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General Consent in Jane Austen

General Consent in Jane Austen: A Study of Dialogism

BARBARA K. SEEBER
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 168
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt811z1
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    General Consent in Jane Austen
    Book Description:

    General Consent in Jane Austen examines the "early" and "late" novels as well as the juvenilia in the light of three paradigms: "The Other Heroine" focuses on voices that challenge and compete with the central heroines, "Cameo Appearances" examines buried past narratives, and "Investigating Crimes" explores acts of violence. These three avenues into dialogic space destabilize conventional readings of Austen. The Bakhtinian model that structures this book is not one of linearity and balance but one of conflict, simultaneity, and multiplicity. While some novels fit into only one paradigm, others incorporate more than one; Mansfield Park receives the most attention.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6854-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. vii-viii)
  4. PREFACE: Aunt Jennifer and Aunt Jane (pp. ix-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION: “Directly opposite notions”: Critical Disputes (pp. 3-18)

    The Jane Austen museum in Chawton has on display the following passage from Winston Churchill’s memoirs:

    The days passed in much discomfort. Fever flickered in and out. I lived on my theme of the war, and it was like being transported out of oneself. The doctors tried to keep the work away from my bedside, but I defied them. They all kept on saying, “Don’t work, don’t worry,” to such an extent that I decided to read a novel. I had long ago read Jane Austen’sSense and Sensibility,and now I thought I would havePride and Prejudice ......

  6. PART ONE “Some truths not told”: The Story of the “Other” Heroine (pp. 19-26)

    Mikhail Bakhtin beginsProblems of Dostoevsky's Poetics(1984) with his critique of Dostoevsky scholarship as “too direct an ideological echoing of the voices of his heroes” (8). The focus on the hero “reduce [s]” the novel to “a systematically monologic whole” (9) and “has therefore been unable to perceive objectively the distinctive artistic features of Dostoevsky’s new novelistic structure” (8). For Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s polyphonic novel, growing out of Menippean satire and the Socratic dialogue, is a network of ideas that meet in “joyful relativity” (107), rather than a system that absorbs difference under monologic authority. In the Dostoevsky novel, “a...

  7. CHAPTER ONE “I see every thing – as you can desire me to do”: The Scolding and Schooling of Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility (pp. 27-37)

    Sense and Sensibilityis often considered inferior toPride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion;in many books it is deemed unworthy of its own chapter and is coupled withNorthanger Abbey,another of Austen’s early attempts. Walton Litz feels confident that “most readers would agree that Sense and Sensibility is the least interesting of Jane Austen’s major works” (1965, 72). The main objection to the novel is that it is too didactic and just not convincing. According to Marilyn Butler, it “is the most obviously tendentious of Jane Austen’s novels, and the least attractive” (1987, 195). Its anti-jacobin...

  8. CHAPTER TWO “Exactly the something which her home required”: The “unmerited punishment” of Harriet Smith in Emma (pp. 38-46)

    Harriet Smith appears in Highbury for the purpose of education at Mrs Goddard’s school, “where girls might be sent to be out of the way and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies” (Austen 1988, 4:22). Clearly, Emma is not the only one coming of age in thisBildungsroman.Harriet, however, becomes recruited for Emma’s process of education within a quixotic narrative that centres on Emma. This narrative (both in the novel and in criticism) is a monologic one. However, Austen incorporates problems that the main narrative cannot come to terms with and must...

  9. CHAPTER THREE “A corrupted, vitiated mind”: The Decline of Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park (pp. 47-54)

    Mansfield Park,Jane Austen’s least-popular novel, has been a particular target of polemical interpretation. For Ian Watt, the novel is “straight-forward” in its “didacticism” (1963, 13). According to Lionel Trilling, its “praise is not for social freedom but for social stasis” and it “takes full notice of spiritedness, vivacity, celerity, and lightness, but only to reject them” (1955, 211). Similarly, Tony Tanner asserts that“Mansfield Parkis a stoic book in that it speaks for stillness rather than movement, firmness rather than fluidity, arrest rather than change, endurance rather than adventure” (1986, 173). At its centre is Fanny Price, sometimes...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR “You are never sure of a good impression being durable”: The Fall of Louisa Musgrove in Persuasion (pp. 55-58)

    Louisa Musgrove has never been a favourite with the critics. She is often invoked to prove the superiority of Anne; Louisa is the obstacle between Captain Wentworth and Anne; she is Wentworth’s mistake to which the forgiving main narrative fortunately does not hold him. While Anne knows her feelings throughout, Wentworth undergoes the evolution of feeling characteristic of heroines like Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse. Louisa is turned into a tool that marks the growth of Wentworth. Alistair Duckworth argues that Wentworth “takes the spoiled wilfulness of Louisa for genuine fortitude” and he “must come to see that it is...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE “An itch for acting”: Playing with Polyphony in Mansfield Park (pp. 59-66)

    When MrYates arrives at Mansfield, he brings with him an “infection” (184) that spreads quickly: “Happily for him, a love of the theatre is so general, an itch for acting so strong among young people, that he could hardly out-talk the interest of his hearers” (121-2). Austen herself enjoyed and participated in theatricals at the Steventon home (William and Richard Austen-Leigh’s 1913Family Recorddocuments this activity), but inMansfield Parktheatricals bring about a moral crisis. Edmund insists that it would be “very wrong” to stage a play: “In agenerallight, private theatricals are open to some objections,...

  12. PART TWO “Their fates, their fortunes, cannot be the same”: Cameo Appearances (pp. 67-69)

    Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudiceincorporate past narratives: the story of the two Elizas, the story of Mrs Smith, and the story of Wickham and Georgiana respectively. In their frankness about financial and sexual exploitation, these stories have been considered as strikingly incongruous and sometimes as awkward anomalies in Austen’s fiction. Susan Morgan'sIn the Meantime: Character and Perception in Jane Austen's Fiction(1980) makes the following astute comment on Austen scholarship: “The idea thatPersuasionis an exception, like the ideas thatSense and SensibilityorMansfield Parkare exceptions, is based on a view of...

  13. CHAPTER SIX “Surely this comparison must have its use”: The “very strong resemblance” in Sense and Sensibility (pp. 70-75)

    In chapter nine of the second volume ofSense and Sensibility,Colonel Brandon tells the story of the two Elizas to Elinor. Eliza’s guardian, Colonel Brandon’s father, disregarded her wishes and, having been “allowed no liberty, no society, no amusement, till ... [his] point was gained” (Austen 1988, 5:206), she was “married against her inclination” to Colonel Brandon’s brother: “Her fortune was large, and our family estate much encumbered. And this, I fear, is all that can be said for the conduct of one who was at once her uncle and guardian” (205). Eliza’s marriage is described as unhappy: “My...

  14. CHAPTER SEVEN “My expressions startle you”: An “injured, angry woman” in Persuasion (pp. 76-84)

    In chapter nine of the second volume ofPersuasion,Mrs Smith tells Anne of the ill treatment she and her husband received at the hands of Mr Elliot, “a man without heart or conscience”: “Oh! he is black at heart, hollow and black!” (ibid., 5:199). For years Mr Elliot received generous assistance from the Smiths: “He was then the inferior in circumstances, he was then the poor one ... My poor Charles, who had the finest, most generous spirit in the world, would have divided his last farthing with him; and I know that his purse was open to him;...

  15. CHAPTER EIGHT “We must forget it”: “The unhappy truth ” in Pride and Prejudice (pp. 85-92)

    Pride and Prejudice,Austen’s “own darling Child” (Austen 1995, 201), is often considered the quintessential Austen novel, certainly the most widely read and most widely taught in schools and at the undergraduate level. As Marilyn Butler points out, “the general public has likedPride and Prejudicethe best of all Jane Austen’s novels, and it is easy to see why” (1987, 217). Susan Morgan agrees that the novel “has a charmed place as the most popular of Austen’s novels” (1980, 78). In criticism, too, the novel has held a privileged position: A. Walton Litz, for example, calls it “a summing...

  16. PART THREE “Grievous imprisonment of body and mind”: Investigating Crimes (pp. 93-94)

    However taboo the subject of family violence was and still is, Austen was by no means unfamiliar with it. Claire Tomalin’s and David Nokes’s biographies are valuable corrections to the overstated tranquility of Austen’s life. It has been suggested by a range of biographers such as Nokes, John Halperin, and Jane Aiken Hodge that Lady Craven, the grandmother of Jane Austen’s friends Martha and Mary Lloyd, formed the model for Lady Susan in the fragment of that name: “For her character, Jane Austen had almost certainly gone back to the stories the Lloyd girls could tell about their mother and...

  17. CHAPTER NINE “No tread of violence was ever heard”: Silent Suffering in Mansfield Park (pp. 95-115)

    Louis Althusser argues that although what he called ideological state apparatuses “function massively and predominantly byideology... they also function secondarily by repression, even if ultimately, but only ultimately, this is very attenuated and concealed, even symbolic” (1971, 138). While ideological state apparatuses primarily disseminate ideology into the“privatedomain,” they also exercise the violence characteristic of the “Repressive State Apparatus,” which “belongs entirely to thepublicdomain" (137) and which “functions massively and predominantlyby repression”:“Schools and Churches use suitable methods of punishments, expulsion, selection, etc., to ‘discipline’ not only their shepherds, but also their flocks. The...

  18. CHAPTER TEN “Unnatural and overdrawn”: “Alarming violence” in Northanger Abbey (pp. 116-126)

    InThe Madwoman in the Attic,Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar point out that “it was the harsh portrayal of the patriarch that most disturbed reviewers” aboutNorthanger Abbey.They hint that it is due to the novel’s depiction of domestic tyranny that Austen “could not find a publisher who would print it during her lifetime” (1979, 128); this view is echoed by Jacqueline Howard who writes that the novel “was suppressed by its first publisher” (1994, 181). The “Biographical Notice” attached to the posthumous publication ofNorthanger AbbeyandPersuasionwritten by Austen’s nephew Henry is, therefore, particularly interesting....

  19. CHAPTER ELEVEN “This ill-used girl, this heroine of distress”: The “Diabolical scheme ” in Lady Susan (pp. 127-132)

    In her foreword toJane Austen’s Beginnings: The Juvenilia andLady Susan, Margaret Drabble writes, “These sketches provide an excellent antidote to the conventional view of Jane Austen as a calm, well-mannered novelist, confined to a narrow social world of subtle nuance and at times crippling decorum.” Often, however, this “antidote” is not administered. While celebrating the daring quality ofLady Susan,Drabble herself insists that it “remains an isolated, an alarming creation, from another fictional universe” (1989, xiv). Indeed,Lady Susanhas often been considered as an extraterrestrial visitation on the Austen landscape. As Hugh McKellar puts it, “For...

  20. CONCLUSION: What, or who, is Jane Austen? (pp. 133-138)

    In “What Is an Author,” Michel Foucault argues that Saint Jerome’s “four principles of authenticity” for establishing the biblical canon “define the critical modalities now used to display the function of the author” (1986, 144):

    The texts that must be eliminated from the list of works attributed to a single author are those inferior to the others (thus, the author is defined as a standard level of quality); those whose ideas conflict with the doctrine expressed in the others (here the author is defined as a certain field of conceptual or theoretical coherence); those written in a different style and...

  21. AFTERWORD: “Another world must be unfurled”: Austen Country (pp. 139-142)

    “In measured verse I’ll now rehearse” was written by Jane Austen for her niece, Anna Lefroy. InA Memoir of Jane Austen(1886), J.E. Austen-Leigh introduces the poem in a rather dismissive manner: “Once, too, she took it into her head to write the following mock panegyric on a young friend” (89). His commentary continues in a pejorative manner, denying any serious artistic intention on Austen’s part: “I believe that all this nonsense was nearly extempore, and that the fancy of drawing the images from America arose at the moment from the obvious rhyme which presented itself in the first...

  22. Bibliography (pp. 143-154)
  23. Index (pp. 155-160)