, but only that these are among the most prominent."

Austen again harkens back to Aristotle's terms for "the virtues of social intercourse- friendship, truthfulness, and ready wit or tact." Sense and Sensibility deals with loving your neighbor. Emsley writes, "Austen is interested in how rules and categories and patterns of virtue are fitted to the person and the moment...Friendship, or amiability, is an especially interesting virtue: Aristotle says he has no name for it- there was no precise Greek word for what he was trying to describe, and he uses the word philia as the closest approximation. 'Amiability' is Austen's her representation of all three of these virtues she goes beyond the narrow definitions of the terms: this is one of the ways in which she extends the tradition."

Elinor and Marianne must learn from each other. Elinor loves deeply, but perhaps regulates her behavior too much. This does not imply, however, that her "temper is dull or her understanding is limited." Marianne's love of truth is shown throughout the book. She believes that tact is opposed to openness and honesty, therefore leaving Elinor to often smooth things over for her socially. "...thus by a little of that address, which Marianne could never condescend to practice, gained her own end, and pleased Lady Middleton at the same time."

Emsley convincingly argues that "Marianne's strong sentiments do not always lead her to virtue. In fact it is possible that she is guilty of an excess of truthfulness; that too much honesty is not virtuous." Emsley believes that "Marianne learns to value the benefits of reserve when concealment is appropriate, whereas Willoughby simply regrets that his own secrets did not remain concealed for longer, or forever." Emsley compares Marianne and Mr Darcy in their abhorrence of every sort of disguise (as Mr Darcy tells Elizabeth). Which is interesting, because the popular view is often that Darcy is reserved- not open, and that Marianne always open and honest.

Emsley tells us that "Elinor's politeness is a sign of her concern for others, and yet her sympathy does not get the better of her judgment...Thus Elinor's approach to balancing amiability and honesty, despite falling short of perfect virtue, involves a complex understanding of social life."

So when one falls short of the virtues, is one then practicing vice? Aristotle thought not (or not always). In Marianne's case, when she falls short of the virtues, she is only "guilty of moral weakness, which is much easier to correct than vice." Marianne does correct her moral weakness. She calls her own behavior, "nothing but a series of imprudence towards myself, and want of kindness to others." Marianne tells Elinor, "The future must be my feelings shall be governed and my temper have time for atonement to my God, and to you all."

It is Mrs Dashwood (when speaking to Edward) who says, "Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope." After Marianne finds out that Edward has been engaged to Lucy, she is shocked, and asks Elinor, "how have you been supported?" Elinor's answer shows the 'hope' that her mother spoke of. When Marianne exclaims, "-- and yet you loved him!" Elinor responds, "Yes. But I did not love only him."

Marianne learns this fortitude which Elinor possesses. Emsley says, "Although Marianne changes she is Marianne still; she is not a new Elinor...She may have been educated partly by Elinor's example of the classical virtues, but if Elinor is a classical heroine (even though she marries a clergyman), and Marianne represents both classical and Christian virtues, perhaps it is Elinor's turn, at the end of the novel, to learn from Marianne, not about sensibility, but about grace."

These thoughts are taken from the third chapter (entitled, Sense and Sensibility: " Know your own Happiness" ) of Sarah Baxter Emsley's book, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues. Next up, Chapter 4: Pride and Prejudice and the Beauty of Justice

Propriety's Claims on Prudence in Lady Susan and Northanger Abbey

Chapter 2: Propriety's Claims on Prudence in Lady Susan and Northanger Abbey

In this chapter Sarah Emsley contrasts JA's earliest works, Lady Susan and Northanger Abbey. The character of Lady Susan is JA's only vicious heroine, and is not a model for female virtue! Lady Susan is an epistolary novel, and we see throughout Lady Susan's correspondence that she is conniving and cares only for herself. JA as the narrator tells us at the end, "She had nothing against her, but her Husband & her Conscience." Lady Susan is humorous as JA's juvenile works, but is longer and has a more mature feel. Austen may later focus on how virtues come into conflict with one another, but in Lady Susan her focus is more on "the villainy of human nature." Lady Susan only invokes the name of propriety when it will suit her. When she wishes Reginald out of the way for a few days so that she can continue her affair with Mr Manwaring, she acts as if they are moving too fast and pretends to be afraid of displeasing her brother.

Lady Susan has an excellent command of language and uses it to get what she desires. Some critics have argued that JA shows how Lady Susan uses her power, but then abandons the idea of female power in her later works. Emsley, however, sees that in the later novels "the heroine's pursuit of virtue is a quest for a different kind of power. Given the older definitions of virtue (or vertu) had to do with strength and power, it is important to emphasize that the virtues are moral excellences, and therefore may be seen as more powerful than aggression or manipulation."

In contrast to Lady Susan, Catherine, the heroine (or "in training for a heroine") in Northanger Abbey, is quite naive. Which may be one of the reasons that she is attractive. She is artless, open, and honest. Emsley observes, "Unlike Lady Susan, she is capable of genuinely caring for other people. In the course of the novel, Catherine begins to learn the kind of prudence that propriety requires, but the natural courage it takes to be honest and open with others is hers already...Henry learns from Catherine's openness even while he teaches her to be more prudent about social life."

Catherine learns that not all sacrifices are noble (such as choosing to go with the Thorpes and her brother when she really wanted to go with the Tilneys), not all villains are obvious (e.g. John Thorpe), and not all abbeys are haunted.

Henry and Catherine have many spirited exchanges before Catherine quite knows how to take what he says. One such time is when Henry Tilney and Catherine are dancing at the ball, and he asks her what she is thinking about. "Catherine coloured, and said, 'I was not thinking of anything.'" Henry responds, "'That is artful and deep, to be sure, but I had rather be told at once that you will not tell me.'"

JA closes Northanger Abbey with words that I could not agree with more, "To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well."

Where Lady Susan is innately wicked and Catherine is innately good, JA incorporates both virtues and vices in her later heroines. Elizabeth, Anne, Marianne, Elinor, and Fanny must learn the balance of the virtues.

These thoughts are taken from the second chapter (entitled, Propriety's Claims on Prudence in Lady Susan and Northanger Abbey ) of Sarah Baxter Emsley's book, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues. Next up, Chapter 3: Sense and Sensibility: "Know your Own Happiness"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Virtues According to Aristotle, Aquinas, and Austen

Chapter 1: The Virtues According to Aristotle, Aquinas, and Austen

Jane Austen's father was a rector and a teacher of the classics. She had access to all sorts of literature, and inherited a rich philosophical tradition. Now whether she read philosophers and such may be open to debate (I think she did.), but we do know that she enjoyed Samuel Johnson, Shakespeare, and Fielding and through them, at least, had a familiarity with that tradition.

The first record of the idea of the four cardinal virtues is found in Plato's Republic. Aquinas then came along and interprets this classical tradition in light of the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Aristotle categorically (Isn't that his favorite way?) divides the virtues into moral, intellectual, and social.

Emsley shows in this chapter how JA uses the Aristotelian tradition in her writing, "considering moral education and the pursuit of happiness, practical versus philosophical wisdom, and the importance of process, habit, and choice in the practice of the virtues." Using this Aristotelian idea, one has a telos or an end or goal, which is often defined as "happiness" or "human flourishing." In other words, the good life. In contrast to this, Emsley shows us Kant as one who saw moral education at odds with happiness, and often at the expense of happiness. We can clearly see Aristotle's influence in Austen's work. Emma, Catherine, and Marianne come to mind as heroines who through their moral education were able to flourish.

For those only slightly familiar with Austen's novels, the assumption is made that marriage is the end goal. However, only after the characters find fulfillment and happiness through the exercise of the virtues, can they find fulfillment and happiness in marriage. And, yes, eros can certainly spur one on! This exercise of the virtues is not of ordinary virtue (as defined by Socrates) which is only right acting in order to avoid pain or increase pleasure, but the philosopher's virtue which involves wisdom. "Austen suggests that self-sufficiency is part of the equation, as her virtuous characters such as Elinor, Fanny, Anne, or Mr Knightly, are initially self-sufficient, yet they maintain their virtue by constantly exercising good judgment. For Austen it is both a process and a goal."

Austen does not show practicing the virtues as a passive thing, one must be active. Timothy McDermott states, "Christian ethics is above all act-centered and end-centered. The act in which it is centered is an act of passion, Christ's passion, his passover from life to death, to a new life." Religion is not always explicit in JA's novels. One reason may be the "customary Church of England reserve about spirituality." But another may be that for her, it was not necessary to be explicit, because faith was the understood basis. Emsley tells us that for JA, "love is both preceded by and accompanied by faith and the development of the mind." This idea is so different from the other novels of her day where love and love alone was paramount.

Emsley writes, "Jane Austen's heroines discover the necessity of acting according to reason, but for them reason is always understood in relation to faith, hope, and love. The novels are about judgment and discernment, and heroism in the face of folly, but Austen's heroines also learn to practice the theological virtues, and the educative power of love in the novels is related in some degree to Augustine's theory that all the virtues are expressions of love. Aquinas cites Augustine's view that 'the soul needs to follow something in order for it to give birth to virtue. This something is God, and if we follow Him, we shall live the good life.'"

Benjamin Franklin is a prime example of one who saw the virtues as a set of rules to be followed. JA shows that one cannot simply follow the rules, but must be capable of practicing the virtues and skilled at balancing them depending on what is called for in each situation. The virtues are not relative, rather they are flexible. "Following the rules means relying on the judgment of others rather than judging for one's self, and slavishly imitating models of virtue. Practicing the virtues, on the other hand, means negotiating situations as individual cases, judging how best to act in those circumstances." To quote Aristotle, "it is possible to fail in many ways...while to succeed is possible only in one way."

Emsley says, "Austen goes further than Aristotle in exploring the dramatic moments when virtues compete with one another in creative tension. While she sees tensions among the virtues, she also suggests that the unity of the virtues resides in attempts to balance these tensions...the fact that she is writing fiction means that she can do things that philosophers writing treatises cannot: she can take an ethical concept and turn it into a 'living argument.'"

These thoughts are taken from the first chapter (entitled, The Virtues According to Aristotle, Aquinas, and Austen) of Sarah Baxter Emsley's book, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues. Next up, Chapter 2: Propriety's Claims on Prudence in Lady Susan and Northanger Abbey.

How Should I live My Life?

Yesterday, my husband heard an exchange at the local library book sale that went like this,

1st lady: Yeah, I'm reading this book called Pride and Prejudice, and it is stupid. There is this girl who's staying at this house and she's sick and it doesn't make any sense.

2nd lady: Well, you just have to see the movie. It all comes together in the movie. There's a man called Mr Darcy. And the girls' mom just wants them all to be married. It's hilarious, the lines, the wit, you'll like it better...

This is a classic case of "can't get there from here". When someone can't even make it through the book while suspending judgment, or at least appreciating balancing qualities, there is little hope of building up to the point that one actually begins to see what Austen is about. A lot of critics are simply fancy versions of "Austen is neat" school of criticism. Another level is scholarly and explores important facets from a sound direction. And then there is Emsley...

Enter Sarah Emsley. If we ever needed her it is now. She is the best I have read on the works of Jane Austen. Yes, Tony Tanner is good, he's genius at some points. Of course, Leithart is worth reading. Yes, yes, C.S.Lewis, Ian Watt, Lionel Trilling, Donald Greene, James Collins, Alain de Botton, and W. Somerset Maugham are all my favorites! I have gleaned so much from them all. But it just so happens that a lady was able to do what they were unable to. And up until Emsley, all of the women I've read on JA have been sub par. Terrible in some instances. Female literary critics (e.g., Eva Brann, Dianne Johnson, Margot Livesey, -and I know he's not a girl but- Kingsly Amis, just to name a few), who should have 'gotten it' in JA have written essays I would not force on my worst enemies. Sarah Emsley is a sigh of relief. She refutes the critics with a few deft strokes.

Armed with the idea that JA's books are more about Austen's heroines learning "to ask the philosophical question about how to live their lives," Emsley is able to see what so many have missed (or butchered). That is, JA's novels centre around the cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, justice, and temperance, as well as the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Emsley shows the virtues as "high standards, precise points, but they are also flexible and must be exercised to be learned- they must become habits." JA did not only explore virtue as it was defined in her day, the virtue of a female's sexual chastity, but a full range of the virtues and how they are able to unite them, or put another way, to balance them.

Emsley points out that JA's "emphasis is on the centrality and the flexibility of the tradition of the virtues" and argues that JA's most loved heroines combine virtues with ready wit (as opposed to the daughter in JA's Plan of a Novel). Aristotle calls this "one of the virtues of social life." I would say that this is necessary to life, if it is to be enjoyed at all.

An excellent example of uniting the virtues is seen when Elizabeth in P&P was endeavoring "to unite civility and truth in a few short sentences" when conversing with Mr Collins. Again using Elizabeth, one of the most loved and most known heroines, as an example, Emsley points out that Elizabeth does not say to Lady Catherine (when discussing her future plans) that she will act "without reference to you or to any person," but states that she will act "without reference to you or to any person so wholly unconnected with me." Elizabeth often sought the advice of Jane, her Aunt (and Uncle) Gardiner, and, yes, even tall Mr Darcy. As Emsley says, "...sometimes the careful judgments of others can help her know what her own happiness is." Is not this the very thing that Emma discovers on account of Mr Knightly, or Marianne with Elinor?

These thoughts are taken from the introduction (entitled, How Should I live My Life?) of Sarah Baxter Emsley's book, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues. This gem of a book has 7 chapters (plus a Conclusion), which I hope to sum up delightfully for your full benefit. Next up, Chapter 1: The Virtues According to Aristotle, Aquinas, and Austen.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

from a Southern gal

Mr Head stood very still and felt the action of mercy touch him again but this time he knew that there were no words in the world that could name it. He understood that it grew out of agony, which is not denied to any man and which is given in strange ways to children. He understood it was all a man could carry into death to give his Maker and he suddenly burned with shame that he had so little of it to take with him. He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it. He had never thought himself a great sinner before but he saw now that his true depravity had been hidden from him lest it cause him despair. He realized that he was forgiven for sins from the beginning of time, when he had conceived in his own heart the sin of Adam, until the present, when he had denied poor Nelson. He saw that no sin was too monstrous for him to claim as his own, and since God loved in proportion as He forgave, he felt ready at that instant to enter Paradise.
~from Flannery O'Connor's The Artificial Nigger

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wodehouse contest

Well, it's not the Great Sermon Handicap, but I thought it high time for a bit of sport. So grab the jigger, shaker, and the necessary tissue restoratives and give these "Wodehouseians" a gander. (You may look in any Wodehouse book if you are in need of assistance.)

Aunt Dalhlia
Empress of Blandings
Stilton Cheeswright
Galahad Threepwood
Scripture Knowledge
Lady Hermione Wedge
Aunt Agatha
Vanessa Cook

1) Which character (character, in every sense of the word) does the following describe? "After the life he had lead he had no right to burst with health, but he did. Where most of his contemporaries had long ago thrown in the towel and retired to cure resorts to nurse their gout, he had gone blithely on, ever rising on stepping stones of dead whiskeys and sodas to higher things. He had discovered the prime grand secret of eternal youth - to keep the decanter circulating, to stop smoking only when snapping the lighter for his next cigarette and never to retire to rest before three in the morning."

2) Who is it that "...eats broken bottles and is strongly suspected of turning into a werewolf at the time of the full moon?"

3) What is it that Bertie thinks a Trappist monk specializes in?

4) Who is it that is described as looking like a cook? And when perturbed, looking like a "cook who smells something burning?" (This is the same character whom Gally has seen "spanked by the Nanny with a hairbrush.")

5) This person frequently addresses Bertie as "a young blot," and is also known for having a voice of great volume (going back to hunting days).

6) Bertie frequently refers to a prize he won at school. What is it?

7) Which philosopher is Jeeves often reading?

8) What character is described as having a "friendly face", likes potatoes, and is adored by Lord Emsworth?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Plan of a Novel

Jane Austen wrote her Plan of a Novel According from Hints from Various Quarters in 1816. I believe she was inspired by Mr Clarke (the Prince Regent's librarian and personal chaplain) who had given her suggestions on what her next novel should consist of. He took a bit of umbrage at the portrayal of Mr Collins no doubt. He wrote,
I also, dear Madam, wished to be allowed to ask you to delineate in some future Work the Habits of Life and Character and enthusiasm of a Clergyman -- who should pass his time between the metropolis& the Country... -- Fond of and entirely engaged in Literature...
JA answered his letter and suggestion not quite truthfully. For she was far from ignorant, was versed in French, and was well-read.
I am quite honoured by your thinking me capable of drawing such a clergyman as you gave the sketch of... But I assure you I am not. 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 be on subjects of science and philosophy, of which I know nothing; or must occasionally be abundant in allusions and quotations which a woman who, like me,knows only her mother tongue, and has read very 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 justice to your clergyman; and I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and ill-informed female who ever dared to be an authoress.
In his biography of his aunt, James Edward Austen-Leigh confided,
Mr. Clarke, however, was not to be discouraged from proposing another subject. He had recently been appointed chaplain and private English secretary to Prince Leopold, who was then about to be united to the Princess Charlotte; and when he again wrote to express the gracious thanks of the Prince Regent for the copy of Emma which had been presented, he suggests that 'an historical romance illustrative of the august House of Cobourg would just now be very interesting,' and might very properly be dedicated to Prince Leopold. This was much as if Sir William Ross had been set to paint a great battle-piece; and it is amusing to see with what grave civility she declined a proposal which must have struck her as ludicrous.
In a letter dated 4 months from the last, she wrote,
You are very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down 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 or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.

She confessed that "pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked" and had a bit of fun when composing her Plan of a Novel According from Hints from Various Quarters. Hope you enjoy it!
SCENE to be in the Country, Heroine the Daughter of a Clergyman, one who after having lived much in the World had retired from it and settled in a Curacy, with a very small fortune of his own. -- He, the most excellent Man that can be imagined, perfect in Character, Temper, and Manners -- without the smallest drawback or peculiarity to prevent his being the most delightful companion to his Daughter from one year's end to the other. -- Heroine a faultless Character herself, -- perfectly good, with much tenderness and sentiment, and not the least Wit -- very highly accomplished, understanding modern Languages and (generally speaking) everything that the most accomplished young Women learn, but particularly excelling in Music -- her favourite pursuit -- and playing equally well on the PianoForte and Harp -- and singing in the first stile. Her Person quite beautiful -- dark eyes and plump cheeks. -- Book to open with the description of Father and Daughter -- who are to converse in long speeches, elegant Language -- and a tone of high serious sentiment. -- The Father to be induced, at his Daughter's earnest request, to relate to her the past events of his Life. This Narrative will reach through the greatest part of the first volume -- as besides all the circumstances of his attachment to her Mother and their Marriage, it will comprehend his going to sea as Chaplain to a distinguished naval character about the Court, his going afterwards to Court himself, which introduced him to a great variety of Characters and involved him in many interesting situations, concluding with his opinions on the Benefits to result from Tithes being done away, and his having buried his own Mother (Heroine's lamented Grandmother) in consequence of the High Priest of the Parish in which she died refusing to pay her Remains the respect due to them. The Father to be of a very literary turn, an Enthusiast in Literature, nobody's Enemy but his own -- at the same time most zealous in discharge of his Pastoral Duties, the model of an exemplary Parish Priest. -- The heroine's friendship to be sought after by a young woman in the same Neighbourhood, of Talents and Shrewdness, with light eyes and a fair skin, but having a considerable degree of Wit, Heroine shall shrink from the acquaintance. From this outset, the Story will proceed, and contain a striking variety of adventures. Heroine and her Father never above a fortnight together in one place, he being driven from his Curacy by the vile arts of some totally unprincipled and heart-less young Man, desperately in love with the Heroine, and pursuing her with unrelenting passion. -- No sooner settled in one Country of Europe than they are necessitated to quit it and retire to another -- always making new acquaintance, and always obliged to leave them. -- This will of course exhibit a wide variety of Characters -- but there will be no mixture; the scene will be for ever shifting from one Set of People to another -- but All the Good will be unexceptionable in every respect -- and there will be no foibles or weaknesses but with the Wicked, who will be completely depraved and infamous, hardly a resemblance of humanity left in them. -- Early in her career, in the progress of her first removals, Heroine must meet with the Hero -- all perfection of course -- and only prevented from paying his addresses to her by some excess of refinement. -- Wherever she goes, somebody falls in love with her, and she receives repeated offers of Marriage -- which she refers wholly to her Father, exceedingly angry that he should not be first applied to. -- Often carried away by the anti-hero, but rescued either by her Father or by the Hero -- often reduced to support herself and her Father by her Talents and work for her Bread; continually cheated and defrauded of her hire, worn down to a Skeleton, and now and then starved to death. -- At last, hunted out of civilized Society, denied the poor Shelter of the humblest Cottage, they are compelled to retreat into Kamschatka where the poor Father, quite worn down, finding his end approaching, throws himself on the Ground, and after 4 or 5 hours of tender advice and parental Admonition to his miserable Child, expires in a fine burst of Literary Enthusiasm, intermingled with Invectives against holders of Tithes. -- Heroine inconsolable for some time -- but afterwards crawls back towards her former Country -- having at least 20 narrow escapes from falling into the hands of the Anti-hero -- and at last in the very nick of time, turning a corner to avoid him, runs into the arms of the Hero himself, who having just shaken off the scruples which fetter'd him before, was at the very moment setting off in pursuit of her. -- The Tenderest and completest Eclaircissement takes place, and they are happily united. -- Throughout the whole work, Heroine to be in the most elegant Society and living in high style. The name of the work not to be Emma, but of the same sort as S. & S. and P. & P.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

From Groucho

Groucho Marx:

"Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped."

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

"From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend to read it."

"Go, and never darken my towels again."

"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book."

"I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception."


"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."

Margaret Dumont: "Why, that reminds me of my youth!!"
Groucho: "He must be a pretty big boy by now."

A Day at the Races:

Man: "Are you a man or a mouse?"
Groucho: "Put a piece of cheese on the floor and you'll find out."

"And stop pointing that beard at me, it might go off!"

A Night at the Opera:

Lassparri: "They threw an apple at me!"
Groucho: "Well, watermelons are out of season."

A Night in Casablanca:

"We've got to speed things up in this hotel. Chef, if a guest orders a three-minute egg, give it to him in two minutes. If he orders a two-minute egg, give it to him in one minute. If he orders a one-minute egg, give him a chicken and let him work it out for himself."

Groucho: "You know I think you're the most beautiful woman in the world?"
Woman: "Really?"
Groucho: "No, but I don't mind lying if it gets me somewhere."

Animal Crackers:

"We must remember that art is art. Well, on the other hand water is water isn't it? And east is east and west is west. And if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rubarb does."

"Do you mind if I don't smoke?"

"I'm Captain Scotland of the Spalding Yard...Captain Yard of the Scotland Spalding"

Horse Feathers:

"Members of the faculty, faculty members. Students of Huxley and Huxley's students. Well I guess that covers everything"

"Why don't you bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out?"

"Have we got a college? Have we got a football team?....Well we can't afford both. Tomorrow we start tearing down the college."

Pogo with Albert the Alligator

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Harry Potter, friend or foe?

Sir Francis Bacon in his essay, Of Studies, wrote, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."
I'm one of those who has a tendency to assume that if a book cannot be chewed and digested then it ought not to be even tasted. But this is simply not so! It is easy, I know, to dismiss Harry Potter as “slop” because, as HP admirer James Thomas of Pepperdine University has noted, they strike most academics as “too current, too juvenile and too popular.” However, Narnia was dismissed by Lewis' colleagues for those same reasons. We need to remember what Milton asserted, that we should long for "the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read" ~ widely and broadly, in many fields, with many genres, and on many topics.
Is Harry Potter really worth tasting? worth swallowing? With all of those Great Books waiting to be devoured, is Harry Potter just a waste of time? Sir Philip Sydney (a Christian literary theorist) said that good books both instruct and delight, and thanks to Rowling's years of planning, HP certainly does this, as well as what Neil Postman assumes our reading should do. That is, "teaching us to think in a logically connected way...conditioning us to think in terms of abstract ideas, objective truth, and sustained reflection."

In The Deathly Hallows Lectures, John Granger argues that HP uses,
1. Narrative Misdirection from Miss Jane Austen
2. Literary Alchemy via Shakespeare and Charles Dickens
3. The Hero's Journey, let's say from Homer, Virgil, and Dante
4. Traditional Symbolism a la Messrs. Tolkien and Lewis
5. Postmodern Themes

Looking at number one, Narrative Misdirection, I recall Rowling saying, “The best twist ever in literature is in Jane Austen's Emma. To me she is the target of perfection at which we shoot in vain.” Rowling certainly took some good cues and put JA's genius to work. Just as I was utterly surprised when I learned the truth about Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, I would never have guessed the truth about Snape or even Dumbledore.
Rowling has a talent for descriptions. True, she does employ "novel slang" as JA addresses in a letter to her niece, "Devereux Forrester being ruined by his vanity is very good: but I wish you would not let him plunge into a 'vortex of dissipation.' I do not object to the thing, but I cannot bear the expression: it is such thorough novel slang; and so old that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel he opened."
However, many of Rowling's descriptions hit the nail on the head.

Mr. Weasley gave a maniacal laugh; Mrs. Weasley threw him a look, upon which he became immediately silent and assumed an expression appropriate to the sickbed of a close friend.

"Yes," said Heromine, now turning the fragile pages as if examining rotting entrails...

Ron stared around the room as if he had been bidden to memorize it.
It puts me in mind of Wodehouse. (God bless him!) For example, “Even in this bitter mood of his, when he was feeling like some prophet of Israel judging the sins of the people." And, “He chuckled like the last bit of water going down the waste-pipe in a bath.” Perhaps it's a British talent? For understatement?

Number 2 brings us to Literary Alchemy, which Granger describes as
the science for the perfection or sanctification of the alchemist's soul. This heroic venture is all but impossible today because the way we look at reality, at "things," per se, makes the Great Work itself almost an absurdity. Unlike the medieval alchemists, we moderns and postmoderns see things with a clear subject/object distinction; that is, we believe you and I and the table are entirely different things and between them is there is no connection or relation. The knowing subject is one thing and the observed object is completely 'other.
Granger points out that Rowling shows the achemical transformation in every book.
The resurrection at story’s end each year is the culmination of that year’s cycle and transformation. The cycle then closes with congratulations and explanations from the master alchemist and a return to the Dursleys for another trip through the cycle.” And in the end, “Death is a necessary part of the alchemical work; only in the death of one thing, from the alchemical perspective, is the greater thing born. (Alchemists frequently cited John 12:24 and Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection.25) But Love, the action of contraries and their resolution, transcends death. Love brings life out of death, even eternal life and spiritual perfection. This is a direct match with Rowling’s message about how to understand death and love.

It is not only Harry who must learn self-sacrifice- even to the point of death- but also James Potter (“Lily, take Harry and go!It's him! Go! Run! I'll hold him off!”), Lily Potter ("Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead ---"), Snape ( Don't really need a quote here because it's pretty much his whole adult life.), Dumbledore (“Don't hurt them, please...hurt me instead.”), Ron ("No!" shouted Ron. "You can have me, keep me!"), the list goes on. The theme of sacrifice, of dying to self bobs up over and over and over. It is Voldemort who does not understand this. If he did, as Dumbledore might say, he would not be Voldemort. When Harry tells Voldemort that he (Harry) was saved through love and sacrifice, Voldemort screams, “Accidents!”
Dumbledore tells Harry, "And his knowledge remains woefully incomplete, Harry! That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children's tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth that he has never grasped." (709)
When Harry challenges Voldemort declaring he knows of things that Voldemort doesn't even understand, "Is it love again?" said Voldemort, his snake's face jeering. "Dumbledore's favorite solution, love, which he claimed conquered death, though love did not stop him falling from the tower and breaking like an old waxwork?”
Because Voldemort views the world as his own. Much the same way Satan did when he offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world.” DH: "And he walked on, around the edge of the lake, taking in the outlines of the beloved castle, his first kingdom, his birthright..."

Titus Burckhardt noted,
This science (of alchemy) went into precipitous decline and corruption at the end of the Renaissance and especially at the Enlightenment, when it was eclipsed by the materialist view and priorities of modern chemistry. But it was kept alive by writers who found in its imagery and symbolism a powerful way of communicating Christian truth...Shakespeare and Jonson, among others, used alchemical imagery and themes because they understood that the work of the theater in human transformation was parallel if not identical to the work of alchemy in that same transformation. The alchemical work was claimed to be greater than an imaginative experience in the theater, but the idea of purification by identification or correspondence with an object and its transformations was the same in both.

The Hero's Journey, number 3, is a lot of fun for all of us who love the classics. Harry, like all of those great heroes of old is broken down, disillusioned, and bled until everything that he thinks he is is taken away or revealed as a falsehood.
Granger states,
The boundaries of his world collapse; magical enemies come to his home with the Dursleys, and Aunt Petunia knows about them. The Dursleys’ house is no longer a sanctuary, however miserable, and Hogwarts is no longer edifying or any joy to him...But the old and the new man cannot live together in the same person or world—and this is Harry’s war with his doppelganger or twin-in-spirit, Lord Voldemort... Love has overcome death in each of the books...Having completed the circle and achieved the center the seventh time, this last time by sacrificing himself without hope of gain, Harry, in effect, has executed his ego or died to himself, thereby returning to the center or transpersonal self before Voldemort kills him.
Rowling says she was influenced by Charles Dicken's Tale of Two Cities. Especially Carton's “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
Just as Sydney Carton is no saint, neither is Harry a saint. He struggles to believe, just as Rowling struggles, but in the end he chooses the path of obedience and sacrifice. Harry does not die as a savior to the whole world, but he does die to himself. Harry isn't an allegorical Christ, but his choice is the same as Carton's just as it is the same as Christ's.
Mark Shea, in his article, Harry Potter and the Christian Critics, in the magazine First Things answers the critics who object to "Harry lying and bending the rules and gets away with it." He says Harry was granted
Most Favored Damnation status—as though books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn did not exist and were not classics of the English language. Proponents of such arguments seem to really think that a book in which the whole point was the purification of the hero ought to have a hero who did not need purification.

These same people are horrified that Dumbledore is found to have faults- great faults. Though Rowling purposefully shows him as being a deeply flawed hero. In DH all of Dumbledore's mistakes are brought to us in sharp relief. Not only by his brother (who Harry tells, "The night that your brother died, he drank a potion that drove him out of his mind. He started screaming, pleading with someone who wasn't there. 'Don't hurt them, please...hurt me instead.'"), but also by Dumbledore himself at King's Cross station.
Mark Shea says,
Dumbledore's great downfall was doing evil "for the Greater Good"—and that, I think, is the key. Deathly Hallows is the book in which, above all, Dumbledore gives way to Harry as the doubtful and imperfect Baptist gives way to Jesus, as the great but pagan Vergil gives way to Beatrice, as the greatest prophet gives way to the least in the kingdom of heaven.

Dumbledore admits his failings (even to the point of comparing himself with Voldemort) to Harry at King's Cross station, what he does with power, his longing for the Resurrection Stone, and his neglect of his sister. All of which Rowling shows us- and Harry- so that he may make the proper adjustments to his pride and assumptions before dueling Voldemort.
Dumbledore is, like Vergil, a "great man" (in the words of Hagrid). But he himself acknowledges that Harry is the "better man." Harry can do what Dumbledore could not. That's not because Harry has mastered secret knowledge. It's because Harry is the recipient of grace. Dumbledore's death is marked by the sin that marred Dumbledore's life: He does evil "for the greater good." And the plan he hatches "for the greater good" is fruitless. The Elder Wand he aimed to give to Snape goes to Draco. But, in the mystery of grace, his failure is redeemed by Harry's response to grace.
Dumbledore tells Harry, "You are the true master of death, because the true master does not seek to run away from Death." (720)

Number 4, Traditional Symbolism, is great! Although Rowling falls short of Lewis and Tolkien, she is excellent at the “magic of story and myth” using imagery and symbols from the Christian tradition. I would also argue that HP fits into the category of mythopoeia ("myth-making"). This meaning of the word mythopoeia follows its use by J. R. R. Tolkien in the 1930s. The authors in this genre integrate traditional mythological themes and archetypes into fiction.
In Deathly Hallows, where the mysteries are made clear, we learn that the whole of the myth turns on the interpretation of the symbols. We get a glimpse of this when Dumbledore is telling Snape about the connection between Voldemort and Harry. Snape responds, "Souls? We are talking of minds!" (685)
Granger writes,
Understanding their superficial, moral, allegorical, and mythic or anagogical meanings requires some appreciation of English literature and symbolism...An authentic symbol is a means of passage and of grace between the shadow-world of time and space in which we live and what is real.
This is demonstrated most effectively when Harry asks Dumbledore at King's Cross if their conversation was real or just inside his head. To which Dumbledore responds, "Of course it is all happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" (723)
Rowling uses symbolism to demonstrate Harry's change after burying Dobby through alchemical colors, "Dawn was breaking over the horizon, shell pink and faintly gold."

In DH Harry's transformation, I believe, happens acutely when he is digging the grave for hobbit-like Dobby. "I want to do it properly," were the first words of which Harry was fully conscious of speaking. "Not by magic. Have you got a spade?" (478)

“He dug with a kind of fury, relishing the manual work, glorying in the non-magic of it, for every drop of his sweat and every blister felt like a gift to the elf who had saved their lives.”

"Just as Voldemort had not been able to possess Harry while Harry was consumed with grief for Sirius, so his thoughts could not penetrate Harry now, while he mourned Dobby. Grief, it seemed, drove Voldemort out... though Dumbledore, of course, would've said it was love..."
Finally, he has chosen to trust Dumbledore and gained control of his connection with Voldemort. "...the lightning scar on Harry's forehead prickled, but he ignored it, refusing to acknowledge its pain or invitation." (488)

Number 5, Postmodern Themes, is concerned with the ideas prevalent to everyone living in this historical time period. One of those ideas being, we may even call it a 'postmodern religion', fundamentalism=bad. When Rowling speaks of fundamentalism she is meaning ignorant, prejudiced people, but misses that this definition is the same one which the Death Eaters hold in regards to Muggles.
If you want legalism, go for a Progressive society. Justice alone matters. Equality. Tolerance. Etc. But you will find no sacrifice. The sins of traditional societies are forgiven for one reason- the blood. Blood is a scandal to enlightened man. Only Christians can dare recognize the bestial element, without either shame, despair, or contradiction.
Although Rowling is postmodern, she does recognize this. As Granger points out,
She has succeeded in smuggling in a great deal of traditional, even transcendent, material and themes into these stories—including her Christian beliefs—in answer to these questions and concerns. The “religious undertones,” as she has said, are “obvious” to anyone who hasn’t been immunized to this possibility... If there is one message that postmodern readers do not, perhaps cannot hear, it is that they will be judged in the afterlife for their thoughts, words, and deeds. Ms. Rowling in King's Cross presents this 'judgment' in such a way that it seems anything but the work of an angry God. Rather our condition in eternity will be the consequences of our choices and our capacity for love - and there will be no helping those who enter God's Glory with atrophied spirits and darkened hearts.

Harry tells Voldemort (after seeing his soul at King's Cross), "It's your one last chance," said Harry, "it's all you've got left...I've seen what you'll be otherwise...Be a man...try...Try for some remorse...."
Rowling has compared her faith in God to that of Graham Greene, the Catholic writer. The struggle to believe. “I believe, Lord help my unbelief.” We see Harry struggle with this, especially in DH.
HP is certainly not Evangelical, but is a parable or symbol. Those that reject it on the basis that it's not Christian enough, seem to do so because they fear and/or misunderstand (not because it is, say, too steamy). The idea being: If we are going to read something in the category of not being Christian enough we only read it to censure or scorn (e.g. Darwin).
For those of you watching the movie but not reading the book, don't expect to see overtly Christian themes. Even those making Lewis' Narnia movies have steamrollered over some of his most cherished beliefs. (Don't even get me going on JA movies!) To expect otherwise from Hollywood is mental negligence.
Philippians 4 does not say to read only Christian works. If we are honest, we must admit that some Christian works are not "excellent" or "worthy of praise" or "lovely" or "of good report." Many non-Christian writers are good to read because they unwittingly follow God's aesthetic laws of craftsmanship and because they are honest. Hemingway was no Christian, but when in "Hills Like White Elephants" he imagines a man and woman discussing whether she should get an abortion, he nails the issues—the man's attempt to manipulate and use the woman; her reluctance, her yielding to the pressure, and her guilt—in a way that corresponds to God's moral truth.

Rowling states,"The two groups of people who are constantly thanking me are wiccans (white witches) and boarding schools. And really, don't thank me. I'm not with either of them."
C.S. Lewis writes in his essay, Studies in medieval and Renaissance literature,
Magic sought power over nature; astrology proclaimed nature's power over man. Hence the magician is the ancestor of the modern practicing or 'applied' scientist, the inventor; the astrologer, of the nineteenth-century philosophical materialist. Neither figure, by the way, is specially typical of the Middle Ages. Both flourished as much, if not more, in the ancient and in the renaissance world.

Mark Shea of First Things, says,
The magic of Harry is, as John Granger points out, "incantational," not "invocational," exactly like the magic of Gandalf. Born with the talent for magic, Gandalf says the magic words and fire leaps forth from his staff, just as from Harry's wand. No principalities or powers are invoked in HP. Indeed, if any words are "invocational" they are the prayer to Elbereth and Gilthoniel uttered in Middle Earth. Yet nobody accuses Tolkien of promoting the worship of false gods. That's because we understand Tolkien's fictional subcreation and its rootedness in Christian thought. I suggest Christian critics try to extend Rowling the same charity.

As Lupin said,"...everything for which we are fighting: the triumph of good, the power of innocence, the need to keep resisting." (441)
Gandalf stands before the Balrog and his doom as Gandalf the Grey, forbidding evil ~ “I am a servant of the secret fire. You cannot pass.” Yet upon return from the abyss, he is Gandalf the White.