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Visions of Sugarplums…? and some backtalk re Jane Austen

Hadn’t intended to post today — so many chores this time of year, so few readers… But I know you’d want to know about this: Chocolate Type!

It’s made in Germany, by a company called Typolade.

But fortunately I’m well-connected, with family and friends in Berlin. You might have read here and here about our trip last summer… Which reminds me that the lovely Kris Alice Hohls, of Love-Letter, the German romance readers’ magazine, ought to know about Typolade if she doesn’t already. Gotta tell her and also wish her the joy of the season.

And if this chocolate’s not too mammothly expensive I’ll certainly get hold of a coupla alphabets of this stuff and send it out for contest prizes sometime next year.

Thanks to the bright and beautiful Pamphilia, who posted notice of it at her delightful blog The Freudian Petticoat.

And while I’m posting anyway, here’s a little more about Jane Austen, this time from a disgruntled reader of Pride and Prejudice (yes, it is possible… read on):

Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point…. I had not seen Pride and Prejudice till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.

Can you guess who wrote that? I couldn’t, but the “fresh air” and “blue hill” might have clued a more erudite reader. Anyway, it was Charlotte Brontë, in an 1848 letter to the critic G.H. Lewes, quoted (once again) in Tony Tanner’s wonderful reading of Austen’s work, simply called Jane Austen, and absolutely recommended (I hope to post more about it in the future).

What do you make of the Brontë quote?

Was she wrong? Too close to see clearly? Or did she perhaps have a point after all?

More later on all this. But meanwhile, have a great holiday week.

6 Comments

  1. That Brontë quote opens Tanner’s introduction to my old Penguin P&P. It’s a good essay; I assume it encapsulates some of Tanner’s observations in the book.

    I’ve always thought Brontë’s antipathy sprang partly from Austen’s conscious rejection of overwrought expression. In P&P and Northanger Abbey, and even more clearly in Sanditon, Austen mocks pomposity and pseudo-high-falutin’ sentiment.

    As to whether Brontë had a point, certainly Austen’s style is closer to a comedy of manners, while Brontë’s own style is more overtly Gothic. However, calling Austen “carefully fenced” is underrating her. A number of her characters can be read as standing against social mores and making scandalous marriages without substantial repercussions–all the same things the Brontës’ characters do, but without being punished for it. So in some ways perhaps the comparison highlights why Austen’s works have become the ur-texts of modern romance: women advance their stations in life without making horrendous sacrifices or betraying their character, feelings, or family.

    So to my mind the two authors’ differences around “vivid physiognomy” and “open country” aren’t as dramatic as Brontë claims. From what I’ve read, too, Brontë was given to aggrandizing her own rebelliousness. Her life was more circumscribed than Austen’s, her characters are hemmed in as much as Austen’s, and she had that tendency to run down other authors (including her sister Anne) in her correspondence with critics. (There’s an interesting Penguin edition of Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey, with “A memoir of her sisters by Charlotte Brontë” and introduction by Angeline Goreau. To me, the memoir and intro read as though Charlotte Brontë may have found it difficult to admire a style not her own.)

  2. Charlotte Brontë may have found it difficult to admire a style not her own

    Except, of course, Thackeray’s. But perhaps a woman’s style not her own — yes, thanks, RfP, that does sound right.

    I do think the “open country” issue is apposite and interesting. But the real reason I posted this, I think (besides just for the pleasure of commenting on Tanner as I go) is because I’m fascinated by the roots of the romance-novel-as-we-know-it genre… the twists from an Austen to a Brontë (at least two Brontë’s… I haven’t read Anne).

  3. “perhaps a woman’s style not her own”

    D’you know, I almost said that. But then I wondered whether I were doing the same to her, in a way. After all, her jabs and bossings-around might seem to be all directed at women simply because most of her peers were women. Nonetheless, it does have that feel to it; the more so having read that edition of Agnes Grey, which casts her as extraordinarily controlling. Apart from any broader gender prejudices, it seems pretty clear that she was unable or unwilling to see Anne’s talent and accordingly determined to keep Anne’s work from publication.

    “I do think the ‘open country’ issue is apposite and interesting.”

    It is interesting. My own curiosity about it is partly because I tend to remember the elder Brontës’ wild moors more as backdrops to Grand Guignol drama than as artful depictions of the inner/outer world. However, when I sit down to re-read the Brontës, I find them more engrossing than that would indicate; it’s similar to my reaction to some of the squickier erotic romances such as Lora Leigh; between readings I tend to forget that she’s a good storyteller but remember the over-the-top aspects.

    On the other hand, I adore inner/outer landscapes as a theme. E.g. Neil Gunn’s Scottish Highlands settings mold and are molded by his characters’ psyches, and through some quirk of writerly/readerly chemistry that interplay suits me perfectly.

    (I recently read about a study finding that our memories are less reliable for experiences that provoke mixed emotions, so these themes have been on my mind. Pardon my ruminating all over your blog.)

  4. I love it when you ruminate all over my blog, Pleasurereader. It tickles. Please feel free, and forgive me that I can’t respond to every point you make. And also do note that this blog now links to yours, as a Blog I Read.

    I haven’t reread Jane Eyre in a while, but one of the last projects my late, beloved book group tackled was Wuthering Heights and Villette with a chaser of William Blake. The inner/outer landscape stuff in both Brontë books was a wonder, from Cathy’s ghostchild hand coming through the window in the beginning to the lovers’ wandering unquiet spirits at the end. And Villette is wonderful as well for its spacial imagination.

    While as for the conversations between women writers (and Charlotte Brontë’s relationship to all of this), I heartily recommend Ellen Moers’ Literary Women, the chapter on nineteenth century “Epic Age.” Literary Women was written during the 70s, and is betrays the heady enthusiasms of that chapter in feminist thought — hardly a bad thing, even if scholarship might have emended certain overstatements since then.

    Meanwhile, tell me more about Neil Gunn, whom I’ve never ever heard of.

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