Austen on journaling

I've finished Mansfield Park, which I'll write more about later, and have started Northanger Abbey, which contains more lively and entertaining amusements in its opening pages than the other book contains in its entirety.

I was particularly struck by Mr. Tilney's comments, shortly after being introduced, on the necessity of keeping a journal:

"[...] Not keep a journal! How are your absent cousins to understand the tenour of your life in Bath without one? How are the civilities and compliments of every day to be related as they ought to be, unless noted down every evening in a journal? How are your various dresses to be remembered, and the particular state of your complexion, and curl of your hair to be described in all their diversities, without having constant recourse to a journal? My dear madam, I am not so ignorant of young ladies' ways as you wish to believe me[....]"

It seems things haven't changed so much in the past two hundred years. Excepting only that now men can write journals too, and that we can all do so in public.

Tilney and Catherine proceed to discuss letter-writing:

"[...It] is this delightful habit of journaling which largely contributes to form the easy style of writing for which ladies are so generally celebrated. Everybody allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female. Nature may have done something, but I am sure it must be essentially assisted by the practice of keeping a journal."

"I have sometimes thought," said Catherine, doubtingly, "whether ladies do write so much better letters than gentlemen! That is--I should not think the superiority was always on our side."

"As far as I have had opportunity of judging, it appears to me that the usual style of letter-writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars."

"And what are they?"

"A general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar."

And here again we see that the passage of two centuries has brought us greater equality between the sexes, allowing men, too, to create written works with no more faults than those three.

Okay, I'm not being fair; in fact, the conversation in question concludes with a statement of gender equality:

"Upon my word! I need not have been afraid of disclaiming the compliment. You do not think too highly of us in that way."

"I should no more lay it down as a general rule that women write better letters than men, than that they sing better duets, or draw better landscapes. In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes."

2 Responses to “Austen on journaling”

  1. Pasquinade

    That is fantastic. I would not have believed that Austen had so much to say about blogging.

    Much as I’d’ve loved to see Shakespeare on a Hollywood budget (actual Will “the Thrill” Shakespeare, not someone else’s interpretation), I’d really have loved to see Austen’s blog. I suspect there would have been some truly impressive snark.

  2. Jed

    🙂 on “Will ‘the Thrill’ Shakespeare.” They ought to bill him that way in the credits of movies.

    Yeah, Austen’s blog would’ve been fun. Though it might’ve kept her from writing novels, and that would’ve been sad.


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