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Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition
Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition
Jane Austen
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2010
464 pp., 54.25

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Constancy and the Ethics of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park
Constancy and the Ethics of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park
Joyce Kerr Tarpley
The Catholic University of America Press, 2010
288 pp., 75.0

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Jennifer L. Holberg

The Delight of Meeting Miss Austen Again

Time does not wither ...

For an author who has been dead since 1817, Jane Austen remains remarkably hot. Though George Eliot observed that "[Austen] will doubtless be read as long as English novels find readers," Eliot (and no doubt Austen herself) could scarcely have imagined the attention that continues to surround Austen's work. Movies, miniseries, and mashups keep on proliferating: the latest film adaptation, a Latina retelling of Sense and Sensibility set in East L.A., entitled From Prada to Nada, was released in winter 2011, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is currently in production. Austen's birthday was marked this year by the ultimate pop culture tribute, a "Google doodle"—a Regency couple walking in the English countryside in the shadow of the Google search bar. Austen features as an action figure and as a finger puppet, perhaps so that one can play Austen trivia or the Pride and Prejudice board game. Or choose-your-own Austenian adventure in the interactive Lost in Austen book, all while listening to recordings of music marketed as contemporary to her time period. Austen herself becomes a detective in Stephanie Barron's mystery series, and in the just-published Death Comes to Pemberley, the great P. D. James essays a sequel to Pride and Prejudice in which Elizabeth Bennet becomes embroiled in a murder mystery. In addition to all the prequeling, sequeling, and imaginative manipulation of Austen and her characters, Austen has been repurposed as a "lifestyle brand," able to assist her fans with cooking and tea (with at least four cookbooks), sewing and fashion (Jane Austen's Sewing Box: Craft Projects and Stories from Jane Austen's Novels), gardening (In the Garden with Jane Austen), and, of course, manners (Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders). To complete it all, readers can furnish their lives with all manner of Austen-related tchotchkes: jewelry, candles, cross-stitch patterns, tea towels, key chains, tote bags, fragrance defusers, and crockery of all varieties.

As silly as some of this may appear, Austen clearly continues to resonate—and strongly. Interestingly, this is equally true in the academic realm: in the first decade of this century, almost 1,400 pieces of scholarship were devoted to Austen, according to the Modern Language Association's database. The investment in Austen is so high that even scholarly debates make headlines: just last fall, Kathryn Sutherland, an English professor at Oxford, caused a media kerfuffle when she claimed that Austen's style was not naturally polished and pristine but was as much the work of her editor, William Gifford, as her own.1

The two books under review here, then—Joyce Kerr Tarpley's study of Mansfield Park and Patricia Meyer Spacks' gorgeous annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice—join a rich conversation. Although they may initially appear as quite different sorts of books, they share a common interest in helping us see anew these two very disparate novels. Indeed, in her introduction to her excellent compendium, A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen, Susannah Carson argues that "[o]ne way of sifting through the wealth of literature on Jane Austen is to make a rough distinction between those who explain why Austen, her characters, and her world seem so familiar to us, and those who insist we appreciate the differences." Kerr Tarpley and Meyer Spacks both fall into the latter category.

Kerr Tarpley has perhaps the harder job of the two with Mansfield Park, the Austen novel which probably divides and disappoints readers more than any other. Few seem to know what to do with the pious, passive, and dutiful heroine, Fanny Price: Patricia Rozema in her 1999 film turned Fanny into a feisty character who seems to be based half on Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet and half on Austen herself. Others simply dismiss her as a prig. But like Louis Auchincloss when he claims, "Fanny Price is surely the least loved of Jane Austen's heroines, but she has grown on me steadily through the years," Kerr Tarpley finds much to admire in Mansfield Park, and her provocative arguments and rigorous scholarship will make readers reconsider their opinions of the novel too.

Grounded in Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Kerr Tarpley contends that constancy—"whose primary ethical function is to ground the practice of virtue by regulating other virtues common to Austen's heroines, including self-knowledge, love or genuine affection, gratitude, and humility"—lies at the heart of Mansfield Park and its ethical system. In fact, Kerr Tarpley maintains, constancy functions for Austen like Plato's justice, Aristotle's phronesis, and St. Thomas Aquinas' prudence, and helps Austen define the "good life" for the Christian. Thus, readers who are displeased with Fanny, Kerr Tarpley argues, fail to understand (or simply resist) Austen's complex moral philosophy. Drawing easily and impressively on figures including not only the aforementioned Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, but also Dante (with whom she makes some especially intriguing comparisons), Bahktin, and Augustine—as well as the range of Austen scholarship itself—Kerr Tarpley demonstrates that Austen's aim is to "separate piety from prosperity" and thereby to confound our readerly expectations. No longer is it enough for Austen to marry the heroine into property. Virtue may be rewarded, but it is with a life of "tolerable comfort" instead of the wealth of Pemberley. Austen's articulation of constancy, especially as expressed by the virtuous life, then, becomes the aim that Kerr Tarpley hopes we will come to appreciate in this often criticized novel.

By contrast, for many readers it is hard to imagine appreciating Pride and Prejudice more than they already do. Yet, Patricia Meyer Spacks' annotated volume will only increase fans' love for the novel—and she'll probably create a few new fans along the way too. The oversized volume is truly lovely, from its beautiful cover to its elegant endpapers, and it has a nice heft as well. The contents are equally handsome, the design winsome. The text, bordered by copious footnotes and crisp, well-chosen images, is not only readable but quite inviting. This is a volume suitable for both intense study and casual perusing. Wherever you happen to open the book, you are likely to find something fascinating, even if you've read the novel many times.

And that's no surprise, since Meyer Spacks, in her fine introductory essay, admits to having read Pride and Prejudice "forty or fifty times" herself and to having taught the book innumerable times as well. In fact, she says she initially thought she could annotate the novel "out of [her] head," but as she began the project she came to realize the extraordinary richness of Austen's work. Hence, this annotated edition combines Meyer Spacks' clear enthusiasm for the text with her immense knowledge of Austen and her time and the scholarship surrounding Pride and Prejudice as well. It is such a helpful combination that the next time I teach the novel, I fully intend to use this edition.

The metaphor of the "little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory" that Austen once (perhaps facetiously) used to described her work is equally apt in terms of the level of attention Meyer Spacks pays to Pride and Prejudice. The notes, for example, provide elucidations of individual words, call attention to Austen's linguistic and rhetorical choices, and sketch historical details that would have been assumed by contemporary readers. The notes, too, provide numerous explanations of Regency culture, including money, meals, and many modes of conveyance. At the same time, Meyer Spacks rightly points out that "notes can illuminate the question without deciding it"; here they prove a judicious and even-handed introduction to the most important currents in criticism of the novel. With each new footnote, I found myself reading more slowly, savoring the novel as if I were reading it for the first time. In some very real ways, I was.

The copious illustrations, interspersed throughout the text, allow us to imagine more fully what the period looked like, with pictures of everything from day bonnets, dresses, and military uniforms to furniture and fireplaces. The reader can visit dances, circulating libraries, and schools, including Edward Francis Burney's witty 1805 painting An Elegant Establishment for Young Ladies. Featured, too, are places Austen lived (or was perhaps inspired by), authors (such as Maria Edgeworth and Fanny Burney) she enjoyed and admired, and relatives and friends, including two of the men with whom she was romantically linked, Tom Lefroy and the unfortunately named Harris Bigg-Wither. In our increasingly visual age, students, scholars, and general readers alike will find the addition of these images compelling.

Both of these books are erudite, carefully researched, and densely supported. Joyce Kerr Tarpley and Patricia Meyer Spacks have done Austen's readers a great service by enriching our understanding of a writer who grows only more delightful with each new meeting.

Jennifer L. Holberg is professor of English at Calvin College and founding co-editor of Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture.

1.Readers interested in learning more about this controversy—and Austen's style more generally—should investigate the wonderful new online resource, Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition, at janeausten.ac.uk/index.html.

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