Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Reading according to Jane Austin

For Christmas, Mother gave me all of Jane Austin's works, a set of books, often checked out of our public library, but someone never personally acquired by myself. There is an excelent observation that she makes on reading in Mansfield Park (Chapter 37 or Volume III, Chapter III, depending on your book). The first quote is about the skillful reading of Shakespeare by Mr. Crawford for the first time in many years, and the second quote is on the woeful state of reading aloud by the country at large. I only observe this to say 1) what sad condition does a nation fall into which has no skill at reading, and 2) what a wonderful gift it is.

Crawford took the volume. “Let me have the pleasure of finishing that speech to your ladyship,” said he. “I shall find it immediately.” And by carefully giving way to the inclination of the leaves, he did find it, or within a page or two, quite near enough to satisfy Lady Bertram, who assured him, as soon as he mentioned the name of Cardinal Wolsey, that he had got the very speech. Not a look or an offer of help had Fanny given; not a syllable for or against. All her attention was for her work. She seemed determined to be interested by nothing else. But taste was too strong in her. She could not abstract her mind five minutes: she was forced to listen; his reading was capital, and her pleasure in good reading extreme. To good reading, however, she had been long used: her uncle read well, her cousins all, Edmund very well, but in Mr. Crawford’s reading there was a variety of excellence beyond what she had ever met with. The King, the Queen, Buckingham, Wolsey, Cromwell, all were given in turn; for with the happiest knack, the happiest power of jumping and guessing, he could always alight at will on the best scene, or the best speeches of each; and whether it were dignity, or pride, or tenderness, or remorse, or whatever were to be expressed, he could do it with equal beauty. It was truly dramatic. His acting had first taught Fanny what pleasure a play might give, and his reading brought all his acting before her again; nay, perhaps with greater enjoyment, for it came unexpectedly, and with no such drawback as she had been used to suffer in seeing him on the stage with Miss Bertram.

Edmund watched the progress of her attention, and was amused and gratified by seeing how she gradually slackened in the needlework, which at the beginning seemed to occupy her totally: how it fell from her hand while she sat motionless over it, and at last, how the eyes which had appeared so studiously to avoid him throughout the day were turned and fixed on Crawford—fixed on him for minutes, fixed on him, in short, till the attraction drew Crawford’s upon her, and the book was closed, and the charm was broken. Then she was shrinking again into herself, and blushing and working as hard as ever; but it had been enough to give Edmund encouragement for his friend, and as he cordially thanked him, he hoped to be expressing Fanny’s secret feelings too.


The subject of reading aloud was farther discussed. The two young men were the only talkers, but they, standing by the fire, talked over the too common neglect of the qualification, the total inattention to it, in the ordinary school–system for boys, the consequently natural, yet in some instances almost unnatural, degree of ignorance and uncouthness of men, of sensible and well–informed men, when suddenly called to the necessity of reading aloud, which had fallen within their notice, giving instances of blunders, and failures with their secondary causes, the want of management of the voice, of proper modulation and emphasis, of foresight and judgment, all proceeding from the first cause: want of early attention and habit; and Fanny was listening again with great entertainment.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you whole heartily. Mrs. Borrowed Dad has resently volunteered with the polk county literacy folks to help teach adults to read, an admirable objective but far from the magnatude that you are refering to. Mrs. BD is a long time reader and has read aloud to our children since the begining and I attribute their reading skill to her efforts and her love of reading. Mrs. BD and I have listened to audio books on tape for years and enjoy listening to proffessional readers, especially while on long road trips. (we use to make annual trips from Fl. to Mi.) Just as children learn to read partially from hearing others read, adults can learn to read aloud by listening to audio books on tape. Mrs BD enjoys trying to read aloud as well as the pro's. She is getting better and better at it. Mrs. BD has read numerous books to me. Several of our evenings are spent with her reading a book that we have picked out together and I find myself so engrosed in the reading that I don't want her to stop for the night. Often she has had to stop because she was loosing her voice. The Pro's are generally actors that are perfecting their acting abilities and reading aloud is one of their exercises. I am amazed that the same person can actually change voices depending on which character is speaking in a book. This only comes by practice. Most of us silent readers can distinguish the different charracters in our head but its entirlly different in our reading aloud. It generally comes out all mono tone if we are not concious of tones and inflection. I have reaped the benefits of Mrs. BD's love and practice because I get to listen to that wonderful art form of reading just as the person in your Jane Austin book described. I don't have the skill and talent that Mrs. BD has because I have not practiced the art as much as I should, but it has made me a better reader. Your commentary reminded me that I have read where in the history of Tampa Fl. the historical old cigar factories use to employ a person to read daily to the factory floor workers. I have seen pictures of these cigar factories and there were always someone that sat elevated above the others with a news paper in hand reading aloud to the others. I remember vividly my Grandmother reading the Bible to my Grandfather daily and although he could not read himself he knew the scripture very well. The public libraries have a huge and tremendous selection of audio books to choose from and they are free. All of the classics, mystries, love novels, historicals and bibliographies just to name a few are there for your pleasure. It usually takes me an hour to drive to work. When I'm not lestining to a recent recorded sermon. I enjoy listening to a audio book. I have had the pleasure of listening about Harry S Truman, Babe Ruths Story, Theodore Rosevelt, as weel as the great Hurricane of 1938. I've listened to the story of the trial & tribulations of the pilgrims journey to america. What a joy I have received from these readings. So again I say to everyone and anyone, reaquaint yourselves with this wonderful art and partiicipate in it.

Borrowed Dad

Anonymous said...

More ramdom thoughts on the subject at hand. TV has made vegetables of most of us in the respect that it is so good at what it does you don't have to think or have an imagination at all. In listening to a reader your imagination is exercised and you see in your minds eye thoes things being read. then as you contemplate on thoes things you have a chance to annalize and decern the validity of the info that was expressed. I read with intrest jsabers blog concerning people not being aware of things that are going on in the world and not having oppinions and partly it is because we have evolved into a society that wants to be entertained and we don't take the time to read or think. As the second quote said we truly have developed a degree of ignorance and uncouthnes, and insensible and not well informed men. So not only are we missing out on a great art form we develop negetively.

Borrowed Dad

Dani said...

Mother and Daddy, both use to read to us when we were small. Mother did most of the reading but Daddy read Winnie the Pooh, and our 365 Bible Stories book. He had the best Eyore voice.

I use to read aloud when I volunteered in the Children's Library when I was in highschool. However, I can tell a great difference in my reading since getting married, because I read our Bible aloud to Gary every night, and we are working our way through Tolkien's books together.

strem said...

So glad you have these books. I love my volume set very very much. I just need to find some time to get back to reading them.