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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Northanger Abbey's General Tilney as Samuel Morland, real-life Bluebeard/Montoni/Henry VIII

The relevant portions of my earlier post: "...And the reason I am so certain of this is that the gentleman involved was a very famous fellow in his day (the latter part of the 17th century), and his name just happened to be Samuel MORLAND! And these memorials were intentionally echoed by JA when she described General Tilney's great grief over the death of Mrs. Tilney, whom I have argued is the symbol of all the English wives who died in childbirth. And by now you've probably figured out that the images of those memorials are what you see at the top of this post! ....I came across a remarkable factoid in 2009, which is that in Westminster Abbey there are two memorials hanging side by side on the wall in a rarely viewed nave in the Abbey, which were erected there by a grieving middle aged husband who had "murdered" not one but "two" much younger wives, via death in childbirth."

Nancy Mayer replied in Janeites:  "The point with which I disagree is that Samuel Morland or Gen. Tilney were murderers or  in any way responsible for the death of wife or wives. According to that logic any man who wants children with his wife is a potential murderer because even today women  die in child birth whether the first child or the tenth. In NA , the Morlands have a quiversful of children with the mother still alive. Gen Tilney only has 3 children. Many women died with the first as my daughter  would have if she had lived then. You have children-- you therefore attempted to murder your wife. You do not know how many children Mr. Morland of Westminster Abbey  had.  A duchess alive in JA's day had 21 children and then risked more by marrying again after the duke died. She had a choice."


Nancy, we've been around this block many times before, and you always forget one crucial fact-- this is not about Arnie Perlstein's personal opinion on the topic, it's about Jane Austen's opinion, as she watched wives she knew drop like flies around her --including two of her own sisters in law while JA was alive, and then a third shortly after her death. That sort of pattern tends to get your attention in a hurry. Now I  happen to agree with Jane Austen, but that's beside the point! And what's also beside the point is that I have children, since I live in an era and country when and where childbirth does not carry a significant probability of maternal fatality, or even illness!

My interpretation of Northanger Abbey having as its central shadow theme the epidemic of death in childbirth among English gentlewomen is one that I've argued many times (although not much recently)--it was, after all, the topic of my breakout session at the 2010 JASNA AGM in Portland, Oregon  (where I now live). It has many strong bases, which I barely had time to cover more than in summary during the 40 minutes of my presentation. My presentation included, but was far from limited to, the dozen or more unequivocally sarcastic comments by Jane Austen in her letters spanning two decades. These sarcasms were all about married women being turned into breeding animals by their husbands who demanded their conjugal rights over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, regardless of the real danger that the next pregnancy would be their wife's death sentence. These were not the hints I see in NA -- there is actually no other controversial complaint on which Jane Austen was more explicit and more focused during her entire adult life than this. That's not my interpretation--that is 100% ironclad fact.

Plus, as my research back in 2009 also demonstrated, the epidemic was exacerbated by male doctor incursion into the childbirth room, displacing the centuries old tradition of female midwives. The male doctors, being pre-Semmelweis, would frequently come straight from the dissecting room o supervise births, without washing their hands. So, just as we are seeing today with the unconscious racism which still permeates many police departments in the US, there was male privilege at two ends of the tunnel, so to speak---the husbands who impregnated their wives at the start, the doctors who delivered their babies (and cases of sepsis) at the end.

As Jane Austen said, think of what is probable --is it probable that married women would be dropping like flies and no other women would notice or be concerned or fearful? Do you think English wives worried about their soldier or sailor husbands dying in war, but were blithely unconcerned about their own risks of dying? You think it's an accident that Jane Austen chose not to marry? I believe there was no single issue of greater interest to English gentlewomen than this, which female writers, had enough of them held the pen of authorship, might have written about in their novels. No, what was clear, was that any novel which contained an explicit complaint about this epidemic could not get published -- and had one managed to slip through into publication, its author would have been universally vilified as an "unsex'd female" daring to challenge man's God-given supremacy in marriage. I even wonder whether the original version of Northanger Abbey which sat on Crosby's shelf gathering dust for a decade, was more explicit about this topic, and that was the main reason it was purchased but then placed in a deep freeze for a decade, until Jane Austen's M.A.D. anger led her to buy it back, and revise its polemics enough into the shadows where it could safely pass the censors, which it did, ironically, only after JA's death -- but not before brother Henry made sure to reassure the world that there could not be any hidden meanings in it!

I am certain that Jane Austen saw herself as a modern day Cassandra, whispering that the emperor is indeed wearing no clothes----i.e., the average English husband did not have to be a literal Montoni who literally locked his wife in a dungeon or literally poisoned her, he was a banal real life Montoni, Bluebeard (the popular story that symbolized this epidemic) or Henry VIII--the English husband repeatedly, metaphorically "poisoned" his wife with "poison" which entered her body otherwise than through her mouth, or "chopped off her head" (i.e., deflowered) her.  And, as Henry Tilney unwittingly averred, improbable as it might have seemed to a lucid observer, nobody lifted a single finger to stop the epidemic:


“If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to—Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”

Here is the quintessential dark Austenian irony. Jane Austen is challenging her readers to WAKE UP to what is happening! These were genuine atrocities at which English marital laws did connive, which could be perpetrated without anyone objecting out loud, where all the voluntary spies  and newspapers were too busy looking for French spies to notice that young English wives were dying with sickening regularity.

And Mrs. Morland, the English wife who was healthy as a horse (so to speak) despite having had 10 children, is a classic Austenian ironic inversion, described thusly right at the start of the novel via those famous negations ("Mrs. Morland did not die in childbirth") precisely for that ironic purpose -- the exception who proves the rule. The novelist did slyly protest too much that Mrs. Morland was healthy, in order to make her point, which is that so many other English wives were not so lucky! And that brings us right back to those two "awful memorials" hung in WEST-minster (rotated a mere 90 degrees from NORTH-anger) Abbey by the real life 50-something Samuel Morland, in memory of his two VERY young wives who each died in childbirth. No wonder Jane Austen named her heroine "Catherine MORLAND", it was to echo the life of that well known (in Jane Austen's era) inventor/spy/politician, and his particular hypocrisy in his conjugal life, who mourned his wives in three classic languages, but who, like the classic definition of chutzpah, did not mourn them quite enough to stop murdering them!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, September 19, 2016

North-Angel Abbey: Catherine Morland’s Ladder to Grace & Merit

Diana Birchall replied to me: "Hi Arnie, I much enjoyed your most interesting and creative extension of the meaning of Jacob's Ladder as it applies to themes in Northanger Abbey.”

I’m so glad, Diana! You’ve once again given me an extremely suggestive nugget, on which I did not have to chisel too hard to extract some pure scholarly gold!


Diana: “Unfortunately, I can't answer your question as to whether the phrase used in Jane Austen's day to describe the stairs leading to Beechen Cliff, as it is now. I'm sure there are people who are steeped in the history of Bath, and know; perhaps my friend who took me there does, and I can ask. It would certainly be an old name, not newly bestowed, though I don't know if it goes back to JA's day. "

I already Tweeted Jane Odiwe that very question before I read your reply, she kindly replied that she will look into it when she returns to Bath from London – but as you will see, below, I believe the odds that it was in use by 1816 are already much greater than I knew when I wrote my post yesterday!


Diana added: "However, whether the literal stairs were called Jacob's Ladder then or not,  it is of course absolutely certain that JA knew the term; she knew her Bible, and then (as you've probably found out) there is a "Jacob's Ladder" sculpture on the front of Bath Abbey. And your image of Catherine climbing to heaven, from her heavenly (to her) talk with Henry on Beechen Cliff, to the attaining of her real heaven in their marriage, is so delightful, it's hard to think JA didn't mean to convey the association to us."

Thanks again, and I of course agree with you, it is indeed so lovely and apt that it can’t be a coincidence – that would be (to paraphrase the wry narration in the Beechen Cliff scene) too much serendipity for one scholarly question!

But no, I did not know about that sculpture before you just mentioned it, so it’s a really good thing that you mentioned it! It turns out you’ve given me an even more suggestive clue to add to the first one. You don’t realize just how significant an additional fact that really is! Let me show you:

First here's an excellent close-up photo of that spectacular sculpture on the exterior of the Abbey front wall: https://www.flickr.com/photos/david_lewis_baker_arts/1906570248

Second, here’s what Wikipedia tells us about its origin:  "The west front [of Bath Abbey] which was originally constructed in 1520, has a large arched window and detailed carvings. Above the window are carvings of angels and to either side LONG STONE LADDERS WITH ANGELS CLIMBING UP THEM……Oliver King (1432-1503) was a Bishop of Exeter and Bishop of Bath and Wells who restored Bath Abbey after 1500….The story of the refounding is told on the front of the Abbey in carved Bath stone. King had a dream in which he saw a host of angels on a ladder, the Holy Trinity, and an olive tree with a crown on it. He heard a voice: 'Let an Olive establish the crown, and let a King restore the Church.' King believed this was a call for him to support the candidature of Henry Tudor as King, and to restore the Abbey. These images are carved on the West Front of the Abbey…this is a direct reference to the dream of the prophet Jacob mentioned in the Bible and commonly called Jacob’s Ladder.”

I almost can’t type the rest of this post, I am SO amazed and thrilled at how well that all fits with my speculations about those wooden steps at Beechen Cliff in my previous post! The above facts show that Jacob’s Ladder was indeed an iconic image and Biblical story on frequent display to all visitors to England’s stone city, Bath—Bath Abbey was after all the most prominent structure in the entire town! But that’s only the start.

That iconic image is on display on the front of an abbey that was restored not long before Henry VIII took the throne. That raises an obvious and strong ironic resonance with Catherine Morland’s Gothic famous imaginings (and also those of the teenaged Jane Austen in her wry spin on Gilpin in her History of England) vis a vis the beauty of ruined abbeys!

It seems to me an especially plausible and solid inference that the wooden steps at Beechen Cliff were given the name Jacob’s Ladder a very long time ago, precisely because people in the 17th and 18th centuries who climbed up and enjoyed the “heavenly” views from the top of Beechen Cliff would have found Bath Abbey as perhaps the most prominent landmark in the middle of the vista they enjoyed!:
Although the Jacob’s Ladder statue is not visible today in 2016 from Beechen Cliff, because the view of it is blocked by a smaller building in front of the abbey, the following much older photo of that view seems to show that the view of the statue would have been unobstructed in JA’s lifetime:

Now, I acknowledge that we don’t explicitly read in the novel about Catherine visiting Bath Abbey, but don’t you think she’d have walked over to look at it at some point during her long stay in Bath, given her obsession with abbeys born from her Gothic novel addiction, manifest also in her eagerness to visit Blaize Castle? It would be shocking if she had not taken a stroll there, and especially so after that Beechen Cliff outing. I.e., it would have been the most natural thing in the world for Eleanor, after viewing the Abbey with Catherine from atop Beechen Cliff, to have taken her curious young friend to Bath Abbey in order to give her a closeup view of a real abbey. Eleanor would surely have delighted in introducing her protégée, with her absorbent sponge of a mind, to this wonderful aesthetic and historic experience, filling her in perhaps on the unfortunate history of Henry VIII’s wives all the while!

And, speaking of those angels climbing Jacob’s Ladder, is it not also delightful to think of Catherine as Jane Austen’s most angelic heroine? Should we not then read, with a wry smile, the following intense colloquy between Catherine and Isabella in Chapter 6 involving a different spin on angels, as an inadvertent satire of King’s statue?:

“Dear creature! How much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”
“Have you, indeed! How glad I am! What are they all?”
“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocketbook. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”
“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”
“Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them. I wish you knew Miss Andrews, you would be delighted with her. She is netting herself the sweetest cloak you can conceive. I THINK HER AS BEAUTIFUL AS AN ANGEL, and I am so vexed with the men for not admiring her! I scold them all amazingly about it.”
“Scold them! Do you scold them for not admiring her?”
“Yes, that I do. There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature. My attachments are always excessively strong. I told Captain Hunt at one of our assemblies this winter that if he was to tease me all night, I would not dance with him, unless he would allow MISS ANDREWS TO BE AS BEAUTIFUL AS AN ANGEL. The men think us incapable of real friendship, you know, and I am determined to show them the difference. Now, if I were to hear anybody speak slightingly of you, I should fire up in a moment: but that is not at all likely, for you are just the kind of girl to be a great favourite with the men.”
“Oh, dear!” cried Catherine, colouring. “How can you say so?”
“I know you very well; you have so much animation, which is exactly what Miss Andrews wants, for I must confess there is something amazingly insipid about her. Oh! I must tell you, that just after we parted yesterday, I saw a young man looking at you so earnestly—I am sure he is in love with you.” Catherine coloured, and disclaimed again. Isabella laughed. “It is very true, upon my honour, but I see how it is; you are indifferent to everybody’s admiration, except that of one gentleman, who shall be nameless. Nay, I cannot blame you”—speaking more seriously—“your feelings are easily understood. Where the heart is really attached, I know very well how little one can be pleased with the attention of anybody else. Everything is so insipid, so uninteresting, that does not relate to the beloved object! I can perfectly comprehend your feelings.”

In that passage I see yet another wink by JA at Jacob’s Ladder, this time at the statue of the angels on the front of Bath Abbey --- i.e., Isabella’s hyperbolic rhapsodies about Miss Andrews being as beautiful as an “angel” suggest to me that even when not atop Beechen Cliff, a visitor to Bath would be doing a great deal of gazing at picturesque beauty – in this case, at female beauty--- at ground level and indoors!

And as for Oliver King, the man who dreamt of putting Jacob’s Ladder on the front of the Abbey, might JA have winked at him thrice in the text of the novel?:

First, in Henry Tilney’s witty ventriloquistic description of himself viewed from Catherine’s perspective:  “I danced with a very agreeable young man, introduced by MR. KING; had a great deal of conversation with him—seems a most extraordinary genius—hope I may know more of him. That, madam, is what I wish you to say.” [I know that there was another real-life Mr. King who was the master of the lower, and then of the upper, assembly rooms – but JA was fond of double allusions]

Second in this conversation between Isabella and Catherine with its sly reference to “kings” in a card game, one in which, perhaps not coincidentally, we hear yet again about Catherine’s dreaming:

“…What a delightful hand you have got! KINGS, I VOW! I never was so happy in my life! I would fifty times rather you should have them than myself.”
And now I may dismiss my heroine to the sleepless couch, which is the true heroine’s portion; to a pillow strewed with thorns and wet with tears. And lucky may she think herself, if she get another good night’s rest in the course of the next three months….”

And third in that conversation about history and novels atop Beechen Cliff – in that regard, how fitting that Catherine should mention the actual historical quarrel of Henry VIII and Pope Clement VIII in 1527 (over Henry’s wish to marry as many women as he pleased, that led to Henry’s being excommunicated, and then to his seizure of the monasteries) while looking down at Bath Abbey: 
“…I read [history] a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The QUARRELS OF POPES AND KINGS, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all—it is very tiresome…”

And as if that were not enough, I found an excellent scholarly article entitled  “Luther and the Ascent of Jacob's Ladder” by David C. Steinmetz in Church History, Vol. 55, No. 2 (Jun., 1986), pp. 179-192.  After reading it, I am now convinced that Jane Austen herself, with her extraordinary erudition that she found amusement in pretending she did not have, had in mind the very same sorts of exegesis of the Biblical Jacob’s Ladder, as engaged the mind of Martin Luther centuries before her: [trust me, it’s worth taking the time to read the following analysis closely]

“On the west front of Bath Abbey there are carved two stone ladders stretching from heaven to earth on which twelve angels are climbing, six on each ladder. A tourist who sees the west front of the abbey for the first time is told that the carvings represent the dream of Oliver King, Bishop of Bath and Wells under Henry VII and his former chief secretary. The bishop had a nocturnal vision of angels climbing ladders to heaven. As he stood before the ladders in amazement, he heard voices saying that an olive should establish the crown and that the king should restore the church. He took the reference to olives and kings to be an allusion to his own name and concluded that he, Oliver King, should support the Tudor monarchy and rebuild the abbey at Bath.
In the bishop's dream about politics and architecture, however, there more than a hint of something familiar, of a dream even more famous and ancient. The biblical setting and inspiration for Oliver King's dream of intrigue and ecclesiastical ambition is Genesis 28, the story of Jacob's dream as Jacob camped by night at Bethel on his lonely journey from Beersheba to Haran. Like Bishop King, Jacob dreamed of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven, a ladder along which angels ascended and descended in a never- ending procession. While Jacob did not restore a ruined shrine (or support the political aspirations of that Labanesque monarch Henry VII), he did erect a stone monument at the place where he had slept as a memorial of astonishing and wholly unanticipated vision.
If we leave the front of Bath Abbey and consult the biblical commentaries in the abbey library, we discover that there are even more connections between Jacob's dream and the dream of Bishop King than we first thought. The commentaries on Genesis 28-the Ordinary Gloss, and the Postils Hugh of Saint Cher, Nicholas of Lyra, and Denis the Carthusian-all establish the relationship between Jacob's dream and sacred space. According to the medieval commentators, Jacob had slept by accident on the site of the future temple, a site which therefore would become famous both as the cultic center of ancient Israel and as the focal point for the activity of Jesus.
In other words, Jacob rested in the shadow of the altar and under the sign of the cross. Wherever the cross and altar are found, there is the place where Jacob slept, the place where heaven and earth are joined by an angelic ladder. Denis the Carthusian, Bishop King's older contemporary, put the matter this way: “The place where Jacob rested is not only the universal church but also any particular church, no, rather, even a material basilica dedicated to the Lord,which, because of the presence of the highest majesty, because of the presence of sacraments of Christ, because of the celebration of the divine office, because of the devoted gathering and holy prayer of the faithful, is nothing other than the “house of God," "the gate of heaven." For in it sins are taken away through sacramental confession and the virtues infused through which the gates of the heavenly kingdom are opened.”
Bishop King's dream took him back to Bethel, to the sacred space where a stone monument to God should be erected. It took him, like Jacob, to the "house of God" and the "gate of heaven," where the sacramental presence of Christ could be adored and celebrated. Bath Abbey is the place where Jacob rested. I mention this dream because of what seems to me a shining and obvious fact all too frequently overlooked or undervalued, namely that the biblical stories, images, and themes which pervade the culture of late medieval and Reformation Europe have their own history in that culture.
The story of Jacob's dream has had a particularly rich history of interpretation in Western Christendom. Anders Nygren…identified three principle strands in the dogmatic traditions of medieval Christianity which relied on the story of Jacob's dream for their inspiration and at least partial justification. According to Nygren, medieval theologians identified Jacob's ladder with the ladder of grace and merit, the analogical ladder of speculation, and the anagogical ladder of mysticism.
The first ladder, the ladder of grace and merit, was by far the most common. It was the ladder by which every Christian ascended from a state of sin to the beatific vision of God. The analogical ladder of speculation, on the other hand, was reserved for a smaller group of Christian intellectuals who were able to use the material and sensible elements of this world as a ladder to enable them to rise to the contemplations of the immaterial and invisible realities of the spiritual world. The third ladder, the anagogical ladder of mysticism, was open in principle to every Christian, though in actual fact relatively few Christians attempted the ascent to the more rarefied heights of spiritual ecstasy. Nygren argued that Martin Luther rejected all three of these interpretations of Jacob's ladder because they rested on a faulty conception of Christian love.” END QUOTE

I can already tell, from my extremely preliminary analysis, that a very interesting follouwp scholarly article could be written about Catherine Morland as a Regency Era, female Jacob, seeking to climb those ladders toward grace and merit, but also her largely unrecognized gift for speculation as well!

And finally, I’ve saved for last what I believe is Jane Austen’s slyest hint of all. Henry Tilney hands down his tablets of wisdom about perspective to Catherine as they stand atop Beechen Cliff, gazing down and TO THE NORTH at Bath Abbey! So, as my Subject Line playfully hints, those climbing angels constructed by Oliver King, when viewed from the unique perspective of Beechen Cliff, would have literally been, in that perspetival sense,  “northangels”! And therefore perhaps that was part of what led Jane Austen to choose the name “Northanger Abbey” for the edifice where the second half of her novel takes place, changing only that final letter from “l” to “r”!  ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Catherine take Jacob’s Ladder up Beechen Cliff, Henry allows the subject to decline

In Austen-L and Janeites, Diana Birchall wrote the following regarding a walk she took up Beechen Cliff at Bath, following the footsteps of Catherine Morland and the Tilneys in Northanger Abbey:

[This is the first of two posts on this subject--the second one here http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2016/09/north-angel-abbey-catherine-morlands.html  provides startling validation to my initial speculations, below]

“The walk certainly proved to be one of the most satisfying walks of my life. We probably walked several miles – four hours, all told – right up the wooden stairs known as Jacob’s Ladder, shaded by beech trees (from which the name is derived), and along the forested cliff, or hangar, where spread out before you is the magnificent prospect of Bath, as described by Jane Austen….”

Diana, I’m so glad you had an opportunity to rejoin us here, and to write that lovely blog post about your Beechen Hill pilgrimage. You’ve convinced me -- I definitely will include that walk in the itinerary of my next trip to England, whenever that might occur. And I hope you’ll have more opportunities and inspirations to join in, as Peter’s recovery steadily continues!

Something caught my eye in your above quoted excerpt—I hadn’t known that the wooden stairs leading up to the top of Beechen Cliff are known as Jacob’s Ladder – I wondered whether that name for those stairs predated JA’s lifetime, but the earliest reference to same that I found in Google Books was 1858. Do you happen to know if was in use prior to 1816, when JA last revised NA? If it was a name in use for those stairs while JA was writing NA, that makes me wonder, given the Biblical significance of Jacob’s Ladder, whether JA the clergyman’s daughter, took that name into account in writing the Beechen Cliff episode? Remember, she was a frugal creative artist, she never let anything go to waste!

The name “Jacob’s Ladder” of course derives from the following passage in Genesis 28: 10-19, right after Jacob tricks his (slightly) elder brother Esau out of his birthright, and right before Jacob arrives at Laban’s home and woos daughters, Leah and Rachel (the future mothers of many of Jacob’s children):

“And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.”

Wikipedia gives this very brief overview: “Jacob's Ladder is the colloquial name for a connection between the earth and heaven that the biblical Patriarch Jacob dreams about during his flight from his brother Esau, as described in the Book of Genesis. The significance of the dream has been somewhat debated, but most interpretations agree that it identified Jacob with the obligations and inheritance of the ethnic people chosen by God, as understood in the Judeo-Christian-Islam panoply. It has since been used as a symbolic reference in various other contexts.”

So, what symbolic meaning might Jacob’s ladder dream add to Catherine’s ascent to the top of Beechen Cliff with the Tilneys? The first association that occurred to me was Catherine’s famous dreaming described much earlier, at the end of Chapter 3:

“They danced again; and, when the assembly closed, parted, on the lady’s side at least, with a strong inclination for continuing the acquaintance. Whether she thought of him so much, while she drank her warm wine and water, and prepared herself for bed, as to dream of him when there, cannot be ascertained; but I hope it was no more than in a slight slumber, or a morning doze at most; for if it be true, as a celebrated writer has maintained, that no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman’s love is declared, it must be very improper that a young lady should dream of a gentleman before the gentleman is first known to have dreamt of her. How proper Mr. Tilney might be as a dreamer or a lover had not yet perhaps entered Mr. Allen’s head, but that he was not objectionable as a common acquaintance for his young charge he was on inquiry satisfied; for he had early in the evening taken pains to know who her partner was, and had been assured of Mr. Tilney’s being a clergyman, and of a very respectable family in Gloucestershire.”

I’ve previously shown, in  “Eve of St. Agnes dreaming in 3 Austen novels”  http://tinyurl.com/jfvaudv that Catherine’s dreaming is primarily a veiled allusion to the proverbial virgin dreaming of her future husband on the Eve of St. Agnes, the very date on which Catherine dreams. However, it seems plausible that it might also have been intended by JA to do double duty – i.e., to be recalled by the reader who knew Bath well enough, to think about Jacob’s Ladder while reading the Beechen Cliff episode.

As we envision Catherine, with her elastic step, striding gracefully up Jacob’s Ladder, did JA mean for us to see her as also ascending toward her own birthright? Or maybe JA was being the deflating ironist, creating a gentle parody of Jacob’s fateful dreaming encounter with God, by showing us Catherine’s “encounter” with Henry Tilney’s teasing ironic lectures about artistic perspectives and point of view.

Taking that idea further, Catherine’s physical ascent might symbolize the process of intellectual growth by which a naïve but bright young woman, first entering the wider adult world, struggles to ascend to the “summit” of mature knowledge and insight. And in that last regard, I just noticed that JA plays with the metaphor of descent in that same Beechen Cliff passage, in describing the end of the course of Henry’s lecture on the picturesque:

“Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence.”

Progress, wearying, decline, transition, arrived, easy step –JA wittily uses these words which evoke a clever parallel between her physical descent down those actual stairs (Jacob’s Ladder), on the one hand, and the narrator’s ironic description of Henry managing Catherine’s gentle descent from the heights of his godlike—at least in Catherine’s eyes---wisdom, on the other! When he is described as “fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once”, this is also perhaps a witty echo of another Biblical personage descending from a great height after receiving a great deal of wisdom from God --- Moses in Exodus 33: 18-29:

“And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.”

So I do now believe that if indeed Jacob’s Ladder was the name of those wooden stairs at Beechen Cliff in 1816, then JA might well have intended the meanings I sketched out above.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Jane Austen’s Career-Long Fascination with Ovid’s Protofeminist Heroides Letters

I’ve long been ensconced in the camp of Janeites who agree with the speculation (first articulated a half century ago by Zachary Cope) that the following letter signed by “Sophia Sentiment”  (which appeared in the 9th issue of Oxfordian brothers James & Henry Austen’s literary magazine The Loiterer) was actually written by their younger sister, the not yet 12 ½ year old, precocious child genius, Jane Austen:

No. IX of The Loiterer. Saturday, March 28, 1789. 
Non venit ante suum nostra querela diem.--Ovid.
To the AUTHOR of the LOITERER.
Sir,  I write this to inform you that you are very much out of my good graces, and that, if you do not mend your manners, I shall soon drop your acquaintance. You must know, Sir, I am a great reader, and not to mention some hundred volumes of Novels and Plays, have, in the last two summers, actually got through all the entertaining papers of our most celebrated periodical writers, from the Tatler and Spectator to the Microcosm and the Olla Podrida. Indeed I love a periodical work beyond any thing, especially those in which one meets with a great many stories, and where the papers are not too long. I assure you my heart beat with joy when I first heard of your publication, which I immediately sent for, and have taken in ever since.
I am sorry, however, to say it, but really, Sir, I think it the stupidest work of the kind I ever saw: not but that some of the papers are well written; but then your subjects are so badly chosen, that they never interest one. – Only conceive, in eight papers, not one sentimental story about love and honour, and all that. – Not one Eastern Tale full of Bashas and Hermits, Pyramids and Mosques – no, not even an allegory or dream have yet made their appearance in the Loiterer. Why, my dear Sir – what do you think we care about the way in which Oxford men spend their time and money – we, who have enough to do to spend our own. For my part, I never, but once, was at Oxford in my life, and I am sure I never wish to go there again – They dragged me through so many dismal chapels, dusty libraries, and greasy halls, that it gave me the vapours for two days afterwards. As for your last paper, indeed, the story was good enough, but there was no love, and no lady in it, at least no young lady; and I wonder how you could be guilty of such an omission, especially when it could have been so easily avoided. Instead of retiring to Yorkshire, he might have fled into France, and there, you know, you might have made him fall in love with a French Paysanne, who might have turned out to be some great person. Or you might have let him set fire to a convent, and carry off a nun, whom he might afterwards have converted, or any thing of that kind, just to have created a little bustle, and made the story more interesting.
In short, you have never yet dedicated any one number to the amusement of our sex, and have taken no more notice of us, than if you thought, like the Turks, we had no souls. From all which I do conclude, that you are neither more nor less than some old Fellow of a College, who never saw any thing of the world beyond the limits of the University, and never conversed with a female, except your bed-maker and laundress. I therefore give you this advice, which you will follow as you value our favour, or your own reputation. – Let us hear no more of your Oxford Journals, your Homelys and Cockney: but send them about their business, and get a new set of correspondents, from among the young of both sexes, but particularly ours; and let us see some nice affecting stories, relating the misfortunes of two lovers, who died suddenly, just as they were going to church. Let the lover be killed in a duel, or lost at sea, or you may make him shoot himself, just as you please; and as for his mistress, she will of course go mad; or if you will, you may kill the lady, and let the lover run mad; only remember, whatever you do, that your hero and heroine must possess a great deal of feeling, and have very pretty names. If you think fit to comply with this my injunction, you may expect to hear from me again, and perhaps I may even give you a little assistance: – but, if not – may your work be condemned to the pastry–cook's shop, and may you always continue a bachelor, and be plagued with a maiden sister to keep house for you.
Your's, as you behave,  SOPHIA SENTIMENT.

As you can gather from the above, “Sophia” complains about The Loiterer‘s failure to provide reading material of interest to female readers, which she then parodically outlines in terms of the clichéd tropes of melodramatic fiction directed toward the overactive imaginations of foolish female readers.

2 ½ years ago, I last blogged about Jane Austen as Sophia Sentiment here: http://tinyurl.com/h48ds9s  My revisiting that topic today arises from reading “Jane Austen’s First Publication” in 23/3 of Women’s Writing (2016), by Peter Sabor, a senior Austen scholar and editor of an edition of Austen’s juvenilia a few years back. My eye was caught by something Sabor mentioned in passing, which I’d never taken note of before: “The ninth issue of The Loiterer published on 28 March 1789, featured one such contribution, but it was anomalous in many ways. Like all of the numbers, it is prefixed by a Latin tag, in this case from Ovid’s Epistles. The epigraph fills its usual function of appealing to an educated male readership, steeped in the classics, yet the complaint in question is from a woman, “Sophia Sentiment.”

What I hadn’t previously noticed was the Latin epigraph by Ovid, which, I quickly learned, translated to “You will find that my complaint comes not before its time.” I wondered: was Sabor correct in his attribution of the “usual function” of a Latin quotation as appealing to classically-savvy male readers, given that this seemed to conflict with the complaint of the letter supposedly being from a woman, writing on behalf of female readers?

I decided to dig deeper, and check out all the Latin tags (at least 40 in all) in the two volumes of The Loiterer.  My quick survey revealed that the vast majority of the Latin tags were quotes from Horace and Virgil, with a half dozen more from Juvenal, but only three from Ovid (a fourth was incorrectly attributed to Ovid). That’s when it got very interesting, because two of those three Ovidian epigraphs were drawn from Ovid’s famous Heroides, and they just happened to appear in consecutive issues—specifically Issues 8 and 9, with the latter being….Sophia Sentiment’s letter. And lo and behold, Issue 9 explicitly referred to its predecessor twice:   “As for your last paper, indeed, the story was good enough, but there was no love, and no lady in it, at least no young lady…Let us hear no more of your Oxford Journals, your Homelys [the author of the letter in Issue 8] and Cockney…”

So, it certainly appears that the occurrence of these epigraphs both drawn from The Heroides (the very famous letters Ovid wrote, of which the first 14 are based on well-known myths and are written by women to the legendary heroes who have abandoned them) was no coincidence-----especially when we factor in that the Sophia Sentiment letter which the latter epigraph introduces is itself a female complaint about men not addressing the needs of women—wheels within allusive wheels! Based on that prima facie case, I quickly decided to dig deeper still, and go back to the full context of those two epigraphs in Ovid’s work itself.

The epigraph for Issue 8 quotes from the fourth Heroides letter, penned by Phaedra to her stepson Hippolytus (son of Theseus), in which she goes to great lengths to convince her much younger stepson to accept her as his incestuous lover. That turns out to be a very apt epigraph for the letter in Issue 8 written by “H. Homely”, who concludes his confession of youthful imprudence followed by a sharp turn to a worthy country clerical life, by reference to his marrying a much older woman, regardless of his neighbors’ disapproval:     “In short, at the end of six years, …I had recommended myself so well as a companion to the Squire of the parish, and his only sister, that I gained at once their common consent to become the brother-in-law of the one, and the husband of the other. My wife was to be sure a few years older than myself. But though the good-natured world may therefore put an unfavourable opinion on the motives of her regard to me, I can only say that fifteen years of the tenderest attention and uninterrupted contentment on both sides convinced me too well, what a friend I lost at the end of them.”

So, we can see that the female point of view in the Heroides epigraph was intentional in Issue 8, which only builds the case that it was also intentional for the Heroides epigraph in Issue 9, the one so many Janeites believe was written by JA at age 12 ½.  It turns out that, just as with Issue 8, the epigraph fits the letter to a tee.

In Ovid: A Poet Between Two Worlds (1945) by Hermann Fränkel, we read the following about the Heroides letter Jane Austen alluded to via her epigraph:   “In contrast to most of the other epistles, the subject of the Phyllis letter (II) was taken from some rather obscure source. But the tradition from which it came is irrelevant, because the story is essentially an everyday occurrence and it is treated in a simple, direct, and unaffected manner. True enough, since here we are in the province of legend, Phyllis is a princess and her lover a son of Theseus, king of Athens; nevertheless, the royal station of the characters is only incidental and does not detract from the typical nature of the situation. The Thracian girl Phyllis, an artless young orphan, has hospitably received young Demophon, who had been shipwrecked off the coast of her land. She put him up in her house, fell in love with him and gave him her all, on the promise that he would come back within a month and live happily with her ever after. The letter is written four months after Demophon’s departure, when Phyllis has little hope left for his eventual return and is soon to commit suicide….” END QUOTE FROM FRANKEL

It is clear that the Ovidian quotation was meant by JA to provide the knowing reader with a powerful  lens through which to read some of the key points made by Sophia Sentiment! I.e., her letter is basically calling for The Loiterer to include more female stories of the very kind that Ovid included in Heroides! And as I noted above, there’s a startlingly modern, self-reflexive quality to this nested literary structure: i.e., a girl author, Jane Austen, pretending to be her older brother, James Austen, a young man, writing a letter in the voice of a mature woman, advocating for more female oriented story telling in her brother’s literary magazine, and using a classical epigraph drawn from the most famous work of antiquity in which female stories (Heroides) were told by a male author (Ovid)!

All of which, I am sure you’ll agree, only magnifies twofold the wonder of a 12 ½ year old country girl, without formal education, creating such a subtle, ironic, learned, classical matrioshka. A little further digging showed me that JA was not the only young English female prodigy to engage with Ovid in this way. “Julia to Ovid”, Mary Wortley Montagu’s (born Mary Pierrepoint) poem written nearly a century before JA’s contribution to The Loiterer, was subtitled “Written at Twelve Years of Age, in imitation of Ovid's Epistles”. I wonder if the young Jane Austen read Montagu’s published writings in the Steventon home library, and was inspired to follow in her predecessor’s Ovidian footsteps at the exact same age!

But that’s only the beginning of the extraordinary story of Jane Austen’s artistic engagement with Ovid’s proto-feminist Heroides. I blogged a number of years ago about the Heroides subtext I saw in Marianne Dashwood’s character in S&S, which I saw as having been inspired by Ovid’s Dido’s letter to Aeneas. But I didn’t realize till I did a quick search in my good friend Mary DeForest’s new book, Jane Austen Closet Classicist, that I saw the third, final, and perhaps most spectacular engagement of Jane Austen with Ovid’s Heroides, one written in the final year of JA’s life, nearly 3 decades after “Sophia Sentiment” marked Austen’s anonymous literary debut.

PART TWO: OVID’S HEROIDES IN PERSUASION:  I begin with this quotation from Mary’s book:   “Odysseus encountered Nausicaa, an attractive princess of a rich land, just before his return to Ithaca. He was offered a chance to marry her, and with her parents’ approval. Here, Austen improves on Homer. She brings the rivals into the same social circle so that Anne witnesses Wentworth’s growing intimacy with the Miss Musgroves. Then she must listen to Mary and Charles Musgrove’s endless arguments about which sister will get him. Penelope, far away on Ithaca, was at least spared from watching Odysseus charm the beautiful Nausicaa. Ovid suggested that possibility. His Penelope wrote Odysseus a letter in which she imagined him describing her as an ignorant rustic to a polished, elegant princess. [fn: Ovid’s Penelope was haunted by the idea that Odysseus was mocking her to another woman, Heroides, 1.75–78.] During a long walk organized by Louisa, Anne walks alone, recalling quotations about autumn and trying to block out the tender exchanges between Louisa and Wentworth. The pleasures of autumnal literature are flimsy, however, easily scattered by Louisa, a rival in the springtime of life. Particularly disturbing, Louisa says to Captain Wentworth exactly what, in his opinion, Anne should have said. Anne had broken their engagement from prudence, but Louisa cries out enthusiastically that she would rather crash in a carriage with the man she loves than be driven safely by anyone else.”
END QUOTE

So, Mary is asserting that the scene in Chapter 10 of Persuasion (depicting the long walk from Winthrop back to Uppercross when Anne Elliot eavesdrops over a hedgerow on the conversation between Wentworth and Louisa Musgrove) is Jane Austen’s clever, erudite allusion to Ovid’s Penelope worrying about Odysseus talking trash about her with a female lover. And I agree with Mary that this was indeed an intentional allusion by JA to Ovid, although not a tight one: i.e., Wentworth is not talking trash in a crude way about Anne, so much as making a polite and implicit comparison between Anne’s caution 8 years earlier, and Louisa’s romantic intrepidity in the present, a comparison by which Anne comes out by far the worse of the two in Wentworth’s estimation.

But here’s where I diverge from Mary, thanks to her footnote which alerted me to look to the full text of Penelope’s letter of complaint about her beloved seafarer. When I did, I saw a second veiled allusion in Persuasion to lines 59-80 of Penelope letter to Odysseus:

Whoever turns his wandering ship to these shores,
Is asked by me many questions about you before he departs,
And he is given the letter written by these fingers,
To give to you if he ever even sees you anywhere.
…I would know where you fought, and would fear only war,
And my complaint would be joined with many others.
What I fear I do not know--nevertheless, half-crazed, I fear all things,
And a wide field lies open for my fears.
Whatever dangers the ocean has, whatever the land,
I suspect to be the cause of your long delay.
While I foolishly fear these things, such is your appetite
That you may be captive to a foreign love.
AND PERHAPS YOU TELL WHAT A COUNTRY WIFE YOU HAVE,
THAT ONLY HER WOOL IS NOT COARSE.
May I be wrong, and may this crime vanish in thin air,
And may it not be that, free to return, you wish to remain away.

What I saw in that small detail (of Penelope imagining Odysseus comparing her unflatteringly to coarse wool) was the source for another metaphor on low-quality clothing which Wentworth makes in Chapter 8---two chapters earlier than the hedgerow scene---in the following scene in the Uppercross salon:

When [Anne] could let her attention take its natural course again, she found the Miss Musgroves just fetching the Navy List (their own navy list, the first that had ever been at Uppercross), and sitting down together to pore over it, with the professed view of finding out the ships that Captain Wentworth had commanded.
"Your first was the Asp, I remember; we will look for the Asp."
"You will not find her there. Quite worn out and broken up. I was the last man who commanded her. Hardly fit for service then. Reported fit for home service for a year or two, and so I was sent off to the West Indies."
The girls looked all amazement.
"The Admiralty," he continued, "entertain themselves now and then, with sending a few hundred men to sea, in a ship not fit to be employed. But they have a great many to provide for; and among the thousands that may just as well go to the bottom as not, it is impossible for them to distinguish the very set who may be least missed."
"Phoo! phoo!" cried the Admiral, "what stuff these young fellows talk! Never was a better sloop than the Asp in her day. For an old built sloop, you would not see her equal. Lucky fellow to get her! He knows there must have been twenty better men than himself applying for her at the same time. Lucky fellow to get anything so soon, with no more interest than his."
"I felt my luck, Admiral, I assure you;" replied Captain Wentworth, seriously. "I was as well satisfied with my appointment as you can desire. It was a great object with me at that time to be at sea; a very great object, I wanted to be doing something."
"To be sure you did. What should a young fellow like you do ashore for half a year together? If a man had not a wife, he soon wants to be afloat again."
"But, Captain Wentworth," cried Louisa, "how vexed you must have been when you came to the Asp, to see what an old thing they had given you."
"I knew pretty well what she was before that day;" said he, smiling. "I had no more discoveries to make than you would have as to the fashion and strength of any old pelisse, which you had seen lent about among half your acquaintance ever since you could remember, and which at last, on some very wet day, is lent to yourself. Ah! she was a dear old Asp to me. She did all that I wanted. I knew she would. I knew that we should either go to the bottom together, or that she would be the making of me; and I never had two days of foul weather all the time I was at sea in her; and after taking privateers enough to be very entertaining, I had the good luck in my passage home the next autumn, to fall in with the very French frigate I wanted. I brought her into Plymouth; and here another instance of luck. We had not been six hours in the Sound, when a gale came on, which lasted four days and nights, and which would have done for poor old Asp in half the time; our touch with the Great Nation not having much improved our condition. Four-and-twenty hours later, and I should only have been a gallant Captain Wentworth, in a small paragraph at one corner of the newspapers; and being lost in only a sloop, nobody would have thought about me." Anne's shudderings were to herself alone; but the Miss Musgroves could be as open as they were sincere, in their exclamations of pity and horror. “

Did you see the reference to old clothing? It is when Wentworth analogizes his first command the “dear old Asp” to “any old pelisse” – a hand-me-down no one else would want to wear. So, you inquire, what exactly does all that have to do with Anne Elliot? My answer, which will shock some, is that six years ago I wrote a blog called “A dear old Asp....go to the bottom together” at http://tinyurl.com/jcxa79z  in which I wrote the following:    “this passage contained wordplay which, when Wentworth's comments are read in a different mode, i.e., as sarcastic, bitter, and very vulgar, rather than romantic, wistful, and nostalgic, has a very different meaning. I described that darker and decidedly unpleasant meaning in my presentation at Chawton House in July 2009”.

That shocking meaning was Wentworth’s scatological double pun on an “old ASS” and a “bottom” –suggesting, in modern sexual slang, that Anne Elliot is in effect a worn-out old “piece of ass”, one that Wentworth, in code, is telling Louisa he would like to exchange for a new, unused, fresh “pelisse” like Louisa! I.e., Wentworth’s coded sexual punning on asses/bottoms is JA’s second, and more powerful, allusion to Penelope’s coarse wool metaphor in Ovid’s Heroides. And so Anne, if she only understood, really would have shuddered in horror like Penelope, at being referred to as an old pelisse made of Ovidian coarse wool.  And that ends this little guided tour of Jane Austen’s engagement with Ovid’s Heroides at ages 12 ½, 35, and 40, respectively.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Whit Stillman's Novelization of Lady Susan/Love and Friendship

Yesterday, I finally had the chance to sit down and read Whit Stillman's short novelization of his film adaptation of Austen's equally short novella Lady Susan, and I have a few comments:

First, I enjoyed the basic premise of the novelization, which is that the narrator is a new character made up by Stillman, who is the nephew of Sir James Martin, the rich fool who abruptly marries Lady Susan at the end of Austen's story. Sir James's said nephew, writing in first person, purports to enlighten the reader about Jane Austen's "slanderous" misrepresentation of Lady Susan Vernon's marvelous character. The "true" story thus unfolded by the nephew closely tracks the screenplay of Stillman's film (if there are differences, I did not detect them, but I didn't compare them closely enough to be sure). The nephew's version of things, in a nutshell, is that Lady Susan is a good person who has been misunderstood by jealous and mean-spirited people who don't "get" what an amazing person Lady Susan really is.

In very brief illustration, this is from the first paragraph of the narration by the nephew: "They who bear false-witness against the innocent and blameless are rightly condemned. What, though, of they who bear false-witness against those whose histories are not 'spotless'? ...Such was the case of the DeCourcy family  of Parklands, Kent, who disguised their prideful arrogance...under the cloak of moral nicety and correct....the De Courcys did not conduct their soiling 'vendettas' themselves but through the sycophants & hangers-on of their circle, in this case the spinster Authoress notorious for her poison-pen fictions hidden under the lambskin of Anonymity."  You get the picture, I am sure.

What I find most interesting in Stillman's authorial stance is that it implicitly raises what remains for me the most important and intriguing question: did Jane Austen present Lady Susan as a character she intended to be seen by her readers as a heroine, a villain, or both? As I've previously written about this, most recently here....

"Resolving the seeming contradictions of Austen’s Lady Susan (& Stillman’s Love&Friendship)" http://tinyurl.com/zfwzsw4

...my answer is "both", but on different levels of understanding.

Except at the very end, there is no authorial commentary in Austen's novella, just the text of the letters exchanged by Lady Susan and a handful of the other major characters. The penultimate paragraph of that hasty authorial summing up of the tale of Lady Susan perfectly illustrates Austen's witty, teasingly uncommitted description of her protagonist: "Whether Lady Susan was or was not happy in her second Choice [i.e. to marry Sir James Martin instead of Reginald DeCourcy] ---I do not see how it can ever be ascertained--- for who would take her assurance of it on either side of the question? The World must judge from Probability; she had nothing against her but her Husband & her Conscience."

And so we readers of Austen are mostly on our own in assessing Lady Susan's epistolary justifications of her own extraordinary behavior, as well as her bosom friend Alicia Johnson's sympathetic responses, as well as her sister-in-law's very negative, suspicious views of Lady Susan, etc etc -- we must decide what judgment to render on Lady Susan, and my view, in a nutshell, is that Austen means us to understand that she is a charming sociopath who is also a kind of superhero Nemesis force of nature sent by the gods to punish men for abusing women in general. So her character is a very spicy combination of good and evil.

Overall, reading Stillman's novelization had one principal effect on me -- it raised my desire to rewatch his excellent film (which I predicted after my first viewing of same will become part of the highest tier in the pantheon of rewatchable Austen film adaptations). The lines of epistolary dialog written by Austen, as well as those added by Stillman, most spectacularly come alive when spoken by the extraordinary Kate Beckinsale (as well as by her excellent supporting players). And, as I noted back in January, Stillman shows impeccable taste and discretion in his film adaptation, filling in Austen's blanks (mostly re Sir James Martin and Mr. Manwaring) but otherwise letting Austen's amazing words speak for themselves.

And finally, for those considering buying Stillman's book, be aware that he wisely included the full text of Austen's novella as an appendix, so you can have the whole shebang in one volume to peruse one after the other.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Jane Austen’s & Sir Walter Scott’s interwoven “everlasting ‘said he’s’ and ‘said she’s’ “

 A month ago, I wrote here…. http://tinyurl.com/hvppyhv  ….about Jane Austen’s winking allusions to Sophia Lee’s historical novel The Recess (1783) and Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel Waverley (1814) in her novel about novels and history, Northanger Abbey (posthumous). In particular, I explored the subtle distinction between a male vs. a female perspective on the writing of histories in the late 18th & early 19th centuries, and also the blurry line between novels and histories. Today I’m back with an unexpected gloss on that earlier post, regarding the unrecognized literary dialog which I now believe, more than ever, was covertly conducted between Austen and Scott during the last five years of JA’s life.

I say “unexpected”, because this morning, during my routine periodic trawling of scholarly databases for the latest literary scholarly articles, I happened by pure serendipity upon an article from last winter with a title which ought to raise the intrigued curiosity of Janeites: “Walter Scott’s ‘everlasting said he’s and said she’s’: Dialogue, Painting, & the Status of the Novel” by Christopher J. Scalia in ELH 82/4, Winter 2015 p. 1159 et seq.

What raised my curiosity was only not the name of the article’s author (who, if you were wondering, is indeed the son of the late SCOTUS Justice Scalia, as well as an expert Scott scholar), but the quotation in the title of Scalia’s article: “everlasting said he’s and said she’s”. This quote reminded me of the following famous, oft-quoted paragraph in Jane Austen’s Jan. 29, 1813 letter to her sister about the critical reception of Pride & Prejudice by its first, Austen-family readers:       ‘There are a few Typical errors – & a “said he” or a “said she” would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear – but “I do not write for such dull Elves” “As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.” ‘

I’ve often written about the mock modesty of JA’s supposed acknowledgment of errors in not providing enough pronoun references for the dialog in P&P—as if she would ever have made such a rookie error! ---and, in addition thereto, three years ago I wrote the following about the Scott aspects of the above-quoted passage:    
JA alludes to Scott’s famous poem Marmion, but she materially changes and expands his original line, which went: "I do not rhyme to that dull elf, Who cannot image to himself". It’s clear why she changes “rhyme” to “write”, but why does she change Scott’s “image” to the similar-sounding, but different-meaning “ingenuity”? What does she mean by this? Judging by scholarly reaction to that sentence, a number of possible meanings could be plausibly applied to “ingenuity”—and so we must ask, why would JA be so vague, presenting a mangled line of famous poetry in an ambiguous way, instead of writing clearly and exactly what she means? I smell a rat…… ;) My reading of “ingenuity”, by the way, is that JA is herself imagining a sharp-eyed reader who is ingenious enough to figure things out not only who “he” and “she” are in various passages, but, equally important on a metafictional level, to figure out why these attributions have been left ambiguous in the first place—and to then realize that one effect of such ambiguities is that it permits the text to be plausibly read in alternative ways, i.e., where “he” might be, e.g., Darcy in one interpretation, but Bingley in another, with two completely different meanings….this last comment will take on extra meaning by the end of this post.
And JA then goes on to cryptically hint at her own intentionality in these “errors” by highlighting that her final revision involved a massive cutting of text from the last previous draft…plus, JA points out that she is fully cognizant that as a result of her cutting, there is now a much greater proportion of narrative to dialogue in the second volume than there was previously. So it’s not just quantity she has dramatically altered, it’s the fundamental nature of the words themselves, since narration is a whole different beast than dialogue….”  END QUOTE FROM MY 2013 POST

So far, so good, but what neither I nor any other literary scholar has taken note of prior to this post of mine today, was that JA’s decision---in a private letter to her sister written in January 1813, a letter that remained unpublished until seven decades later----to link a bon mot about “he said’s and she said’s” in P&P to an 1809 poem by Sir Walter Scott, must somehow, by some form of off-channel communication, have become known to Walter Scott prior to 1821 when he published The Bride of Lammermoor, the novel containing the passage which Scalia quoted from in his article title! I.e., despite the “truth universally acknowledged” by Austen scholars that Scott and Austen were never in private contact, it is now 100% clear to me that this is not a truth at all, since Scott must’ve seen what JA wrote about Marmion in her private letter written more than eight years earlier.

For other reasons entirely, which I haven’t blogged about publicly [regarding extraordinary novelistic parallels which I’ve detected as Scott and Austen in effect played a remarkable game of “Dueling Novels” between 1814 and 1816], I’ve long speculated that Scott and Austen were in direct, personal communication with each other during the last five years of her life, even though no correspondence between them is known to exist, or to have ever existed. So you can just imagine my pleasure when I happened upon Scalia’s article title, which, as I’ll explain below, provides strong written—even if circumstantial- evidence of exactly that sort of private communication between these two most influential of early 19th century English novelists.
 
The unlikelihood that Scott’s and Austen’s “said he’s and said she’s” is merely an extraordinary coincidence, is compounded when we take a closer look at the entire passage in Scott’s Bride in which this usage occurs. But first, Scalia’s article expertly summarizes and sets the stage for me:

In both The Bride of Lammermoor and Ivanhoe, Scott seeks to explain the craft of novelistic dialogue by comparing fiction to drama and painting. For Scott, novelistic dialogue is best considered in reference to these art forms because the former relies almost entirely on dialogue and the latter is inherently silent. His use of painting as a touchstone for fictional speech is particularly thought-provoking because he seems to contradict himself in these two passages. The introductory chapter of TBOL features a character named Dick Tinto, who argues that excessive dialogue makes novels too much like drama and that novelists should instead borrow more painterly approaches to composition. Although the chapter is generally interpreted as a straight-forward send-up of Tinto’s attempt to conflate painterly and fictional techniques, I interpret it as a deeply nuanced passage that, while certainly satirizing Tinto, clears original space for novelistic dialogue by both repeating theories that Scott had expressed elsewhere and also relying heavily on contemporary theories of painting. On the other hand, the introductory letter of Ivanhoe aligns theories of painting, and in particular Sir Joshua Reynolds’s arguments about balancing general and specific detail, with Scott’s approaches to dialogue. The barrier separating painting from fiction, constructed in TBOL, is razed in Ivanhoe. But rather than creating a problematic contradiction, this inconsistency comprises a multi-front vindication of the novel in which dialogue represents both the traditional and innovative possibilities of the form, its distance from and proximity to more ancient and critically appreciated arts.”  END QUOTE FROM SCALIA ARTICLE

Scalia goes on in his article to explain the deep nuance he sees in Scott’s treatment of the issue of dialog vs. narration in novels, and so I recommend you read it from start to finish. But for my purposes today, I merely piggyback on Scalia’s observations, which dovetail perfectly with my above-stated claim that Scott must have, sometime between 1813 and 1821, read JA’s paragraph channeling his poem Marmion. I believe Scott produced an excellent literary injoke, by writing a passage in Bride which in effect returns the favor to JA’s letter which alludes to his famous poem, a favor she of course did not live long enough to enjoy.

Here, then, is that Bride passage, in the context set up by Scalia, above. It is in Chapter 1 of Scott’s novel, and is a first person narrative by the character Pattieson, a novelist, describing the debate of the aesthetics of dialog vs. narration in novels with his painter friend Tinto, whose artistic services Pattieson has commissioned to illustrate his novel:

“...while [Tinto] thus proposed to unite his own powers with mine for the illustration of these narratives, he mixed many a dose of salutary criticism with the panegyrics which my composition was at times so fortunate as to call forth.
“Your characters,” he said, “my dear Pattieson, make too much use of the gob box; they patter too much (an elegant phraseology which Dick had learned while painting the scenes of an itinerant company of players); there is nothing in whole pages but mere chat and dialogue.”
“The ancient philosopher,” said I in reply, “was wont to say, ‘Speak, that I may know thee’; and how is it possible for an author to introduce his personae dramatis to his readers in a more interesting and effectual manner than by the dialogue in which each is represented as supporting his own appropriate character?”
“It is a false conclusion,” said Tinto; “I hate it, Peter, as I hate an unfilled can. I grant you, indeed, that speech is a faculty of some value in the intercourse of human affairs, and I will not even insist on the doctrine of that Pythagorean toper, who was of opinion that over a bottle speaking spoiled conversation. But I will not allow that a professor of the fine arts has occasion to embody the idea of his scene in language, in order to impress upon the reader its reality and its effect. On the contrary, I will be judged by most of your readers, Peter, should these tales ever become public, whether you have not given us a page of talk for every single idea which two words might have communicated, while the posture, and manner, and incident, accurately drawn, and brought out by appropriate colouring, would have preserved all that was worthy of preservation, and saved THESE EVERLASTING ‘SAID HE’S’ AND ‘SAID SHE’S,’ with which it has been your pleasure to encumber your pages.”
I replied, “That he confounded the operations of the pencil and the pen; that the serene and silent art, as painting has been called by one of our first living poets, necessarily appealed to the eye, because it had not the organs for addressing the ear; whereas poetry, or that species of composition which approached to it, lay under the necessity of doing absolutely the reverse, and addressed itself to the ear, for the purpose of exciting that interest which it could not attain through the medium of the eye.”
Dick was not a whit staggered by my argument, which he contended was founded on misrepresentation. “Description,” he said, “was to the author of a romance exactly what drawing and tinting were to a painter: words were his colours, and, if properly employed, they could not fail to place the scene which he wished to conjure up as effectually before the mind’s eye as the tablet or canvas presents it to the bodily organ. The same rules,” he contended, “applied to both, and an exuberance of dialogue, in the former case, was a verbose and laborious mode of composition which went to confound the proper art of fictitious narrative with that of the drama, a widely different species of composition, of which dialogue was the very essence, because all, excepting the language to be made use of, was presented to the eye by the dresses, and persons, and actions of the performers upon the stage. But as nothing,” said Dick, “can be more dull than a long narrative written upon the plan of a drama, so where you have approached most near to that species of composition, by indulging in prolonged scenes of mere conversation, the course of your story has become chill and constrained, and you have lost the power of arresting the attention and exciting the imagination, in which upon other occasions you may be considered as having succeeded tolerably well.”
I made my bow in requital of the compliment, which was probably thrown in by way of placebo, and expressed myself willing at least to make one trial of a more straightforward style of composition, in which my actors should do more, and say less, than in my former attempts of this kind. Dick gave me a patronising and approving nod…”  END QUOTE FROM SCOTT’S BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR

I believe you can already discern from the above passage why I claim that it makes it even less likely to be coincidental that Scott’s novel contains unusual verbiage identical to that of JA’s private letter. This is because of the other, related, remarkable parallel which permeates the above passage, i.e., that both JA’s letter and Scott’s novel refer to “he said’s and she said’s” in the context of discussion of novelistic artistry. More specifically, JA’s acknowledgment of “usual errors” is a mock, ironic critique on her manner of depicting dialog in P&P; and Dick Tinto’s fictional critique of his friend Pattieson’s writing is also a commentary on novelistic dialog—one which is moreover also ironic (as Scalia acutely noted), when we consider that the above quoted passage is….filled with dialog! This shows that Tinto the character who hates dialog in novels did not speak for his creator Scott the novelist, who gives Tinto a great deal of dialog in Scott’s novel….criticizing dialog in novels!  Wheels within ironic wheels!

And there are three other parallels between Scott and Austen which also emerge upon closer consideration:

First, as I just reread Dick Tinto’s critique while writing this post, I heard in his aesthetic judgment “But as nothing can be more dull than a long narrative written upon the plan of a drama…” what seems like a further wink at another private Austen document – JA’s famous satirical and ironic “Plan of a Novel”, her mock description of a surefire plotline for a successful novel, along the lines suggested to her in total seriousness by the clueless James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent’s court librarian.

Second, I also reconsidered my prior observation about how JA’s famous “lopping and cropping” of P&P while revising same in 1812, must’ve involved cutting out a lot of narration from the first half of the novel, leaving it the most extended narrative-scarce extended section in all of JA’s novels. Did Scott realize this? I think so!

As for my third and last point, I once more rely on Scalia’s article to introduce it:

“As if to underscore that theories of painting can apply to fiction—and recalling Scott’s appropriation of painterly theory in Bride-both Ivanhoe and the Quarterly Review piece adapt controversial ideas expressed by Sir Joshua Reynolds in his influential Discourses on Art, delivered to the Royal Academy between 1769 and 1790. In these lectures, Reynolds frequently instructs historical painters to avoid including minute details and to focus instead on the commonalities between ages, to prefer the general or ideal over the particular. For example, in his fourth discourse, delivered in 1771, Reynolds argues that minute detail distracts the audience from the more important elements of a painting…” END QUOTE

I wrote two years ago… http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2014/03/scotts-1816-review-emma-reynoldss-cupid.html … about Sir Walter Scott’s famous 1816 review of Emma in which Scott picked up on Austen’s covert allusion in Emma to Sir Joshua Reynolds’s highly sexualized painting of “Cupid as Link Boy”, as well as via the character “Mrs. REYNOLDS” in P&P. I also wrote a few months ago about the extensive, barely veiled allusion to Gilpin’s picturesque theories in P&P. So, the theme of visual art that saturates so much of P&P is exactly the sort of thematic engagement that is debated by Dick Tinto and his writing friend in Scott’s Bride.

In conclusion, then: the aggregate of all of the above, densely clustered parallels between Austen’s 1813 letter and Scott’s 1821 novel, reinforces my prior confidence that Scott and Austen were in direct communication about their respective literary productions. It frees me to imagine a series of private meetings between these two immortals of English literature, perhaps during JA’s extended stays in the anonymous privacy of London, which they mutually agreed to keep secret from the world, which would have made their game of literary cat and mouse more delicious to them both.

But then, when JA passed away so prematurely at 41 ½, Scott (who survived JA by 15 years, despite having been 4 years older) would’ve mourned the loss of his friendly literary sparring partner very strongly. And that would suggest even more poignancy in Scott’s famous journal entry in 1826:

“Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!”

To which I only add, what a pity that it took nearly two centuries to recognize the secret bond between these two such gifted creatures!


Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter