by David Kwartler
Thursday, the third Huntington Lecture took place from 4 to 5 p. m. The Huntington Lecture Series aims to teach both teachers and students. Deputy superintendent Brenda Keegan, who is a former English department head of this school, discussed Jane Austen’s novels.
Keegan explained how Jane Austen’s novels tell of young women searching for marriage. She explained how the women in the stories get into trouble because they are too confident to doubt themselves.
In Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey,” Catherine Morland visits her family friends, the Tilneys. Catherine, who is extremely fascinated with Gothic horrors and mysteries, stays with the Tilneys in Northanger Abbey, which is “thrilling, with gloomy passageways and narrow cells,” according to Keegan.
Catherine becomes obsessed with the mysterious circumstances of General Tilney’s wife’s death. She spends her nights searching the Abbey, and when she is found snooping, General Tilney explains that his wife’s death was not mysterious at all.
Catherine thinks of her thoughts and actions as shameful. Keegan explained that the novel is from Catherine’s perspective, which means the reader can learn from her mistakes.
In “Pride and Prejudice”, the story is told by Elizabeth Bennet. She is clever and observant. She meets Mr. Darcy, who is wealthy and handsome. After a bad first impression, Elizabeth greatly dislikes him. She fancies a man named Mr. Wickham, who declares that Mr. Darcy wronged him. This furthers Catherine’s prejudice against Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Wickham runs off and marries Elizabeth’s sister, and Elizabeth later sees Mr. Darcy in a different light, and falls for him.
Keegan explained how Elizabeth’s prejudice against Mr. Darcy was unfair and led to a skewed view of him. In reality, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were “perfect matches for one another, but Elizabeth chose not to see it,” said Keegan.
In Jane Austen’s “Emma”, a young woman who is clever and wealthy, attempts to match her friend Harriet with Mr. Elton. Eventually, Mr. Elton reveals that he does not love Harriet. Emma then realizes that she has played with Harriet’s and Mr. Elton’s emotions. Mr. Elton quickly marries another woman, leaving Harriet heartbroken.
Keegan explains that the novel shows that cleverness and ambition can lead to trouble, and humility and circumspection can be important. By looking at Emma’s story, the reader learns an important lesson, Keegan said.
Keegan related Austen’s novels to Greek legends. Although Greek mythology seems difficult to identify with, readers can connect with the feelings and problems portrayed in the myths. While readers cannot relate to the 17th century importance of marriage for status and wealth displayed in Austen’s novels, they can connect to characters like Catherine and Emma, Keegan said.
Austen’s novels focus on women’s daily lives and how their quest for marriage leads to understanding the negatives of vanity and the positives of humility, according to Keegan. The reader can then “identify with the heroines and learn from their mistakes, themselves,” said Keegan.