Surface and Subsurface



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 Critical Essay Present Power Polite Converse Strange Bedfellow 
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  1. 1.
    A version of this paper was originally published in Ariel, 5:2 (April, 1974), pp. 5–24. Since then, further discussions of Jane Austen’s handling of love and the passions have emerged. I refer the interested reader particularly to Barbara Hardy, “The Feelings and the Passions,” the second chapter of her A Reading of Jane Austen (London: Owen, 1975), pp. 37–65;Google Scholar
  2. Mark Kinkead-Weekes, “This Old Maid: Jane Austen Replies to Charlotte Brontë and D.H. Lawrence,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 30:3 (December, 1975), pp. 399–419;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. and A. O. J. Cockshut, Man and Woman: A Study of Love and the Novel, 1740–1940 (London: Collins, 1977). It would be anachronistic to update further for this 1978 essay.Google Scholar
  4. 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
  5. 3.
    Letter to W.D. Howells, January 18,1909. Mark Twain’s Letters, ed. A.B. Paine (New York: Harper, 1917).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Letter to Ruskin, 5 November 1855. Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. F.G. Kenyon (London, 1897), ii, p. 217.Google Scholar
  7. See Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage, ed. B.C. Southam (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), p. 25.Google Scholar

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© Juliet McMaster 1996

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