Today in the Frye Diaries, 23 August


1942: In bed with hay fever and thinking about Jane Austen:

[75] Stayed in bed all day: even so not a good night. Read Jane Austen’s Love and Friendship, a skit which proves to me, as none of her novels prove, that she is an important & not merely an intelligent & amusing writer. Jane is a blind spot to me: I enjoy reading her for relaxation and I admire her skill and ingenuity, but I never feel much sense of cultural infusion, of the kind I require from a great writer. This boils down to the fact that I have nothing to say or discover about her, & and so take her merits on faith… I can’t forgive Jane for the vulgarity and Philistinism of Mansfield Park: if she hadn’t written that absurd book I could enjoy her without reservations. But her explicit preference for her dim-witted Fanny to her intelligent and sensible Mary Crawford means that in the long run she accepted her county families, and had no positive basis for her satire of Lady Catherine or Collins or Sir whatsisname [Walter Eliot] in Persuasion. In the long run she stands for the “dismal and illiberal,” for the exclusion of the free air of culture and intelligence. Mansfield Park gives her away–well, it gives the whole 19th c. away.

Note: Compare what he says here with his extended examination of Austen in The Secular Scripture more than thirty years later. (See Chapter 3, “Our Lady of Pain: The Heroes and Heroines of Romance,” which can be read in its entirety at the above link: pull down the “Contents” menu and hit the link for chapter 3.)

1950: Local gossip in Massachusetts with an old Oxford acquaintance, Rodney Montgomery Baine: the difficulties in landing a permanent academic post, the increasing necessity to complete a PhD to do so, the breakup of a friend’s marriage.  Then, finally:

[568]… He said he liked my book [Fearful Symmetry], though, again very typically of Rodney, he prefaced this by saying he’d found some errors in it, & almost wrote me about them.  That leaves me a bit up in the air, as he’s forgotten what they were: however, Rodney’s criticized my stuff before now, & what he calls error I don’t invariably recognize as such.

Tomorrow: the Fryes’ wedding anniversary

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