10.06.2008

Experience Is Vital


Becoming Jane. An autobiographical film that depicts the budding romance between not-yet-famous writer Jane Austen and a young Irishman Tom Lefroy.


Tom has a reputation. Let us just say that when a man has a reputation in late 18th century England, it is generally speaking not considered as being a compliment to his character. Barely staying awake during a reading performance by Jane soon after they are introduced, the two are off to a bad start. Tom later explains why Jane's writing failed to amuse him and gives her and the viewers his take on women and fiction.


If you wish to practice the art of fiction, to be considered the equal of a masculine author, experience is vital.


Tom here is referring to the kind of experience which has earned him his renowned "reputation". He suggests that in order for a female to be able to rise to the level of expertise that males have reached in the art of fiction, she has to forget all types of manners, all notions of propriety and decorum so she can gain the sort of experience needed, and considered absolutely necessary by Tom, in order to be able to write fiction that is worth reading.


Experience is, undoubtfully, crucial. But what type of experience are we really talking about? What are the modes through which a female is to aquire this experience? Most importantly, how has an unmarried English country girl, whose financial and social conditions were not of a high status, been able to produce 6 of English literature's most renowned novels? Surely, a female that falls under the labels listed above, can never be capable of doing, seeing, hearing anything, or capable of going anywhere that would finally render her "experienced".


Was Tom wrong in his presumption? Or was Jane Austen an exception to the rule? Or could it be, that Tom (along with the rest of the world) was blind to Jane's unruly ways, and that she indeed was, though in total secrecy, as experienced as any man in England?


Your thoughts please. Chop chop!

14 comments:

Moos the Monk said...

I think back then no matter how hard a female writer tried it was still considered inferior to almost any male writer, experience is vital yes. But what does experience include? it includes almost everything we do, me writing this now is part of my experience. You reading this is part of your experience *a very-small-not-so-important part probably :p*
But what kind of experience was Tom Lefroy talking about?
Things only "men" did?
I don't think experience only includes things that had a large impact on us, because every little detail matters... 2 people going through the same experience has 2 different impacts on those 2 people...
There's experience that you get from concentrating on one field, like studying something for example will make you more experienced in that certain subject... this experience is mostly knowledge... and I think knowledge and experience are very much entangled and cannot be separated *am I drifting away from the subject?*
So yeah, Tom Lefroy was wrong, Jane Austen wasn't an exception, she just had some chances and choices in life that helped in building her character and randomly constructing her experience which made her such a great writer... remember "Shakespeare's Sister" by Virginia Woolf?
So no matter if it was a man or a woman, experience is vital... It's all chances and choices...

Nada Faris said...

Actually, one of the reasons the public venerated Jane Austen's works was because she published them without a name. She published "Sense and Sensibility," "Pride and Prejudice," "Northanger Abbey," "Mansfield Park," and "Emma," before the world found out that the "genius" behind these masterpieces was a "woman" lol

Moreover, Jane Austen's character is the essence of her heroines. You know how most of her female characters resemble one another? That's because she was kind of writing about herself and her fantasies (and in a sense, much of what happens in her novels are unrealistic due to that reason).

Nada Faris said...

Moos, I agree with you that experience is vital regardless of a writer's biological sex. However, I think, when it comes to different historical contexts, fame stems from much more than mere experience. In the case of Austen, her "sex" would have kicked her out of the creative scene faster than she could have said "publish." Her publications suffered for that particular reason. When she gave her novels to publishers some refused them even before even "looking" at them. And then others would agree just to rip her off of some money.

I think the case can be analyzed from a sexual point of view as well. Many writers who were, for example, homosexuals enjoyed worldly acclamation when their sexual orientation was coated. And after disclosing it, they lost the fame that they had previously enjoyed (in this instance, the experience doesn't change, but the public's preconceived prejudices play an important role). Of course, class, nationality, religion, ethnicity, politics, personal prejudices and so on and so forth, influence the degree of panegyrics and encomiums bestowed upon artists.

F. said...

Moos: Yes but what Lefroy is saying is that it was impossible for a reputable young lady to gain any useful experience that would lead to good quality writing...
As to Woolf's "Shakespeare's Sister" I believe she commits suicide in the end because there is no outlet for her genius...
Austen once wrote to her sister, "I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress." She is clearly acknowledging the wider range of experience, here referred to as information and learning, that a man can get which a woman could not. But she is also "countering her society's general distrust of the femininity and gentility of women with public reputations as writers." (Deborah Kaplan) Basically, despite this "lack of experience" she has become an "authoress" nontheless.

Nada: Thank you for your input. No one seems to want to participate in this discussion, except us literature nerds.

Moos the Monk said...

I don't agree with Lefroy, don't get me wrong... experience is important, but not necessarily the kind he was talking about, and let's not forget that what's more important is that how we represent these experiences in a creative output...
And what I meant by giving the Woolf example is that different experiences and chances and choices create 2 different people... and I'm sorry for her death :p
I still think whatever experiences Austen went through in her life were very valuable, and she didn't lack any vital experience except for Lefroy's kind of experience, which isn't that important I think to form a great writer...
Which means that this "lack of experience" created this great "authoress" :)

One more thing... I'M NOT A NERD!!! ok maybe I am, but not in a vital way, whatever that means :p

AnGeL said...

Great post ;)

Lefroy is probably referring to the experience he gains as a man who gets to do all the things that a woman can't do, which were during those times many. he can also gain access to places women can't access, be exposed to a side of society that Austen herself could not be part of. all this together if put together and used smartly can create a strong and fruitful base for good writings.

yet again Lefroy can be easily referring to the sexual side of experience. seeing that Austen wrote about love stories and relationships that revolved her characters either falling in love and suffering to be together, or love from one side. both according to him can only be known by some one who's been through these experiences. in Austen's case she didn't. being loved, and falling in love is the only way for anyone, especially a woman, to be able to produce these feelings and put them in words, and most importantly make them sound realistic and real.

now i don't think that Austen is an exception to the rule, nor is necessarily experienced according to Lefroy's terms. but i simply believe that it's not that important for an author to write or recreate an existing emotion, feeling or situation, to be experienced in either. it is true though that experience makes it more real and truthful. but i think it is very possible without it if they're good and talented enough ;)

Nada said...

Let's look at Austen's writing. It's all about love, but does it include depictions of Lefroy's intended form of experience? Not at all. In fact, her novels were quite "cold" in comparison to some counterparts even despite the emphasis of love. Would that have been different had she become a little wild and endeavored to seek adventure/love/game etc.? Well, this is a hypothesis but I would like to conjecture (and it can be nothing more than that) that, indeed, it would've.

But I wouldn't have enjoyed her novels XD I have an aversion to mushy materials. Complexity, intellect, and art are the victuals for my relationship XD.

PG said...

"Or could it be, that Tom (along with the rest of the world) was blind to Jane's unruly ways, and that she indeed was, though in total secrecy, as experienced as any man in England?"
haha i love that idea! deliciously mischevious. although the definition of mischevious from a jane austen point of view is rather tame.

i don't think you have to actually experience what you write about... but i think for a romance novellist in that time he was probably right about letting go of inhibitions and decorum. you can see that when you compare today's romance novels with jane austen.. although i think the more innocent austen style is cute

F. said...

Angel: He is refering to experience in the sexual field...
Austen definately wasn't experienced that way...but I cannot be persuaded to believe that she had never fallen in love. Speaking of the movie (I don't know if this is an actual Austen quote) she is asked by gothic writer Anne Radcliffe what she wants to write about and Jane answers: "Of the heart" She is then asked if she knew anything about it, and she answered: "Some of it." This experience although not entirely responsible for Austen's talent must have had an effect on her writing.

Nada: So you're saying that you like Austen's novels as we know them now, and that you wouldn't have liked them if they were more...obscene?

PG: Again, in the movie (I don't want to ruin it for those who haven't watched) Jane does breach some of the codes of conduct laid down by decorum and propriety...with the aid of Lefroy might I add...and this relationship which is depicted in the movie is supposed to have been the inspiration for her writing...perhaps this "experience" with Lefroy is all the experience Jane needed to spawn such genius.
P.S. Don't let any hard-core Austen fan's hear you call her writing "cute".

Nada said...

It's not so much the obscenity that I oppose, but the mushy, overtly corny and unbearably cheesy garbage that litter the genre of Romantic Literature nowadays. I think its because I am emotionally crippled XD So I find myself enjoying really twisted obsessions, such as "love" as depicted in "The Black Dahlia" or just painful unrequited or impossible love, like Hancock. I absolutely loved Hancock because they "couldn't" be together without killing one another (literally). But that's just a personal opinion. I liked Titanic because Jack died and Rose actually lived, unlike Romeo and Juliet. There's no pain in Romeo and Juliet because they both die simultaneously. But to live life knowing that you are spending it without the person you really love, to me, delivers a greater and more powerfully cathartic message than the generic, boy meets girl, loves girl, marries girl plot that is conspicuously dominant.

With Jane Austen, it is precisely the logicality of her romantic relationships, the pseudo-coldness, and the stiffness of their engagement that attracts me to her novels. Yes...they love each other, but they spend the entire novel six feet apart...lol brilliant!

F. said...

Nada: Interesting point. Incomplete love, unrequited love, impossible love is what you're looking for. There has to be some sort of torture, quest, difficulty in the story for it to entertain you. The obvious outcomes of happy endings are too...boring! :P
But don't you crave a happy ending from time to time...the simplicity of it...the beauty of it...the certainty?!

Perhaps Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights is more your cuppa-tea :)

Nada said...

Oh yes! Wuthering Heights is an excellent example. Somehow, I'm thinking of two movies though. The first is a French movie that I adore. One of my all-time favorite "love" movies. It's called "Cap? Pas Cap?" in French and the American name is "Love Me if You Dare." God, that movie just explores a different angle of love in such an attractive way. You can't possibly say "boring," or "redundant." The other movie I'm thinking about is "The Notebook." Now that's more of a romantic Hollywood-like movie but one that I, not only appreciate, but admire. I don't know if you've seen it or not, but if you haven't, you MUST. I was bored the first half of the movie (because I reaaaaaaaaaally hate mushy c.r.a.p.) but the ending is impressive. I mean, it gives a new meaning to happily ever after.

I don't mind couples getting together at the end. I'm an emotional cripple, not emotionally dead lol. But my attention will be totally wasted if I read a generic romance novel or watch a romantic movie. Oh, and I don't like every book that doesn't end happily ever after either lol I just read "Chesil Beach" by Ian McEwan and honestly thought it a waste of time...then again, it was Eid and I was trying to waste my time XD

Nada said...

OH, that's the beginning of the French movie I was talking about:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OlKN2yj5EM

F. said...

Nada: To be honest, I haven't watched any of those. I've been putting off watching The Notebook for so long :P I'll check them both out soon and I'll let you know.

 
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