Friday, January 23, 2009

Great Lines in World Literature: Jane Austen

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm currently re-reading all of Jane Austen's novels, and with far more understanding than thirty years ago, when I was still quite ignorant and rushed through every line. I'm still somewhat ignorant, but I've learned to go slowly amidst the bustle of this world . . . in reading great literature, anyway.

In other areas, I wish that I were faster.

Another reason that I read slowly is that I have no unbroken time for reading. I can read on the subway to Ewha Womans University, and on the way back home, or I can read while 'riding' my stationary bike, and while drinking a beer afterwards. Those are about the only times, so I find myself focusing very closely upon the text to understand it -- stopping often to recall a details or re-reading a passage to ensure that I comprehend.

I'm now about seventy-five pages into Mansfield Park and often laughing at Austen's wit, sometimes out loud (thereby ensuring myself plenty of room on the subway). Last week, while reading of Maria Bertram's engagement to the landed and wealthy Mr. Rushworth, I had to laugh at the words that Austen put into Tom Bertram's thoughts regarding his sister's engagement:
He could allow his sister to be the best judge of her own happiness, but he was not pleased that her happiness should centre in a large income; nor could he refrain from often saying to himself, in Mr. Rushworth's company -- "If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow." (Austen, Mansfield Park, Chapter 4)
Which is, of course, a way of saying that Mr. Rushworth is a very stupid fellow while also remarking upon the social fact that stupid rich people are nevertheless often regarded as more clever than stupid poor people.

Austen's point? If you want to raise your IQ, just get yourself some money. Nah, just kidding. Austen was ignorant of IQ testing . . . for the simple fact that there was no such test at that time. Lacking any means of assigning numerical scores to people's intellectual faculties, Austen would simply have meant that a quantitative increase in wealth results in qualitatively superior intelligence. Nah, I'm still kidding. She really just meant that having more money doesn't make you smarter.

But does it make stupidity more tolerable? And how much more tolerable did Mr. Rushworth's twelve-thousand pounds a year make him? What would that be worth in today's money?

In other words, how 'smart' is Rushworth?

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At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Christopher said...

"....What would that (12,000 pounds) be worth in today's money.....?"

I would guess it would be at least one million dollars per year today - and probably a lot more.

Mr Rushworth was obviously a great "catch" for Maria.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Christopher, my own curiosity got the better of me, so I checked quickly online and found that in 1989, an Austen scholar calculated the rate at $33.13 for every British pound (assuming the year 1810):

James Heldman, "How Wealthy is Mr. Darcy – Really? Pounds and Dollars in the World of Pride and Prejudice"

"Mr. Rushworth, with an income from Sotherton of £12,000 a year –- over $397,000 –- is the wealthiest of Jane Austen's characters whose incomes we know but is otherwise virtually forgettable."

At only about 400,000 dollars, we can't say that Mr. Rushworth would be such a good catch -- though in the 20 years since 1989, the income would surely be calculated as a larger figure.

I don't know the quantity, however, so it might approach your guess of one million dollars.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Christopher said...

This doesn't make Mr Rushworth such a good catch after all, for $397,000 would be considered quite ordinary among the better-off classes today, particularly Republicans.

Therefore Maria might best have looked for something better than Mr Rushworth. But it's doubtless too late now - water under the bridge, so to speak.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

True . . . in the fictional sense of flowing water, anyway, since neither Rushworth nor Maria actually existed.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:33 PM, Blogger writtenwyrdd said...

I love Austen. Her wit is so wicked!

Hope you had a great holiday season. I've been out of touch with all my blog friends due to fixing up my new house and moving.

At 5:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Written Wyrdd, good to see you back.

You might have noticed that I had a spot of difficulty in discovering my blog removed from the internet, which grew into a week without Gypsy Scholar, but a friend of a friend intervened at Google, bringing those responsible to recognize their mistake . . . and so on.

And I hope that I haven't already explained this to you and forgotten that I've done so -- I've related the story to so many people recently.

Anyway, I'm back, too.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:46 AM, Blogger writtenwyrdd said...

Goodness, that's not an unusual story,either, Horace. I've read at least four or five bloggers saying they were considered spammers on their own blogs or had their blogs pulled.

What a pain.

At 5:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, that's partly how I figured out what had happened -- bloggers at a Blogger discussion website were discussing the problem.

(By the way, I prefer "Jeffery.")

Jeffery Hodges

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