Surface and Subsurface

  • Juliet McMaster


I take the metaphor of my chapter title from Charlotte Brontë’s memorable criticism of Jane Austen:

She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood;… Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden … — this Miss Austen ignores.2


Secret Message Present Power Strange Bedfellow Lionel Trilling Faint Praise 
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  1. 2.
    Letter to W.S. Williams, April 12, 1850. The Shakespeare Head Brontë (Oxford, 1931), xiv, p. 99. Reprinted in Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage, ed. B.C. Southam (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1928), p. 128.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Letter to W.D. Howells, January 18, 1909. Mark Twain’s Letters, ed. A.B. Paine (New York: Harper, 1917).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Letter to Ruskin, 5 November 1855. Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. F.G. Kenyon (London, 1897), ii, p. 217.Google Scholar
  4. See Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage, ed. B.C. Southam (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), p. 25.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Lionel Trilling points out how Mary Crawford “cultivates the style of sensitivity, virtue, and intelligence.” The Opposing Self (New York: Viking Press, 1955), p. 220.Google Scholar

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© Juliet McMaster 1996

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  • Juliet McMaster

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