Adventures in Reading

Some Historical Influence on Austen Pt. 2
September 2, 2007, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

To the left is a picture of The Swing (1766/7) by Fragonard from the Rococo period that I mentioned yesterday. This is the first painting that immediately comes to mind whenever I think of the period. Perhaps because the title is so self-descriptive but the picture itself is grand. It is an intimate occasion most likely in a private park and a young woman gaily is swung on the swing by an older man (a servant?) that you can barely see in the right background by the tree. In a carefree moment she kicks off one slipper towards the statue of Cupid as her lover, with the perfect vantage point of looking up her skirts, views her from below. Secluded, romantic, sentimental, and opulent and one can certainly see if this was how the French aristocracy was living no wonder the starving French under classes were a bit… piqued. However, to give credit to the period it did not start off this way (or at least not quite as much) and some of the earlier paintings of the period were a bit darker and more melancholy – perhaps reflecting on fleeting youth and life?

During the period this is going on in mainland Europe, England is not having too much to do with it. To some degree, an association exists with beauty as leading to corruption and inefficiency. In 1666 is a/the Great London Fire. But if we move out to the countryside of England, a little near to Longbourn – the Bennet’s fictional home. Van Loon puts it well when saying the entirety of the English landscape has something of a garden (or manicured) look and compares it with the musical expression durchkomponiert meaning through-composed. In addition to the landscape are the great houses reflecting political and economic oppulence.

Another important part of this period is the growing “relations” (or colonization) with India, Japan, and China. I will not dwell on this long as I have yet to see much influence of this in Austen but this does offer a new world of Eastern design that was reflected in clothing, furniture, architecture, etc known as chinoiserie.

As far as reading Austen goes, upon rereading the scenes with Wickham his gossiping dialog is much easier to identify but I was certainly oblivious to it the first time I read Pride and Prejudice. (Or perhaps it is simply my prejudice looking back at the book?) And perhaps this is where much of Austen’s art lies. It is so easy to get involved in the story line that it can be difficult to maintain a critical or outside opinion. Particularly as the emphasis of the story is on dialog (hell, no real description seems to happen until Elizabeth gets to Pemberley) one finds oneself getting sucked in and sponging up what information is given.



[…] was presented in Adam’s work. Nature perhaps seems just as confusing but if we look back to Van Loon’s description of the English country side as durchkomponiert perhaps it begins to make more sense in nature being manicured and this quality […]

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[…] Rococo Art “Rococo” has appeared roughly 1,000 times, which is pretty sweet. Rococo art is one of my favorite periods of art though it’s often looked over as being over decorative and certainly careless of the political and social stresses of the period it developed in. One commonly discussed painting from the period is Fragonard’s The Swing. […]

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