ABOVE: The 1813 Cruikshank caricature of The Prince of Whales: The Fisherman at Anchor.................. Read Colleen Sheehan's articles (including the footnotes) for the amazing Jane Austen connection:



...Halloween, 2010, when I addressed the JASNA AGM in Portland re: "Remember the country and age in which we live": The Covert Death-in-childbirth Anti-parody in Northanger Abbey"



...to various JASNA chapters re: “The Shadow Story of Emma: Jane Austen, the Secret Feminist”:

In NYC....


...and also in Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Gainesville, Atlanta, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.


I want to present to other JASNA chapters. Email arnieperlstein@myacc.net if you're interested!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Frank Churchill aka Catullus as Mrs. Elton's abominable puppy: Two Curs fighting over a Bone outside Ford's

This is a followup to my recent post on the above topic, as I respond to Anielka Briggs's interesting comments on my post: 

Anielka: “I hate to disappoint you but I had already used all those connections.”

Anielka, I’m a little surprised that you didn’t, right off the bat, specifically mention Catullus’s elegant acrostic in the “Scylla” Poem 60—given your and mine long focus on JA’s multiple-answered acrostic charade (a crucial insight for which we both are indebted to Colleen Sheehan’s seminal discovery), I’d have expected you to lead with that headline. Be that as it may, that ancient acrostic, hidden in the very same short poem by “Puppy” that names a famous mythological character who sounds like a puppy, is what seals the deal for me—no question, Jane Austen really must have had Catullus on the brain as she had Mrs. Elton talk about that ‘abominable puppy’ acrostic charade-writer in Emma.

Anielka: “Nevertheless well done so far.”

Likewise. And that’s the point—what you just found synergizes powerfully with my prior insight, which I arrived at several years ago without any awareness of the Catullus connection, i.e., that Frank is Mrs. Elton’s abominable puppy---he gave that charade to Miss Hawkins before Mr. Elton gave it to Emma. The odds are microscopically small that BOTH my discovery AND yours would dovetail together so perfectly by random coincidence.  I am very glad that you’ve provided strong additional and convergent evidence that Frank is a puppy.

Anielka: “Here's the clue: "TWO curs quarrelling over a dirty BONE"… There are TWO dogs quarrelling over the dirty bone. This was a contemporary political expression alluding to the idea that whilst two parties are busy arguing over a political bone of contention, a third will come in and snatch the prize away. Emma is watching a metaphor; a motif repeated in the narrative”

Also an excellent catch! I have one important quibble, though. You leap to the conclusion that there is only one meaning for that proverb, but Google Books just alerted me that there were, in contemporary publications, no fewer than THREE variants on that proverbial motif of two dogs fighting over a bone, when JA was writing Emma.

One was the most famous one that you mention, about the third dog snatching the prize.

A second one, called an English proverb, goes as follows:
“Two wives in a house, two cats with a mouse, two dogs with a bone, will never agree in one.”

That has a different moral from the first version. It’s (obviously) about how some prizes—a husband, a mouse or a bone--by their very indivisible nature can’t be shared. And that brings to mind the most famous indivisible prize in literary history--two mothers with a baby—i.e., the King Solomon Dilemma.

And…there’s also a third variant, which appears, of all places, in Part 3, Canto 2 of Samuel Butler’s very famous mock-epic 17th century poem Hudibras:

 “…The Poet steps out of his road, and skips from the time wherein these adventures happened, to Cromwell's death, and from thence to the dissolution of the Rump parliament. This conduct is allowable in a satirist, whose privilege it is to ramble wherever he pleases, and to stigmatize vice, faction, and rebellion, where and whenever he meets with them….

So, ere the storm of war broke out,
Religion spawn'd a various rout
Of petulant capricious sects,
The maggots of corrupted texts,
That first run all religion down,
And after every swarm its own.
And yet no nat'ral tie of blood,
Nor int'rest for the common good,
Could, when their profits interfere!
Get quarter for each other's beard.
For when they thriv'd they never fadg'd,
But only by the ears engag'd ;
As by their truest characters,
Their constant actions, plainly appears.
Rebellion now began, for lack
Of zeal and plunder, to grow slack…

If I am interpreting Butler correctly, the meaning of his use of this proverbial motif is that the very existence of a rare prize can cause strife between otherwise amicable neighbors. Butler uses it in the context of sectarian religious strife, but this is intriguing in light of the subtle hints of a rupture between Donwell Abbey and Hartfield two years before the action of the novel, a rupture which is apparently healed by the outing to Donwell Abbey. Perhaps Romeo & Juliet stuff.

So as you can see, we actually have three different plausible proverbial meanings bubbling around beneath JA’s invocation of that dog-bone proverb, and I can think of a dozen ways of parsing it in terms of the shadow story of Emma.

Anielka, I think that if we keep worrying these connected “bones”, and avoid biting each other in the process, then our very different visions of Jane Austen’s shadows will nonetheless both be nourished by the marrow we are able to extract from it.

I conclude by pointing out that I gave interpretations within the last year of two of Emma’s other observations as she waits at Ford’s:

“a tidy old woman travelling homewards from shop with her full basket”

I suggested that this was actually the increasingly pregnant Jane Fairfax wrapped in shawls and disguised as an old woman so as not to attract attention to her body, while procuring vitally needed groceries.


“Mr. Perry walking hastily by”

I suggested that Mr. Perry is no longer alive during the action of the novel, and that Emma only thinks she sees Mr. Perry, when it is actually someone else entirely.

So, although I did note that this passage at Ford’s was a riddle requiring decoding, you are indeed the first to spot the proverbial significance of the dogs fighting over a bone.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Frank Churchill aka Catullus as Mrs. Elton's abominable puppy

“"Oh! for myself, I protest I must be excused," said Mrs. Elton; "I really cannot attempt—I am not at all fond of the sort of thing. I had an acrostic once sent to me upon my own name, which I was not at all pleased with. I knew who it came from. AN ABOMINABLE PUPPY!—You know who I mean (nodding to her husband). These kind of things are very well at Christmas, when one is sitting round the fire; but quite out of place, in my opinion, when one is exploring about the country in summer. Miss Woodhouse must excuse me. I am not one of those who have witty things at every body's service. I do not pretend to be a wit. I have a great deal of vivacity in my own way, but I really must be allowed to judge when to speak and when to hold my tongue. Pass us, if you please, Mr. Churchill. Pass Mr. E., Knightley, Jane, and myself. We have nothing clever to say—not one of us.”

It has been over 8 years since I first identified Frank Churchill as the unnamed “abominable puppy” in the above speech by Mrs. Elton. As I have parsed it out, on Valentine’s Day, Frank first gives to (the then) Miss Hawkins the “courtship” charade (which, as Colleen Sheehan first showed in 2006, contains two anagram acrostics on the word/name “Lamb”),  and then, some time later,  Frank (the “fairy”) then passes on to his former wing-man Mr. Elton, who then recycles it by giving it to Emma.

I began publicly speaking about that interpretation, which ties up so many loose ends in Emma in a perfect harmonious whole, in May 2010, in my presentation to the NYC JASNA regional group, and I most recently briefly summarized my argument on this point here:

Anyway, today, in Janeites and Austen-L, Anielka Briggs brought forward what I believe to be another significant piece of that same literary jigsaw puzzle, a piece of which I had previously been completely unaware, but which I will demonstrate, below, to be part yet another thread in that same harmonious whole I described years earlier:

Anielka: “Having posted about Cicero as a style-sheet for Austen's prose it's only fair to reveal that Cicero's friends feature in various Austen novels. You may remember that the AUGUSTAn and Julian poets were fond of acrostics. One poet is famed for his impudent references to his lover. Clodia Metelli was a somewhat conceited, fairly well-to-do woman and kept plethora of boyfriends on the boil, including Austen's style-guru, Cicero. Clodia also dumped the impudent chap who wrote poetry to her. What was the name of her impudent erstwhile lover?  Catullus
And what does "Catullus" mean?  PUPPY.  So the "puppy" who wrote acrostics on her name is Catullus.  (Clodia was immortalised by Catullus as Lesbia) “  END QUOTE

Combining (i) my prior insight about Frank as the poetic puppy with (ii) Anielka’s very intriguing catch of the name of the poet “catullus” meaning “puppy”, I hypothesized that Jane Austen might just have been covertly presenting Frank Churchill as a Regency Era Catullus. So I decided to dig deeper, to see what else came up.

First, I checked and verified that my classical scholar friend Mary DeForest had, way back in 1988, made the following comment in her 1988 Persuasions article about classical literary influences on Jane Austen: 

“The Roman poets invented a new genre of poetry, consistent love-elegy, a cycle of poems narrating the vicissitudes of a single love-affair.  The most famous example is Catullus’ cycle of poems about Lesbia. “

But Mary, while recognizing that Jane Austen had drawn inspiration for her own mock self-depreciations,  had not realized that Jane Austen might have had specific Roman poems on her radar screen—specifically, those very same Lesbia  poems that both Mary (in 1988) and Anielka (in 2014) had mentioned.

It didn’t take long to find the Lesbia poem which Catullus scholars universally agree is the best textual evidence supporting the identification of the real life Clodia as Catullus’s source for his fictional Lesbia:

Lesbius is beautiful. Of course he is! Lesbia would choose him
  over you, Catullus, with your whole family.
But yet, this beautiful man would sell Catullus, with family,
  if he could find three kisses from men who know him.

And that last line about Lesbius having to scramble to gather three kisses from friends reminded me immediately of Frank’s playful challenge at Box Hill:

“[Emma] only demands from each of you either one thing very clever, be it prose or verse, original or repeated—or two things moderately clever—or three things very dull indeed, and she engages to laugh heartily at them all."

Be it prose or verse? I’d say, in this case, very definitely verse-Catullus’s very clever verse!

And that last line from that most famous of the Lesbia poems also brought to my mind the playful last line of Garrick’s Riddle---the dirty part that Mr. Woodhouse doesn’t quite remember:

Must I this youth address?
Cupid and he are not the same—
Tho' both can raise or quench a flame —
I'LL KISS YOU if you guess."

So, the idea that these really were JA’s teasing hints of Catullus hidden in plain sight in the word games of Emma was growing more and more promising. But it turns out, as you’ll see shortly, I was only half done.

Next on the list of leads to check was picking up on Anielka’s general suggestion about the love of acrostics in Latin poetry—did that, I wondered, apply specifically to Catullus’s poetry?  The poem I quoted first about Lesbia was actually only one of nearly a hundred poems about Lesbia that he wrote. Did any of them contain an acrostic? Google quickly confirmed that this was the case:

Lesbia Poem 60

Num te leaena montibus Libystinis
Aut Scylla latrans infina inguinum parte
Tam mente dura procreavit ac taetra,
ut supplicis  vocem in novissimo casu
contemptam haberes, a nimis fero corde?

Either a lioness from Libya’s mountains
Or Scylla barking from her terrible bitch-womb
Gave birth to you, so foul and so hard your heart is!
The great contempt you show as I lie here dying
With not a word from you! Such a bestial coldness.

In Catullus (1992) by Charles Martin, we read about the above poem at p. 72:

“G.P. Goold, an editor and translator of Catullus, recently [actually, in 1965, as far as I can tell] noted a clue that had been overlooked for at least the past seven hundred years: if you read down the first letters of each line and then read up the last letters, you find a telegraphically terse ACROSTIC message: NATU CEU AES, by birth like bronze…”


N (um) …A(ut) …T (am) … U(t)     = NATU
C(ontemptam) … (cord)E … (cas)U = CEU
(taetr)A … (part)E … (Libystini)S    = AES

This down-then-up acrostic in Lesbia Poem 60 means “by BIRTH with bronze”, in a stanza which refers to giving BIRTH.  Clearly not a random event.

So, we DO have an acrostic, and a particularly elegant one, in Lesbia Poem 60! Did Jane Austen recognize it? I believe so, and that is in part why Mrs. Elton refers to the author of the “lamb/ courtship” acrostic/charade as a “puppy”---and “terrible” is a good synonym for “abominable”---but all of that is just prelude to the most Mrs. Eltonesque part of this particular acrostic Poem 60.

Note the image that Catullus chose to depict the idea of terrible in Poem 60—it’s Scylla, of course one of the two proverbial mythological sea monsters who makes Odysseus’s seafaring quite challenging in The Odyssey.

So what?” you say? “ Well, I leave it to Daniel H. Garrison in his Students Catullus at p. 125, in his footnote for Scylla in Poem 60, to explain why I connect Poem 60 to JA’s charade in Emma:

“…as described in the Odyssey, [Scylla] yaps like a PUPPY, in Lucretius the canine component has grown to a ring of rapid dogs attached to her body. Here and in Virgil, Propertius, and Ovid they comprise the lower part of her body.”

So Scylla was famous to Roman poets like Catullus, who surely knew Homer’s epic well. And indeed, in Book 12 of The Odyssey, we learn about Scylla that “She makes a horrible sound that is no louder than the whine of a PUPPY ...”

So, to sum up the key points, is it just one gigantic coincidence that:

Catullus (whose name means ‘puppy’) wrote a 4-line poem with its one named character being Scylla (whose voice was famously that of a puppy) and with an elegant acrostic---a poem written as part of a series of poems which included one other poem that concluded with a playful reference to three kisses;


Mrs. Elton repeatedly refers to a “puppy”  as the author of a charade (consisting of  two 4-line stanzas, each one with an anagram acrostic on another animal name-“lamb”---a charade written as part of a series of word games in Emma which included one which concluded  with a playful reference to a kiss, and another one  which referred to a playful reference to three

I think the conclusion is obvious.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Four Deadly Serious Allusive Sources Underlying Jane Austen’s Anything-But-Silly Dying Poem

When Winchester Races first took their beginning
It is said the good people forgot their old Saint
Not applying at all for the leave of SAINT SWITHIN
And that WILLIAM OF WYKEHAM’s approval was faint.
The Races however were fixed and determined
The company came and the Weather was charming
The Lords and the Ladies were SATIN’D AND ERMINED 
And nobody saw any future alarming.--
But when the old Saint was informed of these doings
He made but one Spring from his Shrine to the Roof
Of the Palace which now lies so sadly in ruins
And then he addressed them all standing aloof.
When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal! By vice you're enslaved
You have sinned and must suffer, then farther he said
These races and revels and dissolute measures
Let them stand--You shall meet with your curse in your pleasures
Set off for your course, I'll pursue with my rain.
Ye cannot but know my command o'er July
Henceforward I'll triumph in shewing my powers
Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry
The curse upon Venta is July in showers--'.

I’ve previously written posts in which I’ve made the argument, in various ways, that Jane Austen’s last poem, “Winchester Races”, reproduced above, is anything but a silly joke, and in particular that it had at least two significant literary/historical subtexts:

The Biblical story of Sodom & Gomorrah, with St. Swithin replacing the Hebrew God in the role of vengeful, punishing supernatural being; and

Gilbert White’s account, in his very famous book that JA knew well, of the 1367 visit by the Bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham, to the priory at Selborne, in which the self-righteous Bishop (whose crypt is extremely close to Jane Austen’s burial spot) sternly rebuked that priory for so-called widespread licentiousness, included hunting parties and also “garments edged with costly furs, with fringed gloves, and silken girdles trimmed with gold and silver. "
It is beyond coincidence that, in addition to the principal St. Swithin motif, JA also mentions William of Wykeham’s “faint approval” of the Winchester Races, and then just happens to mention leisure activities involving horseback riding and frivolous people fashionably dressed (“The Lords and the Ladies were satin’d and ermined “), the very things that good Bishop condemned so strongly.

For more detail, here are link to my two most relevant posts on those first two allusions:

Today, I want to bring forward, in observance of the recent anniversary of JA’s death (and also the coincidentally fitting end of our long group read of JA’s letters in Janeites & Austen-L)  two more deadly serious allusive sources I now also see in JA’s last poem:

When I first picked up on the first-above allusion in JA’s last poem to Genesis 13, the story of God raining fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah, it never dawned on me that the Hebrew Bible’s Genesis 13 was also a source for Matthew 11:19-30, obviously a much later Christian Biblical passage (which Google Books indicates was actually been read in some English churches the Sunday before JA died, as part of the cyclical liturgical calendar), on or about the same time as the Feast of St. Swithin! Which suggests to me that perhaps the Feast of St. Swithin over time took on the idea of a punitive rain from the contemporaneous Gospel lectionaries.

Specifically, Matthew’s Jesus seems to be channeling Genesis 13, with his fire-and-brimstone imprecations against the unrepentant towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum:

Matthew 11: 19-27
The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children. Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: WOE UNTO THEE, Chorazin! WOE UNTO THEE, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.  And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.
At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes….

Indeed, JA was the greatest proficient at hiding things from the so-called wise and prudent, while revealing them to so-called babes.
And for that matter Matthew also has Jesus distinctly channeling remembering Genesis 13 four chapters earlier in 7:24-26 from the Sermon on the Mount:
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.  And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

How resonant both of these passages are to JA’s last poem, and how much more likely that this resonance was intentional on JA’s part, given that these passages were probably read aloud in sermons in churches in Winchester not long before JA’s death!

But that’s not all. As I should have realized much sooner, especially given the Shakespearean subtext of Cassandra Austen’s first letter to niece Fanny after JA died, there just had to be some Shakespeare hidden in JA’s poem, given that he was surely part of her constitution till the day she died:

You may be surprised to learn that JA may have been inspired to develop all of her elaborate hidden calendars for all six of her novels by Shakespeare himself! I.e., it appears clear to me that Shakespeare went to some trouble to arrange a hidden calendar in Romeo & Juliet , such that the tragic young lovers Romeo and Juliet just happen to die on July 15, St. Swithin’s Day!! For this calendrical insight, I am indebted to scholar Demitra Papadinis, who in her recent annotated edition of the Bard’s early tragedy worked out that hidden calendar hidden in plain sight in Shakespeare’s play.  
How in plain sight? Because her inference is based in part on the various references in the play to other dates in the liturgical calendar (such as St. Lammas Day), and in part on what the Prince says at the end of the play, as he surveys the carnage in the sepulcher:

A GLOOMING peace this morning with it brings;
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

It was also a dark and stormy night on July 18,  1817, and ever since, for all Janeites, the premature death of Jane Austen has always been “a story of more woe.”

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Sunday, July 20, 2014

“Elinor could not find herself…”: the carriage rides of Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Musgrove, and Queen Mab

On countless occasions, among both serious Austen scholars and non-academic Janeites, the controversial passage in Chapter 8 of Persuasion when Anne is sitting on the same sofa with the corpulent Mrs. Musgrove in between Anne and Wentworth, has been passionately debated: 

“They were actually on the same sofa, for Mrs Musgrove had most readily made room for him; they were divided only by Mrs Musgrove. It was no insignificant barrier, indeed. Mrs Musgrove was of a comfortable, substantial size, infinitely more fitted by nature to express good cheer and good humour, than tenderness and sentiment; and while the agitations of Anne's slender form, and pensive face, may be considered as very completely screened, Captain Wentworth should be allowed some credit for the self-command with which he attended to her large fat sighings over the destiny of a son, whom alive nobody had cared for.
Personal size and mental sorrow have certainly no necessary proportions. A large bulky figure has as good a right to be in deep affliction, as the most graceful set of limbs in the world. But, fair or not fair, there are unbecoming conjunctions, which reason will patronize in vain--which taste cannot tolerate--which ridicule will seize.”

Many take the position that it must be Jane Austen-- a slender person all her life, by all accounts --- who personally felt surprisingly judgmental feelings toward those less svelte, and that this passage was the most overt expression of those feelings, which we also find traces of in JA’s letters.

I tend to think that Jane Austen the person did harbor unkindly thoughts toward heavy people, but it has been several years since I realized that, regardless of Jane Austen’s personal feelings, the phrase “large fat sighings” was intended by Jane Austen to reflect Anne Elliot’s subjective perceptions. In JA’s masterful psychological portraiture, they arise from Anne’s strong, repressed anger over being blocked from Wentworth’s line of sight, and vice versa, by Mrs. Musgrove’s formidable bulk seated in the middle of the sofa between them.

And that second quoted paragraph reflects the struggle in Anne’s mind, as first she finds Mrs. Musgrove’s histrionic grieving ridiculous, but then her reason/conscience argues that heavy people can also feel deep affliction--but then, Anne’s anger fuels her finding some irrational justification for sticking to her initial harsh judgment—sometimes, she decides, appearances do trump substance, when ridiculous is just too ridiculous.

And, if we dig a little deeper in Persuasion, we find out that Anne does not make this harsh judgment out of the blue, it has been set up by comments made to Anne by sister Mary three chapters earlier, in Chapter 5, as Mary describes a dinner out with her inlaws:

"Nothing remarkable. One always knows beforehand what the dinner will be, and who will be there; and it is so very uncomfortable not having a carriage of one's own. Mr and Mrs Musgrove took me, and we were so crowded! They are both so very large, and take up so much room; and Mr Musgrove always sits forward. So, there was I, crowded into the back seat with Henrietta and Louise; and I think it very likely that my illness to-day may be owing to it."

Mary has no qualms about being explicit about the cause of her discomfort. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense that both Anne and Mary should be judgmental, each in their own way, of the appearance of other people less blessed than the Elliots with good looks and a nice figure. After all, they both grew up in a household headed by Sir Walter, the world’s leading authority (or so he thinks himself) on good looks, and on the great, even decisive, importance of those good looks in judging the value of a person, second only perhaps to that person’s social status.

So we can also see that Anne, for all she thinks herself superior to, and different from, Mary and her father, and above their petty, small-minded, un-Christian  complaints, resentments, and judgments, is a whole lot more like them than she would ever want to admit.

I mention all of the above, because of something I noticed for the first time in Sense & Sensibility, which, upon examination, I realized, and will explain, below, is the covert forerunner of Mrs. Musgrove’s fat sighings—between 1811 and 1816, Jane Austen grew bolder in her depiction of uncharitable impulses in her virtuous heroines.

More than a few Janeites have over the years noticed the similarity between the personalities of Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Musgrove—jolly, expansive mother-figures who dote on their families and are not shy about expressing their  feelings in company, often to the chagrin of the restrained, discreet young heroines through whose eyes we see those matrons.

But how many Janeites have also noticed the strong physical similarity between Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Musgrove?  What I realized today is that Mary Musgrove’s report of the carriage ride with her in-laws the Musgroves that made her ill, and Anne Elliot’s frustration sitting on the sofa with Mrs. Musgrove and Wentworth, are actually not only connected to each other, but are also both echoes of a much earlier uncomfortable carriage ride described in Chapter 26 of S&S, when the narrator recounts the beginning of the long trip from Barton Cottage to London, with Elinor, Marianne, and Mrs. Jennings sharing some tight traveling accommodations:

"ELINOR COULD NOT FIND HERSELF in the carriage with Mrs. Jennings, and beginning a journey to London under her protection, and as her guest, without wondering at her own situation, so short had their acquaintance with that lady been, so wholly unsuited were they in age and DISPOSITION, and so many had been her objections against such a measure only a few days before!”

I’ve read that passage many times over the past 20 years, but for some reason this time, for the first time, I did a doubletake at the phrase “Elinor could not find herself”—was I just imagining it, or was this the prototype for Anne Elliot sitting on the sofa with Mrs. Musgrove?  I.e., taken out of context from the rest of that compound sentence, those first five words almost sound like Elinor literally could not find or locate her own body, because she was sitting next to, and to some extent under, the body of Mrs. Jennings, squeezed into tight quarters in the carriage!

Of course, upon further parsing of the entire sentence, the normative meaning becomes clear, i.e., “Elinor could not find, i.e., think of, herself in the carriage …without wondering, etc.”. However, knowing Jane Austen’s love of having it both ways as an author, I think it a compelling secondary interpretation that Mrs. Jennings, sitting next to Elinor, is also partially sitting on Elinor!---in the same way that a heavy person sitting next to a slim person on a modern airliner, where everyone is squeezed in like sardines from the getgo, cannot help but infringe on the personal space of the neighboring passenger.

Sound like a reach on my part? Well, consider how this seemingly wacky alternative reading fits remarkably well with other textual evidence in S&S. First and foremost, we all know that Mrs. Jennings is not petite:  “Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton's mother, was a goodhumoured, merry, fat, elderly woman, who talked a great deal, seemed very happy, and rather vulgar.”

Mrs. Jennings’s bulk is part of what could almost be a caricature of the merry older widow. Could this have anything to do with Elinor’s negative thoughts in the carriage?  Turns out that JA very quietly set up the idea of a physically uncomfortable carriage ride to London in the immediately preceding Chapter 25, when we learn a crucial detail indicating that Mrs. Jennings is going to be squeezing Elinor and Marianne into her carriage with her:
“It will only be sending Betty by the coach, and I hope I can afford THAT. We three shall be able to go very well in my chaise…”
So per Mrs. Jennings there would not be room in the carriage for herself, Marianne, Elinor, AND Betty. But, while Mrs. Jennings may very well believe that with Betty removed from the carriage, there will be plenty of room for the Dashwood sisters and Mrs. Jennings, I believe JA is giving us a very strong hint –via her ambiguous sentence structure--that Elinor would strenuously but silently, disagree vehemently on that point.

And note that JA, the mistress of literary economy, only needs five words to convey all of this extra meaning, and these five words, read against the grain as I suggest, are also true to Elinor’s character—she is not her sister Marianne, and she is not Mary Elliot either, in that she does not say what she really feels, everything is guarded, coded, and careful—and so “Elinor could not find herself” is the perfect expression of both her character and her feelings.

I Googled to see whether I was the first scholar to ever address this question, and I find that my young friend Ophelia Murphy (who was one of the two grad students who, along with their supervising professor, Fiona Stafford, invited me to give my first public talk about Jane Austen, at the Oxford Romantic Realignments Seminar, in June 2007), in her recent, erudite and thought provoking book, Jane Austen The Reader, quoted  that very passage in S&S Chapter 26, and then wrote about it from a different angle:
“Part of the reason for the disparate opinions of Elinor and her mother arises from their  different understandings of the Dashwood sisters’ position in society. A winter excursion to London was in many respects an important signifier of wealth during Austen’s lifetime. …This is the ‘condition of life’ in which Mrs. Dashwood mentally places her daughters, a sharp contrast to the ‘situation’ in which Elinor finds herself in Mrs. Jennings’s carriage, where she and her sister literally take the place of the maid Betty. Unlike her mother and younger sister, Elinor understands only too well her diminished status in a society in which wealth is the paramount signifier of personal importance. Her sensitivity to the ways in which she and her sister are likely to be perceived and judged by others may be seen as the source of her unease. Her response is to curtail her expectations….” END QUOTE FROM MURPHY BOOK

Here we see Jane Austen’s genius in full flower, because I believe Olivia is 100% correct, and onto something very important, in her explanation for how the carriage ride to London is a metaphor for the living situation of Elinor and Marianne—surely Jane Austen did indeed intend that interpretation.  But…when you layer on the covert depiction of Mrs. Jennings literally sitting on top of Elinor, such that Elinor cannot even see or feel the rest of her own body as she sits, it dovetails perfectly with Olivia’s metaphorical interpretation—the carriage ride is a kind of physical oppression which Elinor mightily seeks to stoically endure, but, because she is even more tightly wound than Anne Elliot, no “fat sighing” thought bubbles up from her subconscious, it only comes out muted, hidden beneath a benign meaning.

The metaphor Olivia sees is extended by realizing that Elinor is a lightweight not only in body but  also in finances and social status, and since her father’s death she has increasingly spent her life being pushed around, oppressed, and given no space, by those around her, even nice, kind people like Mrs. Jennings.

So, in those five words, we get a poetic encapsulation of Elinor’s life as she experiences it at that moment—she could not FIND herself—and it also seems to me  that Jane Austen was 150 years ahead of her time in using this expression as well. It of course became a cliché of the Sixties (the 1960s, that is) for young people to go off on adventures of various kinds, outside-the-box (or perhaps, outside-the-carriage?) attempts to achieve some mysterious alchemy, whereby they would suddenly have an epiphany and “find themselves”, i.e., find their true selves.

And when we look at Elinor Dashwood at that crucial juncture of the action in S&S, as she sits under Mrs. Jennings and ruminates with trepidation and doubt on what will happen in London, we may fairly say that she is a young person experiencing an identity crisis, as all the things she loved have been taken away from her, and she sees her sister having the same experience, and Elinor sees little hope for the future at that instant.

This is truly the prose poetry of Jane Austen at its most perfect---beneath the words of ordinary mundane life, which seem to be merely practical, we find, just under the surface, and putting on our double-take spectacles as readers, some very deep metaphysical angst.

And speaking of poetry, in this post I will only mention in passing the connections between this literal carriage ride to London and the metaphorical, carnal “carriage ride” that some “Queen Mab” (like, say, Mrs. Jennings, a very droll Queen Mab, given the grotesque contrast between her and Shakespeare’s tiny Queen!) would try to take Marianne (and perhaps Elinor too?) on, leading to a true “vortex of dissipation”, as the young JA described London.

Cheers, ARNIE
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