Monday, April 11, 2016

Yesterday I received this email from a stranger:
I recently wrote an essay on emotional intelligence in Fanny Price. Yours was the lone positive voice ("In Defense of Dullness" article) so I wanted to thank you.
The writer was referring to my essay about Fanny Price (the main character in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park), which appeared several years ago in the Sewanee Review and has since been popping up in academic research databases such as JSTOR. I guess anything can pass as scholarship.

But don't you think my correspondent's discovery is intriguing? Am I really Fanny's only public fan?

The timing of the email was fortuitous as I've been rereading the essay myself. Last week, as I combed through the proofs of The Vagabond's Bookshelf, I was reminded again of the strange responses of the Experts to Austen's novel. Q. D.  Leavis, a tyrant of mid-twentieth-century British literary criticism, disliked it intensely. Vladimir Nabokov, on the other hand, was merely supercilious about it.

Faced with such august complainers, I found myself worrying, yet again, that I'm not smart enough to argue with them. I kept asking myself, "Do I sound stupid?" I went through exactly the same contortions when I tried to write about Paradise Lost. But in all such cases I eventually say, "The hell with it," and go ahead and write whatever I feel like writing. On the whole, I think I'm lucky to be able to fall back on this readerly insouciance, slapdash as it can be. As my editorial day job makes clear, there's a lot of timidity and anxiety in the academic world, much of it related to precedent, theory, and status. Things could be a lot worse. For instance, I could be trying not to get fired.


Carlene said...

To add to the karmic weirdness: I received part of my required reading list for a summer grad course entitled Representing Women (the focus is on women's voices, and how women and their social concerns are represented in lit), and on the list is...Mansfield Park. Which novel, intriguingly enough, I began reading yesterday. So strange that these occurrences are convening in the atmosphere. I've read most of Austen, but never this one. I'll look for your essay; it's going to be a seminar style class, so perhaps I'll offer it to the group to read. =)

Dawn Potter said...

I look forward to hearing your reactions to MP, and of course I'll be delighted to learn what happens if you share the essay with your classmates. I've gotten emails from other people who also have a personal fondness for Fanny: maybe we're a movement. . . .

Carlene said...

I sent the article to my prof; we shall see. =) So far, I like her, though I sense a lot of Cinderella issues going on. She's almost a caricature of female virtues (though I'm not that far into the novel). I suspect that, once she gets her sense of self (as Austen heroines tend to), she'll remind me of Jane Eyre. I'll keep you posted!