Is Leipzig all that far from Mansfield Park, Germaine? (Afraid to title this "A l'esprit de l'escalier', it's not fair to Googlers of idiomatic French.)
This is a post of afterthoughts, which came to me in an unguarded moment alone with books and good food at a spot outside Melbourne this week.
Last week at the Capitol Theatre, Germaine Greer put Jane Austen's Mansfield Park and Henry Handel Richardson's The Getting Of Wisdom together fairly arbitrarily, perhaps with an eye to getting the punters in to discuss at least one book they have all read.
It's possible that not everyone in the space had read Mansfield Park all that recently, apart from the academics, as an absorbed silence hung over the assembly while GG dissected it for the most part of her lecture, leaving only ten minutes or so for Henry Handel Richardson's popular bagatelle, perhaps more a companion piece to her first novel and true bildungsroman, Maurice Guest.
In the spirit of the staircase I am sitting on a verandah in the bush today, turning over in my head, and admittedly practising out loud in the still house as well, what a question on Maurice might have produced in the assembly last week. Here's a fin-de-siècle female writer who adopts a male pseudonym to write a rich, overblown, rotting rose of a book about a young music student who blows his brains out for love, claiming at the time that she 'wrote many of my own [agonies of youth] out in the book, and came up a quieter and saner person.'
It could have been fun to go into HHR's need to get a boy to shoot himself for love (spoiler aside, Jane devotees might have enjoyed being alerted to the darker side that Richardson's own bildungsroman explored), leaving aside the concomitant issues of Louise Dufrayer's characterisation as a festering lily, for which there might not have been any time at all once Richardson's subversion of the genre into a suicidal downward spiral had been covered. Now I'd have liked to see that. Given Greer's brave opening about incest fantasies, it would have been fun to consider the gap between not marrying the heir to Mansfield Park, and killing off male protagonists under a pen name, wouldn't it?
Just two quotes from Michael Ackland's recent bio of HHR, on the reception of both novels, and then I'm done here: firstly, of The Getting Of Wisdom, H.G. Wells wrote to Richardson,
expressing his 'enormous admiration' for her novel ('your little rag of a girl is a most admirable little beast...I don't think this particular thing could have been done better')
and of Maurice Guest, the Times reviewer wrote:
' a fine achievement, thought it is too long and too full of morbid self-analysis and too relentlessly cruel in its denouement to be widely popular,'
while John Masefield remarked he could scarcely find its equal in the preceding decade
'for strength of purpose...[and]truthfulness, of execution and power, not of observation (since many animals observe more sharply than man) but of survey, as from an intellectual watch-tower'.
These are very much the afterthoughts of an idle mind, and I'm getting carried away. The theme of the Austen conference for which this lecture was the opener, after all, was "Jane Austen and Comedy".
And accolades are due to my bloggy colleague, Laura, of Sorrow at Sills Bend fame for a terrific evening, for which I understand she fielded last minute calls from television producers who thought they might like to film it (Ahem.) The story reads like a Frontline script and you can read it here.