My later rediscovery of Jane Austen

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Lengthy earlier than the lockdown, I discovered solace within the bushes of London. As dangerous as issues have been, the bushes dominated the worst. Their gnarled trunks, their gnarled longevity, are proof that the whole lot that troubles us will someday be a reminiscence, that that too will move away. Within the meantime, whether or not it is shading us with summer season greenery, lining our path with fallen fall leaves, or staying bare and dreary as we site visitors by the winter mud, they do not care.

Like Marianne Dashwood in Jane Austen’s Sense and sensitivity mentioned to the bushes round Norland, the household house, simply earlier than she was pressured to stroll away, “You’ll proceed the identical; oblivious to the pleasure or remorse you arouse, and unresponsive to any adjustments in those that stroll underneath your shadow.

I arrived late in Austen. My assembly with Emma in a Nineteen Seventies Johannesburg classroom didn’t encourage additional exploration. “Are you able to see Emma’s humor in pondering that Mr. Elton is in love with Harriet when he’s actually in love with Emma?” our English instructor ventured out. A few boys burst out laughing in mock hilarity.

Categorized white by the apartheid authorities, we acquired a privileged English schooling, with prefects, cricket and blazers. However, actually, what are we to make of these occasions 1000’s of miles away, the dances and carriage rides, the occasions in Highbury, Tub and Brunswick Sq.?

These answerable for our instructor whose households had as soon as lived in such locations had left Britain generations earlier than. The remainder of us have been the kids and grandchildren of the more moderen arrivals in South Africa – of the Lithuanian Jewish neighborhood. shtetls, Greece, Portugal and its African colonies. On one event our ridiculous indifference introduced our poor instructor out of the classroom in the midst of class, on the verge of tears, little doubt regretting his profession by making an attempt to curiosity sweaty South African teenagers in one of many pearls of English literature.

So aside from a rambling studying of Satisfaction and Prejudice a number of years later, I put Austen apart for nearly half a century – till lockdown. Tempted by an introductory audiobook supply, I downloaded and listened to the six accomplished novels.


I’ve now lived in England, the land of Austen, for practically 40 years, has been captivated with wooden, heather and bushes. Earlier than the pandemic, I took an early morning stroll earlier than heading to the metro station. Free of commuting, I might now lengthen this to an hour, and even two, earlier than I obtained all the way down to work. Because the lockdown continued and pubs, eating places and gymnasiums closed, my beloved inexperienced areas have been full of folks determined to be exterior. I stepped away from the crowded trails and headed for the hidden trails. I may be an immigrant, however many years of exploration meant I used to be extra conversant in fallen logs and fewer visited glades than the natives.

One benefit of listening to novels in movement, quite than studying them sitting down, is that you simply keep in mind precisely the place you have been when their characters met with triumph or disappointment. I keep in mind the oak bushes I got here throughout in late spring when John Dashwood’s spouse urged him to obey his father’s final request to pay a beneficiant sum to his mother-in-law and her half-lives. sisters in Sense and sensitivity. I keep in mind passing the pothole between the wooden and the heather, its standard deep puddle dried by the August solar, as I shared the horror of Sir Thomas Bertram unexpectedly getting back from his journey to Antigua in Mansfield Park, to seek out the younger folks, shamefully, rehearsing for a racy play. And I keep in mind scaling the hill from the spring-fed stone fountain in early fall as Emma shamefully humiliated Miss Bates with a low jibe.


Barely responsible of the way in which A number of the time my walks have been taking, I settled right into a self-improvement routine: half an hour of audio French classes and, a number of months later, German classes, earlier than turning to Austen. Shifting on from language podcasts to novels, I began to be struck by how Austen’s French language sounded, and the way non-German it was. A single web page from Mansfield Park brings us Fanny Worth’s’ felicity ‘, the Grants” disposition ‘, Sir Thomas Bertram’s hope that his journey to Antigu could be’ helpful ‘. In Satisfaction and Prejudice, Darcy, in a number of strains, refers back to the “quickness” of thought and the “haste” of Charles Bingley to go away, whereas the “velocity” derived from Previous German would have finished for each.

English is a Métis language with two principal elements, Germanic and Latin, particularly French. After the Norman invasion, the higher lessons spoke Previous French, the peasants Previous Germanic English. The result’s that our vulgar phrases are often derived from German. My noisy comrades would have had no issue in guessing the which means of Scheisse and Arsch. Germanic phrases are usually widespread, these derived from French are refined. Most of Austen’s characters usually are not widespread. When odd folks seem, as in Harriet’s gypsy assault in Emma or the return of Fanny Worth to her poor household in Portsmouth Mansfield Park, their intrusion into the refined world of Austen is surprising. It isn’t stunning that I’ve detected so many French folks in Austen. Or is it extra difficult than that?

In his biography Jane Austen: a life, Claire Tomalin emphasizes how studied Austen is: “Essential literature contains 1000’s of volumes and tens of 1000’s of articles, starting from illuminating sensible to weird. So, inevitably, somebody did a research of the frequency of phrases of French and German origin in Austen’s novels.

In “The Density of Latinate Phrases within the Speeches of Jane Austen’s Characters,” printed within the Literary and Linguistic Computing journal in 2001, Mary DeForest of the College of Colorado and Eric Johnson of Dakota State College describe how their computerized analysis of novels d’Austen detected 13,809 distinctive phrases, which they then categorised as Latin or non-Latin. They discovered, as may be anticipated, that Austen various his use of phrases derived from French and German to point standing and schooling, or lack thereof. Greater densities of French phrases confirmed intelligence and ethical seriousness in Austen’s characters, write DeForest and Johnson, though in addition they often uncovered “the formality or hypocrisy of a personality.” Decrease densities of phrases derived from French indicated “much less intelligence or, within the case of sailors, humble beginning.”

Property of Sir Thomas Bertram at Mansfield Park, the place the common-or-garden Fanny Worth is cared for by her rich uncle and aunt, is described in phrases of French origin: “Class, comfort, regularity, concord.” In Worth’s chaotic house in Portsmouth, we’ve the Germanic description of every voice as ‘loud’.

Of the 5 Bennet sisters of Satisfaction and Prejudice, the esteemed Jane and particularly Elizabeth have a excessive proportion of Latin phrases. Idiots Kitty and Lydia have the bottom proportion of French-derived phrases of any Austen feminine character. Mary, the center sister, makes use of excessive ranges of Latin phrases, however this means her pretension quite than her intelligence.

The density of Elizabeth Bennet’s Latin phrases nearly matches that of the narrator in Satisfaction and Prejudice. So do these of Emma, ​​Elinor Dashwood in Sense and sensitivity and Anne Elliot in Persuasion. Austen’s 4 nice heroines, DeForest and Johnson level out, are closest in Austen’s speech herself. They converse for her.

Certainly, Austen, like the remainder of us, made no aware determination to modify between French and German phrases. What we see is a mastery of the register, a robust sense of hierarchy and, in his ironic mockery of the excessive and low characters, the humor that our determined English instructor tried to inform us all in the past. these years.

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