Austen and Rowling: On the Virtue of Penetration in Life and Reading

In 2010 I wrote in response to Prof Baird’-Hardy’s third brilliant post on Jane Eyre that:

AustenDickens and Austen frequently discuss (through preferred characters) the virtue of “penetration,” i.e., seeing the ‘inside bigger than the outside’ of others, their virtues or vices which constitute character or the lack of it, rather than focusing on the surface. Georgian and Victorian writers, to include Bronte, understood that they were “instructing while delighting,” and instructive most especially in the virtue of “penetration.” Readers were exercising their powers of inner heart reflection and recognition as they entered into and experienced the lives of what were principally minor gentry and aristocrats. This is “manners and morals” fiction at its best.

Katy asks six years later:

Hi! This is so fascinating. I know I am years too late, but a hail Mary pass just in case: John, do you have a source for Austen and/or Dickens discussing the virtues of “penetration”? Where do they mention seeing “the inside bigger than the outside”? Thanks so much!

Austen EmmaI do not have a source “for Austen and/or Dickens discussing the virtues of ‘penetration,” alas. It is something that I have noticed in almost every book by these authors, however; they use the word and illustrate it as a virtue to cultivate and admire (and as a quality whose absence marks the stupid, dull, or wicked).

Take for example, Austen’s Emma, the book J. K. Rowling claims to have read twenty times in succession before writing Philosopher’s Stone, one assumes to get a grip on the narrative voice she adopts in Stone (third person limited omniscient) to set up the “biggest twist in English literature” at which she said “all authors aim” to best. Emma is loaded with examples of and references to the virtue of penetration.

I’d go so far as to claim, in fact, that the principal virtue in Austen’s Emma is this quality of ‘penetration,’ a mental vision that sees beneath the surface of individuals and their actions to see her character. I found on a recent re-reading seven instances of some form of the word in the book with several other passages in which the quality is described with other terms (cf., especially Emma’s discussion with Mr. Knightley about her feelings for Frank Churchill before Knightley’s proposal in which she chides herself for not seeing through him: “yet it may not be the more excusable in one who sets up as I do for Understanding;” Vol. 3, ch. 13). [Read more…]

Mailbag: Washington Post OpEd argues ‘It’s Time for J.K. Rowling to let Other People write Harry Potter Books’

Newt s.A dear friend of HogwartsProfessor sent me a link to an op-ed piece that appeared in today’s Washington Post. Under the headline ‘It’s time for J.K. Rowling to let other people write Harry Potter books,’ it tries to make the case that Rowling needs to open the Fan Fiction Gates a la the Star Wars and Marvel Universe Franchises so that starving fans can get what they want, namely, more Wizarding World stories and films.

We’ve talked about this here before, if only in brief. I confess to being unimpressed by the pitch made in this opinion piece and startled that it appeared in such a well-read venue. It appears to have been written by someone intentionally ignoring the obvious and I thought WaPo editorial page standards were higher.

First, comparisons with George Lucas and Stan Lee are inept and inapt.

SW3The Star Wars dis-enfranchisement from Lucas, for example, took decades and then only after the original auteur had a “second bite at the apple.” Making a Lucas-Rowling parallel and then urging her to get on with it seems more than a little hasty, testy even. And I’m no Treebeard. The comic book universe roll out onto film also is not something that happened suddenly or within the first ten years of Spiderman #1 or the advent of The Uncanny X-Men or The Fantastic Four as American myths. And both LucasFilm and Marvel have been allowing others to write EU stories that did not and could not undermine their core money maker, films and comic books for a very long time.

Second, Harry Potter readers are starved for more stories about Harry and Company? Really?

No doubt, the world would quake if The Presence were to announce that she had penned a novel, prequel or sequel to the Hogwarts Saga, akin to Cursed Child. Failing that, however, it’s not as if Rowling has become a second Harper Lee or J. D. Salinger in closing down access to beloved characters and stories. You may have heard that she has launched a second Wizarding World film franchise in Fantastic Beasts and, yes, there is Cursed Child, if it is not a Rowling product per se. That play (and the script we will be able to read), one that she did not write but from which she will profit, seems to be evidence of her having taken a strong step in the direction this op-ed piece urges her to begin.

We’re in a relative glut of Rowling writing about the Wizarding World today. Why is this the time to call on the author to let go the reins of creative control and story writing?

2015 aThird and last, I’d note, too, that Rowling has been remarkably shy about bringing copyright suits to court since the Warner Brothers/Vander Ark debacle (the rumor is she was told that she can only lose her rights if she insists on them too zealously — and that the judge thought she was approaching that line). Considering that novels have been published for sale that feature the Potterverse already with no objections from WB/Bloomsbury and fans are kickstarting film projects that do the same, I’m left to wonder ‘Whence the push for Rowling to loosen up?’

Best to leave this sleeping dog alone, lest it awake from its nap with distemper or just a bad temper.

Thanks to James for sending the link — and thanks in advance for those of you who share your thoughts on this subject below! Is it time for Rowling to dis-enfranchise? Why or why not?


Mail Bag: How About a Doppelganger for Dumbledore? Who is Not the Dark Lord?

Do I get exotic even Quixotic questions in the mail? I sure do. I confess this one sat in my inbox for quite a while as I tried to figure out how to respond.


f38722022I was wondering if you ever had come up with a Doppelganger for Dumbledore other than Grindelwald?

I’ve been re-reading Looking For God in Harry Potter (I also have How Harry Cast His Spell near for reference!) and in that second ed. you have no Doppelganger for Dumbledore but you added Grindelwald in 3rd ed. (Spell).

I just read all seven Potters for about the 15th time and I think I have a non-Jekyll and Hyde Doppelganger for Dumbledore; Can you think of who it is?

Steven M

Here is what I came up with (after the jump). If you want to play, take your best guess before reading what follows. If you came up with Steven M’s answer, I definitely want to hear about it in the comments section! [Read more…]

Reviewer Copies of ‘The Chessman,’ Dolores Gordon-Smith’s Latest Jack Haldean Mystery Novel, Now Available

But they won’t be available for long, I suspect. I mean, a book that you want to read — yours, for free, the best of all prices?

ChessmanSevern House, the publishers of Dolores Gordon-Smith’s acclaimed Jack Haldean novels, is looking for American bloggers and librarians interested in a free copy of her latest book, The Chessman, in exchange for a review (read about the book here). If you’re a mystery lover or if you listen to MuggleNet Academia, you know Dolores Gordon-Smith, the latter-day incarnation of Agatha Christie. Her books are a delight and a cut above ‘fine entertainment.’ As you’d suspect in a series penned by a profound student of the genre and a world-class Potter Pundit, the Haldean adventures keep you in suspense to the last page and leave you thinking afterwards.

I have signed up for my Chessman reviewer copy, of course, and, if you are a book person that talks with or writes for other book people and you are as excited about this opportunity as I am, drop me a note [john at HogwartsProfessor dot com, right?] and I’ll put you in contact with the publisher. No pushing in line, please; though I doubt this offer will be good for more than a few days.

Mail Bag: Wands that Work, Star Wars Webinar, Snape as Role Model, and… Ron Weasley as Hat-Tip to Aslan?

f192990246Pretty full mailbag today with quite the variety of news, events, challenging ideas, and questions I’ve never heard before. Let’s jump right in with a report that you’ve been waiting on for at least a decade.

Okay, maybe that’s not for everyone. My cell phone, for example, has a rotary dial. I’m pretty sure my 20th Century Nokia is not going to cut it with ‘Alohamora!’

But here’s something for anyone who has seen a Star Wars film (I’m guessing that pretty much everyone in the Common Room today?). Dr. Amy H. Sturgis, profound Potter Pundit and the first one kind enough to answer my email (way, way back in 2002), is giving a free webinar on the greatest Sci-Fi film franchise ever. Here is what she sent me today about the wow talk she is giving online for free: [Read more…]