“The True English Style” by Special Guest Lona Manning

“The True English Style” by Special Guest Lona Manning

We are very excited to welcome Lona Manning, an Austenesque author who is not only a great friend to us personally, but has also been kind enough to guest on the blog twice before! Lona’s bio, publications, and relevant links are at the end of this post. Below are the direct links to Lona’s previous Austen Authors’ guest blogs.

French Revolution Émigrés in England

“Mansfield Park” and Conduct Novels

 

 

“The True English Style” by Lona Manning

 

‘How d’ye do, George?’ and ‘John, how are you?’ succeeded in the true English style, burying under a calmness that seemed all but indifference, the real attachment which would have led either of them, if requisite, to do every thing for the good of the other. [Emma]

 

Elizabeth’s mind was now relieved from a very heavy weight; and, after half an hour’s quiet reflection in her own room, she was able to join the others with tolerable composure.  [Pride & Prejudice]

 

What do you do when you’re an Austen character who is upset, confused, worried, or even deliriously happy? Do you log onto Twitter and share your feelings with the world? Do you complain on YouTube? No! What you do is retreat to your room or go for a walk until you have regained your composure.

Mr. Dashwood introduces Elinor to Robert Ferrars. Sense and Sensibility illustration by Hugh Thomson (1860-1920).

We see example after example in Austen’s novels where her characters struggle to remain calm. Lady Catherine’s unexpected visit to Longbourn throws Elizabeth into a “discomposure of spirits” which “could not be easily overcome.” When Sir Thomas Bertram surprises Mrs. Norris by announcing he is going to hold a ball at Mansfield Park, “her surprise and vexation required some minutes’ silence to be settled into composure.” When Lady Russell suggests that Anne Elliot might become the next Lady Elliot, “Anne was obliged to turn away, to rise, to walk to a distant table, and, leaning there in pretended employment, try to subdue the feelings this picture excited.”

And If one’s emotions are not under control, the “appearance of composure” will have to do. No Austen fan will need an explanation of the incident described here: “Darcy’s “complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open his lips till he believed himself to have attained it.”

In the examples given above, it is implicit that strong emotions ought to be under control, especially before interacting with anyone else. Anne Elliot is obliged to turn away. She appears to feel strong emotions are actually dangerous, as though they could damage her nervous system. After the bliss of being reunited with Captain Wentworth: “[a]n interval of meditation, serious and grateful, was the best corrective of everything dangerous in such high-wrought felicity; and she went to her room…”

The value, propriety and even healthfulness of keeping a stiff-upper-lip are the central theme of Sense & Sensibility, where emotional Marianne is compared with her rational sister Elinor. Marianne complains that Elinor’s “self-command is invariable. When is she dejected or melancholy? When does she try to avoid society, or appear restless and dissatisfied in it?”

Elinor knows “how to govern” her “strong feelings,” even when she realizes Edward Ferrars is not married to Lucy Steele after all. She “almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy.”

Austen’s characters are often described in terms of their manners—Mr. Weston has “pleasant manners,” Mr. Bingley has “easy, unaffected manners” and Sir Thomas finds “nothing very striking in Mr. Rushworth’s manners.” Here, the word “manners” is used as we might use the word “demeanour” or even “personality.”

In Mansfield Park, however, Edmund Bertram quite deliberately uses “manners” to describe something more important than mere civility. He says clergymen have: “the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence.” He adds, “The manners I speak of might rather be called conduct, perhaps, the result of good principles; the effect, in short, of those doctrines which it is [the clergymen’s] duty to teach and recommend.”

The difference between good breeding and good conduct is central to Mansfield Park. Austen breaks the fourth wall to warn the reader directly that self-knowledge and “self-command,” along with a “just consideration of others,” is an “essential part” of a young person’s education. The Bertram girls are polite and accomplished, but they lack good principles, and tragedy follows.

“‘The entreaties of several” illustration from Pride & Prejudice by Hugh Thomson.

 

Because Austen is always nuanced, we can find exceptions to the “stiff upper lip” rule: Anne Elliot prizes “the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing.” She responds to the easy, open-hearted manners of the Musgroves and Captain Harville but she is mortified by the “heartless elegance” of her father and sister when they enter the room, because the “comfort, the freedom, the gaiety” of the gathering subsides into “cold composure, determined silence, or insipid talk.” Etiquette and decorum can wound people. While Wentworth and Anne are estranged, his “cold politeness, his ceremonious grace, were worse than anything.”

Although Emma Woodhouse loves “everything that is decided and open,” her creator clearly believes that some degree of restraint, moderation and self-control is essential. When Marianne neglects “every exertion of duty and friendship,” her emotional self-indulgence almost leads to her death. Good manners are no trifling matter in Austen.

A deeper dive on this topic: I was surprised to learn that the rise of politeness in English society in the 18th century is a subject of study and debate! Click the image to the right to access Austen scholar John Mullan (and others) discussing politeness on a BBC radio podcast.


LONA MANNING is the author of the Mansfield Trilogy, a variation on Mansfield Park. Her upcoming publication is titled Shelley and the Unknown Lady and will be released on Kindle on October 5. The novella is a revised and expanded excerpt from her Mansfield Trilogy. Shelley and the Unknown Lady is a carefully researched imagining of a mystery in the life of the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Lona lives in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada. For more information about Lona, visit her website and other social media platforms.

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9 COMMENTS
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darcybennett
September 22, 2020 3:42 PM

Interesting post. Thanks for sharing!

Suelein
Suelein
September 16, 2020 8:17 AM

I think that we could use more manners and civility in today’s world, perhaps that’s why I enjoy escaping to Austen’s world so much!

Eliza Shearer
AuAu
Eliza Shearer (@elizashearer)
September 13, 2020 2:49 PM

A very entertaining post, thanks Lona for sharing!

Elaine Jeremiah
Elaine Jeremiah (@elainejeremiah)
September 12, 2020 11:16 AM

Great post Lona! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. You’ve obviously considered the way that Austen demonstrates her characters controlling their emotions in some detail. It’s another example of her subtlety as an author in deftly conveying to us in a few short words how her characters are really feeling.

But also I think it shows the difference between her society and ours today in the twenty-first century. Certainly in the UK today, whilst rudeness is not appreciated, it’s far more acceptable to show your feelings i.e. when you’re upset/offended/angry. It almost feels like Austen couldn’t have been writing in any other era. What I mean is that her writing is so nuanced and the emotion is all under the surface, which was perhaps what society was like in her time. You couldn’t display your emotions overtly because if you did that was frowned upon and you would be criticised, as Marianne Dashwood finds.

lona manning
lona manning
September 12, 2020 5:24 PM

Yes, I agree, Elaine. In fact, there is even a difference, I think, between my generation (baby boomer) and younger generations, in how open we are willing to be about insecurity or hurt feelings. I see young people posting on things on Twitter, sharing their emotions with the world, that I would never do. I know I sound like I am being disapproving, but I do recognize that older generations are different about this and keeping it bottled up is not always a good thing!

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
September 11, 2020 3:53 PM

What an interesting post. I listened to part of the audio [it was long]… wow, they really knew their subject and made me interested. How society shifted and thus influenced our behavior and how we viewed each other. And that influenced authors in how they portrayed characters. I have two of your trilogy and forgot about the third. I’ve added it and your new one to my wish-list. Blessings on its success. Stay safe and healthy.

lona manning
lona manning
September 11, 2020 7:27 PM
Reply to  J. W. Garrett

Thank you J.W.! Yes, I was amazed by that podcast, the erudition of the professors and how politeness was a “thing,” as the kids say. Just so you now, the new novella is a repeat of a story (sub-plot) which is in the third book of the trilogy, so you are welcome to read the same story twice, but no need! Thank you for your good wishes. I am hoping to snag some Percy Bysshe Shelley fans as well as some Austen fans with this one!

lona manning
lona manning
September 11, 2020 7:27 PM
Reply to  lona manning

duh. “just so you know.”

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
September 11, 2020 8:48 AM

Welcome! Great post now I have more books to look into!lol

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