Thursday, October 09, 2008

Romance in the Wake of Jane Austen

On Saturday evening, Eric Selinger, Pamela Regis, Mary Bly/Eloisa James, and I presented a panel on popular romance fiction for 2008 Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America, held in Chicago.

First, I have to say how wonderful the whole conference was. Maggie Sullivan blogs about it on AustenBlog (1, 2, 3, 4). My dear friend, William Phillips, did a fabulous job as Program Chair (and congratulations to him on his marriage last month to his partner of 32 years!). I especially liked the addition of Poster Sessions (of which Sullivan presented one!), but the Breakout Sessions and the Plenary Sessions were wonderful, and the Ball was beautifully organized and pulled off. Kudos to everyone on the organizational committee!

Our panel ran the same time as the Regency Ball. Not everyone goes to the Ball, after all, and previous concurrent sessions have done well. As I basically strong-armed William into letting us have the panel in the first place ("What do you mean you're running an entire conference on Jane Austen's Legacy and you don't have anything on popular romance fiction?!?!?!"), I was very happy with our placement. As such, with 650 conference attendees, I planned for 150 people at our panel (150 handouts, 160 free books), but hoped for about 100.

I tried to count the chairs in the room: probably about 220. It was standing room only. Over the course of the two hours we were there, we must have had 250 there, maybe more. Maybe they were lured by the free books. Maybe they were just curious. But they were there and they learned about popular romance fiction, and that's what's important.

William introduced us and I began the panel discussing why there was a panel about romance novels and about "Myths about Austen" and "Myths about Romance." Yes, Austen wrote romance, and although yes, her books are about so much more, what makes you think that other romances aren't about so much more as well? Romances aren't all bad, they aren't just about sex, they aren't read only by lonely housewives. But yes, sometimes the covers suck.

Then Pam Regis got up to talk about her definition of romance and the eight essential elements of romance. She also did something I didn't have the courage to do: she scolded the audience for laughing at romance. All through the conference, anytime someone mentioned chick lit, or, god forfend, romance novels, the audience tittered and giggled in disgust. And it really bugged me. But Pam said that a genre that goes back to the very beginnings of prose fiction, with such a long and distinguished career, with such a broad and intelligent audience, deserves so much more than automatic dismissal. That got a lot of nods and maybe even applause.

Mary/Eloisa then discussed how she got into writing romance by saying that she grew up in a house surrounded by poetry (her father is Robert Bly) and she used Austen's collected novels as a way to find something she could connect with on a more personal level, something that she could strongly identify with. She also discussed the broad audience and deep regard for romance.

I then discussed how Austen herself contributed to the modern romance by insisting that all her heroes undergo a moral education when they fall in love with the heroine. I argue that Austen was one of the first authors, if not the first, to show her heroes as well as her heroines learning how to be better people because of their love relationship. That the phrase "a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" could be extended to add something equally non-Austenian like "to complete him." I was challenged to say what Mr. Knightley from Emma learned and expounded my theory from my article in Talk in Jane Austen that his moral failing is not recognizing his love for Emma, which tricks him into making unfair statements about Frank Churchill.

Eric then discussed the dual literary heritage of romance fiction, specifically as shown in Ann Herendeen's bisexual Regency romance Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, in which the hero thinks that the heroine wrote Sense and Sensibility, rather than the lascivious Gothic novels she did in fact write. Eric talked about the dual heritage, literary and exuberantly vulgar that romance inhabits and discussed how one has to look for the intelligence of the novel, not in the narrator (usually) but in the handling of the eight elements and the play with convention, and that's where the best of romances shine.

We then had a lively and lengthy Q&A session with questions ranging from "How did a man start reading romance" (for Eric, obviously) to "Where do you get your ideas?" "Why don't you market romance like literary fiction?" and "How do you do your research?" (for Mary) to "Where are all the good sweet Regency romances?" (my answer: in ebooks). There were many many more questions that I can't remember and everyone was uniformly polite, open-minded, and interested in the topic. Everyone I talked to afterwards (and people kept coming up to me to say how wonderful the session was) expressed how they were so thrilled to have the session and have a whole long list of books to read now that they're really looking forward to.

So I'd say it was an unqualified success.

One thing I tried but failed to say during the panel was that every romance fan that you can find, reader or writer, will claim Jane Austen as our Ur-Mother. We're all aware, either consciously or otherwise, how important she is to romance fiction today. But if you ask most Janeites, they get all twittery every time romance is brought up, sometimes going so far as to disavow the notion that Austen wrote romance at all.

But then, there was Sunday brunch at JASNA, with the writers, producer, and star of the Broadway-bound Pride and Prejudice: The Musical. Lindsey and Amanda, the writers and composers, were incredible (and I sat next to Mr. Darcy for brunch!), but what their story about the production and the songs they performed showed me was that, fundamentally, Pride and Prejudice IS a romance. Because in order to take the novel down to a two to three hour musical, they have to cut and cut and cut it down, and what that does more than anything else is highlight the romance (listen to the songs on the site to see what I'm talking about--all the emotion, the power ballads, is located squarely in the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy). So for Janeites to disavow the romance label is, I think, at best disingenuous and at worst, willfully rewriting literary history.

This article, for instance, makes me crazy.

Of the new "chick-lit" style covers of Austen, Thompson argues: Of Persuasion: "Pure Mills & Boon, in fact; and sublimely inappropriate to the tone of this sad, shadowy novel." Did she read the same novel I did? Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel because she takes a sad, autumnal tone and turns it into the most stunningly compelling expression of the power and optimism of romance you could ever hope to read: "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope." Indeed.

Thompson locates the rise of Austen as romance novelist with the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. One might point to the 1940 version by Aldous Huxley with Laurence Olivier. One might point to how contemporary readers gushed over Darcy's character when P+P was published. But no, let's stick to the latest incarnation of Austen-mania. Thompson writes condescendingly: "Jane Austen might not mind about this. She might shrug and write a new book, about people who read novels without understanding a word of them. But she would surely think that her work - so finely wrought, so literary - was drowning in the swamp of so much love." And here we come back to the notion that "finely wrought" and "literary" necessarily means NOT romance, necessarily means idiot readers and misreadings and reading for the wrong reasons. Because "There is, in fact, a kind of epic wrongness about the recasting - reselling - of Jane Austen as a romantic novelist. It might have made her as popular as Helen Fielding, but it has led to a desperately etiolated perception of her books. Instead of reading Austen, we are reading our own reading of her; and, in true modern style, what we see in her is ourselves." Let's ignore the fact that she says that Darcy has 30,000 pounds a year when in fact he has 10K, because it's not about the facts, right? Or, no, let's not, because if it isn't about the facts, it's about what one gets out of a book and that is and should be purely personal and not something for anyone to condemn like this.

I find it fascinating that after raising the specter of Darcy-mania, she then focuses on Elizabeth: "Hence the popularity of Elizabeth Bennet, who resonates particularly because she embodies the contemporary virtue of 'being yourself'." But then, after all, "It is not difficult, after all, to read what one wants to read in a novel. Every reader does it, to an extent. But the landscape of what is seen in books is becoming increasingly impoverished. Indeed, it might be that the reality of literature no longer lies within its words. As Jane Austen flourishes, the literary sense that she possessed in its most refined form is slowly dying: the irony would have amused her."

One might point out that the continued exuberance of JASNA conventions, where we pick apart the very phonemes of Austen's words in ways that inspire new and fascinating readings, can be placed squarely in the laps of the movies. People watch the movies and then read the books, or watch the movies and rediscover the books and then turn to JASNA to help express the joy, the beauty, and the social pertinence of Austen's vision. And yes, that vision is located in the cutting commentaries on a woman's place and the problems of marriage, but it's also located in the happy endings that complete every novel. Austen wouldn't be the comfort read of so many people all over the world if it weren't for the happy endings, the deep commitment that the hero and heroine make to each other at the end of each novel, of the essential optimism of that world vision.

So while on the one hand, "Yes, no doubt about it, that 1995 Andrew Davies adaptation did some dreadful damage. Shamelessly and cleverly alert to the modern sensibility, it let the moral dimension of the book pretty much go hang, simplifying the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy into one of good old sex," on the other hand, the dreadful and shameless one here is Thompson, trying to impose her own elitist vision of Austen's novels on everyone else's reading habits, precisely what she argues that this "new" vision of Austen is doing.

Ahem. So. Anyway. I guess the point of my post and of the panel--that Austen and romance DO mix and mingle--represents my own personal view of Austen, but what Saturday night showed me is that I'm not alone in this vision. Not by a long shot.


  1. Great post! Wish I'd been there.

    There was a previous musical version of P&P that only ran for 84 performances:

  2. Sarah, thanks for the summary, and congratulations for the successful panel! (Why do all the fun conferences take on the other side of the planet?)

    Why is it that so many publishers and readers think you have to slap dull and boring covers on the classics? The Norton Critical Edition of Gaskell's North & South, for example, is grey and butt-ugly (the colours in the picture are too dark; the background is not blackish, but brownish grey). It certainly doesn't make you want to read the book.

    I for one love those new covers for Jane Austen's novels!

  3. Though I am loath to disagree with you, Sandra, I do think this may be a matter of taste. I rather like the Norton N&S cover, and I don't much like Headline's pastel Austen covers.

  4. What a great success! About Jane Austen, I find it really depressing that in order to talk about interesting non romantic elements in Austen, like the "hidden economics of Austen" or the "repressed subaltern" in Austen, etc., which is all fine, there's this idea that the romantic elements should be minimized or marginalized or ignored. That to be interesting and important as literature, it cannot be romantic.

    Alistair MacIntyre once wrote that Austen's Pride and Prejudice was the last great representative of the theory of the virtues. I have had it on my syllabus (or, rather, the mucking about in it that non literature people do) ever since.

  5. It sounds like a great panel.

    I agree and disagree with that Telegraph article. The tone is ridiculously defensive, but I think it raises some points worth thinking about.

    Thompson goes off the rails with her scorn for relating Austen to modern life, and in trying to exclude different interpretations, and even more in all that bile over the covers--as if updating the cover and attracting new readers somehow betrays the text.

    However, I think she points to an underlying question about the way we sometimes read exclusively for one aspect of the story. It's not a *wrong* use of the text, but as a primary mode of reading, does it do the text its full justice? Is it satisfactory to read selected passages of Romeo & Juliet and pronounce it an uplifting story of love and reconciliation? We certainly don't all have to read books in the same way, or love all their parts equally, or always start them from Page 1, but I don't think it's untoward to debate whether there's a point at which we're effectively Bowdlerizing texts to extract only the meaning that suits us.

    I'm not saying the Firth adaptation is that bad--I dislike parts of it, but not with Thompson's vitriol--but I think sometimes filmmakers, classroom editions, and we readers ourselves commit something akin to Bowdlerization. I'm not even saying we're wrong to do it, but it *can* be an "etiolated perception of her books". I value literature in part as an exploratory medium; I don't always use it as such, but that doesn't diminish my regard for it.

    "Of the new "chick-lit" style covers of Austen, Thompson argues: Of Persuasion: "... sublimely inappropriate to the tone of this sad, shadowy novel." Did she read the same novel I did? Persuasion ... takes a sad, autumnal tone and turns it into the most stunningly compelling expression of the power and optimism of romance..."

    Yes, I think Thompson went down a dead-end road there. Infinitely many arguments can be made over which aspect of a novel to portray on the cover. Similarly, I can explain why I like Penguin covers, why I like headless heroines, why I don't find the Norton North & South "butt-ugly", and why I sometimes like to see women on erotica covers. My explanations won't invalidate others' interpretations of those trends. (I think the unresolvable arguments on Erotica Cover Watch demonstrate the impossibility of winning many arguments over taste in covers.)

  6. Well, I guess I would argue that Thompson's view of Austen's novels is as "etiolated" as she would argue mine is. I read Austen for the romance. Always have, always will. And I think I've discovered and published some pretty important things about the construction of the novels and the heroes in my readings of Austen that way. This doesn't mean that I ignore the "rest" of what Austen is "about," just that we all read for our individual purposes and pleasures. Yes, some readers "get less" out of a book than others. But that's going to happen no matter what one reads. For example, I'm going to get less out of a comic book/graphic novel than someone who is familiar with the genre. I think reading with a solid understanding of the genre conventions of popular romance is going to give me a different perspective of Austen than someone who reads mostly mysteries, but that neither of us has an "incorrect" or even and "incomplete" understanding of the novels.

    And in Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood (I think), there's an incredible article by Cheryl Nixon that discusses the "Bowlderization" of Austen's heroes, showing us as much about ourselves and our society as it does about Austen. Therefore the value of analyzing adaptations is precisely in telling us about ourselves and our priorities (apparently Japanese adaptations at the moment are all about the political aspects of the novels). But that still doesn't make them "wrong."

    Yeah, the Kiara Knightley version from 2005 bugs me, especially the Gothicized ending, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it.

  7. "in Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood (I think), there's an incredible article by Cheryl Nixon that discusses the 'Bowlderization' of Austen's heroes, showing us as much about ourselves and our society as it does about Austen. Therefore the value of analyzing adaptations is precisely in telling us about ourselves and our priorities (apparently Japanese adaptations at the moment are all about the political aspects of the novels). But that still doesn't make them 'wrong.'"

    Absolutely. All those threads *are* present in the story. I would even argue that some of the elements I dislike in the adaptations may be important context that modern audiences might appreciate, in addition to being simply different viewpoints on the text. I'm thinking of, say, the Firth/Ehle adaptation's extra "commentary" scenes, such as the street scene outside the Assembly in Meryton. I don't like it because I don't think it's the type of scene or commentary that Austen focused on, but it's part of the period in which she was writing.

    I can also imagine a version of P&P that shows more of London society, or emphasizes that it was wartime. (Were the soldiers in Meryton really oblivious to the conflict to come?) Or a Mansfield Park that delves into Edmund's beliefs and training as a clergyman. I've argued here before that there's no reason Austen *should* have emphasized current events, but I would watch those kinds of adaptations with enormous curiosity.

  8. What do you guys think of the Laurence Olivier/Greer Garson version that has Lady Catherine de Bourgh (played by the magnificent Edna May Oliver) encouraging Darcy to propose to Elizabeth?

    WV: eziah--what the Collinses named their firstborn

  9. Oh, interesting! I've only seen the beginning of that version, so I didn't know that.

    Surely Lady CdB was practicing reverse psychology? :)

  10. Yeah, it's very....interesting. Antebellum dresses aside, the ending is done completely without irony, despite Aldous Huxley as screenwriter. I think the most interesting line is Darcy saying "I am in no mood to give consequence to the middle classes at play," rather than "I am in no mood to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men" when Bingley encourages him to dance at Meryton Assembly.

    But, yeah, the ending's awful. But Olivier is incredible, of course. Role absolutely made for him.

  11. Cripes. Now I *must* see this.

    Aldous, baby, what happened?

  12. Here we go. The best and most faithful version was the 1979/1980 BBC serial. The Andrew Davies and Aldous Huxley versions were abominations.

  13. "the 1979/1980 BBC serial"

    That's far and away my favorite, though it looks a bit dated and clunky next to the newer, lusher adaptations. (The role made for Olivier is also excellent for David Rintoul!)

    I'll still look for the Huxley/Olivier version, though.

    Speaking of adaptions, all the versions I've seen have their strengths. I don't care for Colin Firth as Darcy, but I think Mr Collins works well in that version. I wasn't crazy about the Keira Knightley version, but the opening scenes at Longbourn are interesting in the way they show the home farm; IIRC, I think I liked Mr Bennet in that version too. I didn't see much of the Olivier version, but I remember thinking the antebellum setting could work well for Bingley, Miss Bingley, and the Hursts.

  14. As an erotica writer and one of the co-founders of the blog, Erotica Cover Watch, I just wanted to pick up on RfP's point and clarify that ours is not a debate about taste but about gender bias in erotica covers.

    Taste is subjective and, yes, those kinds of discussions can go on forever. Our argument is fact-based and very real: practically all erotica covers feature a sexualised woman and practically none feature a sexualised guy. (We're talking erotica rather than erotic romance here). If we could get that major inequality levelled out, if erotica could offer a range of covers depicting men, women, and men and women together, then maybe we could start talking about taste. At the moment, that's a luxury we simply don't have.

    And that's why Mathilde Madden and I launched our bid to Banish Inequality on Covers in Erotica, Porn and Smut (BICEPS). On our blog, we post a 'cover watch' article every Thursday and kick the week off in fine style with Man Candy Monday (yum!). I do hope you get a moment to check us out. Thanks! (And sorry if I've lowered the tone!)

  15. Oh, this is very interesting stuff.

    From the Thompson article: "the novels as a whole are rather less comforting. Indeed, they are, in some ways, terrifying. There is something appalling about the lack of illusions with which Jane Austen viewed her little world...."

    then (talking about Charlotte Lucas): "Charlotte's subsequent [married] life is a kind of decorous hell, made bearable by the fact that the alternative would have been worse. She is the stony reality at the heart of Pride and Prejudice. She tells a woman's story, but in a way that is utterly remote from feminine convention: with scant emotion, appealing to nothing other than rationality. And, like her creator, she has remarkably little to do with cosy readings of The Jane Austen Book Club and communal swoons over Mr Darcy."

    Well: don't we--both sides--have something to learn from this? For the people who don't see Austen's work as romance, perhaps we can see from this why romance matters. Because a woman like Charlotte Lucas is cut off from romance in her life, doesn't that make romance more important, not less?

    And for the rest of us, those who, however reluctantly or indirectly (or not!) see Austen's work as romance: let's not forget just how different her work is from modern romance, precisely because she was intellectually a product of the "Augustan Age" (Samuel Johnson, Laurence Sterne, et al.), (in my opinion) just about the least romantic of modern eras.

    Many thanks, Eric, for pointing up this aspect of my novel (Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander). And sorry for putting myself into both categories above ("we"), but I do share both of points of view, depending on what side of bed I got out of in the morning.

    To say there was more than "just" romance going on in Austen's novels is not to deny that her work does, basically, tell romantic stories. But the "other stuff" in her novels is potent and, in my opinion, disturbing. As a writer, I appreciate her writing the more for it, but as a reader, I view the romance in a very different way than, say, the work of Georgette Heyer or Jennifer Crusie or Jo Beverley.

    To the women of BICEPS: of course you haven't "lowered the tone!" Thank you for putting this all into perspective, and for giving us some man-candy to enjoy!

  16. Ann--Thanks for this. It's really made me think. I believe that there are some authors that we can read at an early age, then later, and each time get more out of them. I'm sure I wasn't capable of seeing your point when I first read Austen at about fifteen; but each reading over the years reveals more layers. The same is true even of such children's books (so-called) as THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS and Lewis Carroll.

    Incidentally, in the "What have they done to my song, Ma?" category, has any one SEEN the promos for the new series CRUSOE? (Foreigners, they are probably on YouTube or the network website.) About the only thing they got right is that they are showing it on Friday.

  17. Kristina, I'm glad you highlighted your focus on gender bias; I don't think I'd made that clear above.

    In the book cover discussion, I think gender bias and taste are difficult to separate because part of the debate (just as in adapting an Austen novel) is very much about style. Is the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica cover offensive solely because it's a woman, or because the voyeuristic style of the image says "On display" in a style harking back to too many other images of women? Is an Austen adaptation offensive because it's modern or "un-Austen-like" in style? Or because it focuses on Colin Firth rather than Elizabeth Bennet? (And would it be at all relevant if critics in Austen's time saw Darcy as the natural center of the book?) The line between what's flat-out wrong and what's style is pretty fuzzy, sez I.

    I don't think erotica "lowers the tone"; your site's discussions have a number of points of contact with this one.

  18. FWIW, RfP, what few contemporary responses to P+P that we do have, Darcy IS regarded as the center of the book. Does/should that change our reading of him today? :)

    And while I'm the last person to deny that Austen was a genius and that her books are layered and fascinating and ripe for rereading, the dual dismissal of the phrase "more than just romance" (dismissing the romance in Austen's work and dismissing romance itself) is what gets to me. I don't know how anyone can read Crusie's Bet Me for example, or Brockmann's The Unsung Hero or any of Kinsale's books, and think that they're all "just" romance, either. But maybe I'm biased.

    I'm not dismissing the OTHER things in Austen's work. But I refuse to dismiss the other things in romance, either. And as much as the discussion of Austen tends to elide romance, the worse omission is that it tends to ignore the things that romance does besides romance, that are inflected by and reflect on romance, the genre.

  19. Kristina, as RfP said, "your site's discussions have a number of points of contact with this one" and I think the discussions at Erotica Cover Watch have brought out a lot of issues which I've been approaching from a somewhat different angle in my recent post about the beauty myth. Both are discussing how women have ended up being seen as sexual objects i.e. the gender that's associated with being viewed and assessed for sexual value.

    On the topic of pastels, which was brought up in relation to the new Austen covers, I thought it was interesting that in the Erotica Cover Watch post about Xcite Books Mathilde wrote that

    The book jackets were pretty ice cream colours - a world apart from the erotica staple of black and red and more black. [...] their designs were fresh and new in many ways except one. [...] Every cover is a picture of a woman!

    As Mathilde said, it seemed as though the colour-scheme was saying "this is for women" but the cover photos were of women, which seems to imply that women's bodies are the bodies associated with sexiness (even when viewed by heterosexual women).

    Angela made a very similar point on the other thread:

    For me one of the most infuriating bits of the beauty myth is that not only are women are held to ridiculous ideals or that beauty is purported to be only way to get romantic love, but that where women feel desire, where women feel attraction is less important than her ability to cause those same feelings in men. It's like a reverse Pygmalion project in which a woman is only an object of art upon which a man can project his fantasies on rather than a fantasy that becomes human.

    In turn, I related this to the economics of courtship and how women have been considered the sellers/objects for sale, with men being the buyers of sex/women. I think that's a situation that's very much explored in Pride and Prejudice because of the presence of, and decisions made by, Charlotte Lucas. In general, though, the economics of heterosexual relationships, and whether a man can afford a wife, are present in all her novels.

    I'm not dismissing the OTHER things in Austen's work. But I refuse to dismiss the other things in romance, either.

    Sarah, I very much agree with you on this. I don't even think it's possible to separate out the personal (which in both Austen and modern romances is primarily the central romantic relationship) from the non-party-political, i.e. from "OTHER things" such as the social context in which the personal relationship develops.

  20. "what few contemporary responses to P+P that we do have, Darcy IS regarded as the center of the book."

    Ha. That was my guess, purely because of his apparent social standing: such a fine gentleman *must* be the heart of the matter! Though in a number of *textual* ways as well, he's the main actor in the book, so he is a central character. But today many readings place Lizzy before him. Do we now assume the narrator has a central status? Perhaps we do: in Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander I was struck by how unusual it was that the narrator (Phyllida) seemed not to be the center of the primary romance (the two men).

  21. Thanks, RfP and Laura. Agreed, I do think there are a lot of overlaps here although, RfP, I think it's important to distinguish between taste and style. When we were looking at the 'voyeuristic style' of Jakubowski's Mammoth cover, people's objections weren't generally based on aesthetics and personal taste but on sexual politics, on an analysis of what that 'style' signified, the messages it was giving out about women, men, sex and power. The issues do get fudged though which might explain why some people think 'but I like it' is a valid counter-argument to the political points we're trying to make. Or why people say, as if it's an objective fact, 'women are just more beautiful than men'.

    We're doing our best on Erotica Cover Watch to focus on the numbers, on the absence of men on covers. But of course, you can't show absence except by the presence it is absent from ie lots of dirty books with women on the covers. So looking at representations of women as depicted on individual covers does become a part of the debate (in addition to what the high percentage of 'hot babe' covers signifies).

    And Laura, you and Angela make some great points. I think this is spot on: where women feel desire, where women feel attraction is less important than her ability to cause those same feelings in men.

    Apologies for slightly hijacking your thread! I wish I had something to offer on Austen.

  22. From my dissertation (I'll spare you the analysis--copyright issues, and all!):

    In May 1813, Annabella Milbanke, the future Lady Byron, wrote to her mother: "I have finished the novel called Pride & Prejudice, which I think a very superior work. It depends not on any of the common resources of Novel writers, no drownings, nor conflagrations, nor runaway horses, nor lap-dogs & parrots, nor chambermaids & milliners, nor rencontres and disguises. I really think it is the most probable fiction I have ever read. It is not a crying book, but the interest is very strong, especially for Mr. Darcy."

    The Romantic-era author Mary Russell Mitford proclaims a more specific interest in Darcy’s welfare in her letter to Sir William Elford in December, 1814: "The want of elegance is almost the only want in Miss Austen. I have not read her Mansfield Park, but it is impossible not to feel in every line of Pride and Prejudice, in every word of "Elizabeth," the entire want of taste which could produce so pert, so worldly a heroine as the beloved of such a man as Darcy. Wickham is equally bad. Oh! They were just fit for each other, and I cannot forgive that delightful Darcy for parting them. Darcy should have married Jane. He is of all the admirable characters the best designed and the best sustained."

    In 1813, one of the very first reviewers of Pride and Prejudice contended, "On the character of Elizabeth, the main interest of the novel depends." However, instead of then concentrating on Elizabeth’s character or the lessons she learns, the reviewer commends Austen for using Elizabeth to create a realistic method for effecting self-awareness in Darcy: "the fair author has shewn considerable ingenuity in the mode of bringing about the final eclaircissment between her and Darcy. Elizabeth’s sense and conduct are of a superior order to those of the common heroines of novels. From her independence of character, which is kept within the proper line of decorum, and her well-timed sprightliness, she teaches the man of Family-Pride to know himself."

  23. Sarah, I think it's reasonable that Darcy should be considered the center of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE; after all, he is the character who undergoes real change. Elizabeth simply learns that she has misunderstood Darcy and Wickham and the matters between them, while Darcy learns to change his values and to recognize Elizabeth's genuine superiority of character compared to the merely social superiority of characters like the Bingley sisters and Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

  24. Um, well, as devil's advocate, I'd say that Elizabeth does learn a little about snap judgments and being judgmental and all that. But overall, yes, I think Darcy changes more, becomes a better person b/c of his love, more than she does.

  25. I love this blog! Just discovered it via the Janeites listserv. I was fortunate to be at the JASNA AGM but went to the ball, not the panel. Your account of the panel is quite illuminating. Actually, it makes me wish I had skipped English country dancing that night, and that's not something I give up lightly!

  26. Thank you, Sarah! I chortled over the Annabella Milbanke quote:

    "It depends not on any of the common resources of Novel writers, no drownings, nor conflagrations, nor runaway horses, nor lap-dogs & parrots, nor chambermaids & milliners, nor rencontres and disguises."

    I wonder what she thought of Persuasion, Sense & Sensibility, and Sanditon. Those all have more dramatic touches, though no lap-dogs or disguises.