Adventures in Reading

Some Historical Influence on Austen Pt. 1
September 1, 2007, 10:50 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Yesterday I (nearly) enjoyed an entire day of reading and my opinion was all over the place. To say the least, many of my former opinions have been challenged and this has led me to alter my opinions as well as introduce a slew of new questions. This is not something I mind and I trust no one will think the worse of me for flip-flopping. In addition to Pride and Prejudice, my day was peppered with reading A History of the Wife by Marilyn Yalom, The Arts (1932) by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, 1,000 Tiles by Gordon Lang, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages by Mamiya, as well as an assortment of passages from various other books. It was quite the day of deep perusing.

In A History of the Wife by Marilyn Yalom I read the chapter “Republican Wives in America and France.” Wrong country, yes, but at least the correct time period and looking at some very important events that shaped the modern western world. Yalom spent some time on the idea behind feme covert, which was brought to the Americas from England, republican motherhood, and two areas of particular interest: literary salons of France and the growing industry of companionate marriages.

To read and enjoy a book one does not have to do historical research (I kept thinking of this topic yesterday while researching) but it helps. An entire new world is discovered and begins to unfold within the story when we suspend at least some modern thought and spend time focusing on the opinions during the period of the book. So, looking at French literary salons allows the reader to better understand what was going on with women in art, culture, and writing and understanding the relatively new idea of companionate marriages brings an entirely new light to Charlotte’s and Elizabeth’s discussions on marriage.

From here I moved to The Arts and spent some time reading up on the Rococo period. Jane Austen wrote  in the Neo-Classical period of art (something I will spend more time on in the future). The Neo-Classical embraced the ideas of Roman and Greek antiquity and is what gives viewers such charming costumes and interior designs when we watch the period films. The Neo-Classical in part was a reaction to the Rococo period that some of us may fondly recall from the modern movie Marie Antoinette or one of my favorite Rococo paintings The Swing (1766). It is a period of universal art (universal in the sense that it captured much of the European art scene as well as Russia and China) that people usually recall, that is the Rococo, as being an extravagant representation of the upper class. It is certainly a period where one could argue that the representation of the upper echelon paints a very pretty picture of why the poorer classes revolted.

But to look at the Rococo as nothing more than fluff also serves as in injustice to the artistic period. It seems easier to write it off as it is the first artistic period that not only used but completely embraced pastels. In addition, many people recall the monumental size works of art and architecture of the Baroque and Renaissance, but the Rococo usually worked on a much smaller scale. Rococo translates to small shell or pebble and initially the movement was connected to the small and intimate. Paintings tend to depict private scenes and physically are smaller in size and much sculpture was designed for table top display.

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