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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’ Category

Antonin Scalia hasn’t been buried yet. Since his death was discovered Saturday morning, not one hour of one business day has yet passed.

The fact that we’re already approaching DEFCON 3 in the fight over who will succeed him on the Supreme Court of the United States is a sign of what President James Buchanan would call “a disease in the public mind” — the present disease being of a kind that would make one view Mary Crawford, who regarded happily the prospective enlargement of Edmund Bertram’s inheritance while Edmund’s older brother Tom was gravely ill but still alive, as the heroine of Austen’s Mansfield Park. I think about five seconds elapsed between the first news I had of Scalia’s death and the first published remarks about who’d be replacing him. Always keep the strategems sharpened, the hands ready to collect the spoils, and all that.

Were he alive, I do not doubt Scalia himself would have regarded with distaste the prospect of being replaced by a non-originalist, non-textualist Justice. However, I also have no doubt that Scalia the textualist would have loathed the idea of adding some kind of extra-constitutional “election year exception” to the appointments clause of Article II.

The world often is not a nice place for those who adhere consistently to firm principle — for circumstances that make the principle inexpedient are usually crouching at the door. But taking expediency over principled consistency generally creates bigger calamities: it damages the world, and has a strange way of backfiring sooner than the compromiser foresees. What that means, if you’re a textualist, is your philosophy doesn’t admit exceptions for distasteful results — and if you compromise for expediency now, your compromise will, sooner or later, produce results far more disastrous than the addition of one more Living Constitutionalist to the Supreme Court.

That’s already too much commentary for a holiday Monday, but I’ll add just a few words more.

For the living — those actually charged with the responsibilities of appointment and advice and consent, and the chattering onlookers — the text of the Constitution prescribes the next steps of this dance.

For the Scalia family and all the grieving, may God comfort them.

For Antonin Scalia: thank you, sir, for your good service to our nation; and rest in the peace of Christ.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that an author in possession of sound morals, a keen eye, the homeliest good sense, and wit sharp enough to cut granite must be in want of a wide readership.

And so I’ll be among Jane Austen’s active readership this month, posting my findings semi-weekly at the blog of my good friends at Lantern Hollow Press.  If you’re an Austen fan, or looking to get into her works, take a look.  Cheers.

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Some cold, hard facts about a male character who appears in a Jane Austen novel:

A young man becomes engaged under circumstances where the engagement must remain secret in order to prevent his being disowned and disinherited by his family. Within months of that engagement, the man realizes that his promise was rash — as he later puts it, “an idle, foolish inclination.” The engagement continues nevertheless. About four years later — his engagement still unbroken, and still secret — he meets another young woman, with whom he spends a sufficient amount of time, and to whom he pays a sufficient quality of attention, as to lead this second young woman’s family to wonder if she and the young man might be engaged.

Is that an Austen hero?

Just looking at that Joe Friday “just the facts” version of the first few chapters of Sense and Sensibility,* you’d probably say no. You’d say that maybe he’s an Austen villain — sort of a chaste Willoughby, a Willoughby-lite — or perhaps an Austen buffoon, like the foppish Frank Churchill.

And you’d be wrong.

About a year ago I had the pleasure of playing Edward Ferrars in a stage production of Sense and Sensibility.  And I was amazed at how often after performances I had to explain to various audience members why Edward Ferrars is a good character, despite the not insignificant body of evidence against him. My usual line of argument — sound as far as it went — was to plead his later conduct, which revealed him to be a man who stood to his promises, cost him what it may, and who manfully accepted the rather sad consequences of his imprudence (from which Austen delivers him, with his honor intact).

But in arguing that case I realized something. Commendable as Edward’s later action was, knowledge of it was not, at bottom, the reason I thought well of him and wished him happiness. My admiration for Edward, my wish that he be happy, my inclination to take his side in argument, were actually founded only upon these two things: First, I had the highest regard for Jane Austen, and great respect for her judgment — and she, as narrator, evidently admired Edward Ferrars. Second, I had the highest regard for Austen’s heroine, Elinor Dashwood, and great respect for her judgment — and she admired Edward Ferrars. Moreover, their admiration was quite absolute well before Edward’s later action proved just how worthy of it he was. From first to last, their praises of Edward’s virtues, and their readiness to cover his sins, ensured that I always viewed him as they did.

That is the awesome extent to which point of view affects character in a story.

 

* The secret engagement is a part of the man’s backstory, which does not come out until many chapters later. I include it in the summary to place his conduct under appropriately critical scrutiny.

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