Throughout history, communities have maintained their dominance over the lives of the individual and the collective lives of those within a community. Community, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a body of people organized into a political, municipal, or social unity”. Although this is the technical definition, a community can be described in a number of other ways. In its most basic form, a community is simply a group of people. This community, typically in older times, lived in the same area and based many relationships on this.
Both Persuasion by Jane Austen, and The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler illustrate this and just how the individuals in these types of communities interact with one another. The interactions that take place within the community are what drive the main characters in the novels and also what encourages them to have the characteristics and attributes they do. In both Persuasion and The Jane Austen Book Club, the prevalent themes of community are apparent throughout the two novels and while they differ greatly, both authors outline the basic principles of a community.
To define what makes a community is not nearly as simple as it may sound. Communities vary and therefore there are a number of factors that come into play when observing communities. Generally speaking, and in most cases, a community may feature similar interests, common geographical location, and an established goal. A community’s main purpose is to improve the quality of life for the individual and the lives of other people involved in the community. Communities require meaningful contributions to be dispersed from one person to another.
Communities typically have a means of rewarding individuals and groups of people, whether through monetary or other values. Communities require some form of leadership. This is usually debated about but there are many different ways this can be handled. A successful community serves as a main aid and means of improving its environment. Though these factors are not all necessary at once and not the only comprising factors, having some of these can lead to a strong and successful community.
Along with some of these features, a community is meant to enhance the lives of not only an individual but also the community as a whole. Whether these enhancements are spiritual, financial, emotional or other forms, the most import result of a community is a positive reward recognizing the efforts of others. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler is a prime example of a novel with a prominent theme being community. The novel centers around the lives of six individuals as they read through Jane Austen’s books and connect them back to their past memories.
The reader is introduced to Jocelyn, Sylvia, Allegra, Prudie, Bernadette, and Grigg through recounts of significant events that occurred in their lives that essentially shaped them into the people they were at the start of the story. Initially reading the novel, the reader may note the different types of communities illustrated throughout by Fowler. The most apparent example of a community is that of the actual book club. The six people (Sylvia, Jocelyn, Allegra, Bernadette, Prudie, and Grigg) come from various backgrounds and somehow end up crossing paths through a shared love of Jane Austen and her novels.
Though it is not exactly explained how the book club was formed, the reader is able to get an idea as the character’s background stories are discussed. The actual book club is quite interesting because the reader does not fully understand the dynamics of the group until later in the story. For example, when Jocelyn introduces Grigg to the book club, the other women are not very accepting of him simply because he is a man. This slight, but key detail is important for the reader in trying to understand the group and their unwritten rules.
The members of the book club seem to be only acquaintances, aside from Jocelyn, Sylvia, and Allegra. This is also crucial in understanding that the book club is not a tight knit group of friends but rather a group that shares common interests that they bond over. As the plot develops, this evolution of the members is apparent to the reader. Another small but notable example of a community within The Jane Austen Book Club is that of science fiction. This appears when the women go to Grigg’s house for the book club and they see that he has mostly science fiction novels.
Jocelyn, already knowing of his love for science fiction, is more aware of the community from their initial meeting. When Grigg and Jocelyn first met in the elevator of the hotel where a sci-fi convention was being held, she ignorantly and silently judged others apart of the community because she did not understand their interactions and why they behaved in certain ways. This example shows the perception of somebody on the outside looking in who immediately forms conclusions just because their ideas or interests do not coincide with those of another community.
Perhaps the most significant illustration of a community within The Jane Austen Book Club is shown within a book reading community. All the women of the book club in the story have an immense love for Jane Austen’s novels and believe she is a brilliant writer. This comes to a head when a man named Mo Bellington challenges Bernadette and Prudie. At a fund-raiser for the Sacramento Public Library where Sylvia works, they meet writer Mo Bellington who was forced to sit at their table for the night. After conversations about his own books, Bernadette questions him on Jane Austen and which of her books was his favorite.
He responded and later said, “I don’t read much women’s stuff. I like a good plot”. To which Prudie dramatically responded with “Austen can plot like a son of a bitch. ” This instance shows Prudie and Bernadette judging him on his taste in books and authors. At this point in the novel, the women form more unified bonds and the book club seems to be more of an elite community than previously described in the novel. This illustrates a prime example of a community with distaste for anyone who does not regard their idols and heroes in the same light.
In the novel, The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler’s ideas of community and what it means are shown throughout. With the multiple examples of community, Fowler conveys ideas that communities may come in different forms and when you least expect it. However, no matter which way they appear in your life, they can still be beneficial to the individual. The themes of community within Persuasion by Jane Austen are illustrated in a manner more directly linked with core values and common geographical location.
The story follows the life of Sir Walter Elliot’s youngest daughter Anne and her rekindling of a past romance with Captain Frederick Wentworth. In the novel, there are a few instances in which community and the ways in which it affects the individual are clearly shown. For example, Anne Elliot is the primary focus of this and appears to be throughout. Anne Elliot is the reserved, quiet main character that is hardly acknowledged as such until a short while after the story begins. Anne maintains this persona within her family of her sisters Mary and Elizabeth and her father Sir Walter.
The primary community that is meant to be her family does not value her and mostly ignores her. This is demonstrated directly, “but Anne… was nobody with either father or sister: her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way; – she was only Anne. ” Anne also has a community within her acquaintances including Lady Russell, Mary, Captain Wentworth, Benwick, Louisa, and others she spends time with during the story. Although this community is not as distinct as that of her own family, Anne here also appears to be on the outside of a seemingly dysfunctional community.
This seems to have a direct influence on the way Anne behaves and keeps to herself. In The “Unfeudal Tone of the Present Day, a literary criticism by Claudia L. Johnson, the author discusses this and states, her perceptions on Anne’s behaviors that result from her community and societal standards. Johnson states, “Like female modesty, which is suspected to the same degree as it is commanded, female strength is disapproved to the same degree as it is desired. ” Here it is discussed how Wentworth expects women of the time to be and if they do not follow these ways he will not want to be with them.
Many of these attributes Anne finds herself lacking, but as the novel continues Anne’s physical beauty comes forth when her inner self is at peace. This is also illustrated in “Intellectual Qualities, Emotions and the Body: An Analysis of Anne Elliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion” written by Claire Muller. In this online article, Muller examines Anne’s character and the way it was shaped. Muller states “Despite these initial problems, it can be observed that the more they meet the more their attitude towards each other changes, which has effects on Anne’s outward appearance.
This change in outward appearance begins within Anne’s own community. Once they see how she reacts to difficult situations, such as Louisa falling and hurting herself, Anne’s community begins to perceive her differently than before. Consequently, Captain Wentworth begins to feel the same Another small example of a community within Persuasion pertains to Captain Wentworth and those he associated with upon going back to Bath. When a break from the navy leads him back to Kellynch, he returns a changed man. A sum of money was allotted to him, and he becomes the area’s most eligible bachelor.
It is the return of Captain Wentworth that establishes his new rank in both the community and society. The way his community receives him along with his newly acquired wealth that makes him even more of an opportunity for some of the women of Bath. This may have had much to do with his own personal relationships, specifically the one with Anne Elliot. Once he has come into contact with her again he seems, from the view of the speaker, to have changed as a result of his naval community. Anne does not receive him the way he had previously left and this prideful man gets in the way of their rekindling romance.
The examples from themes of community within Persuasion are few but those that were expressed were done so in detail. The communities that take place within Persuasion are not as positive and functional as those demonstrated in The Jane Austen Book Club. In Persuasion, Jane Austen appears to be conveying ideas about the negative effects a community can have on the individual. The themes shown in both The Jane Austen Book Club and Persuasion demonstrated different forms of communities, positive and negative. When reading both novels, I found them to be greatly different examples of what a community is and what it is not.
A community, as in Persuasion can be absolutely useless to the individual and entirely dysfunctional as a whole. Or, in the case of The Jane Austen Book Club, a community can be a positive, rewarding, functional, and beneficial group for the individuals apart of that community. Both Karen Joy Fowler and Jane Austen provided detailed examples of communities and the way they influence the individuals and whole of the community. Although the prevalent themes of community are maintained throughout the novels in different manners, they outline the most basic principles of a community.