Sunday, March 16, 2008

This morning, over a breakfast of spinach, carrots, jalapeno mayonnaise, egg whites, and whole wheat raisin toast, I read a chapter in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and came upon these delightful sentences:

“Poor Julia, the only one out of the nine not tolerably satisfied with their lot, was now in a state of complete penance, and as different from the Julia of the barouche-box as could well be imagined. The politeness which she had been brought up to practise as a duty made it impossible for her to escape; while the want of that higher species of self-command, that just consideration of others, that knowledge of her own heart, that principle of right, which had not formed any essential part of her education, made her miserable under it.”

Above all Austen’s talents was the ability to construct sentences that are both complex and graceful, both elaborate and clear. I don’t want my students to write like Jane Austen (her language and grammar are 200 years old), but I wouldn’t mind if they were able to employ some of her combination of density and simplicity. (Of course, in the above quote I also admire the ethical stance the author takes. She understood the difference between good and evil, and wasn’t afraid to occasionally preach about it. I have a high regard for that quality in a writer.)

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