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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

More on Lady Susan

And Also: A shout-out to Heather Vandeven, whose talents can be seen in Life on Top et. al. This is not an euphemism -- she is truly an actress, not just a sex performer. The amount of soft porn on late nite t.v. underlines there IS a difference. Meanwhile, Femme Fatales is of the "overdramatic" variety, but has some charm.

Before reading Emma (which I did start), as noted, I listened to Austen's Lady Susan, which was only published when a relative wrote a biography and included it along with The Watsons (an unfinished work) and excerpts of Sanditon (the unfinished work she was writing when she died at 41, not too young for the time, but atypical given the long lives of her immediate family). I have yet to finish the latter two though the latter starts well. I also borrowed the Penguins Classics volume that includes all three plus commentary and notes.*

I have found the portable and compact Signet Classics paperbacks the most enjoyable and attractive (the others can have a blah textbook feel), but this was fine, helped by its brevity. I did read Lady Susan after listening to it -- it is after all only around seventy pages -- and caught a few things that I missed while listening. The commentary notes it is a worthwhile work but flawed, in part because Lady Susan is so superior dramatically than the other characters. I think this is fairly accurate, though Mrs. Vernon comes off fairly well (the thesis of sexual jealousy is credible, but given her character, CV's objections are well-founded independent of that). It has the germ of a good novel, I think, the more finished work would be one providing the richer characterizations suggested by the intro here.

Austen, of course, literally "wrote" things, since we are talking about the days before the typewriter. The epistolary novel underlines the importance of letters in that day and age, though the introduction suggests others were more literary in their personal letters than JA was. Jane Austen: A Companion, a mixed bag guide to the Austen universe (good brief bio, some tedious and at times incomplete discussions), does suggest some interesting aspects. Unfortunately, her sister destroyed some of her letters that dealt with personal matters such as the death of Cassandra Austen's intended, so we do not a complete view there. Letter writing is not as important these days, emails and so forth providing a long form alternative when one cannot simply speak to a person on the phone.

I'm not sure, however, that learning cursive is quite akin to "like being able to churn butter and knowing how to hitch a horse to a wagon," though with a report of Indiana no longer making it a requirement, many seem to think so. I might just be getting old, but really now? I took classes five years ago in which handwritten class assignments and tests were involved. Unless public schools have personal computers for each student, I'm unsure how tests are done these days. People still write notes and so forth that require that thing known as "writing," and block printing is a tedious way to go if you have a lot to write. Again, in school, this would be rather relevant. Finally, there is probably a degree of skill and grace involved that puts one in good stead. I say this as someone who has lousy handwriting and whose teacher once pointed to the charm of word processing in my case.

One more thing -- it was noted that some have a condition that makes cursive difficult. I find this unconvincing. I reckon that others might have some condition where cursive is easier in some fashion, particularly given the nature of writing it is different. There is a certain easy flow involved that -- though I might be wrong -- probably helps certain people as compared to those who have to write in block letters. Any number of things, including related to typing and reading computer screens, can be a problem for people with a given condition. It is not a reason to not teach something. And, as to time spent, how much time does it really take? Schedule the time differently; continue to teach cursive.


* The notes are helpful given the Austen universe has various components that the modern day reader might not fully understand, but the absence in the Signet Classics version overall was not a major defecit for me given the overall charm of the volumes (including for most an introduction and for some another essay after the book was done).

But, they are somewhat overdone here and elsewhere in the editions that I do not favor, though the introduction in this copy is a fair length. The need to note the various word edits involved is unclear. It must have killed the editor to determine Lady Susan didn't require any notes regarding "obscure points of meaning or social detail." Given a felt need to discuss "leeches" in another work here, I somewhat question this.