Below are Elaine's and Stephanie's notes from their discussion prep, which they have graciously shared with the entire membership. They have also included extensive resources and links, embedded within the notes, if anyone would like to explore further.
You can also read the discussion guide questions from Elaine and Stephanie sent prior to the reading group event in this post here at http://www.jasna-orswwa.org/home/discussion-guide-for-january-reading-group
The Janeites During Wartime - Notes & Resources
JASNA January 11, 2015
Elaine Blatt and Stephanie Fleming
Most of our information came from these two sources:
- A paper posted online by Professor Mary A Favret from Indiana University titled Reading Jane Austen in Wartime: http://www.rc.umd.edu/pedagogies/commons/novel/favret.html
- The book Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures by Claudia L. Johnson
War in Jane Austen’s Novels and Napoleonic War Background:
- The Curious Connection between Jane Austen and Military History – brief discussion of military references in each of the novels, https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/the-curious-connection-betweenjane-austen-and-military-history/
- Jane Austen and the Wars – puts Jane Austen’s life in the context of the wars that were its backdrop, http://www.theloiterer.org/table.html
Essays/Blogs on Austen Novels and World Wars:
- "A World at War" – essay by Lawrence Watt Evans in “Flirting with Pride and Prejudice”, https://books.google.com/books?id=855L0tfSgsQC&pg=PA27&lpg=PA27&dq=lawrence+watt-evans+and+pride+and+prejudice&source=bl&ots=3aqvdAlStk&sig=DViIXmKy15KXYwW6K5viBHtCscY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Cy20VJisHYOkNquEhLAH&ved=0CD_EQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=lawrence%20watt-evans%20and%20pride%20and%20prejudice&f=false
- "G.I. Jane: Austen Goes to War," http://jhupressblog.com/2014/04/23/g-i-jane-austen-goes-to-war/
- "Austen and the First World War," https://devilofhistory.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/austen-and-the-first-world-war/
- https://books.google.com/books?id=nqf_Wj2Wwx4C&pg=PA104&lpg=PA104&dq=jane+austen+in+wartime&source=bl&ots=XLN7u1DjO_&sig=vJQvHjxlxfGUHHNNVUyeps5_DLY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=siizVNbxHdixogS_uYGwDg&ved=0CEcQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=jane%20austen%20in%20wartime&f=false (First P&P movie used as propaganda to get Americans behind WW2 – also in Johnson’s book)
Bibliotherapy – WW1:
- "Ways With Words 2013: Jane Austen prescribed as antidote to the horrors of WW1," http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/ways-with-words/10164668/Ways-With-Words-2013-Jane-Austen-prescribed-as-antidote-to-the-horrors-of-WW1.html
Publishers before/during war effort:
- http://www.collectionnelson.fr/PC.PHP?COL=CL (in French – couldn’t find English version, but the titles of all the books in the Nelson Continental Library are in English)
Who are the Janeites?
From Wikipedia and Claudia Johnson:
Janeitism actually began during the Victorian era - after the publication of Edward Austen-Leigh's A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1870. This spawned an era of commercializing Jane. The literary elite felt that they had to separate their appreciation of Austen from that of the masses.
The term Janeite was originally coined by the literary scholar George Saintsbury in his 1894 introduction to a new edition of Pride and Prejudice. He declares himself a “Jane Austenite.” George Saintsbury’s generation is responsible for transforming Jane to a Legend. (Kipling later met with Saintsbury – maybe for background on his short story on Janeites?)
The term Janeites, according to Austen scholar Claudia Johnson, is "the self-consciously idolatrous enthusiasm for 'Jane' and every detail relative to her".
She goes on to say: “Criticism of Janeites mirrors to some degree criticism of Austen herself, that the enthusiasts' interests and Austen's focus herself are on the parochial or regionally social in a world that includes mass political movements, warfare, and the rise or decline of empire.”
We found Janeites had distinct characteristics and interpretations of Jane Austen’s novels during different eras: Victorian Age, World War I & 2, Post War, 50s, 80s, and present day. Also, in each of these eras, Jane Austen has been hated or loved in part about what she did NOT write about. In the 19th Century, it was about passion of every sort not being included. In the early 20th Century, it was war.
There is so much interesting information on Janeite’s in each of these eras, that we recommend delving further into this topic in future meetings.
We decided to focus on the Janeites in the early 20th Century, and take a look at why Jane Austen was wartime literature.
World War I & II Janeites:
[In the early twentieth century, Janeitism was "principally a male enthusiasm shared among publishers, professors, and literati." (Wikipedia)}
On the eve of WWI, Frederic Harrison’s 1913 letter to Thomas Hardy states: “A heartless little cynic was Jane, penning satires about her neighbors whilst the Dynasts were tearing the world to pieces, and consigning millions to their graves. A relation of hers was even guillotined in 1793, her brother was in the fleet that fought at Trafalgar - & not a breath from the whirlwind around her ever touched her Chippendale chiffonier or escritoire.” Harrison’s criticism is his perception of Jane’s indifference to war.
In contrast, on the brink of WW2, in 1939, Laura Ragg writes: “Austen too lived through a long war and suffered the threat of invasion as well as anxiety for loved ones.” She also insists on Austen’s absorption in the everydayness of war and wonders whether Austen’s income from S & S was taxed – as her mother’s extra income would have been, given the war tax imposed from 1798-1815.
Ragg finds that the mood of war is everywhere in Austen’s world and her novels: Austen knew the “stolid equanimity with which the English people supported 21 years of warfare with its attendant griefs and privations…. They suffered indeed from suspense, and from the heart-sickness of hope deferred to a degree which we can scarcely now imagine.”
A. B. Walkley (avid Janeite), writing for Edinburgh Review (during WW1 era?): Austen is not sealed off from politics, but her novels permit us to believe that ordinary life can be lived despite it.
Regardless of Harrison’s opinion, we know that Jane Austen was the cherished companion of the WWI generation – both at home and in the trenches.
War Illustrated cited soldiers requesting Jane Austen’s novels for the front. The December 1915 issue published an article about how soldiers found solace from reading and needed books to be sent from Britain. It reveals the men had no appetite for “literary essays by literary men… what is wanted there is the friendly companionship of a good and kindly book to take the mind away from the contemplation of the terrible environment.” It reveals demand for romance and Jane Austen in particular.
Kipling wrote “The Janeites” in 1917 - (http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/soldiers_fra.htm) Kipling treated Jane Austen on the front lines as a “universal truth” and where she was read not for escape, but for training for the demands of war. And like many British citizens, his family read aloud Jane Austen every evening to get through the war, and then through the mourning of the death of their son in the war.
During WW1, Jane Austen’s novels were read for therapy, too. HF Brett-Smith, a former Oxford don, employed by the British Army to rate novels and poetry in terms of therapeutic efficiency and relief. In Brett-Smith’s “Fever Chart”, Jane’s novels were selected as the most effective form of treatment and recommended for the severely shell-shocked. (Today, bibliotherapists still recommend Jane Austen novels the most of all literature .)
During WWII, Jane Austen’s novels were read in bomb shelters and in high demand by the armed forces. Sales of Pride and Prejudice tripled between 1939 and 1940, and were out of print by 1942 for the first time since her death because of paper restrictions.
The Janeites of the time saw Austen not simply as someone we fight for, but someone we fight with.
Jane Austen’s novels were seen as a reflection of English National Character with a premium placed on behaving well in times of duress (stiff upper lip, etc.). Men identify with the plight of female characters as well – it’s not about gender (like in Victorian times) – but about timeless human nature.
Hugh Walpole, in discussing how the Great War left his generation with a “bitter cynicism” that transformed reading tastes, observed that while the “catastrophes and disappointments of the War left us with a deep contempt for what seemed to us a naïve and desperately complacent idealism of Victorian writers, it was very natural and significant that the one novelist of the nineteenth century who expressed in her work no philosophy at all, whose observation was ironic, whose genius was mainly in the humours of little things, was our own Jane Austen, who might, in spirit at least have belonged o our post-War time.” Claudia L Johnson goes on to say: “She is the contemporary of a generation whose ideals have blown up and respects the humor of little things and home things, not because they are darling, diminutive, or manageable, but more tragically because big bombastic things have been shown to be shams.”