And now to a more formal analysis of the influence of Mary Wollstonecraft on Jane Austen, continuing on from our first look at the connection. By serendipity, this month sees Women in Revolutionary Debate: Female Novelists from Burney to Austen by Stephanie Russo of Macquarie University. (That is in Sydney, Australia, where there's a suburb named after Mary's nephew.) It has just been published by Hes & de Graaf, who describe it thus:
In the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries novels were believed to have the power to change behaviour, and affect the political landscape of society on a large scale. The English response to the French Revolution can be traced through a reading of the novels of the period. The French Revolution in itself was indelibly associated with the domestic arena, and, thus, by extension, with women. Again and again in novels of the period, and particularly in women’s novels, the stability, or otherwise, of the family reflects the stability of government and of the nation. It was through the medium of the novel that women could enter the debate on revolution, using their novels as means through which to explore many of the dominant social and political issues of the day.
The novel was a medium uniquely suited to an exploration of revolutionary ideologies in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The emerging form of the novel offered a unique opportunity for women to present new, challenging perspectives on the revolutionary crisis of the 1790s. The works of Frances Burney, Charlotte Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Robinson, Maria Edgeworth, Mrs Bullock and Jane Austen, all occupy an important place in this debate, and indeed, in the history of the novel. They demonstrate that women were at the forefront of development of the form of the novel itself.The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers says the monograph is
a very good read, and a highly important work for everyone who is interested in the history of ideas, culture and society, and, in particular, in the history of women who did not only embroider cushions while waiting in the parlour for Mister Darcy, but who took their opportunities to change their situation and to influence their society by means of literature.So, a side by side comparison of the novels of Mary and Jane! Alas, the book-buying budget is not up to 60 euros. In fact, it is probably about 60 euros short of the sum needed. Still, there are libraries, are there not?
From the professional to the amateur (and how we love the enthusiasts): via the useful suggestion of a fellow blogger, I've begun to read the huge resources at www.theloiterer.org, a Jane Austen website set up in 1998, "Revised: September 1, 2001" and apparently not touched since then. It runs to long, detailed pages full of quotes from the Austen canon, biographies, history, other novelists' work - but not other bloggers. No comments or feedback and definitely no social buttons. This is (relatively) early web stuff, thinking things through for oneself and using a static website as a way to keep all those thoughts in one coherent, self-governed place. Self-publishing in the old sense. The "editor", who in fact seems to have written reams and reams, goes by the name of Sophia Sentiment, but also admits to Linda Broemel. She claims James Austen's words as self-description: 'eccentric by principle' and 'irregular by system', but this is an excess of modesty. She has given us Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Other Contemporaries of Jane Austen and Women Writers and Other Influences In Jane Austen's Time
In this second page, we turn to the literature of Jane Austen's time. The emphasis is on those things that Jane Austen might have read - on possible Jane-Austen influences. We will discover that Jane Austen's time seems to have been a golden age for women writers. We also attempt to understand how the male voices of our Lady's time thought about women. - What were their attitudes?Then The Gathering Storm: Godwin, Malthus and revolutions and a few dozen other long essays (Mary Shelley and Marxism ,Wollstonecraft on Dr Fordyce's sermons, Women and inheritance, Henry Fielding on love, Anti-Catholic riots in London 1780). There are tables of contents to whet the appetite.
My own Austen musings led me to discover her secret nod, in which she names a contentious protagonist after two of the most formative individuals in Mary Wollstonecraft's life. Since becoming aware of the theories of Arnie Perlstein and the others we've looked at earlier, I have re-read parts of Northanger Abbey. For those of you who haven't memorised the Janeite canon, that's the one that mocks or spoofs the gothic genre, and it contains the famous defence of novel-reading, by a man of marriageable age. (He also has certain telling things to say about the nature of men and women, character and reason.) I note with interest that Isabella Thorpe, the young schemer who ensnares first Catherine Morland's brother and then Eleanor Tilney's, is said to live at Putney, a village long swallowed by the growth of Victorian London, as was Newington Green. Putney Bridge was the site of Mary's second suicide attempt. Why else would JA name-check it? But not only these facts set out the influence that the polemicist had on the novelist: even the prose style echoes it. When the heart-sore
But really, that may be enough Austen for now: six servings in a row. Just one more thing: the wonderful Chawton House has a wealth of resources about female writers, and Valerie Patten has written a fine potted biography of Mary Wollstonecraft there, which you may prefer to mine.
Tomorrow, a new series, weekly, infinite, no rush: statues. Finally!
[*Slip of the pen. I wrote "heart-sore Henry", when of course it should have been "jilted James". I do know the difference, really, but was led by astray by alliteration. Thanks, commenters, for keeping me on my toes.]
Part of a linked series: Jane Austen: a lost daughter? Part one, Part two: Kirkham and Ascarelli, Part three: Gordon, Part four: Perlstein, Part five: Gilbert, Part six: Russo and Broemel.
Part of a very loose series on lost daughters and sons: Margaret King (Mrs Mason) , Millicent Garrett Fawcett, C19 American women's rights advocates, Claire Clairmont, Voltairine de Cleyre, William Gladstone, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Amartya Sen