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Alice Meynell and the “Consequence” of Jane Austen

This paper will explore a single undulation in the circuitous path of Austen’s critical reception between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries:  the attack upon Jane Austen by poet and essayist Alice Meynell (1847–1922).  As Devoney Looser, most recently, has demonstrated, Jane Austen has continued, over time and through readings both scholarly and popular, to “become” Jane Austen (1).  In exploring this evolving process, it is important to attempt to understand Austen’s work as earlier readers and writers—both fans and critics—saw it, and this reading public includes prominent, if largely forgotten, authorities such as Alice Meynell. 

meynell alice

Alice Meynell in 1912.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Meynell was one of England’s most celebrated poets and critics.  In her essay “The Classic Novelist” (1894), Meynell set about taking down both the style and the substance of Jane Austen’s novels.  Meynell’s principal charge against Austen was that her works, through vulgar language, expressed a world-view that was materialistic and amoral.  Meynell claimed that Austen’s works promoted social importance, “consequence,” rather than more serious values. 

Exploring Meynell’s treatment of Jane Austen reminds us of what we are at risk of forgetting: that many distinguished literary judges, throughout the nineteenth century, regarded Jane Austen as insufficiently moral and/or overly materialistic.  At least in Meynell’s case, this reading was based upon a significant misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation of Austen’s use of the term “consequence.”  Austen’s deployment of the term across her mature novels was a sophisticated strategy for delineating character and personal values.

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Alice Thompson was born into a literary family; her father was a friend of Dickens.  In her early twenties, Alice converted to Catholicism, and her whole family followed suit.  Conversion led her to meet the Catholic journalist Wilfrid Meynell (1852–1948), and they married in 1877.  In between the periods of bearing eight children (one of whom died in infancy), Alice became a noted writer for a number of papers and magazines, including the Spectator, the Pall Mall Gazette, and the Saturday Review.  The Meynells became supporters of several Catholic writers, including the opium-addicted poet Francis Thompson (1859–1907).  Another friend was the Catholic writer Coventry Patmore (1823–1896), who developed an obsession with Meynell that led eventually to her breaking with him. 

As well as broadly Catholic causes, Meynell identified with the growing anti-imperialist movement.  She also served as vice-president of the Women Writers’ Suffrage League in the period before and during the first World War.  Of her surviving children, readers are most likely to have heard of Francis Meynell (1891–1975), who with David Garnett (friend of many Bloomsbury members) founded the Nonesuch Press in 1922, or Viola Meynell (1885–1956), who also became a writer. 

Jane Austen and Alice Meynell were linked together in an 1898 handbook, Journalism for Women, by another popular writer of the fin de siècle, journalist and novelist Arnold Bennett.  Bennett placed Austen and Meynell together as pre-eminent female writers, suitable models for women who wished to make a career from writing.  Aside from those two, Bennett took a poor view of even the most esteemed of female authors:  “With a few exceptions, the chief of whom are Jane Austen and Alice Meynell, the greatest of [women writers] suffer from . . . garrulous, gesticulating inefficacy” (18–19).  Bennett explained why he so much admired the prose of Meynell:  “Among modern writers, Mrs. Alice Meynell has a style unsurpassed in simplicity, fineness, and strength, . . . succinct perfection” (39).  The irony (characteristically lost on Bennett) was that Alice Meynell detested the writing of Jane Austen. 

The essay by Alice Meynell in which her attack on Jane Austen appeared is included in a 1922 collection, The Second Person Singular and Other Essays.  That Oxford University Press was her publisher indicates Meynell’s standing at this time.  The very name of the volume, however, sounds a little like a Max Beerbohm or Saki parody of a “high-brow” title, and the whole work—contra Bennett’s claim of “succinct perfection”—is wordy, accumulating phrase upon phrase in lengthy sentences. 

As a writer conscious of style, Meynell had strong views about the sad state of the English language at the end of the nineteenth century, and she knew who was to blame:  Edward Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788).  Gibbon’s prose had long been considered among the best in the English language.  Leslie Stephen, writing around the same time as Meynell for the Dictionary of National Biography, commended its “accuracy, thoroughness, lucidity” (1134).  Meynell liked to take a contrarian position, articulating a number of objections to Gibbon’s style.  He sometimes used “I expect” for an event of the past.  He used the expression “so much per month,” which Meynell referred to as “that peculiarly harsh vulgarism.”  (She would have preferred “so much a month,” or the Latin per mensem.)  She did not like the use of the superfluous “same” as in “The Western countries were civilized by the same hands which subdued them”:  “‘The hands which subdued them’ would be correct, and certainly more majestic” (Second Person Singular 42).  So to Meynell Gibbon was vulgar, incorrect, and insufficiently majestic.  Probably, however, it was Gibbon’s attitude to Christianity that annoyed Meynell, with his famous style a proxy for his offensive values:  his work passed severe judgments on the Christian church, which—naturally, in the period he described—was the Roman Catholic one; while Gibbon had in his youth converted to Roman Catholicism, he later converted away from it.  Meynell’s quibbling about language may have been a more acceptable proxy for her objections to his betrayal of her beloved religion. 

A similar process, in which a contrarian objection to Austen’s style stood in for a moral complaint, may have been at work in Meynell’s treatment of Austen.  In “The Classic Novelist,” Meynell opened by noting that Austen usually begins a novel with an account of family background. 

The moderns would be much depressed were they required to open thus:  “The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex. . . . ”  We consent to the dismal opening; we endure the pother of the unmusical words; we tolerate it all because we know that in a page or two the respectable Dashwoods will be deprived of some of the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance.  (Second Person Singular 62) 

Here Meynell showed some perceptiveness about Austen’s method, even though many modern readers might disagree with her characterization of Austen’s language as “dismal,” “pother,” and “unmusical.” She added:  “We know that Miss Austen will make of her personages good sport for her reader, her sense of derision being equal to that of her own kin, the original Philistines” (62–63). 

In suggesting that Austen was related to the “original Philistines,” Meynell was probably using the term in the manner established by the mid-nineteenth century, clearly expressed by Leslie Stephen in 1879:  “In common phraseology he [i.e., Thomas Macaulay] is a Philistine—a word which I understand properly to mean indifference to the higher intellectual interests” (“Philistine”).  By suggesting that Austen is “kin” to the Philistines, Meynell indicated that she considered Austen fundamentally uninterested in culture.  Her phrase “the original Philistines” may also refer to the historic people of the Bible, as enemies of the Israelites, the chosen people, during the twelfth and eleventh centuries B.C.  If so, Meynell was casting Austen as her adversary in some tribal sense. 

Meynell’s principal objection to Jane Austen was that she dealt in trivialities, that she was insufficiently serious.  As Laurence W. Mazzeno has shown, Meynell’s attitude, so counter to most current or recent views of Austen, was far from unusual in the period.  Even champions of Austen felt the need to address the charge of triviality, or a similar version of it:  “Describing Austen as limited in scope had become a critical commonplace by the turn of the twentieth century” (29). 

Claire Harman and Katie Halsey have demonstrated that variants of this Austen-as-Philistine attitude had a long history through the nineteenth century among authoritative judges of literature, with William Wordsworth an early proponent.  According to Sara Coleridge, Wordsworth “used to say that though he admitted [Austen’s] novels were an admirable copy of life, he could not be interested in productions of that kind; unless the truth of nature were presented to him clarified, as it were, by the pervading light of imagination, it had scarce any attractions in his eyes” (qtd. in Harman 110).  Wordsworth’s objection to Austen was that her works, with their commitment to realism, lacked “imagination” and were therefore uninteresting.  This example of the broad Austen-as-Philistine school was probably most informed by the more mystical manifestations of the Romantic literary style.  A slightly later variant, perhaps drawing more from the Evangelical religious tradition, emphasized Austen’s failure to pursue “higher things,” either religious, emotional, or moral.  Charlotte Brontë has remained the most famous critic of this kind, but she was far from alone; similar objections were raised by Cardinal Newman, among others (Halsey 162). 

Katie Halsey has detailed “The Austen Controversy” from the 1840s, an affectionate epistolary debate between Mary Russell Mitford and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Mitford positioned herself as championing Austen, the queen of realism who was still able to transmit moral lessons, while Browning maintained that Austen’s “lack of poetry” meant that she could not be considered great (Halsey 153–70).  Browning recommended a novel by Swedish writer Frederika Bremer, noting that although others had likened it to a work by Austen, “I do consider the book of a higher & sweeter tone than Miss Austen had voice & soul for” (qtd. in Halsey 156). 

Meynell, then, was following in a critical tradition that was well-established, though by 1894 possibly becoming passé, when she declared:  “With Miss Austen love, vengeance, devotion, duty, maternity, sacrifice, are infinitely trivial.  There is also a constant relation of watchfulness, of prudence” (63). 

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It seems that in part, Meynell’s resentment of Austen was based upon a serious misreading of her language.  This misreading is apparent in her focus on Austen’s use of the term “consequence”: 

There is, in almost every second page of Miss Austen, a detestable thing called, in the language of the day, “consequence.”  No slang of our own time, by the way, has ever misused a word more foolishly.  To “consequence,” and to the heroine’s love of it, is promptly sacrificed all that might have seemed the beginnings of suggestions of spirituality.  (64) 

In fact, the term “consequence” does not appear on almost every second page of Miss Austen.  In Pride and Prejudice, there are 30 instances of the word.1  Of these, about half are in the value-neutral sense of “result” or “outcome.”  One example of this value-neutral use will suffice.  Mrs. Bennet muses, “‘The consequence of it is, that Lady Lucas will have a daughter married before I have’” (159). 

The remaining instances, the value-laden ones that Meynell abhors because they impart the sense of “Importance in rank and position; social distinction” (“Consequence” 7) are always used by Austen in a way that is at least semi-ironic.  They are used by, about, or in reference to, a character who is morally compromised, terminally foolish, or both. 

The term “consequence,” in this value-laden sense, had already, before the end of the eighteenth century, become heavily ironized.  The OED, as evidence for this ironizing meaning, which it lists as 7c, “Assumed importance, consequentiality,” gives a 1791 use by the satiric writer George Huddesford’s Salmagundi:  “Shield me . . . From Pedantry of formal Port, And Consequence in Cassoc short.” 

Austen’s own use of the noun “consequence,” in a well-known passage from Northanger Abbey, also appears in the OED, under meaning 7b, “Importance manifested by appearance or demeanour; dignity.  Also transf. of things. Obs.”  The OED only includes the latter part of the sentence in the main text, the online version attaching a link to the full passage: “Her [Catherine’s] eyes gained more animation, and her figure more consequence.”  It is not clear, however, whether this usage is completely irony-free, whether it is, in short, an instance of the OED’s “obsolete” 7b or the ironic 7c.  The passage from which this quotation is taken, outlining Catherine’s development from tomboy to protagonist, is humorous and mock-epic, part of an anti-heroine’s journey. 

To confirm that the ironic usage, dubbed 7c in the OED, was already current in the 1790s, when Austen was drafting her early works, we turn to an author well known to Austen.  In The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Ann Radcliffe had deployed the term as a form of implicit criticism of a worldly character with suspect values. 

M. Quesnel had lived altogether in the world; his aim had been consequence; splendour was the object of his taste. . . . The marriage of his sister with St. Aubert had been mortifying to his ambition, for he had designed that the matrimonial connection she formed should assist him to attain the consequence which he so much desired.  (1: 15). 

M. Quesnel, through his pursuit of “consequence,” is shown to be a mercenary and superficial character, contrasted with the honest and unassuming St. Auberts. 

As did Radcliffe, Austen uses “consequence” as a negative marker of character.  She causes the term “consequence” to appear in the mouths of characters who are either morally or intellectually compromised.  In Pride and Prejudice, these include Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham.  Mr. Collins says, in relation to Anne de Bourgh, “‘I have more than once observed to Lady Catherine, that her charming daughter seemed born to be a duchess, and that the most elevated rank, instead of giving her consequence, would be adorned by her’” (76).  Anything spoken in seriousness by Mr. Collins is, by definition, foolish, including his estimation of “consequence.” 

Mr. Wickham repeatedly uses the term “consequence” to give a bad impression of Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth, implying that Darcy is a self-important snob. 

“The world is blinded by his fortune and consequence, or frightened by his high and imposing manners, and sees him only as he chuses to be seen.”  (87) 

“Among those who are at all his equals in consequence, he is a very different man from what he is to the less prosperous.”  (92) 

Darcy himself, to all intents and purposes a disagreeable character in the early part of the novel, also uses the term in expressing his contempt for the ladies of Meryton, none of whom he finds attractive enough to be his dance partner.  Darcy suggests that the Meryton girls—and Elizabeth in particular—have unwarranted pretensions to social and/or sexual importance:  “‘I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men’” (12). 

If we turn to Emma, we find 27 occurrences of the word.  Of these, by far the majority are the value-neutral sense.  The remaining cases are, as in Pride and Prejudice, used in such a way that the general context or the particular usage implies irony.  Here, Emma is ruminating after the unfortunate proposal by Mr. Elton. 

Perhaps it was not fair to expect him to feel how very much he was her inferior in talent, and all the elegancies of mind.  The very want of such equality might prevent his perception of it; but he must know that in fortune and consequence she was greatly his superior.  (147) 

Emma has been mortified, and is retreating into her sense of self-importance as a way of dealing with the situation.  A later value-laden instance of “consequence” is, not surprisingly, to be found in connection with Mrs. Elton. 

Such as Mrs. Elton appeared to [Emma] on this second interview, such she appeared whenever they met again,—self-important, presuming, familiar, ignorant, and ill-bred.  She had a little beauty and a little accomplishment, but so little judgment that she thought herself coming with superior knowledge of the world, to enliven and improve a country neighbourhood; and conceived Miss Hawkins to have held such a place in society as Mrs. Elton’s consequence only could surpass.  (303) 

Here Austen uses free indirect meditation by Emma, imagining Mrs. Elton’s own conception of her burgeoning importance through her marriage.  In a sense Emma is the narrator, drawing an amusing sketch of Mrs. Elton’s self-image.  But Emma herself is not persuaded:  her musings are the vehicle for Austen’s, and the reader’s, amusement at Mrs. Elton’s vastly inflated ego. 

It is with Emma that Meynell concluded her essay “The Classic Novelist.” 

Before quitting the noble subject of “consequence” let it be noted that Emma had the following hesitation about a youth she was inclined to admire (Emma was not twenty-one):  “Of pride, indeed, there was perhaps scarcely enough; his indifference to a confusion of rank bordered too much on inelegance of mind.  He could be no judge, however, of the evil he was holding cheap.”  It is an unheavenly world.  (Second Person Signular 67) 

In this passage to which Meynell refers, which occurs early in Emma’s acquaintance with Frank Churchill, she is sizing him up; he is on trial as a new entrant into the small world of Highbury (213–14).  Emma’s experience of people has been limited, and Frank represents a new type.  Most readers realize that Emma may in the future have reason to revise her opinions about such matters as rank and pride.  Meynell, however, appeared to take the passage as a sound guide to the worldly and status-conscious values of Jane Austen.  Through adopting such an interpretation, and through her profound misreading of Austen’s use of “consequence,” Meynell created a straw Austen, whom she was able, in her own view at least, to dismiss. 

In Persuasion, there are 34 instances, of which about one third are of the value-neutral kind.  Of the remaining value-laden cases, it is unsurprising that Sir Walter Elliot and his daughter Elizabeth, incorrigible snobs and fools, are regularly described in relation to their “consequence.”  “Consequence,” then, in Jane Austen’s mature novels, is a form of social status valued by ignorant and snobbish people, presented in opposition to superior values such as kindness and good actions towards others.  The code represented by “consequence” is not one that the authorial voice endorses.  Meynell, in claiming that Austen’s heroines love “consequence,” made a most significant misreading. 

Mansfield Park is a more complex case, with a higher occurrence of the term “consequence” than in Pride and Prejudice or Emma.  There are 46 cases of “consequence” here, of which 9 are the non-moral kind, leaving an overwhelming majority with value-laden connotations, reversing the pattern seen in Pride and Prejudice and Emma.  Perhaps because it exhibits so many usages of the term, Mansfield Park is the only novel that appears to have attracted critical analysis concerning the term “consequence.”  In 1985 Alan T. McKenzie pointed out that from the very opening sentence of Mansfield Park, the term “consequence” has particular resonance: 

About thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.  (3) 

Austen’s use in this opening sentence is (unusually) plural, combining the value-neutral sense of “results” with the value-laden meaning of social importance.  McKenzie noted, rightly, that Austen has here set the scene for the concerns of the novel: “Even in Austen’s first sentence we can sense intricate and significant connections among ‘consequence,’ landed wealth, social rank, and marriage” (282). 

Yet despite appreciating the nuances present in the term, McKenzie appeared to take “consequence” to be principally an economic concept, and less importantly a personal one. 

[Inquiry into Austen’s use of “consequence”] will have to go beyond [the dictionary definition] in several directions:  the derivation of consequence from holdings of land, its restriction to the vicinity of the land on which it is based, the extension of it to the house on that land, . . . and less significant than any of these social concerns, its strictly psychological component, an intimacy more personal than social.  (283) 

Such a reading, privileging the economic over the personal, is difficult to justify in relation to Mansfield Park, given that McKenzie noted that Mr. Rushworth is described as manifesting consequence as a result of his holding at Sotherton (286–87).  Clearly, Mr. Rushworth is a character of very little worth, whatever the extent of his hereditary acres. 

So, contra McKenzie, most of the usages in Mansfield Park are of exactly the pattern that has emerged from the other novels:  uttered by, or in relation to, characters who are compromised either morally, or intellectually, or both.  One reason for the higher number of morally loaded usages in the novel may well be that there is a higher proportion of morally compromised characters in Mansfield Park than in either Pride and Prejudice or Emma.  McKenzie usefully showed that, from the start, we are led to associate “consequence” with Sir Thomas Bertram and his status in the world.  Mrs. Grant pointedly uses the term in describing Sir Thomas to her sister Mary Crawford:  “‘You will find his consequence very just and reasonable when you see him in his family, I assure you. . . . He has a fine dignified manner, which suits the head of such a house, and keeps everybody in their place’” (189–90).  By “consequence” here, Mrs. Grant presumably means Sir Thomas’s standing, authority, and self-importance. McKenzie calculated that Sir Thomas’s consequence was entirely a product of his estate’s extent and income and of his rank (284).  Mrs. Grant is almost, however, imparting a touch of irony, in suggesting that consequence at Sir Thomas’s level would be unbearable in another context. 

Sir Thomas’s failure to impart right values to his children, in part because of his emphasis on status, was followed by real-world consequences (in the non-moral sense, meaning outcomes).  Here, to take a relevant case, is his daughter Maria, determined to forget Henry Crawford and marry Mr. Rushworth:  “She must escape from [her father] and Mansfield as soon as possible, and find consolation in fortune and consequence, bustle and the world, for a wounded spirit” (236).  Austen shows that Maria’s desire for consequence is a poor substitute for an honest admission that she does not love Rushworth.  The “consequence” Maria seeks is, by its nature, false.  Earlier, on the occasion of the visit to Sotherton, Maria has rejoiced that, as his betrothed, “Mr. Rushworth’s consequence was hers” (95).  Their relationship has never been based upon genuine mutual regard but on desire for social and financial advancement. 

“Consequence” is also involved in characterizing Mary Crawford.  Also the product of an upbringing lacking in moral education, Mary Crawford shows her true colors when she speculates on Tom Bertram’s illness:  “‘Poor young man!—If he is to die, there will be two poor young men less in the world; and with a fearless face and bold voice would I say to any one, that wealth and consequence could fall into no hands more deserving of them’” (502).  In implying that consequence might be an advantage to be gained by Edmund from Tom’s death, Mary shows that her own valuation of social standing exceeds even common decency.  She is joking, to be sure, but the very fact that she thinks in these terms at such a time is an indictment of her value system. 

Austen’s use of “consequence” in relationship to Fanny Price is more subtle and complex.  Fanny’s experiences with worldly consequence, on the varying occasions upon which she appears likely to improve her standing, are consistently disappointing.  When Julia and the newlywed Rushworths leave Mansfield Park for Brighton, “Fanny’s consequence increased on the departure of her cousins” (239).  Yet this addition turns out to be simply through default of any other young female.  In the absence of her cousins, Fanny receives invitations to the Parsonage, to the dismay of Mrs. Norris, and is also courted by Henry Crawford. 

This courtship, paradoxically, ensures that Fanny’s ascendance to consequence is to be short-lived.  Acting in accordance with her conscience in refusing Crawford’s proposal, Fanny finds herself stripped of her small claim to importance.  Sir Thomas—the embodiment, as we have seen, of worldly consequence—has the power to remove it from Fanny at a stroke.  “She had tasted of consequence in its most flattering form; and he did hope that the loss of it, the sinking again into nothing, would awaken very wholesome regrets in her mind” (422).  Sir Thomas imagines that Fanny will be as sensitive to the sudden loss of consequence as he himself would be:  “Sir Thomas, meanwhile, went on with his own hopes, and his own observations, still feeling a right, by all his knowledge of human nature, to expect to see the effect of the loss of power and consequence, on his niece’s spirits” (424).  As Fanny’s promotion to the state was so recent, so accidental, and so unrelated to her own merits, however, its loss seems hardly to register with her. 

Sir Thomas actually hopes that Fanny will be thrown into despair by a loss of consequence which, in fact, she seems barely to notice.  Her relative imperviousness Sir Thomas attributes to a visit from William Price, in raising Fanny’s spirits.  Sir Thomas—whose knowledge of human nature is perhaps not as extensive as he imagines—does not perceive that Fanny has not expected or sought any elevation in her status and now feels no sense of demotion. 

But there is a kind of consequence that Fanny aims at.  She does expect, reasonably, that she will be of importance to her own mother in Portsmouth, but this hope is disappointed:  “Every flattering scheme of being of consequence to her soon fell to the ground” (450).  Such “consequence” is rather different from the artificial kind represented by Sir Thomas:  it signifies the love and favor that every child expects to receive from his or her mother.  This rudimentary form of consequence is the only one to which Fanny lays claim.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Price is not an affectionate mother to her daughters (with the exception of Betsy), so even this simplest kind of consequence eludes poor Fanny.  Fanny and worldly consequence simply do not go together.  The fault, Austen wishes us to see, is that of consequence, not of Fanny. 

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That Meynell continued to think well of her anti-Austen sallies is indicated by the fact that she repeated them virtually verbatim in 1905, nearly a decade after “The Classic Novelist” had appeared, in “The English Women-Humorists,” a piece for the U.S. literary market.  As her theme here is humor, Meynell also described at some length Austen’s treatment of Mrs. Bennet, suggesting that Austen achieved a humorous effect—her “slender derisive laugh”—through repetition: 

One reference to the misapprehended entail would be a little ludicrous, but Mrs. Bennet is heard to make many, and the reader always applauds with a cordial laugh. . . . The author’s exquisitely moderate art, which will not do things violently, does them often; and yet only often enough; neither here is there any excess. . . . Nonetheless [Austen] has made of that household, and of the fool who is the wife in it, a masterpiece of derision.  (858–59) 

Meynell’s assessment of Austen’s humor as inhering solely in repetition was as off-center as her studied misreading of “consequence.”  She ignored Austen’s more complex and subtle forms of satire.  Meynell, entirely without a sense of humor herself, seems to have been singularly unqualified to assess humorous writing by either men or women. 

It is not clear whether Meynell’s influence on women’s writing was any more lasting than her dismissal of Jane Austen.  Meynell’s poetry—she was considered for appointment as Poet Laureate in 1913, although Robert Bridges was eventually named—has in the last two decades received some critical attention (Schaffer 49, 58).  F. Elizabeth Gray and other recent scholars have begun to consider Meynell’s prose, largely in the context of women’s journalism in the later nineteenth century.  This fact perhaps would have annoyed Meynell, with her preference for “great themes.” 

In the 1930s, when Elizabeth Jenkins wrote her ground-breaking biography of Jane Austen, it was still, evidently, worthwhile to attempt to combat the criticism of Jane Austen that had been levelled by Alice Meynell some forty years prior.  Lest this should surprise, Looser reminds us that Austen’s canonical standing has taken many turns in its two-hundred-year history (217).  In underscoring this point, we may note a more recent explanation of Austen’s use of the term “consequence.”  The work of English novelist Martin Amis, a great admirer of Austen, has covered the decades at the turn of the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, just as Meynell’s body of work spanned the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Amis’s 2010 explanation of the term “consequence” in Northanger Abbey is as representative of the mores of his times as Meynell’s account was of the end of the Victorian era.  In The Pregnant Widow, Amis’s anti-hero, Keith Nearing, a twenty-year-old literature student, gives the following definition to his girlfriend during the hot Italian summer of 1970:  “Consequence.  When Catherine’s growing up she gets plumper and her figure gains consequenceConsequence—that’s code for big tits” (127).  Meynell, no doubt, would be horrified, but Jane Austen would probably have laughed.



1Numbers of incidence of the term “consequence” and its cognates are based upon the Gutenberg e-editions of the novels of Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice ebook 1342, Emma ebook 158, Persuasion ebook 105, Mansfield Park ebook 141, Northanger Abbey ebook 121).

Works Cited
  • Amis, Martin.  The Pregnant Widow.  London: Vintage, 2010.
  • Austen, Jane.  The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen.  Gen. ed. Janet Todd.  Cambridge: CUP, 2005–2008.
  • Badeni, June.  “Meynell [née Thompson], Alice Christiana Gertrude (1847–1922), Poet and Journalist.”  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Oxford: OUP, 2004.
  • Bennett, E. A.  Journalism for Women: A Practical Guide..  London: Lane, 1898.
  • “Consequence, n.”  Oxford English Dictionary Online.  Oxford: OUP, 2018.
  • Gray, F. Elizabeth.  “Alice Meynell, Literary Reviewing, and the Cultivation of Scorn.”  Women and Journalism at the Fin de Siècle: Making a Name for Herself.  Ed. F. Elizabeth Gray.  London: Palgrave, 2012.  71–90.
  • Halsey, Katie.  Jane Austen and Her Readers 1785–1946.  London: Anthem, 2012.
  • Harman, Claire.  Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World.  Edinburgh: Canongate, 2009.
  • Jenkins, Elizabeth.  Jane Austen.  New York: Farrar, 1949.
  • Looser, Devoney.  The Making of Jane Austen.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2017.
  • McKenzie, Alan T.  “The Derivation and Distribution of ‘Consequence’ in Mansfield Park.”  Nineteenth-Century Fiction 40 (1985): 281–96.
  • Mazzeno, Laurence W.  Jane Austen: Two Centuries of Criticism.  Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2011.
  • Meynell, Alice.  “The English Women-Humorists.”  The North American Review Dec. 1905: 857–72.
  • _____.  The Second Person Singular and Other Essays. Second Impression.  Oxford: OUP, 1922.
  • “Philistine, n. and adj.”  Oxford English Dictionary Online.  Oxford: OUP, 2018.
  • Radcliffe, Ann Ward.  The Mysteries of Udolpho, a Romance; Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry.  3 vols.  Dublin: Kelly, 1795.
  • Schaffer, Talia.  “A Tethered Angel: The Martyrology of Alice Meynell.”  Victorian Poetry 38.1 (2000): 49–61.
  • Stephen, Leslie.  “Gibbon, Edward (1737–1794), Historian.”  Dictionary of National Biography.  Ed. Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee.  Oxford: OUP, 1908.  7: 1129–35.
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