Monday, September 5, 2011

A Dose of Jane

Jane Austen never ceases to amaze me. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed Northanger Abbey until I opened my copy last week and happened across this treasure trove: 
"I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding--joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens--there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. "I am no novel-reader--I seldom look into novels--Do not imagine that I often read novels--It is really very well for a novel." Such is the common cant. "And what are you reading, Miss--?" "Oh! It is only a novel!" replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. "It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda"; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it.
Bwahaha! You cannot help up laugh at the caricature, especially if you are familiar with some of the ideas of novels held in the old classic books. Even I am guilty of saying, with an abashed expression on my face, "Oh, it's only such-and-such a one."
What is it that brings up such feelings of bashfulness? First off, I must explain that the general concept of a "novel" in most classic books of fiction refer to a thriller-novel. The blood and gore, scandal and intrigue that peppered the sensational books of the day. The sort of the book Jo March of Little Women tried her hand at and the sort Proff. Bhaer disapproved of. They were generally what I call "fluffery"...the equivalent of those horrid 25-cent romances you can (but hopefully never will) buy at the thrift store. The kind that are written in mass droves and you'd be ashamed to be caught dead in the middle of.
Now moving on, the type of book Jane Austen was referring to was obviously the right sort of her own. :) Books that shape and mold you for good. I appreciate this quote:
It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.  ~Oscar Wilde
It is entirely true. The books you turn to in your free time really are the books that will effect you. That's why it's so important that we take Benjamin Franklin's advice and "write things worth reading and read things worth writing." To a writer it's all connected. The things we read influence our writing which is something someone else will read that may influence their writing and so on.
It's rather a grave responsibility, if you want to get philosophical about it. :) But that is why I feel that my first task as a writer is to pledge to write and read only the best of literature. The world has enough fluffery, enough sensationalism, enough dime is hungering for something worthwhile.
My goal is, and has long been, to write good literature that reflects the beauty of Christ and points others to Him. I am determined to be one author that stands above the sea of other scribblers because I have, with God's grace written: "Some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language."
  I have not arrived at that point yet, I know. I cannot by any means claim that I have achieved my goal, but hopefully, in good time, I will be nearer it. :) I hope you enjoyed this post, or at least that it challenged you to think on the topic of good vs. best.


Horse Lover said...

Very true, Rachel, what we read affects the way that we think, and thus the way that we write (or act). :-D You will reach your goal! It's a good rule not to allow anything into your writing which you would not want in your own life. Our number one reason for writing should be to bring glory to God, right? Just like everything else in our lives. :-D

Elaine J. Dalton said...

This is how I read and write! My goal is to produce something worthwhile, something wholesome and much, much better than the fluffy easy-reads one finds in such abundance everywhere. To arms! :D ;)

Unknown said...

I love Northanger Abbey!! It is my favorite one by her!!