Daily Bulletin


News

  • Written by Judith Armstrong, Honorary Fellow of the School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Melbourne

In our Art for Trying Times series, authors nominate a work they turn to for solace or perspective during this pandemic.

That we are all spending more time at home these days goes without saying; for those of us in Melbourne, our four walls feel restraining when most ways of leaving them are proscribed. So let me persuade you of a marvellously legitimate alternative to breaking the law, sorting your messy passwords, or rearranging your higgledy-piggledy books into some kind of order. It’s called vicarious escape.

Oddly enough, if my bookshelves had been in proper order I might have missed out on this experience. During the first lockdown I was looking for inspiration among the over-familiar titles when I discovered a book I had bought but not read, and then forgotten I owned. In triumph I carried it as far as the couch, stretched out (the sun was streaming through the windows), and turned to page one.

This was not a cop-out, you understand, for the book was Literary Criticism. It would be instructive, even demanding; it could almost count as work. It was a book born of impressive knowledge but written in a lively, deceptively simple style; it offered new and clever perceptions about a writer of whom you might think everything had long been said. It plunged me back into the beloved novels of Jane Austen, and I read it with delight.

Read more: Friday essay: the revolutionary vision of Jane Austen

By the time I had reluctantly reached the last page, the next lockdown was imminent, and I rejoiced that one effect of my excellent discovery was to know exactly what I must do next. I would reread one, two, or all of Jane Austen’s major works, beginning with Sense and Sensibility, the first of the six to enthral an unsuspecting 19th century English audience.

Published anonymously in 1811, its first run had sold out. What I did not anticipate was the light this book could throw on life under COVID-19.

Sense and Sensibility in a time of coronavirus: vicarious escape with Jane Austen The novel concerns two sisters, Elinor and Marianne. The contrasting natures of the two girls provides Austen’s title, but there is also a younger daughter, Margaret, and an older stepbrother by the mother’s first marriage whose new wife forces the mother and daughters out of the large family house into a cottage in a small village in another county. It is this move that puts the sisters in a situation that has parallels with ours. The tiny village of Barton could offer no social life. A little like people obliged to work from home, the girls found themselves with no external stimuli, other than Nature, with which to fuel their inner thoughts and mutual exchanges. Read more: Turning to the Code 46 soundtrack: bearing solitude in a time of sickness Thrown back on their own resources then, the two older sisters work on their existing accomplishments. Elinor sketches and paints, Marianne practises her piano-playing; they walk daily, sew and read. Their every activity seems to the modern reader almost weirdly extended: a short stroll will occupy two hours; Marianne, at least in intention, will read for six. Now that lack of time is no longer an excuse, we might even think of emulating them, but there is one great difference (at least for me). Each sister has in the other, on tap, a daily companion who provides companionship and stimulation. There is no mention of boredom or restlessness; depression results only from romantic mishaps. How? Their neighbour Sir John turns up, some social life takes off, and Marianne falls in love. Well, this is a novel. I briefly put aside the Dashwood sisters to consider darker examples of literary isolates. Dostoevsky’s Underground Man leapt to mind. He lives utterly alone in a basement; his first words announce that he is “a sick man… a spiteful man … an unattractive man” whose liver is diseased. As a solitary he qualifies, but he’s hardly an example to follow. Back to Jane. But could even she help someone without a sister? Someone whose props, given the age we live in, are texts and emails, both of which seem determined to shorten our exchanges. “U?” is all we need say to seek an opinion by SMS. The phone seems currently the only resource by which we Melburnians could copy the sisters’ ability to introduce, develop, and thoroughly draw out a conversation. But even that we can’t count on. Usually our life-saving story isn’t nearly finished before the friend we’ve rung rudely interrupts with what she wants to say. No. The only escape must be vicarious, and preferably delivered by the divine Jane, with her potential Mr Rights completely taken in by her unscrupulous Miss Wrongs; where Incomes (salaries are for the middle classes, wages for the servants) can suddenly become desperately insufficient or dangerously excessive; where heart-stopping vicissitudes abound. All related in elegant prose that flashes with pointy wit and lashes with quiet disdain. The lockdown does permit you to lose yourself in a beguiling other world – if you have a Jane Austen on hand.

Authors: Judith Armstrong, Honorary Fellow of the School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Melbourne

Read more https://theconversation.com/sense-and-sensibility-in-a-time-of-coronavirus-vicarious-escape-with-jane-austen-142817

Writers Wanted

Vital Signs: yes, we need to make things in Australia, but not like in the past

arrow_forward

How a university can embed Indigenous knowledge into the curriculum and why it matters

arrow_forward

Do criminals freely decide to commit offences? How the courts decide

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Expert Tips on How to Create a Digital Product to Sell on Your Blog

As the managing director of a growing talent agency, I use the company blog to not only promote my business but as a way to establish ourselves as an authority in our industry. You see, blogs a...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

How to Find A company with Tijuana manufacturing

If you have decided to launch a business in Tijuana, there is a need to know about the manufacturing companies. The decision to choose a manufacturing company is not so easy as it looks.   The rig...

News Company - avatar News Company

Tradies are actually getting on well. ServiceSeeking's data surprises

Across the Top 20 Industry Categories for Household Trades and Home Improvement  3 Industries are showing massive growth in jobs listed: Rubbish Removal, Carpet Cleaning, and Door Installation 4...

Jeremy Levitt - avatar Jeremy Levitt



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion