segunda-feira, 30 de dezembro de 2013
Another Kind of Work From Jane Austen
By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER
Jane Austen once referred to her novels as fine brushwork on two inches of ivory, producing ''little effect after much labor.'' But when it came to embroidery, she seems to have preferred a somewhat broader canvas.
At least that's how it appears from a cross-stitch sampler by Austen, to be publicly displayed for the first time at Oxford's Bodleian Library for one day only on Thursday, in conjunction with World Book Day. The sampler, which is in a private collection, is dated 1787, the year Austen turned 12. (The stitching is frayed so that it appears to read ''1797.'') It includes a simple prayer, bordered by a few flowering bushes.
It will also be displayed with a pencil-on-vellum portrait of Austen, the authenticity of which has been much debated since its discovery was announced in December. The sampler, which does not seem to have stirred equal controversy, has a note on the back stating that an early owner was ''related to Jane Austen the novelist'' and that she had ''received it as a memento'' of Austen's life, according to a statement from the Bodleian.
Embroidery and Oxford, as it happens, both come in for a brief mention in at least one of Austen's novels. In ''Northanger Abbey'' the clergyman Henry Tilne brags to the Gothic-novel-guzzling Catherine Morland that he has read more books than she has, saying: ''Consider how many years I have had the start of you. I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working on your sampler at home!''
''Not very good, I'm afraid,'' Catherine responds. ''But now really, do not you think 'Udolpho' the nicest book in the world?''
This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 17:48
For the Love of Jane, and All Her Creations
By BARBARA STEWART
YOU want to talk about Jane?" said Barbara Crafton, an Episcopal priest and writer from Metuchen. She could have been referring to an admired elder sister. But the Jane she means is Jane Austen, dead nearly 200 years.
The fans of Jane Austen, unlike those of, say, Ernest Hemingway or Anthony Trollope or the Beastie Boys, call her by her given name. Janeites know they are taking liberties. In Jane Austen's day, the late 1700's and early 1800's, a lady's given name was used only by her family and very close friends. Jane Austen's fans consider themselves intimates -- of Jane Austen and of her characters, who they know in their heads are fictional and in their hearts are real.
Thus, the Jane Austen Society of North America, founded 20 years ago by J. David Grey, a high school English teacher who lived in Spring Lake, consists largely of people who aren't professors or academics, but simply fans. The first little gathering of Janeites has grown to a society of 2,800 across the continent. Mr. Grey, who died at 57 in 1993, was not strictly an academic but an amateur in the finest sense of the word, a man who loved Austen's works simply for themselves.
The society he founded has no New Jersey chapter per se, and members from the state attend meetings mostly in New York or Philadelphia. But that doesn't make them any less devoted.
This has been a good year for Janeites. The movie "Persuasion" received great reviews, as did "Clueless," a ditsy up-to-date rewrite of "Emma" populated by Beverly Hills teen-agers with cellular phones and slick cars. "Sense and Sensibility," starring Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant, is to open in December, and the BBC is producing a new version of "Pride and Prejudice."
Jane Austen, who died before she was 40, completed six novels, all about love and marriage. The heroines are smart young women. The other characters are ladies and gentlemen, including buffoons, pretentious people and the Oxford version of beer-swigging college guys. The language is elegant. The wit is arch and crackling, but not vicious.
Love, hate, irritation, longing, the chasing of attractive men are conveyed in beautifully formed sentences, full of implication. There's no hitting, no kissing. There's lots of concern about money, and appreciation for rolling green lawns and hedged-in gardens and parlors with pianofortes. The big historic events -- the Napoleonic Wars, the slave trade, Dickensian poverty -- do not brush the novels' surface. The novels, all of them, end with appropriate marriages. The plots are getting the young women there.
"She's coming back," said Natalie Fine, 73, an Austen Society member who lives in a retirement home in Monroe Township. "She talks about three or four ordinary families in a village. It's the people; it's the words. It doesn't need sex or violence."
Certainly, many writers have fan clubs, or literary societies. But Janeites do it with a single-minded ardor the other societies lack.
Ms. Crafton joined the Jane Austen Society of North America after seeing a T-shirt on a parishioner: "I'd rather be reading Jane Austen." She, like 400 others, travels annually to a distant city to spend four days talking, listening, watching plays and movies about, eating the food of, wearing the ball dresses and dancing the dances of Jane Austen and the 18th century. If the characters in "Mansfield Park" ate roast duck for breakfast, so do the Janeites. They are willing to listen to a lecturer read from a list the price of the Austen bed linen.
What Ms. Crafton likes, she says, is the wit of women. Of women on the page and at the banquet table.
"The company of women is so droll," she said. "We get so satiric when we get going. That's what reading her is like: being with great women. Like a great, great lunch. Life is so tawdry and rude and coarse, and this is so civilized."
The Janeites are homemakers, English teachers, proofreaders, librarians, the occasional lawyer or public relations executive. Most are women -- normal women, by all accounts, except when it comes to the novels. One reads a bit of an Austen novel each night before going to sleep, like a devout Christian with the Bible. Another knit herself a sweater with the names of the novels and characters, making sure she would sit on "Pride and Prejudice." The Janeites look forward to newsletters on the health of the cats at the old Austen house in Chawton, England.
"It's like a big family reunion," said Florence Spencer, 68, of Monroe Township, who traveled with Mrs. Fine recently to join 400 others at an Austen convention in Madison, Wis. "There's something about her that the people who like her are people you like."
AT one convention, she said, a speaker, referring to characters in "Sense and Sensibility," announced, "I don't think Elinor should have married Edmund," and 150 heads in the room nodded. "The next hour we spent pairing up people who should have married." People who exist, of course, only on the pages of Austen's novels and in the minds of her fans.
"You know these people," Ms. Fine said. "You meet them in your everyday life. You meet somebody and say, 'That's Emma's father' or 'That's Anne Elliot.' "
That is one reason some academics take a dim view of Janeites, said Claudia Johnson, a Princeton University professor who likes them. Some academics think Janeites are soppy, sloppy readers who reduce proper, elevated literary criticism to literary gossip about fictional characters. Furthermore, they regard reading as sociable, not private, as proper academics do.
"To them she's a living presence, not a dry academic subject," Ms. Johnson said. "But they can be very knowledgeable readers with an incredible eye for details."
And even academics seem to melt a bit in the face of some Austen heroines. "Elizabeth Bennet," said A. Walton Litz, a Princeton University English professor and author of a book on Austen, "is as free a spirit as ever walked into a novel. She is about as attractive a character as ever appeared."
Hollywood, having left Edith Wharton since "The Age of Innocence," will surely drop Jane Austen, too. When that happens, her real fans, the ones who feel they know Anne Elliot of "Persuasion" as well as their college roommates, will still be getting together for cream teas, debate on the type of silk ribbon Emma once bought at the village store, and recreating, for a few emphemeral hours, a world of order, courtesy and understated loyalties and love.
"She shows," Ms. Johnson said, "that adventure is very interior. You don't have to go out and travel. You simply have to be alert to your own life."
Photos: The novelist Jane Austen in a portrait by her sister,Cassandra, and a plaque at her home in Chawton, England, donated by her fans.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 17:43
It Takes All Kinds; Jane Austen: The Cool Artist
By Charles McGrath
There are only two known likenesses of Jane Austen, both by her older sister, Cassandra. In one her back is turned, so that we mostly see her bonnet; in the other she is poker-faced and looking askance. ''Of events her life was singularly barren,'' her nephew claimed, and her letters, or those that her family didn't burn, reveal almost nothing of the person who wrote them. Yet the evidence suggests that Austen's life was full of inner drama. She experienced maternal rejection and sibling rivalry; she was unhappy in love and had trouble with relationships; she suffered from writer's block and bouts of depression. And her novels powerfully suggest both a world and a personality that now seems remarkably familiar. Under that bonnet and behind those vacant hazel eyes there burns the first modern sensibility.
It's a sensibility, for one thing, that's fraught with our kind of financial anxiety. Unlike Defoe or Dickens, Austen isn't concerned with extremes of wealth or poverty. What interests her is the way that money underpins the social fabric of a middle class that is otherwise precariously unstable. Money for Austen is both necessary and vulgar, and for that reason it's also sexy. Austen's other great insight is that in such a highly wrought society, the self is necessarily self-conscious and provisional. In the novelists she grew up on, Fielding and Richardson, character is fate: you are who you were born to be. In Austen, who you are is a role you play. (Discomfort with this recognition may account for why, in Austen's oddest and least popular novel, ''Mansfield Park,'' Fanny Price gets so worked up over the issue of amateur theatricals; it's more playacting than she can handle.) Austen's characters, even the most clearheaded and authentic, like Elizabeth Bennet and Elinor Dashwood, are always acting, saying less or other than they mean; and in such a treacherous arena, where a single word or gesture can mean everything or nothing at all, it's not just poor Emma Woodhouse but apparently sensible people like Anne Elliot who are often clueless.
Austen's world (which is to say our world) would be unendurable if she weren't so funny about it, and this, of course, is her most essential invention of all -- her encompassing irony. It's a matter not just of shrewd social observation but also of something brand-new, an ability to stand apart from life even as it's being lived, and a quicksilver narrative technique that puts us almost inside a character's head and then in an instant, with just a word sometimes, darts away to someplace else. Of herself, Austen gives away nothing directly; she's everywhere and nowhere. She was the original master of what we now call ''cool.''
Photo: (Pierpont Morgan Library/Art Resource)
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 17:35
Pretty Words, Jane; Would That You Were Too
By CHARLES McGRATH
IDEAS & TRENDS
NOBODY knows for sure what Jane Austen looked like, which is causing some of her admirers a degree of anxiety these days. Was she attractive or not? What if, to put it bluntly, she became a writer in part because she didn’t have the looks to land a husband along the lines of a Mr. Darcy or a Mr. Knightley?
There is no definitive portrait. Scholars think that a small pencil-and-watercolor sketch by her older sister, Cassandra, now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London, is a fairly trustworthy likeness, though a niece, Anna, said that the Cassandra sketch was “hideously unlike” her aunt. It shows a rather plain woman on the wrong side of 30 in a spinsterish cap, with what may even be a hint of a scowl.
The image is sufficiently homely that Wordsworth Editions, a British publisher, recently decided to Photoshop it, removing the frumpy headgear and giving Jane some hair extensions and a bit of blush in her cheeks. This airbrushed version (inspired perhaps by “Becoming Jane,” the new biopic starring beautiful, bosomy Anne Hathaway, showing in Britain this month and scheduled for release in the United States in August) will appear on the cover of a re-issue of a memoir of Austen by her nephew.
Austen “wasn’t much of a looker,” Helen Trayler, the managing director of Wordsworth, told reporters in Britain. “She’s the most inspiring, readable author, but to put her on the cover wouldn’t be very inspiring at all.”
Ms. Trayler added that she was also thinking of making over “George Eliot, who was frumpy, and William Wordsworth, who was pretty hideous.”
The Austen makeover is actually fairly convincing, compared to the “forensic” portrait painted in 2002 that hangs in Bath, where Austen lived from 1801 to 1806. The painter, Melissa Dring, who had worked as a police sketch artist, said she based her likeness on contemporary recollections of Austen, which are all pretty vague and don’t say much except that Austen was “very attractive” and “like a doll.” The resulting picture, with excessively large eyes and features that don’t quite fit together, has some of the quality of a wanted poster.
And then there is the so-called Rice Portrait, which Christie’s is putting up for auction on April 19. The painting, the work of the English society artist Ozias Humphry, shows a girl of about 14 or 15 — no great beauty, it has to be said, though at least she’s not scowling — standing in a landscape while wearing a white dress and carrying a parasol.
The owner of the picture, Henry Rice, a sixth-generation descendant of one of Austen’s brothers, says he believes that it depicts his ancestor Jane, and indeed if you squint at it a little, the face does bear a certain resemblance to the one in the Cassandra sketch. Some costume experts, however, believe that the girl’s outfit — empire-waist gown, short hair, flat, slipper-like shoes — didn’t come into fashion until Austen was out of her teens. It was a look popularized by Emma Hamilton after she took up with Lord Nelson and became the ideal of what an 18th-century beauty should look like.
Whether or not buyers believe the picture is of Austen will make a big difference to the sale, of course, and so Christie’s is auctioning the painting in its New York salesroom, presumably on the theory that Americans are less apt to get bogged down in historical nitpicking and may not care that the National Portrait Gallery has turned down the Rice Portrait on five different occasions.
But as long as we have her books, does it matter, really, what Austen looked like? It might matter less if we understood more about her in general; yet in many ways we know less about Austen than we do about Shakespeare, of whom we have many more likenesses, or purported likenesses, as well.
From the few letters that her family did not succeed in burning, we have just a few tantalizing clues: that though she received one marriage proposal (which she first accepted, then turned down) Austen was generally unlucky in love, and suffered from sibling rivalry and bouts of depression and writer’s block. It’s not even possible to infer a whole lot about her from her work, the way that Stephen Greenblatt, for example, so ingeniously pieced together a portrait of Shakespeare and his world from a close reading of his plays.
Austen exists in her novels as a disembodied, quicksilver intelligence — now making a general observation, then slipping into a character’s head, then darting across the room to eavesdrop on a conversation — but from her novels you would scarcely know that England was at war with Napoleon at the time.
Despite what many readers assume, there is not a lot of physical description of people in Austen’s novels; she clearly puts more value on qualities like wit, intelligence and firmness of character — precisely those qualities devotees wish were more in evidence in the sourpuss Cassandra portrait. Yet we know that Austen lived in an age when a woman’s physical attractiveness was, next to her fortune, her greatest asset.
The family believes that the Rice Portrait was commissioned by Austen’s uncle Francis, who wanted to advertise her marriageability — sort of the way debutantes in this country used to have their photographs taken by Fabian Bachrach. If the Cassandra sketch is the truer likeness, then that’s as much a blow to latter-day admirers (who’d like to see at least a hint of the wit and vivacity that so animated her writing) as it might have been to 18th-century suitors.
Austen’s relative lack of interest in exterior appearance may itself be a clue of sorts. She probably wasn’t much of a looker. And why we care must have something to do with might be called the BBC-ification of Austen — the way that her books have, over and over, been transformed into successful movies and highbrow TV series.
We’ve watched them so often that we think we really do know what Austen’s people looked like, and the men — the good ones, anyway — are all hunks and the women are all adorable, with just a hint of gingham-gowned sexiness. That their creator might not be part of this club seems unfair. We can accept that Austen might have been a Cinderella — underappreciated, with an elusive beauty of character and intellect that maybe took a little getting used to — but the dreary spinster of the Cassandra sketch isn’t anyone we recognize.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 17:29