View Full Version : A Contrast

04-17-2007, 11:42 AM
The 19th. century early critics,Whately, Macaulay and Lewes compared Austen to Shakespeare in powers of characterization. High praise indeed. Yet Charlotte Bronte wrote “Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with human eyes, mouth, hands, and feet; what she sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient of death – this Miss Austen ignores; she no more, with the mind's eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast. Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete and rather insensible (not senseless) woman.”. Richard Simpson a distinguished Shakespearean scholar wrote, “Perhaps there is no author in existence in whom so marvelous a power of exhibiting characters ... is combined with so want of poetical imagination ... she has scarcely a spark of poetry ... She even seems to have had an ethical dread of poetic rapture.”. And “she lived and wrote through the period of the French Revolution and the European War without referring to them once, except as making the fortunes of some of her naval characters.”

Jane Austen own assessment of her art was a “little bit (two inches wide) of Ivory on which she works with so fine a Brush, as to produce little effects after much labor.”.The quote has been used to praise as well as to pillory.

As a contrast in scope, no better is to be had than Tolstoy's historical romance novel, War and Peace. In motivation of character, in scope of drama, in architecture of locale, in depiction and motivation of love, he is the exact opposite of Austen. And no better visualization of these ideas is to be had than in the 1968 version by Sergei Bondarchuk. Use it as a contrast to Wright's Pride and Prejudice. But please do not use King Vidor's War and Peace (1956), as it's aim is quite different.
In Sergei Bondarchu's, second part: Natasha Rostova, similar themes as in P&P are probed but the scale is vastly different, and a good counter point to the criticism of Austen's restrictive view.
I do not hold one better than the other but use them only to gain a greater appreciation of both.