Austen, Eliot, Charlotte Brontë and the Mentor-Lover by Patricia Menon (auth.)

By Patricia Menon (auth.)

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My behaviour to you at the time, had merited the severest reproof. It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence”. “We will not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed that evening,”said Elizabeth. (367) “You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. ” (369) We are invited to share in collective amnesia about what preceded that evening and follow Elizabeth’s counsel: “You must learn some of my philosophy.

Rather, Whately’s assessment marks a point at which the unobtrusiveness of authorial mentorship is becoming more generally desirable, and he sees her as the touchstone for this development. Nearly two centuries later, in an age much more hostile to any relation between fiction and moral education, Whately, the admirer of concealed instruction, still lives on, reincarnated in, among others, the alien form ‘Northanger Abbey’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Emma’ 25 of the authors of The Madwoman in the Attic: “Northanger Abbey supplies one reason for Austen’s fascination with coding, concealing or just plain not saying what she means, because this apparently amusing and inoffensive novel finally expresses an indictment of patriarchy that could hardly be considered proper or even permissible in her day” (Gilbert and Gubar 128).

The climax of their educational walk, when “Catherine was so hopeful a scholar, that . . she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath, as unworthy to make part of a landscape,” comically sums up just how crude the results of the instructional process are. In the case of important matters such as marriage, she knows as well as he does what is entailed, although she feels no need and has little ability to frame her awareness in witty comparisons to the dance. Austen is clearly no more bent on serious instruction of a specific nature than is Henry or the narrative voice.

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