This blog explores social attitudes in Jane Austen's time, discusses her novels, reviews forgotten 18th century novels, and throws some occasional shade at the modern academy. The introductory post is here. My "Six simple questions for academics" post is here.
I became very interested in researching the life of the author, Mary Jane Mackenzie, and made some surprising finds which I hope to share in the near future. It's always fun to discover a completely forgotten author.
Mary Jane Mackenzie wrote two novels and an unknown number of short stories, but I don't predict a resurgence of popularity for her work because her writing is highly didactic and overtly Christian. Modern academia will not be interested in this writer unless they decide that she was queer, on account of the fact that she lived the latter part of her life with her "intimate friend" Harriet Auber.
Mackenzie was obviously well read. I've never seen a writer, female or not, drop so many literary and classical allusions into her characters' dialogue as she does. Her 1820 novel Geraldine opens with a conversation between a husband and wife. Over a few pages, the wife refers to a ‘veiled prophet,’ Horne Tooke, Johnson, Lowth, Mrs. Shandy, Griselda, ‘two stars kept their motion in one sphere,’ ‘bestow her tediousness,’ Glumdalclitch, and ‘sonnet to his mistress’s eyebrows.’ (How many did you recognize? I only got 5 out of 10). Mary Jane Mackenzie, whatever her merits as a writer, wasn’t shy about sharing her erudition. She presumes her readers will understand what a reference to the "Cave of Trophonius" is about.
The characters in Geraldine also debate about the theatre, poetry, music, whether French cuisine and music is better than English, and religion.
Whether or not she ever gets an entry in a reference guide to British writers, Miss Mackenzie had the good taste and discernment to be an early Austen fan, and in her novel Private Life the heroine tries to set an addled clergyman's widow straight on which of Austen's novels had a character named Mr. Knightley. The passage is delightful (perhaps the best part of the novel) and you can read it here.
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