Sunday, August 26, 2012

1811-1815 and the Austen Novels

1811-1815 blogging, part 4 of 5
Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma

In these long breaks between the signature 21 Essays series, I relax by considering possibilities for future series.  I spin the roulette wheel to pick a year (or set of years) and then brainstorm on some potential essay topics.  This time the wheel spins, gradually slows, then clicks to a stop, pointing at:  1811-1815. 

So here’s my fourth 1811-1815 series possibility:  21 essays on the Bennets, Dashwoods, and Woodhouses, along with their relatives, neighbors, friends, and foils.

First edition of
Sense and Sensibility.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

During this brief period of 1811 to 1815, Jane Austen enjoyed the publication of most of her greatest works:  Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma.  This was the age of Austen.  Or maybe we’re still in the age of Austen—I imagine it was easier to ignore her in 1815 than it is to ignore her omnipresence today in the age of the Masterpiece Theater mini-series and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

“Jane Austen is worth reading all through—even her fragments are remarkable,” the American critic Edmund Wilson wrote to Vladimir Nabokov.  And it was through Nabokov that I learned that it was okay for boys to read Jane Austen.  In his Lectures on Literature, Nabokov walks his students through Mansfield Park, pointing them toward the precision details of her artistry.  While I was born too late to attend a Nabokov lecture, he still served as a literary mentor of mine and I’ll always appreciate that he led me to Austen.

For a 21 essays series, I could do a gallery of 21 characters brought to life by Austen.  They might include:  Elinor Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood, Fanny Dashwood, John Willoughby, Lucy Steele, Colonel Brandon, Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Darcy, Lydia Bennet, Charles Bingley, Caroline Bingley, George Wickham, William Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Emma Woodhouse, George Knightley, Frank Churchill, Harriet Smith, and Henry Woodhouse.*  These characters should constitute a very impressive gallery of human behavior, circa 1800 (and today as well).

* Note:  You may notice that I’ve left out Mansfield Park from the character gallery above.  Unfortunately, Mansfield Park was the first Austen novel that I read and it just didn’t click with me.  Since then, I’ve loved everything else so I know that I need to return to it.  But until I do, I’m sticking with the three Austen novels from 1811-1815 that I genuinely treasure.

The Bennet family at home.  A Pride and Prejudiceillustration by Hugh Thomson,
circa 1894.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Tomorrow, I’ll propose the last of these 1811-1815 ideas (with no promises that I’ll necessarily be getting to any of them…).  But I’m wide open to other suggestions.  Any ideas for 1811-1815 places, books, poems, songs, paintings, or other cultural artifacts that might inspire a good 21 Essays series?

© 2012 Lee Price

No comments:

Post a Comment