LotR (was Re: reviews (but not of MC))

Charles Butler hannibal at thegates.fsbusiness.co.uk
Sun Dec 14 04:26:30 EST 2003

There are certainly examples of this, and it would be surprising if there
> >weren't - since authors are no more likely to be universally reasonable
> >anyone else. If letters from Jane Austen to Cassandra were discovered
> >made it clear that in her opinion the true hero of *Pride and Prejudice*
> >Mr Wickham, I doubt many of us would concede the point, author or no. On
> >other hand, I wonder how much easier it would be to come to an agreement
> >'what is reasonable' than on 'what an author intended'?
> What about Austen's classic comment about Emma being a heroine she liked
> but no one else would, because everyone prefers Fanny Price?

I recognize the first half of that quotation, though not the second. Wasn't
it more that she said (as she was beginning to write *Emma*) that she was
*going to* creat a heroine whom no one but her would like? Something like
that. Of course you're right that she was wrong, about that!

If Austen had
> ever said anything about Mr Wickham, I would take it with piles of salt.
> Austen is a good example of an author who messes with ideas of intention
> and interpretation -- I never can decide if she really is humble about her
> abilities, or just being sarcastic.

This is true enough - she didn't stop being an ironic person just because
she wasn't writing a book! And there's no reason to suppose that
interpreting authors' statements is going to be a particularly easy task,
still less an exact science, but I still think we can try - after all, we're
intelligent readers, aren't we? Austen was wrong about *Emma* (or rather the
statement she made about it was literally incorrect) but no doubt there was
a complex mix of irony, self-protective self-deprecation (if no one *had*
liked Emma she would have covered herself) and subtle promotion (she was
letting on that she at any rate *did* like her heroine) in there. So it
doesn't spoil the book, for me - indeed it seems all of a piece with it. By
contrast, her statement that the theme of *Mansfield Park* was 'ordination'
did hurt the book, because suggested that she really did mean the dreary
Edmund Bertram to be taken seriously as its hero, whereas without that
clarification I might have imagined her intentions towards him to be rather
more distant and ironic.


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