- Jane Austen and Masculinity ed. by Michael Kramp
Bucknell University Press, 2018. 318pp. US$110. ISBN 978-1-61148-866-1.
Jane Austen and Masculinity is a welcome addition to the significant body of work on Austen and gender, as it demonstrates what editor Michael Kramp terms “the codification of masculinity studies” (2). This field has evolved considerably “within the context of feminist thought” (10), but despite its productivity and the ever-growing corpus of Austen criticism, there are still few resources devoted solely to the study of Austen and men. Apart from Roger Sales’s Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England (1994) and Kramp’s Disciplining Love: Austen and the Modern Man (2007), relevant monographs on nineteenth-century masculinities typically feature one chapter on Austen’s fiction, and the same can be said of most anthologies. Kramp has gathered a group of talented contributors, several of whom have written on Austenian masculinities before. The collected essays therefore exhibit a self-conscious awareness of disciplinary developments, and the analytical frameworks and tools therein reflect those of influential predecessors. These include the shifting meanings of identity markers as in Joseph Litvak’s “Charming Men, [End Page 360] Charming History” (1996), the “plots of vocation” examined in E.J. Clery’s “Austen and Masculinity” (2009), or the emphasis on “becoming” in Jason D. Solinger’s Becoming the Gentleman: British Literature and the Invention of Modern Masculinity, 1660–1815 (2012). The contributors take as a given that masculinity is continuously negotiated, and the wide-ranging topics reflect a commitment to “unravel[ing] the workings of hegemonic masculinity, its shifting manifestations, its disruptions and reaffirmations, and its diverse effects on women and men alike” (6).
A key focus for scholarly attention in the collection is the process through which men “become men by navigating gender relations, historical realities, and influential models of masculinity” (5). The contributors mine both historical and literary contexts to analyze the construction of Austen’s men, illuminating the complex ways her characters respond to contemporary gender norms. Linda Zionkowski and Miriam Hart’s excellent essay explores the derision that meets masculine displays of musical skill due to performers’ alignment with the servant class or feminine accomplishment. They conclude that Austen challenges these assumptions across her novels by contrasting the tone-deaf clergymen with appreciative listeners like Colonel Brandon and Frederick Wentworth or the talented Frank Churchill, who is offered as a model for an appealing “new style of masculinity” (263). Other models for masculine action and feeling are taken directly from history by Natasha Duquette and Lisa Hopkins. Hopkins attends to the recurrence of Lord Byron and the Duke of Wellington in a wide range of Austen “tribute texts,” observing that the author’s fictional encounters with Byron result in a transference of his masculine vigour, whereas Wellington’s presence promises the maintenance of separate gendered spheres within the narrative. Less ambitious, though more focused, is Duquette’s comparison of Captain Benwick with Austen’s gentlemanly naval brothers Francis and Charles, and the boorish Captain Mirvan from Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778); arguing for the “uniqueness of Captain Benwick’s masculine sensibility” (98), Duquette enhances his rather slight characterization through the prism of more vivid figures.
Enit K. Steiner’s study of men of literary taste, a trope reflecting Austen’s “own melancholia in the face” of her readers’ “uncertain and unpredictable [textual] appropriation[s]” (114), is more layered. Centring on the rakish Sir Edward Denham’s problematic use of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1748), Steiner’s argument represents Sanditon  as a “melancholic text” that “mourns the undoing of its creative powers” through strategies such as “self-diminution” or the reduction of characterological complexity (121–22). This careful attention to stock figures and familiar plots is also evident in Zachary Snider’s approach to Austen’s largely neglected [End Page 361] dandies. Henry Crawford and Frank Churchill are reconsidered in light of Beau Brummell’s influential self-stylings, and, as a result, their performance of alternative masculinities becomes more liberatory and agential. Kit Kincade’s essay prioritizes analytical breadth in its view of the consequences...