This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Note on C.S. Lewis

I noticed that C.S. Lewis's essay, "A Note on Jane Austen," existed while enjoying some meanderings around different internet sites. Someone somewhere mentioned it at some point and I tried to find it in full on the www but failed. I did manage to scrounge it up at a university library in a volume called Selected Literary Essays by C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper and published in 1969 by Cambridge University Press. I thought I'd share the info here since no one really seems to talk about these two English writers together, despite their popularity in the early 21st century in print and, especially, in film.

The author of the really, really successful Narnia series of children's books Lewis was a great academic, too. His style of writing is peppered with classical allusions but is also very readable and enjoyable. He quotes other critics of Austen, uses French and Latin terms and phrases, and quotes the Austen novels themselves, of course.

He does not seem to be a fawning fan of Austen's. He calls Mansfield Park "in places the best, yet as a whole the least satisfactory, of Jane Austen's works;" he says that the character Fanny Price could have been handled better by Charlotte Bronte; he states (when defending Fanny) that "[he] is far from suggesting that Fanny is a successful heroine."

He does, however, seem to have an admiration of Austen. Lewis refers to her "commonsense" and "morality." He states that " 'Principles' ... are essential to Jane Austen's art." And he goes on to state that "If charity is the poetry of conduct and honour the rhetoric of conduct, Jane Austen's 'principles' might be described as the grammar of conduct. Now grammar is something that anyone can learn; it is also something that everyone must learn." To my own humble blogger's self this seems to me that Lewis is saying that if everyone must learn principles, then they're a good thing; and, if principles are essential to Austen's work, then her work is admirable.

At the essay's end, Lewis makes a statement about Austen and her work that, to me, seems quite appropos for the theme of this blog and, as such, I will quote it: "She has, or at least all her favourite characters have, a hearty relish for what would now be regarded as very modest pleasures. A ball, a dinner party, books, conversation, a drive to see a great house then miles away, a holiday as far as Derbyshire -- these with affection (that is essential) and good manners, are happiness."

So, I guess we're not the only ones who like the bright side.

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