August 24th, 2012Jane Austen and the Best of Englandby Joseph Pearce

Following the lively debate on the Ink Desk that accompanied the criticism of the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics, I thought I’d post something more positive about my native land.

Last night I had the delightful and edifying pleasure of watching the film adaptation of Sense & Sensibility, starring Emma Thompson as the charmingly sagacious Miss Dashwood. Thompson’s own politics and atheism aside, her scripting of Jane Austen’s classic and her portrayal of the novel’s heroine are simply sublime. I hadn’t seen the film for many years so it was fresh enough to evoke the right rational and emotional responses. I even felt my eyes welling up with tears of joy at the film’s eucatastrophic climax. What a joy to watch! What unadulterated pleasure!

For all her own undoubted brilliance, Emma Thompson was ultimately basking in the glorious genius of Jane Austen, a giantess of faith and culture compared with whom the denizens of modern England are nothing but mere pygmies. And this is the paradox of which Thompson’s association with Austen serves as a metaphor. The modern socialism, atheism and secular fundamentalism, which Thompson espouses, are parasitical. They create little or nothing of genius and can only survive by living off the Christian capital that they have inherited from the giants of the past.

The lunacy of modern England is like the moon. It is dark and lifeless and becomes beautiful only when reflecting the light of the Sun. Jane Austen, like her compatriots William Shakespeare and J. R. R. Tolkien, is a child of the Sun, reflecting its life and light. Her feminine genius exorcises the pale genies of feminism. Her timeless wisdom transcends the fads and fashions with which modern England is bewitched.

The delightful irony is that Emma Thompson owes her greatest roles, and therefore her greatest debts, to the Christian orthodoxy of Shakespeare’s and Austen’s moral vision, much as Ian McKellen, another homosexist atheist, owes his greatest roles, and therefore his greatest debts, to the Christian orthodoxy of Shakespeare and Tolkien. The fact is that Miss Dashwood is bigger and wiser than Thompson, as Gandalf is bigger and wiser than McKellen. In despising the Christianity that gave birth to Austen’s heroine and Tolkien’s heroic wizard, Thompson and McKellen are contemptuously kicking down the ladder by which they’ve climbed (to borrow a phrase from Chesterton).

And this brings us back to the Olympics closing ceremony. If the debauched Olympian spectacle is placed beside the serenity of Miss Dashwood we can see instantly how far England has fallen from greatness to banality in the two hundred years since Sense & Sensibility was published. The moral and cultural abyss that separates the greatness of England’s Christian past from the shriveled remnant of her sickeningly secular present is as large as the difference between the music of a Shakespearean sonnet and the vacuous din of modern rap. This abysmal descent can be called many things but only the most empty-headed would call it progress.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

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  • August 24 2012 | by Mike Rawcliffe

    your post makes perfect sense to this Limey. I'd love to see a correspondence between yourself and Ms Thompson on the subject and her defence in terms of equivalent modern works. Care to try?

  • August 24 2012 | by James Morris

    (Emma homosn played Lady Marchmain in the terrible Brideshead movie)

    Dear Joseph,

    Our minds fix on the same personalities. Or my thoughts exactly but expressed in this form:

    London Times

    Emma Thomson in Leicester Square for the Brideshead premiere.
    Edmund Campion not far from there; at Tyburn,
    For his execution.

    She posed in her evening gown with other cast members.
    Edmund Campion was strung up, cut down,

    She watched her performance with keen delight.
    Edmund Campion saw his innards cut out,
    'Burned before his sight'.

    When it was over-
    She was escorted home.
    He was a torso.
  • August 26 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    Sense and Sensibility is one of my favorite films.

    Your simile of the moon's reflection of the sun's light provides the graphic illustration I've sought to clarify a certain critical distinction missing in modern humanist-atheist "philosophy" (like that of Thompson, McKellan, et al.)

    Contemporary lunacy is the view that the light from the moon has its source therein, ignoring the existence, as such a view must, of a heaven that does not revolve around, depend upon, humankind, and the existence of which is not dependent on our ability to "look" at (grasp/control/comprehend) it, this lunacy denies *objective* truth, a semi-darkness called "reality." (Plato's allegory comes to mind.)

    I've often pondered the fragile, whimsical, flimsy nature of human love, teetering on a god-pedestal erected by secular humanists, and called the "meaning" of human life. The light by which they've chosen to see is no light at all, but a reflection, ever-changing and often absent altogether. In choosing semi-darkness as their reality, they can't see that what they believe in is a dead body. Its light is only a reflection. Its source, its only authenticity, is Another, an Other which, though omnipresent (and therefore unnoticed) is outside our subjective orbit, the source of all light, all life, and all love.

    The great regression of modern man, the literal Lunacy of our time.

    I become impatient with those who would have Austen's theme an exposition of rationalism vs. emotionalism. No such thing. Austen cared not a whit for such intellectualization. Her theme was the nature of authentic love, its true source, clearly seen in Mary Ann's emergence from darkness.
  • August 26 2012 | by Elizabeth

    Thanks for that article ~ great points. Coincidentally, just last week I also watched (for the umpteenth time) Sense & Sensibility. That is definitely a favorite of mine and I never seem to tire of it. Credit of course goes to Jane Austen, but also Emma Thompson.

    I guess I'm woefully out of touch, so you burst my bubble on Emma Thompson! I had no idea of what her faith or political views were, just a big fan of her in the film world. I'll say a prayer for her.
  • August 26 2012 | by James Morris

    I think I am incapapable of discriminating between the personaly of an actor or their views and their performance. If I think of say Ian McKellen I can't respect his Macbeth, or anything he does because I know of his leftitst views.
    Or maybe it's just the modern setting which never works. They can't speak the verse with depth, with beauty.

    Or Emma Thomson. If I was honest I thought for maybe one nano-second during the Brideshead movie ' well maybe she's not giving a bad performance' but then I came to my senses. I mean she was giving a good performance but the whole portrait was wrong. She couldn't give the the right performance because of the script. But i believe she would be incappable of giivng the right performance (Like Clare Bloom) because she hasn't got the armoury or depth of knowledge of character. that an earlier genenration had.

    There's no depth in any of them. For example I physically cringe when I hear Kenneth Brannagh speakinmg Shakespeare...

    Maybe it's just that whole crowed...

    So So Chummy

    Like those writers of the 30s-Auden, Isherwood, Spender.
    In the 1980’s-
    Stephen Fry, Emma Thomson, Kenneth Brannagh...

    They made a film together-
    Peter’s Friends (appropriately enough)
    All very chummy.

    Chronically unfunny.

    I can't stand.

    I can't think of any one modern day actor that interests me.

    They have got no 'presence' because you must have gravitas DEPTH to have presence.

    I caught a glimse of Srephen Fry playing Wilde the other night_ no good. I thought of the very subtle performnce by Peter Finch in 'The trials of Oscar Wilde'

    Now that. Where is someone like a Peter Finch? Someone you want to see and hear like-Olivier, or James Mason, Geilgud, Richardson, Alec Guinness-

    There's simply something very wrong in with these recent genenrations.

    Booby Figure

    ‘The great booby figure of Oscar Wilde’
    The great booby figure of Stephen Fry,
    In our own time.

    Oh, he’s everywhere; radio, TV,
    Voice-overs, newspapers,
    Love me love me love me love me...

    Patronizing Bravado

    Hilare Belloc’s salutary introduction
    To the works of P G Woodhouse
    Doesn’t contain ‘patronizing bravado with which some critics express their praise’

    Stephen Fry’s blurb-'what can one say about Wodehouse? He exhausts superlatives'
    ‘How can one analyze such sunny splendour?’
    Examples thereof.

    Bertie Wooster Speaks

    ‘Chesterton was in many ways a very unpleasant man. And so was Waugh…’

    Fancies himself as a thinker Jeeves,
    What a stinker.

    Attacking the writer,
    What a blighter.

    Waugh or Chesterton,
    He trashes them.

    Stephen Fry,
    The cheek of the guy.

    I’m rather peeved Jeeves,
    ‘Yes, I can quite understand Sir’.

    'A tiny bit of a man pretending to be whole.”

    Something went wrong at the beginning of the eighties. Or the mid eighties. Something changed. Can you say that? Probably not but it FEELS like it to me. Human nature changed.