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Bill_T
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Questions for David Shapard

This is where we can place direct questions to David Shapard -- our opportunity to ask him to elaborate on his wonderful annotations, or to illuminate other parts of Austen's text, as well as the historical context of Pride and Prejudice.
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Everyman
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Re: Questions for David Shapard

In an earlier discussion of P&P, the question was asked what the role of Mary was in the book. She, and Kitty but to a lesser extent, have much less central roles. In your reading and thinking of the book, did you come to any insight as to why Austen included Mary and whether she plays a more important role than at first appears to be the case?
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DavidShapard
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Re: Questions for David Shapard


Everyman wrote:
In an earlier discussion of P&P, the question was asked what the role of Mary was in the book. She, and Kitty but to a lesser extent, have much less central roles. In your reading and thinking of the book, did you come to any insight as to why Austen included Mary and whether she plays a more important role than at first appears to be the case?




WARNING: THIS MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT FINISHED THE NOVEL

That is a very interesting question. I don't in fact think that Mary plays that important a role - I don't see any way that she figures into the plot. But there still are reasons for having her.

The most obvious, and probably principal reason, is simply to be another sister. The story centers around the Bennet family, with a particular emphasis on the financial difficulties created by the lack of an inheritance due to their being only a family of girls. Three of the daughters - Jane, Elizabeth, and Lydia - play vital roles in the plot, but there are a number of reasons one can imagine why the author did not wish to have only those three. First, it makes sense that parents who want to have a son to deal with the entail would keep trying multiple times before finally giving up. Second, the more girls the worse each one's financial plight is, due to the division of what little inheritance they have and the greater difficulties for their parents to save money, and that financial plight is very important. Third, the novel wants to show how both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have been poor parents, in their respective ways: since Jane and Elizabeth are sensible, and have to be for the story, it is necessary to have three daughters who are foolish in order to have the majority show the ill effect of their parenting. Fourth, the more foolish daughters, the more embarrassments, and courtship difficulties, the family can cause for Jane and Elizabeth. Fifth, the more daughters, the more plausible is Mr. Bennet's characteristic policy of retreating away from the family in order to spend his time in the library. There may be additional reasons one could imagine.

Granted, for some combination of reasons like that, a story with that number of daughters, it then was necessary to give each distinctive characters, including those who played roles of limited importance. Jane Austen is the last author not to make each of her characters distinctive. Kitty was made a great deal like Lydia, and her mother (in fact, in her concern for her health she echoes her mother more than Lydia). This gives the whole family a flighty air; Kitty also serves to abet and encourage Lydia in her tendencies.

As for Mary, she goes in a different direction. Some have suggested that Jane Austen intended her to be a kind of literary satire, directed against the often sententious, moralizing books that existed then (and that Mary frequently quotes from). That makes sense. One could imagine that there were people at the time who did try to distinguish themselves by constantly preaching the lessons they learned in books, and Jane Austen may have wished to present a brief sketch of such a person. Moreover, such such a character creates greater variety in the family than having a third flirtatious and giddy daughter would. She in fact represents an interesting combination of her father's bookishness and her mother's lack of sense. Jane Austen may also have wished her to represent another type of folly for young women to avoid, as if saying that Lydia and Kitty's type of folly is not the only type one needs to guard against. Moreover, the author did find a number of particular passages where she was able to use Mary for some comic relief, passages that do help fill out the novel even if they are not absolutely critical.
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Re: Questions for David Shapard

Thanks for that detailed reply. Interesting!

I like your suggestion "As for Mary, she goes in a different direction. Some have suggested that Jane Austen intended her to be a kind of literary satire, directed against the often sententious, moralizing books that existed then (and that Mary frequently quotes from)."

And I agree with you that Mary provides a bit of comic relief, which isn't prevalent otherwise in the book (not counting, of course, the trademark sly wit which runs through the book like blood through the body. But that's different from comic relief.)

I had wondered at one point whether Mary might be a bit of a self-portrait; did Jane see herself as different from other girls, more bookish, not popular, concerned more with reading "great books" (with special thanks for your annotation on that; I hadn't realized she was using the term in that way, and it makes much more sense than our modern usage of the term -- for anybody to whom this parenthetical remark doesn't make sense, get David's book and page 11, note 10) than with frippery (though as you comment in another note she does talk in her letters about trimming hats.) At any rate, do you think there's any sense in which she might have been writing in either a semi-self portrait or a caricature of herself in Mary?
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DavidShapard
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Re: Questions for David Shapard



Everyman wrote:
I had wondered at one point whether Mary might be a bit of a self-portrait; did Jane see herself as different from other girls, more bookish, not popular, concerned more with reading "great books" (with special thanks for your annotation on that; I hadn't realized she was using the term in that way, and it makes much more sense than our modern usage of the term -- for anybody to whom this parenthetical remark doesn't make sense, get David's book and page 11, note 10) than with frippery (though as you comment in another note she does talk in her letters about trimming hats.) At any rate, do you think there's any sense in which she might have been writing in either a semi-self portrait or a caricature of herself in Mary?




That's an intriquing idea, one I had never thought of. It is possible that she is thining of herself, or at least of certain traits she noticed within herself. One can never be certain what is going on within an author's head. At the same time, what biographical information we have about her indicates she was different from Mary. First, relating to your point about trimming hats, she did show some interest in fashion and other matters that Mary pointedly disdains. Her letters from her youth, when she was an age close to Mary, show someone who took a definite interest in dancing and young men, and from later years they show someone who paid attention to practical matters, such as those relating to the household - another area Mary neglects in her pursuit of her own accomplishments.

Second, I get a sense - though this is something that's hard to be certain of - that Jane Austen was a relatively reserved and self-contained person, who did not seek to put herself forward in company. At the least she must have been a very observant person, to portray people so well in her novels, and generally those always speaking themselves, or trying to think of what next to say, are usually unable to observe others well. This would make her very different from Mary, who seems to see every conversation as an opportunity for her to parade her learning before others, and who does not seem particularly observant (as seen in her being impressed by Mr. Collins's intellect - Ch. 22).
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lablover
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Re: Questions for David Shapard

I have a question regarding advowson, specifically, for whom does Mr. Collins work -Lady Catherine? Or the church? To whom is he responsible? Does Lady Catherine have the right to dictate doctrine to Mr. Collins, as she already has reviewed two sermons?
How can he serve his parishoners faithfully if he is basically owned by Lady Catherine? I assume Mr. Collins is a Protestant but this buying of positions and being beholden to the rich sounds very much like what Luther rebelled against.
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Re: Questions for David Shapard


lablover wrote:
I have a question regarding advowson, specifically, for whom does Mr. Collins work -Lady Catherine? Or the church? To whom is he responsible? Does Lady Catherine have the right to dictate doctrine to Mr. Collins, as she already has reviewed two sermons?
How can he serve his parishoners faithfully if he is basically owned by Lady Catherine? I assume Mr. Collins is a Protestant but this buying of positions and being beholden to the rich sounds very much like what Luther rebelled against.




The short answer is that Mr. Collins works for the Church, and that he is not owned by Lady Catherine. She owns the advowson, which is the right to appoint Mr. Collins, or someone else, to the position; she also can pass on that right to her heir. But once Mr. Collins has the position, she cannot simply fire him. She certainly cannot dictate to him what he says in his sermons, at least if he does not allow it.

This does not mean that the owner of the clerical living cannot still exercise great influence. First, if the owner is also the leading landowner in the area, as seems to be true of Lady Catherine, she or he has tremendous influence over all its affairs, and any clergyman who ran afoul of that owner would find his own ability to get much done, especially in the community, seriously impaired. Second, the owner was responsible for the upkeep and improvement of the clergyman's residence - Lady Catherine's generosity in that regard is mentioned. Third, the owner may possess other livings, or may have friends or relations who possess them, and thus a clergyman who wants to get others in order to increase his income has a strong incentive to curry the owner's favor.

All this helps explain why Mr. Collins is so subservient to Lady Catherine - though it is not the whole explanation. Most clergy did not toady to the extent of Mr. Collings: his own obsequious personality, along with Lady Catherine's domineering one, obviously must be considered as well.

As for the issue of Protestantism and abuse, it is true that this was the sort of abuse that Luther and other reformers denounced (though I don't believe this particularly was one of Luther's main targets). There were people in England at this time who criticized the system, or at least certain aspects of it. For example, Jane Austen's clerical brother, James, refused a temporary appointment because he thought it was tainted by simony, the buying or selling of clerical office.

But most accepted and supported it (James Austen's wife disliked his refusal, since she felt the family needed the money). Partly this was because of a general acceptance of social hierarchy, which made people think it was right that wealthy and prominent people exercise influence over all aspects of life, including the Church. Partly it was because of a belief that the affairs of the local community would be best served if its two leading figures, the richest landowner and the clergyman, were closely tied to each other and thus likely to work together to manage the affairs of the parish. Most would have said that a clergyman best served his parishioners by acting in such a way.

I hope this helps. I would be happy to go into greater detail on any of these points.
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CallMeLeo
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Re: Questions for David Shapard


DavidShapard wrote:

Third, the owner may possess other livings, or may have friends or relations who possess them, and thus a clergyman who wants to get others in order to increase his income has a strong incentive to curry the owner's favor.





Dr. Shapard;

What would be a clergyman's responsibility to his other livings, and in a world where livings represent additional income, is there danger of his not fulfilling them?
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Re: Questions for David Shapard


CallMeLeo wrote:
What would be a clergyman's responsibility to his other livings, and in a world where livings represent additional income, is there danger of his not fulfilling them?





Absolutely: many clergy held multiple livings. All they had to do was hire someone else to perform the basic duties. Such a peson was a curate, an ordained clergyman who did not have his own position. The curate would live in the parish and perform all the duties. A substantial portion of the parishes in England were presided over by curates. The curate's salary was generally very low, due to the oversupply of qualified clergy relative to positions available. This meant the holder of the living got most of its income, without doing any of the work. For this reason, some holders of livings would hire a curate for every parish they had. This could lead to criticism of the individual person for irresponsibility, but few people at this time criticized the overall system for creating this possibility.

As to how this affected the parishioners, it usually did not a great deal, since curates could generally fulfill the basic duties of the position as well as the actual holder.
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Everyman
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Re: Questions for David Shapard

Great discussion on the award of livings, David. It's an important part not only of several of Austen's novels, but of many of Trollope's and other period writers.
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Re: Questions for David Shapard


Everyman wrote:
Great discussion on the award of livings, David. It's an important part not only of several of Austen's novels, but of many of Trollope's and other period writers.




Indeed. The plot of what is perhaps Trollope's best known novel, "Barchester Towers", if I remember correctly, involves the family of a clergyman with a very wealthy living who has been living in Italy, and is pressured to return to England and resume his duties.
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Re: Questions for David Shapard

Thank you so much for answering my question, it really helped me understand the society. Just to be clear: Lady Catherine can't fire Mr. Collins, but she can make his life very unpleasant if she wants to?
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DavidShapard
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Re: Questions for David Shapard



lablover wrote:
Thank you so much for answering my question, it really helped me understand the society. Just to be clear: Lady Catherine can't fire Mr. Collins, but she can make his life very unpleasant if she wants to?




I'm glad I could help. And your summation of the situation with Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins is exactly right.
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lablover
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Re: Questions for David Shapard

This is the third time I have attempted P&P and I am enjoying it very much. I always gave up after the first few chapters because I didn't understand the peculiar aspects of Regency society (like advowson) and I could never tell when Jane Austen was being sarcastic/ironic or just descriptive. So my question is this: would you please write an annoted "Wuthering Heights" because I can't get through that one either.
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DavidShapard
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Re: Questions for David Shapard



lablover wrote:
This is the third time I have attempted P&P and I am enjoying it very much. I always gave up after the first few chapters because I didn't understand the peculiar aspects of Regency society (like advowson) and I could never tell when Jane Austen was being sarcastic/ironic or just descriptive. So my question is this: would you please write an annoted "Wuthering Heights" because I can't get through that one either.




Well, I will have to see about that one. While I like Wuthering Heights, I don't like it nearly as well as Jane Austen, so I'm not sure if I would want to spend as much time researching it. There are some guides already that help explain it, such as the Norton edition of the novel. You also don't have to worry as much about differences in language because the language is more recent (except for the language of certain characters like Joseph, which is extremely difficult, but fortunately he is not critical to the story). Nor is there ever any real question of whether the author is being sarcastic or ironic. The main barrier is the complexity of the plot and the overall strangeness of the story, and there some general analyses, such as found in the Norton edition, can be helpful (at least if you don't mind having some crucial plot developments revealed in advance).
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Bill_T
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Re: Questions for David Shapard

If I understand you, David, you see the Regency as the last point at which the culture and language were so different as to require this kind of approach to grapple with the author's meaning on a basic level? Or is it that Austen herself represents a kind of heightened or extreme form of this difference, where the distinction between the "straight" meaning and the possible ironic inflection is so hard to work out?



DavidShapard wrote:


lablover wrote:
This is the third time I have attempted P&P and I am enjoying it very much. I always gave up after the first few chapters because I didn't understand the peculiar aspects of Regency society (like advowson) and I could never tell when Jane Austen was being sarcastic/ironic or just descriptive. So my question is this: would you please write an annoted "Wuthering Heights" because I can't get through that one either.




Well, I will have to see about that one. While I like Wuthering Heights, I don't like it nearly as well as Jane Austen, so I'm not sure if I would want to spend as much time researching it. There are some guides already that help explain it, such as the Norton edition of the novel. You also don't have to worry as much about differences in language because the language is more recent (except for the language of certain characters like Joseph, which is extremely difficult, but fortunately he is not critical to the story). Nor is there ever any real question of whether the author is being sarcastic or ironic. The main barrier is the complexity of the plot and the overall strangeness of the story, and there some general analyses, such as found in the Norton edition, can be helpful (at least if you don't mind having some crucial plot developments revealed in advance).


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Re: Questions for David Shapard


Bill_T wrote:
If I understand you, David, you see the Regency as the last point at which the culture and language were so different as to require this kind of approach to grapple with the author's meaning on a basic level? Or is it that Austen herself represents a kind of heightened or extreme form of this difference, where the distinction between the "straight" meaning and the possible ironic inflection is so hard to work out?





I would not put it quite so starkly. My main point was simply that the closer you get to our own time, the less alien the language gets. I do think that by the Victorian period, the period of "Wuthering Heights", you no longer encounter a large number of words that have different meanings than today, at least if you're reading a writer who uses a normal vocabulary of the time. So, while there are plenty of annotated versions of books from that period, or the 20th century, they do not contain nearly as many definitions of words as my book does (possible exceptions to this would be annotations done for writers like Joyce or Nabokov who use deliberately odd or esoteric language).

As for Austen's irony, that also creates an additional reason for annotation, less through the definition than through the explication of sentences whose meaning in not immediately apparent. In her frequent use of irony, Jane Austen is in part following many writers of the 18th century, a time when an ironic voice was very popular. If one is not use to that, it can be confusing.
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Lysistrata
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Re: Questions for David Shapard

Dear David--

I'm halfway through the Annotated P&P and really enjoying the extra dimension of understanding your annotations are adding. I've read the novel innumerable times and thought I understood it, but am finding new things daily thanks to you.

There is one thing upon which you do not comment that I have trouble understanding. It is the use of the phrase "flatter myself". When Mr. Collins uses it I believe it means something like "I flatter myself that [I understand or am right when I say or do] such and such." But how is it used on p. 508 where Elizabeth says "No one but Jane . . .could flatter herself with such an expectation (that Wickham will marry Lydia)???" When used with Mr. Collins, and it is used often, it seems to throw light on his pomposity and fulsome use of language. But the latter is not true of Jane or Elizabeth.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this construction which is certainly no longer in use.

Love and ciao, L.
Love and ciao, Lysistrata
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Re: Questions for David Shapard


Lysistrata wrote:
There is one thing upon which you do not comment that I have trouble understanding. It is the use of the phrase "flatter myself". When Mr. Collins uses it I believe it means something like "I flatter myself that [I understand or am right when I say or do] such and such." But how is it used on p. 508 where Elizabeth says "No one but Jane . . .could flatter herself with such an expectation (that Wickham will marry Lydia)???" When used with Mr. Collins, and it is used often, it seems to throw light on his pomposity and fulsome use of language. But the latter is not true of Jane or Elizabeth.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this construction which is certainly no longer in use.

Love and ciao, L.




Dear Lysistrata,
I'm glad that you are getting so much out of my book, and hope you continue to do so. The example you cite is an interesting one - it makes me think that perhaps I should have defined or explained the term. I guess I hadn't focused on it because it always seemed so clear in context, but your raising it leads me to look at an older dictionary, and I see it does have a very particular meaning.

Essentially to flatter oneself, in the contexts you're mentioning, is to please oneself with a certain belief or idea. Thus Mr. Collins is not specifically trying to praise himself, when, for example, he says to Elizabeth, "This has been my motive, my fair cousin, and I flatter myself it will not sink me in your esteem." He is simply expressing his hope and wish that his avowal of his motives for proposing will not hurt him in Elizabeth's eyes.

Similarly, the sentence about Jane is simply saying that only she, i.e. someone who is always so naively optimistic, would please her fancy, and try to satisfy herself, by supposing that Wickham intends to marry Lydia.
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Lysistrata
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Re: Questions for David Shapard

Dear David--

Thanks so much for your response and for explaining the "flatter myself" construction. "Pleases me to believe..." makes much more sense than what I was thinking. However, I flatter myself that we see it most in Mr. Collins' prose because there is an element of self-flattery involved as well as because he is the most deluded character going around believing whatever he pleases!!!
Love and ciao, Lysistrata
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