Politics Magazine

Austen, Frost: Two Anniversaries

Posted on the 01 February 2013 by Erictheblue

The New Yorker's Page Turner blog calls attention to a couple literary anniversaries of this past week--the fiftieth anniversary of Robert Frost's death (Wednesday) and the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (Tuesday). 

Joshua Rothman, in his commemorative post, takes up the issue of the divide between Frost's ruddy public personality and the rather desperate view of things expressed in his best poems.  In this essay, from The New York Review of February 1, 1963, Robert Lowell took up the same issue and summed up the poetry side of the question in this paragraph:

Randall Jarrell has a fine phrase about Frost’s “matter-of-fact magnificence.” He writes that the poems’ subjects are isolation, extinction, and the learning of human limitation. These three themes combine, I think, in a single main theme, that of a man moving through the formless, the lawless and the free, of moving into snow, air, ocean, waste, despair, death, and madness. When the limits are reached, and sometimes almost passed, the man returns.

While you're perusing Lowell on Frost, check out the Table of Contents for that issue of The New York Review.  Articles by Dwight Macdonald, Mary McCarthy, Philip Rahv, Elizabeth Hardwick, W.H. Auden, Robert Penn Warren, John Berryman, Irving Howe, Susan Sontag, Alfred Kazin, Adrienne Rich, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, a poetry page that included three of Berryman's Dream Songs. . . .  I see now that it was Volume One, Number One, and I think they succeeded in making a fabulous first impression.

Two posts on Jane Austen have caused me to plunge again into her novels.  I'm starting on Sense and Sensibility, which I've passed by before, and find, on one of the first pages, the following description of Elinor Dashwood:

Elinor, this eldest daughter, whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counselor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence.  She had an excellent heart,--her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong, but she knew how to govern them. . . .

I don't know much about Jane Austen, but I've read three of her novels--Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey--and Elinor sounds to me like the kind of person who could have written them.


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