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Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Nostalgia

The wit (almost always gentle) and poking fun at some of her characters are certainly there, but that's a different thing from my understanding of satire. There are many books that are witty at the expense of some of their characters, but that doesn't constitute satire as I use the term, and as it is used in, for example, the Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory.

Satire to me is crueler, more pointed than Austen, and much less concerned with a sympathetic presentation and portrayal of the characters and their progress through the story. One dictionary defines satire as "A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit." I don't see attacking human vice as at all central to Austen's novels (I suppose you could say that she attacks the vice of seduction in Wickham, but almost every novel has to have some wickedness for the characters to overcome, so that doesn't constitute satire). Nor is attacking folly central to her message. In P&P, for example, the only significant characters we could really consider foolish are Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins, and Mrs. Bennett is treated much more gently than satire would call for. And none other than Wickham have any serious vices that she attacks, and society doesn't need an attack on the vice of seduction of young ladies through satire to understand it as bad (which is the primary function of satire).

I don't see Austen as attacking the folly of class and gender; certainly she recognizes their existence, but in the end she almost always affirms the social values which surround her by marrying off her characters in very traditional marriages which accept the social conventions. Hardly an attack.

There is a vast difference between Austen's gentle amusement at the silliness of some of her characters and the satire of, say, Pope's Rape of the Lock or Swift's Modest Proposal. Even Vanity Fair is a much more pointed work than any of Austen's. When you look at the overall genre of satire, Austen is at best (or worst, depending on your point of view) only marginally on the fringes.


JesseBC wrote:
You'd have a hard time getting that past anyone who's studied Austen when she has all the earmarks of a satirist -- heavy use of irony, ridiculing the folly of class and gender relationships of the time, the evident sarcasm right from the opening line.

Especially looking at a character like Mrs. Bennet, it's clear Austen wasn't intending to be taken entirely seriously except, perhaps, by the very people she was mocking.





Everyman wrote:
I wouldn't say that Austen was writing satire.

JesseBC wrote:
Oh, cool! There's somebody still around!

I think the gist of the Salon article was that the Austen fad is missing the joke (and therefore, unwittingly, becoming the butt of it). They're interpreting as serious what was written as satire.





CallMeLeo wrote:
Thanks for sharing the column from Salon.com. I agree, JesseBC, much of the concentration is on the romance rather than on the class and gender issues in her work, and often the sutblety with which she approaches these subjects is passed over for the romance alone. Sad but true that we are idealizing a time of economic and social repression for women.



JesseBC wrote:
I'll keep this short since it doesn't appear anyone's still around to discuss the book. But the question of nostalgia was the focus of a recent Salon article about the current Jane Austen fad -- the idea being that Austen is enjoying a surge of popularity as a Regency romance writer and her role as a cultural satirist is being overlooked.

Which I think addresses some of the questions as to, for example, whether Mr. Bennett is a sympathetic character or an insensitive brute who isn't concerned about marrying off his daughters to wealthy men. That choice itself between marrying off a daughter like selling a piece of furniture versus having her turned out of her home on her ear are exactly the kinds of things Austen was criticizing. It wasn't all just fancy ballgowns and sassy heroines making doe-eyes at tall, dark, and handsomes.


http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2007/06/27/jane_austen/index.html














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JesseBC
Posts: 278
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Early Chapters Discussion: Nostalgia

I don't know if what you're describing here is a limited view of satire or has more to do with the time- and audience-constrained nature of satire.

There's no iron-clad law that satire has to be mean-spirited or attacking in tone. Garrison Keillor, for example, is about as far from mean-spirited and attacking as a comic performer can get, but he's still doing the basic work of satire -- using irony to (in this case, gently) mock the Midwestern subculture.

But the real bite of satire is often limited to a certain time and audience and, beyond that, the joke can be intellectually appreciated, but doesn't carry the same punch. If I were a contemporary of Austen's and inclined to think like Mrs. Bennet? Then I'd probably think she was mean, sarcastic, and disruptive to the social order. Instead, the social conventions that Austen finds ridiculous are so far removed from my experience that, while I can understand that a joke is being told, the punchline is, sadly, lost on me.




Everyman wrote:
The wit (almost always gentle) and poking fun at some of her characters are certainly there, but that's a different thing from my understanding of satire. There are many books that are witty at the expense of some of their characters, but that doesn't constitute satire as I use the term, and as it is used in, for example, the Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory.

Satire to me is crueler, more pointed than Austen, and much less concerned with a sympathetic presentation and portrayal of the characters and their progress through the story. One dictionary defines satire as "A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit." I don't see attacking human vice as at all central to Austen's novels (I suppose you could say that she attacks the vice of seduction in Wickham, but almost every novel has to have some wickedness for the characters to overcome, so that doesn't constitute satire). Nor is attacking folly central to her message. In P&P, for example, the only significant characters we could really consider foolish are Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins, and Mrs. Bennett is treated much more gently than satire would call for. And none other than Wickham have any serious vices that she attacks, and society doesn't need an attack on the vice of seduction of young ladies through satire to understand it as bad (which is the primary function of satire).

I don't see Austen as attacking the folly of class and gender; certainly she recognizes their existence, but in the end she almost always affirms the social values which surround her by marrying off her characters in very traditional marriages which accept the social conventions. Hardly an attack.

There is a vast difference between Austen's gentle amusement at the silliness of some of her characters and the satire of, say, Pope's Rape of the Lock or Swift's Modest Proposal. Even Vanity Fair is a much more pointed work than any of Austen's. When you look at the overall genre of satire, Austen is at best (or worst, depending on your point of view) only marginally on the fringes.


JesseBC wrote:
You'd have a hard time getting that past anyone who's studied Austen when she has all the earmarks of a satirist -- heavy use of irony, ridiculing the folly of class and gender relationships of the time, the evident sarcasm right from the opening line.

Especially looking at a character like Mrs. Bennet, it's clear Austen wasn't intending to be taken entirely seriously except, perhaps, by the very people she was mocking.





Everyman wrote:
I wouldn't say that Austen was writing satire.

JesseBC wrote:
Oh, cool! There's somebody still around!

I think the gist of the Salon article was that the Austen fad is missing the joke (and therefore, unwittingly, becoming the butt of it). They're interpreting as serious what was written as satire.





CallMeLeo wrote:
Thanks for sharing the column from Salon.com. I agree, JesseBC, much of the concentration is on the romance rather than on the class and gender issues in her work, and often the sutblety with which she approaches these subjects is passed over for the romance alone. Sad but true that we are idealizing a time of economic and social repression for women.



JesseBC wrote:
I'll keep this short since it doesn't appear anyone's still around to discuss the book. But the question of nostalgia was the focus of a recent Salon article about the current Jane Austen fad -- the idea being that Austen is enjoying a surge of popularity as a Regency romance writer and her role as a cultural satirist is being overlooked.

Which I think addresses some of the questions as to, for example, whether Mr. Bennett is a sympathetic character or an insensitive brute who isn't concerned about marrying off his daughters to wealthy men. That choice itself between marrying off a daughter like selling a piece of furniture versus having her turned out of her home on her ear are exactly the kinds of things Austen was criticizing. It wasn't all just fancy ballgowns and sassy heroines making doe-eyes at tall, dark, and handsomes.


http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2007/06/27/jane_austen/index.html

















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