Monday, September 17, 2012

Austenesque Extravaganza: Regarding the Rogues

"This will prove a spirited beginning of your winter engagements, sir. Something new for your coachman and horses to be making their way through a storm of snow," Mr. John Knightley snidely observed to his father-in-law Mr. Woodhouse in Emma.

September is not nearly time for winter engagements (though the greeting card companies may think otherwise!), but my blog is experiencing "something new" today, fortunately not nearly as arduous as making its way through a snowstorm.  It is part of AUSTEN EXTRAVAGANZA, a famous all-Austen month-long blog block party put together by the innovative and charming Meredith Esparza and Jakki Leatherberry.  The main site is here:

And here is an Official Banner.  

I was somewhat puzzled as to what my part would be, when assigned to a "Traveling Tuesday," together with two other Austen authors, Monica Fairview in London, who has written many Austenesque and Regency novels, most recently The Other Mr. Darcy, and Alexa Adams who lives in Delaware and is the author of First Impressions.  But, "It is such a happiness when good people get together," as Miss Bates said, and so we promptly and gleefully seized on Jane Austen's Rogues as our subject.  From there it was the opposite of "an easy step to silence," as Catherine Moreland found about the topic of politics.  Another Catherine, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, might have said, "I must have my share of the conversation, if the subject is Rogues."  For it is irresistible, is it not?

Traveling Tuesday

Before launching into our Roguish Ruminations, let me explain how this little barouche-landau tour  will work.  It all starts on Alexa's blog, where I have left some Roguish Scratchings.  You can read them here:  Do not, however, venture before Traveling Tuesday the 18th, remember, for that is when all this merriment is due to burst forth upon a wondering world.  I have only posted early here in order to get it finished - no, what I mean is that in the extremity of my enthusiasm I have been a bit previous!

I'm not exactly sure whether you're supposed to visit my blog next, or Monica's, but I am not tenacious about precedence (like Mary Musgrove) and am quite happy to come "last and least" like Fanny Price.  At any rate, here is Monica's blog, where reside Alexa's guestly thoughts, or will reside on Tuesday:

And now that you are comfortably seated in my blog, it is my honour to present to you what Monica, my very first Guest Blogger ever in more than a hundred posts, has written:

Is a Rogue really a Rogue in Jane Austen?  by Monica Fairview
Jane Austen is often considered to be a moralist and a traditionalist at that. Some would even go so far as to say that she tends to support the status quo and that her novels reinforce the social norms of the day. A closer look at the boys and gals she chose to be her “villains” reveals that she wasn’t as conventional as she seems when it comes to traits she considered to be “evil”. Unlike the “horrid” gothic novel of her day, she doesn’t have darkly evil characters who commit every crime in the book, nor do we have helpless victims (often women) who are subjected to abuse, abduction and imprisonment. In her Juvenilia she makes fun of the very idea. Perhaps the only truly villainous villain in her writings is Lady Susan Vernon, who torments her own daughter as she goes on her merry way. 
In Jane Austen’s world, villainy is more subtle, not always easy to detect, and often inhabits a grey area that isn’t quite defined. Things are neither black nor white. At times this can be frustrating, because we want to know exactly who the antagonist is and we want to see them punished, but more often than not, JA seems to let them off the hook with little more than a slap on the wrist.

That isn’t to say that JA doesn’t have “pet peeves” so to speak. There are certain qualities she satirizes fairly consistently throughout her novels.

1. Toadying in its many forms, especially when it’s done for reasons of self-interest:

a. Mr. Collins in P&P and his obnoxious servile attitude towards Lady Catherine.

b. Who can forget Caroline Bingley’s pathetic attempts to flatter Mr. Darcy?

c. Sir Walter in Persuasion who, in his vanity and desire to cut a fine figure, fawns on the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and wants Anne to fawn on her, too.

2. Those who interfere in other people’s lives and try to control them

a. Lady Russell, who persuades Anne Elliott to give up Wentworth and makes her life miserable as a consequence. Lady Russell’s interference comes to an end when Anne undermines her authority by accepting Wentworth, but does she suffer for it?

b. Mrs. Bennett, who ruins the very relationships she’s trying to promote. She never realizes how much damage her interference has caused, and her only real punishment is when her favourite Lydia runs away.

c. Mr. Darcy (only briefly), who convinces Bingley to leave Netherfield and persuades him that Jane doesn’t care for him. Darcy receives his just punishment by having Lizzy turn him down.

d. Lady Catherine de Bourgh who thinks all she has to do is wave her magic wand and she’ll convince Elizabeth to give up Darcy.

e. The tyrant General Tilney, who has his daughter and son by the throat and dictates every moment of their lives, including arranging for Catherine to come to Northanger Abbey when he thinks she has money, and disposing of her ruthlessly when he discovers she doesn’t. He’s the closest we have to a gothic villain we see in Austen, but then the whole novel is a take on the Gothic.

f. Emma, who thinks she can arrange people’s lives as she pleases but ends up making a fool of herself.

3. Those guilty of deception

a. Willoughby, who marries an heiress then regrets losing Marianne. Willoughby is not only guilty of double-dealing with Marianne; he has also seduced a young girl and takes no responsibility for her baby. Not unusual in those days, but despicable nevertheless considering Colonel Brandon has to pick up the pieces.

b. Wickham spreads lies about Darcy and runs away secretly with Lydiagets all his debts paid off but ends up stuck with Lydia and sent to the north where presumably his opportunities of seducing local ladies is more restricted.

c. Frank Churchill, who marries the woman he loves after giving the impression he’s interested in Emma.

d. Edward Ferrars who makes poor Elinor suffer so much, but everything is resolved very smoothly for him when Lucy transfers her affection to his brother.

e. Mrs. Clay, whose plotting and planning comes to naught when she loses the chance to marry Sir Walter.

f. Mr. Elliott whose “love” for Anne is accompanied by some underhanded plans with Mrs. Clay.

g. Isabella Thorpe, who is less inclined to like James Morland when she realizes he doesn’t have money. But did she really hope to catch a rake like Captain Tilney? Isabella lies to Catherine on several occasions and takes advantage of Catherine’s naiveté. Really, she’s there as a foil, a jaded woman-about-town. It would be interesting to compare her to Caroline Bingley (of course I’d think that, since my novel The Other Mr. Darcy is about Caroline).

4. Those who have no sense of responsibility or the consequences of their actions. These are the flighty types of whom Lady Susan is an extreme example.

a. Lydia, who remains blissfully unaware of the uproar her escape with Wickham causes. Her punishment is to be married to a man like Wickham who is going to be unfaithful to her at the drop of the hat, but it’s a case of “she’s made her bed, now she has to lie in it.”

b. John Thorpe, really, why does he tell the Tilneys that Catherine is rich? It certainly triggers a lot of things but it doesn’t serve his own interest.

c. Henry Crawford, proposing to Fanny then running off with Maria? Well, he’s on the scandal sheets, so he gets some negative exposure.

d. Mary Crawford, she doesn’t get Edmund, but just as well, she didn’t really want to marry a preacher anyway. She doesn’t do anything evil except try to steal Edmund from Fanny (a la Caroline Bingley), but she’s bad because she doesn’t think Henry did anything wrong.

Conclusion: In many ways Jane Austen’s villains aren’t true full-fledged villains. I’d agree with Diana that the villains are really people who make the heroine unhappy – most often intentionally deceiving her or preventing her from accomplishing her aims. I agree with Alexa that Willoughby and Wickham are the worst of the lot, mostly because they have no hesitation lying to those around them and they have no hesitation in seducing a young girl of fifteen, ruining her reputation, and abandoning her to her fate.

Two Rowlandson Rogues

In parting, Monica graciously posed some questions for us.  I will give my answers, and would be charmed if any readers would like to give their own as well.  Let my "Comments" section become a theatre of lively disputation, though hopefully not so spirited as the riot Henry Tilney describes: "a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents..."

1. Who do you think was punished most severely?
Ah, poor Maria, to be sure.  Eternity with Mrs. Norris would confound the Frenchman who wrote the play No Exit.  Surely a little fornication does not deserve such penance as that.  Even if you believe that Adultery should be severely dealt with, like Mr. Price, who thought that "A little flogging for man and woman too would be the best way of preventing such things" (on second thought, perhaps he meant a little blogging?), surely a Norrisean Eternity would be more worthy of such sins as Murder and Treason.

2. Who do you think gets let off most easily?
Probably Mr. Wickham.  He deserves gaol, that one.

3. Do you think the women get a worse punishment than the men?
Their lives were a worse punishment in those days, so yes, certainly.

4. If you got to rewrite the ending of any of the novels, who would you choose to punish and why?
I think I would be inclined to be more merciful.  I would let Mary Crawford find love.  I would let Sir Walter Elliot find a rich widow.  But I am so fond of all of Jane Austen's characters, I wish them all well, even the rogues and villains.  Well, no, there are a few to whom even I could not show mercy.  Mrs. Norris (but she gets what she deserves), and General Tilney, who goes completely unpunished!  I would involve him in a very nasty public scandal at the very least.  Rat bastard.
Now go on, have your say, and leave some quilled chicken tracks behind in the Comments, so I may have the memory of many visitors.  I hope you have enjoyed the "Light, Bright, and Sparkling" portion of the Austen Extravaganza!
Diana Birchall, proferring something light, bright, and sparkling to drink, and some rout cakes. 
What I hope my Comments section will soon resemble.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Two Peak Experiences

Paul and I drove up to Mammoth, leaving Peter (who hates the 300-mile drive) with the cats, who also wisely prefer to remain home. We stayed at our favorite condo, and then at the May Lake back country High Sierra Camp with our old hiking friend Mike. Then on Thursday we drove back down for the Saturday performance of my play "You are Passionate, Jane" in Pasadena - pretty fast turnaround time!   Here are pictures from both experiences, peak moments, wildly contrasting...

Two literary Angels:  Me as Charlotte Bronte and Syrie James as Jane Austen in my play, "You are Passionate, Jane"

Another peak...on the Saddlebag Lakes trail in Tioga Pass, 10,000 feet, very exalting
Our first hike was to Gardisky Lake in Tioga Pass, 10,000 feet with a 1,000 foot elevation gain in a little over a mile - gorgeous, but rather a misery to my knee, which objected!
Paul and Mike at the lake. Not an easy hike, even for people without knees!
Me at the lake.  Well, it was worth it. 
I really just went up there to see the purple gentians.
And white striped gentians, too.
Next hike was to May Lake, which is inside Yosemite.  We climbed above the lake.
We climbed to lovely Hoffman meadow, but did not scale the peak of Mt. Hoffman, above.  That'll be the day!
Descending back down to May Lake, we could see the High Sierra Camp.
Paul at May Lake...the most peaceful place.
The dinner cabin at May Lake.  There's unfortunately a hantavirus outbreak in Yosemite, apparently from mice at Camp Curry, so they're taking precautions at the High Sierra Camps too, spraying the tent cabins with antiseptics and pesticides daily.
Me relaxing at May Lake
Campfire at night
Morning sunshine on the lake 
Morning reflections
After the 350-mile drive back from Yosemite - emoting onstage!
Syrie and me after the play - relaxed and relieved!
A sunflower at Lee Vining, near Mammoth