Collecting Jane Austen ~ ‘Sermons to Young Women’ by James Fordyce

I shall take a little side road today with this discussion of must-haves in your Jane Austen collection – here an example of a book Jane Austen had read, referred to, satirized, and which then became the most interesting thing about Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice.

Part of collecting Jane Austen is to learn about and possibly add to your collection those books known to have been read by her, a fascinating list compiled from the many allusions in her novels and her letters. You can start with R. W. Chapman’s “Index of Literary Allusions, which you can find online.

Chapman’s list first appeared in the NA and P volume of the Oxford edition we looked at last week – more has been added to this – but this is a good start – you could spend the rest of your life just collecting “allusion” books and you will completely forget what you were collecting in the first place.

But Fordyce is one you must have, should read, for if nothing else it will give you a better idea of where Mr. Collins is coming from and what Austen has to say about both he AND Fordyce.

Sermons to Young Women, by Dr. James Fordyce, is certainly one the most well-known of all the various conduct manuals Austen would have had access to, published in London in 1766, “and by 1814, the year after Pride and Prejudice appeared, it had gone though 14 editions published in London alone.” [Ford, intro, i].

We all recall that in Pride and PrejudiceMr. Collins chooses to read Fordyce’s Sermons aloud to the Bennet sisters, Lydia especially unimpressed:

By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and, when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but, on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce’s Sermons. Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him with:

“Do you know, mama, that my uncle Philips talks of turning away Richard; and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him. My aunt told me so herself on Saturday. I shall walk to Meryton to-morrow to hear more about it, and to ask when Mr. Denny comes back from town.”

Lydia was bid by her two eldest sisters to hold her tongue; but Mr. Collins, much offended, laid aside his book, and said:

“I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit. It amazes me, I confess; for, certainly, there can be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction. But I will no longer importune my young cousin.” [P&P, Ch. XIV]

Collins, done with such young and frivolous young ladies, heads off for a game of backgammon with Mr. Bennet…

Illustrators of Pride and Prejudice have turned this scene into a visual treat:

Hugh Thomson, P&P (George Allen, 1894)

Chris Hammond, P&P, Gresham, 1900

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Fordyce (1720-1796) was a Scottish Presbyterian minister and a poet, but is most known for his Sermons. He also published Addresses to Young Men in 1777. But would we even be talking about him today if it weren’t for Jane Austen??!

As for his poetry, this is the only poem to be found on the Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive, attesting to Fordyce’s seeming obsession with Female Virtue…

TRUE BEAUTY

The diamond’s and the ruby’s blaze
Disputes the palm with Beauty’s queen:
Not Beauty’s queen commands such praise,
Devoid of virtue if she’s seen.

But the soft tear in Pity’s eye
Outshines the diamond’s brightest beams;
But the sweet blush of Modesty
More beauteous than the ruby seems.

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Further Reading:

  1. For more information you can read this essay on Fordyce and P&P by Susan Allen Ford in Persuasions On-Line Mr. Collins Interrupted: Reading Fordyce’s Sermons with Pride and Prejudice [POL 34.1 (2013)].
  2. Here are some images and commentary at the British Library: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/sermons-to-young-women
  3. Here’s the full text of a 2-volumes-in-one American edition from 1809 [the 3rd American from the 12th London edition] at HathiTrust: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015008247788&view=1up&seq=5
  4. If your main concern is with “Female Virtue,” the University of Toronto has these two abstracts for your reading pleasure – From Sermon IV: On Female Virtue; and From Sermon V: On Female Virtue, Friendship, and Conversation: http://individual.utoronto.ca/dftaylor/Fordyce_Sermons.pdf
  5. As you will see in the comments below, A. Marie Sprayberry sent me this link to her excellent Persuasions On-Line essay on Fanny Price and Fordyce: “Fanny Price as Fordyce’s Ideal Woman? And Why?” http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol35no1/sprayberry.html

Much has been written about Austen and Fordyce – the point being, you need a copy. You can find it in one of its original editions on used bookstore sites for not over the top prices – or there are many, many reprints out there.

One of the best of these is the facsimile reprint of the 10th ed. of 1786 and published by Chawton House Press in 2012. Susan Allen Ford wrote the valuable introduction and it also includes a fine bibliography. This edition is unfortunately out-of-print and I am hoping that they will republish it in the near future. It was a best-seller in its time and again today! Who knew!

©Jane Austen in Vermont

JASNA-Vermont ~ Annual Jane Austen Birthday Tea! ~ Dec 2, 2012, with Sandy Lerner!

  Please Join us if you can!    

You are Cordially Invited to JASNA-Vermont’s December Meeting 

~ The Annual Jane Austen Birthday Tea! ~

  Sandy Lerner* 

“Writing Second Impressions 

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~ Traditional English Afternoon Tea ~
~
and Playing Word Games with Jane Austen! ~ 

Sunday, 2 December 2012, 2 – 5 p.m. Champlain College, Hauke Conference Center,
375 Maple St Burlington VT 
 

$25. / JASNA members and pre-registrants;
$30. at the door; $5. / student

Pre-registration is required!  ~ Please do so by 23 Nov 2012!

~ the form: Dec Tea 2012 Reservation form
~ Regency Period or Afternoon Tea finery (hats!) encouraged! ~ 

For more information:   JASNAVermont [at] gmail [dot] .com
Please visit our blog at: http://JaneAustenInVermont.wordpress.com

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*Sandy Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems, founder of Urban Decay Cosmetics,  founder of the Ayrshire Farm in Virginia, and, most dear to us, is also the founder and moving force behind the Chawton House Library. She is now Chairman of Trustees, Chawton House Library and the Centre for the Study of Early English Women’s Writing, a place for research and camaraderie for scholars from all over the world. What better place than the former home of Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen-Knight to study Austen and her literary antecedents and contemporaries!

Lerner’s book Second Impressions, written under the nom de plume of Ava Farmer, is set 10 years after the action in Pride and Prejudice, and explores the changes to the Darcy family’s lives, to Europe post-Napoleon, and to life in late Regency England, all as homage to Jane Austen, written in her “stile”, and with a fascinating yet credible plot. So let’s step into Lerner’s world to discover such things as: What do Darcy and Elizabeth do all day at Pemberley? Is Lady Catherine a welcome and constant visitor? Are the Wickhams reformed?  And what becomes of England’s most eligible female Georgiana Darcy? And Anne de Bourgh? And dare we ask about Mr. and Mrs. Collins?!

Second Impressions will be available for purchase and signing, all proceeds to benefit Chawton House Library.

During the Tea we shall engage in Playing Word Games with Jane Austen, a most suitable and refined entertainment for a wintry afternoon!

*****

Sandy Lerner, c2012 Pal Hansen

Links for further reading:

c2012, Jane Austen in Vermont