Rotten as Touchwood
- The Poems of Charlotte Smith edited by Stuart Curran
Oxford, 335 pp, £35.50, March 1994, ISBN 0 19 507873 X
Charlotte Smith was the first English novelist to make a castle or great house into an emblem of the state. Before her, houses in novels provided appropriate settings or confined rebellious heroines: Smith introduced the house as a microcosm of the condition of England and a site for the subtlest display of an author’s political loyalties.
Vol. 17 No. 20 · 19 October 1995
Claudia Johnson (Letters, 5 October) defines two strains of Austen criticism. She argues convincingly for Terry Castle’s anti-normative Austen but does less than justice to what she calls – unfairly, I think – the elegiac reading In my review of Charlotte Smith’s poems (LRB, 21 September) I suggested that Austen’s houses, emblems of England, were created in reaction to the pro-revolutionary Smith’s crumbling English architecture. Austen’s houses need improvement but not demolition or (until Persuasion) a change of ownership, and she knows that this is a point of view that needs to be argued for, not taken for granted. Surely readers can acknowledge the strongly Tory and Christian element in Austen without being pushed into the Austen Heritage Park, nostalgic for a serene past where nothing out of the ordinary happens.
J. Woolley (Letters, 5 October) does not clarify the current debate. She – or he – is lyrical on the marriage of true minds of Elinor and Marianne, ‘a single whole, true twain, concordant one’, but says that this is ‘nothing at all to do with the masked or unconscious homoeroticism that might be induced by the warmth of the sisterly shared bed of Terry Castle’s imagining’. Woolley seems not to have read Castle’s letter of 24 August, where she defines what she means by homoeroticism. The warm bed Marianne shares with Elinor and leaves to write her last miserable letter to Willoughby is of Austen’s imagining, not Castle’s. As with Shakespeare, to whom she’s best compared, there can be no definitive Austen. In all the novels there’s plenty to tug against traditional constructions of class and gender. Nevertheless, the traditional constructions are vividly there.
University of Reading