Jane Austen

I take the metro to Newcastle. I disembark at the central station and walk no more than a hundred or so paces to the Lit & Phil library where I return books and replenish my stock of borrowed whodunnits: an insurance  against the dragging of time in the next couple of weeks. On the train, I resort to reading the electronic page and duly open my Kindle. I have recently downloaded the novels of Jane Austen and I make a start on Sense and Sensibility, albeit some two hundred years after it was written. I pause to ponder this fact as the train stops at East Boldon station. A couple of girls roughly of the same age as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood prance down the platform, heels clacking, arm-in-arm, with bedenimmed bottoms bumping out of step.To pass the time, I wonder whether I could take an idea or a theme from the beginning of the novel and relate it to my world, to my experience in the here and now.  Reader, this ridiculous notion stayed with me not only all the way to Newcastle but also all the way back to Sunderland on my return journey.

Jane Austen

The title of the book, Sense and Sensibility, reflects the characters of the two sisters. Marianne is eager in everything, there being no moderation to either her joys or sorrows. In this regard, she is her mother’s daughter. The father dies and the ownership of their family home passes to her brother John and his very unpleasant wife Fanny. Both Marianne and her mother feel particularly wretched, since Fanny has arrived to take up her place as the mistress of the household. It is as if they egg one another on in their misery.

Elinor, her sister, has similar emotions and feelings about all this but, unlike Marianne, she knows how to govern them and keep them under control. So the two sisters develop very different experiences on the basis of identical raw emotional ingredients: those filtered through the sense of Elinor lead to a pragmatic handling of the situation; those filtered through the sensibilities of Marianne lead to what, two centuries later, might be regarded as a neurotic response.


I am now at Brockley Whins station on the return journey and I can see my way forward in the challenge that I have set myself. A couple of months ago my daughter left home to live abroad and I was very upset for several weeks. My task now is to do an Austen on that experience. I can see that I veered too close to the model of Marianne Dashwood. Normally, I regard myself as  being cast very much in the metal of Elinor. With hindsight, I can see that the Mariannesque response resulted in not much more than too many soggy tissues in overflowing waste bins. It is perhaps the stiff upper English lip that ensures sense will not degenerate into uncontrolled sensibility. I blame this temporary lapse of mine on too enthusiastic an attendance of 1970s encounter groups in my days as a postgrad student. I am guilty of having dabbled in North American humanistic psychology whilst simultaneously flirting with European existentialism when  I should have been content with the less volatile topics to be found in the philosophy of action, perhaps of the Oxford mould. More to the point, I should have been reading Jane Austen.

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One Response to “Jane Austen”

  1. antiphonsgarden Says:

    Sounds more like a step backwards into a middle class concept of careerist success. What is very “ending British neoliberalism” and makes me think that the island is obsessed with marketing “entrepreneurship” of the own life because of the missing of a good philosophical culture base preventing one from such a linear determinism.

    I assume frankly to enjoy in films observing these mannerist up climber games for girlie’s in costumes, but even at her times, the social discourse was further than getting the own part of the crumbling cake.

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