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

Friday, July 24, 2009

Picture (or Figure) in the Carpet

"If you want a genuine continuation of Austen don't buy an idiot sequel; rather go for Margaret Drabble's The Picture in the Carpet.....It swirls about an aunt who
loved jigsaws as did and does Drabble.....she turns to puzzles to calm her and remembers back..... She does relaxed research on jigsaws and we learn a lot about them and children's games. ARe they a game? I think so: you are working against the puzzle maker. You achieve something when all the pieces are in place. I do
have a method: first you make the frame and then you work on different portiosn of the picture. Of course the puzzle maker makes this second step
hard. Since the competition is at a distance, it's relaxed and you have aesthetic pleasure putting the puzzle together."

Ellen, that is a wonderful post, thanks!

In my considered opinion, Drabble and Byatt (I had for some time subconsciously conflated them in my mind, but I did not know--or at least I don't remember reading--they were actually sisters--now it makes perfect sense, they have apparently been partners in a certain kind of literary exploration, the same as the Austen sisters and the Bronte sisters, among others)--both have demonstrated, I think, a very strong awareness that JA's novels are themselves puzzles (_Possession_ to me is in no small part about Jane Austen, both her letters and her novels), but neither Drabble nor Byatt knew quite know how to fit the puzzle pieces together in a coherent whole.

"Which gets us to JA: famously there is a puzzle in MP -- free indirect speech from either Julia or Maria:..."

Yes, that is a good catch by you, but you should also relate the idea of puzzles in JA's novels to the novel which itself is explicitly filled with all sorts of puzzles, it is in fact a veritable Parthenon of puzzles---_Emma_.

And here's a catch for you---did you know that Henry James wrote a short story called "FIGURE in the Carpet"????? Read it, you will see the shadow of JA there as well!!!!!!! ;)

1 comment:

Arnie Perlstein said...

I went back and found the explicit allusion to JA in _Possession_, it occurs when Maud has started reading some of the letters between Ash and Christabel that they've found. Here is one letter, and Maud's reaction:

“Dear Mr. Ash, No truly—I do not Tease---how should I demean you or myself so—or you demean Yourself to think it. I live circumscribed and self communing —‘tis best so—not like a Princess in a thicket, by no means, but more like a very fat and self-satisfied Spider in the centre of her shining Web…Arachne is a lady I am greatly sympathetic to, an honest craftswoman, who makes perfect patters, but is a little inclined to take unorthodox snaps at visiting or trespassing strangers…

….Analogies raced through Maud’s mind and were rejected as too inflammatory. It’s as though you’d found—Jane Austen’s love letters?

‘You know, if you read the collected letters of any writer—if you read her biography—you will always get the sense that there’s something missing, something biographers don’t have access to, the real thing, the crucial thing, the thing that really mattered to the poet herself. There are always latter that were destroyed. THE letters, usually. These may be those letters, in Christabel’s life…’


That makes it very explicit---Byatt, too, was looking for the "something missing" in JA's biographies, just as was Drabble (and, as I mentioned before, so was Virginia Woolf)--they all sensed something outside the frame of the picture, like Edmund Wilson vis a vis _Hamlet_ and _Emma_, but they could not discern what it was:

We have Byatt's image (in 1991) of Christabel (aka JA) as a weaving spider, and the title of her sister Drabble's 2009 literary memoir, _The Pattern in the Carpet_. But Drabble had been playing with the metaphor of carpets even before Byatt wrote _Possession_, explicitly echoing Henry James's story which I had mentioned to you initially:

Sometime before then, Drabble wrote, "Families are the *carpet*, and we readers along with characters must search for the figure in the *carpet*, that *pattern* which recurs and informs...*" *and in 1975, in _Realms of Gold_, she wrote "He had been able to forget about death, while concentrating hard on the *pattern*
in the *carpet*."

And Drabble edited an edition of Virginia Woolf's _To the Lighthouse_, which has the following line:

"...When darkness fell, the stroke of the Lighthouse, which had laid itself with such authority upon the *carpet* in the darkness, tracing its *pattern*,
came now in the softer light of spring mixed with moonlight gliding gently as if it laid its caress and lingered ...."