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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Long Enough Addendum About “Long Enough”

[For those of you who enjoy reading my shorter messages, but not my longer ones, if you were planning on passing this one by because it’s too long, be sure at least to read the last 2 paragraphs about Miss Bates, and her covert role in the Case of the Long Pianoforte, which I guarantee you will enjoy, and which perhaps will induce you to reconsider and read the whole message after all!] ;)

“Off the top of my head, I'd say it was adverbial phrase, because it describes the verb "possess". How long did she possess the instrument-? Long enough or not long enough.”

Yes, Linda, “long enough” modified the verb “possessed”, hence it is an adverbial phrase when read that way, and that is what yields the normative reading of that sentence.

"Long can be an adjective, as in "long time, no see" when it modifies a noun. If we're talking about a long instrument or hinting at it, I'd say we're looking at sexual puns--which is what I think Arnie was hoping we'd see. “

Nicely done, Linda, that is indeed precisely what I was hoping you’d see! And it is as Diana then so pithily and bluntly put it later last night as well, and also as Elissa just weighed in, in a similar vein, as I was composing this message—and yes, Elissa, that nuance about the length of the piano itself is perfect for my interpretation of that phrase as being “adjectival”, without knowing the details of piano construction, that is what I, and, much more important, Jane Austen, was thinking!

“But why hint at this punning through Emma's eyes. It sounds as if Emma is the lover, noting her partner's emotional state preparatory to making love.”

Excellent question, for which I think I have a very good answer, which is that Emma CONSCIOUSLY sees things in accordance with the normative interpretation of that sentence, as being about Jane playing music, but UNconsciously sees things in accordance with the second interpretation, as being about Jane’s sexual experience at that very instant.

I think this is as beautiful and virtuosic example as I can think of from all of JA’s novels of how JA manages to fully express the meaning of both the overt story and the shadow story in the same sentence, and I speculate that she took extra pains to make sure she sculpted a particularly elegant sentence to accomplish it—everything hinges on using the word “long” precisely because it is used in ordinary language as both an adjective and as an adverb.
As for the sexual meaning of that sentence, I am NOT going to spell out, in this message, the exact details of how the sexual content is expressed, as, first of all, I believe it can be readily discerned by anyone who cares to see it, in its full glory, and second, I don’t want to be overly graphic and offend anybody reading along here who wants to keep things PG-13.

But I will say that the veiled sexual content, when properly understood, is very graphic--NOT in a leering or vulgar way-quite the contrary, it functions as an authentic expression, filtered through Emma’s mind, of what Jane, as a sexual being, might be feeling at that very moment, after she and Frank are interrupted by the return of Emma, Miss Bates and Harriet.

I am claiming that this is an example of great literature written with a female focus, taking into account, in a way that had rarely, if ever, been attempted in a novel, the WHOLE woman-and isn’t that the very complaint that Charlotte Bronte famously wrote about, vis a vis JA’s novels? Well, it turns out not be true of JA at all, and I’ve known that for a long while—but this sentence is particularly probative evidence of JA’s profound engagement with the whole female psyche, mind and body.

Actually, the sexual subtext of that sentence does not necessarily need to be seen as shadow story material, i.e., it can be seen as being harmonious with the normative reading of Emma that Jane and Frank were at the very least stealing a furtive embrace or three during the time everyone else has been at Ford’s. After all, this may have been their first time alone in Highbury after how long? (with Mrs. Bates neither seeing nor hearing anything, and being asleep to boot, they may as well have been alone). I seriously doubt that many Janeites would be uncomfortable with the notion that they were getting starting to get physically intimate-the only debatable question would be, how intimate they had gotten before they were interrupted.

In that vein, Emma, who is, as we all know, preternaturally sensitive to social cues, and is, most would also agree, a sexually unsophisticated and repressed, yet physically healthy, young woman with a normal libido, could very well experience a small freak-out upon walking in on Jane and Frank. The veiled sexual content of that sentence fits very nicely as a snapshot depiction of Emma’s enfevered imagination at that instant, confronted with the immediate aftermath of what might seem to have been a very graphic sexual encounter, an insight instantaneously imagined, and then repressed, in Emma’s head.

I became curious today to see if I really was the first person to suggest (as I did in 2005) that Jane and Frank actually might have been halfway through a truly sexual encounter when they were interrupted, and I did some checking, and saw that no scholar had said it before me.

However, as I checked back in my files, I did see a very interesting 2003 article I had found over a year ago, in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 84, ppg. 969-984 entitled “Creativity and oedipal fantasy in Austen’s Emma: ‘An ingenious and animating suspicion’ “ by Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Hanly, a psychoanalyst living in Toronto, Canada.

I normally find psychoanalytic criticism of literature unreadable, because it almost always seems that the psychoanalytic criticism rapidly becomes completely detached from the text being analyzed, which is almost never referred to again in any detail after the introduction. However, Hanly’s article is quite the opposite of that--she frequently quotes from the text of Emma throughout the article, and she demonstrates a very very strong interest in the characters of the novel. Plus, she writes in as jargon-free a fashion as I have ever seen in a psychoanalytical article. I recommend it highly in its own right.

Anyway, I mentioned it now mainly because, even though Hanly never gets within a 100 miles of suggesting any shadow story in the novel, she does in a very interesting way unpack various psychoanalytic insights about Emma, which run in parallel with, but vastly expand, my own very brief “take” on Emma’s unconscious.
I finish by pointing out that my description of the second, sexualized meaning of that sentence of narration is not something that sits in isolation, it is not a bolt from the blue. If you look at the text of the scenes and events preceding and following that scene, I think it is clear, certainly on second reading of the novel, that the concealed sexual attraction between Jane and Frank is the primary focus, as Emma, like a demented Columbo, desperately attempts to figure out what the hell is going on with Jane, as her jealous unconscious simply does not allow her to let in what is happening right under her nose.

The sexual punning, playing on the motif of music as sex, simply does not stop for several chapters, beginning with the scene when the gift of the piano is first discussed by Mrs. Cole et al, and continuing far beyond the spectacles rivet scene. That is part of what I spoke about at Oxford in July 2007, and it is what I alluded to in my message yesterday. But not till yesterday did I understand how the phrase “long enough” galvanized that interpretation, and took it to another level of beauty.

I want to add one wonderful touch which I only realized today as I was looking more deeply at this question. I have been of the opinion since 2005 that Miss Bates is well aware of what is going on upstairs while everyone is at Ford’s. I have been of the opinion since 2007 that Miss Bates actively promotes Jane and Frank being alone, by quietly managing the movements of the various parties, so as to separate Jane and Frank from Emma, Mrs. Weston and Miss Bates herself.

And here is, finally, the promised finale re Miss Bates, secret agent :

It was only an hour ago that I realized the jewel in the crown of this particular sleight of hand of Miss Bates, and her creator and alter ego, Jane Austen. To wit---I realized that, just as Emma deliberately breaks the lace of her half-boot while strolling on Vicarage Lane, so as to (try to) leave Harriet and Mr. Elton alone, so too does Miss Bates quietly UNSCREW the rivet out of her mother’s spectacles while her mother is sleeping, so as to achieve not one, but TWO spectacular purposes:

It is the excuse for Frank staying with Jane while Miss Bates and Mrs. Weston troop over to Ford’s to get Emma and Harriet; AND,

Given that Mrs. Bates ALREADY was almost entirely deaf, is it just a coincidence that the unriveting of her spectacles means she will also be, until that rivet is screwed back in, almost entirely BLIND! Which means that her being in the room with Jane and Frank will be AS IF she was not there at all!


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