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Jane Austen: Bits to Bytes

Narrative form, style, and language

Sept 12 Class 4 -- Sense and Sensibility

    Austen: Sense and Sensibility (entire)

    Burrows, J. F. Computation into Criticism: A Study of Jane Austen's Novels and an Experiment in Method (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987). Read opening through end of chapter one. Please continue reading if you are interested in this method.

    Recommended: Cambridge Companion chapter 2 by Thomas Keymer, "Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility"

    Digital Project: Austen Hyper Concordance and Voyant

DUE Post #3

    Discussion of S&S in terms of narrative style

    Introduction of Burrow's computational criticism in Austen

    Practice doing computational analysis with the Austen Hyperconcordance and Voyant

Narrative Style in Sense and Sensibility

Though the chronology of production is somewhat complicated by Austen's early writing and her lifelong habit of revising, Sense and Sensibility has close stylistic affinities with Northanger Abbey. For this class we will focus on the narrative context for this novel, on the narrative control, and how it produces meaning. This will lead nicely into a discussion of Burrows' groundbreaking work in computational analysis of Austen's style.

Thomas Keymer writes: "In a manner reminiscent of Catherine Morland and Gothic, Marianne approaches her daily experience as a lived-out novel of sensibility" (32). What is a novel of sensibility? (If you are not sure, do some research.) To what extent is Keymer right about Marianne? How do you know?

Moving beyond "realism" as a term. Let's explore some of the ways people have discussed Austen's style.

From Richard Whateley's review of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion: "The vivid distinctness of description, the minute fidelity of detail, and air of unstudied ease in the scenes represented, which are no less necessary than probability of incident, to carry the reader's imagination along with the story, and give fiction the perfect appearance of reality, she possesses in a high degree; and the object is accomplished without resorting to those deviations from the ordinary plan of narrative in the third person, which have been patronized by some eminent masters."

Examine the language he uses to describe Austen's style. What do they mean to you? What are the sorts of "deviations from the ordinary plan of narrative in the third person" to which Whateley refers? How does Austen succeed?

Compare Woolf's assessment in A Room of One's Own(1929) -- "Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote, I thought, looking at Antony and Cleopatra; and when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare, and for that reason Jane Austen pervades every word that she wrote, and so does Shakespeare" (71).

How do you understand Woolf's pyschological assessment of Austen's style? To what extent is this similar to Whateley? How are the assessments different?

Woolf examines Austen's sentence style more minutely: "The sentence that was current at the beginning of the nineteenth century ran something like this perhaps: ' The grandeur of their works was an argument with them, not to stop short, but to proceed. They could have no higher excitement or satisfaction than in the exercise of their art and endless generations of truth and beauty. Success prompts to exertion; and habit facillitates success.' That sentence is a man's sentence; behind it one can see Johnson, Gibbon and the rest. It was a sentence that was unsuited for a woman's use. Charlotte Bronte, with her splendid gift for prose, stumbled and fell with that clumsy weapon in her hands. George Eliot committed atrocities with it that beggar description. Jane Austen looked at it and laughed at it and devised a perfectly natural, shapely sentence proper for her own use and never departed from it. Thus, with less genius for writing than Charlotte Bronte, she got infinitely more said" (80).

What are the characteristics of the "male" sentence that Woolf mocks? Note the preponderance of abstractions, the periodic style that withholds the sense until the final phrase of the sentence, forcing an expansion of thought and a delay of comprehension with the interruption of clauses. Note the doubling, the exactness through plentitude. Note the superlatives that assert authority and posit truth in the act of expression.

Compare a sentence from Sense and Sensibility regarding Mr. Palmer,[p. 97] "His temper might perhaps be a little soured by finding, like many others of his sex, that through some unaccountable bias in favour of beauty, he was the husband of a very silly woman, -- but she knew that this kind of blunder was too common for any sensible man to be lastingly hurt by it."

Or this sentence from Marianne to Elinor: "We have neither of us anything to tell; you, because you communicate, and I, because I conceal nothing."

In an introduction to another edition of the novel, Ros Ballaster notes the relationship between style and conflict in the plot: "Austen's novels appear to manage and resolve these epistemological struggles between opposites [such as Sense and Sensibility] through a virtuoso display of syntactical balance and control. Austen depicts emotional turmoil, social instability and economic rapacity with an absolute grammatical precision that itself counters the disorder which it signifies" (xxiii).

What evidence do you find in the narrative for this type of structure? Do you believe it is conscious or unconscious? Does it have an effect on your understanding of the plot?

Analyze the following key passages with attention to the narration. Keep in mind the following questions:

    Whose point of view does this passage represent?
    Who is it about?
    What information does the passage relate? What is the significance?
    How might the point of view influence the judgment of the information?
    What effect does this choice of narrative perspective have on the reader?
1) Chapter Three -- the courtship of Elinor and Edward: Read from "This circumstance was a growing attachment.... It was a contrast which recommended him most forcibly to her mother."
2) Chapter 21 the Miss Steeles and Miss Dashwoods at the Middleton's: "When their promised visit to the Park and .... that Elinor and Marianne should sit so composedly by, without claiming a share in what was passing."
3) Chapter 33 description of Robert Ferrars: "On ascending the stairs, the Miss Dashwoods . . . though adorned in the first stile of fashion."
4) Chapter 34 description of the dinner at the Dashwood's in London: "The dinner was a grand one . . . . want of spirits -- or want of temper."
5) Chapter 49 -- the engagement of Elinor and Edward: "His errand at Barton, in fact . . . . as his friends had never witnessed in him before."

J. F. Burrows - Computation into Criticism 1987

We are reading this groundbreaking book from 1987 to get a view of the method of computational analysis in literary criticism that has since been made more visible and popular through the work of digital humanists such as Franco Moretti and Matthew Jockers, and because it is important to see how we might better understand Austen's work through this method of analysis. It is important to read the introduction, and ideally you could read Part I in its entirety, but I will only require through the end of chapter one. If you are intrigued by this, and by using the tools of the Hyperconcordance and Voyant, I encourage you to continue reading the book.

Introduction makes clear that Burrows is engaging literary criticism and linguistic analysis in claiming that the small words matter in the style of an author (2). What is your reaction to this claim?

"The neglected third, two-fifths, or half of our material has light of its own to shed on the meaning of one novel or another; on subtle relationships between narrative and dialogue, character and character; on less direct and less limited comparisons between novels and between novelists; and ultimately on the very processes of reading itself"(2). Comment.

"My chief object, however, is much less to show how the evidence favours one doctrine at the expense of another than to show that exact evidence, often couched in the unfamiliar language of statistics, does have a distinct bearing on questions of importance in the territory of literary interpretation and judgement" (2). How controversial is this statement? Is it more or less so 30 years after its initial publication?

"Statistical analysis of the peculiarities of incidence makes it possible to approach the whole penumbra of 'meaning' in a new and fruitful way" (4).

What are some of the difficulties encountered in creating a reliable corpus? Establishing a firm total word count?

Page 9-10 describes the difficulties of Free indirect speech, narrative and dialogue. These are issues we can test with Austen Said in two weeks.

Part iii in introduction notes the importance of statistical methods and the gap between literary criticism and linguistics. 10-12. Has the status of these fields changed in 30 years?

Note that his analysis of the use of "we" among the different Austen characters involves skills of close reading across broad categories.

As you read, pay particular attention to interpretations of Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensiblity and test them against your understanding of the novels.

Also, pay attention to the way gender emerges as a category of linguistic analysis.

"Can a linguistic phenomenon, however firmly its existence can be demonstrated, properly be described as 'meaningful' when a computer-assisted concordance is required to bring its full ramifications to the light of day? The beginning of an answer lies in the fact that readers clearly have the capacity to recognize emphatic uses of words that are mostly inconspicuous..." (31) "But, even if they are never consciously recognized or never recognized in their fullness, they can presumably participate, at a subliminal level, in the establishment of meaning" (32). To what extent do you accept these premises?

See discussion of Catherine Morland and Eleanor Tilney on the incidence of 'it' - page 33.

When you have thought through these, visit the hyperconcordance and Voyant. Both have full corpora of Austen novels to try out. See what questions emerge for you as you explore the statistical representation of Austen's style.

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