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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

P.S. re Hedgerows, Shrubbery and Evergreens

Yesterday, in one of my messages about the Chapter 22 scene in the Parsonage shrubbery, I wrote the following in support of my claim that Fanny would have had Edmund on her mind while talking to Mary:

"Isn't it obvious that if Fanny has recently indulged in a fantasy about Edmund while listening to Mary play Edmund's favorite tune on the harp, then later, when strolling in the Parsonage garden, where surely Mary and Edmund had previously strolled many a time, Fanny would AGAIN indulge in such a fantasy about Edmund, which would have been the spark that fired up her imagination about memory and hedgerows changing over time??"

Well, in further browsing here and there in the first half of MP this morning, look at the passage I found in Chapter 7 (i.e., fifteen chapters before that Parsonage shrubbery scene), which makes explicit what I thought was only implicit, in the text of the novel:

"Having formed [Fanny's] mind and gained her affections, he had a good chance of her thinking like him; though at this period, and on this subject, there began now to be some danger of dissimilarity, for he was in a line of admiration of Miss Crawford, which might lead him where Fanny could not follow. Miss Crawford’s attractions did not lessen. The harp arrived, and rather added to her beauty, wit, and good–humour; for she played with the greatest obligingness, with an expression and taste which were peculiarly becoming, and there was something clever to be said at the close of every air. EDMUND WAS AT THE PARSONAGE EVERY DAY, TO BE INDULGED WITH HIS FAVOURITE INSTRUMENT one morning secured an invitation for the next; for the lady could not be unwilling to have a listener, and every thing was soon in a fair train.

A YOUNG WOMAN, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, SURROUNDED BY SHRUBS in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man’s heart. The season, the scene, the air, were all favourable to tenderness and sentiment. Mrs. Grant and her tambour frame were not without their use: it was all in harmony..."

I think the connection of the above passage, which connects Mary and the shrubs outside so vividly, to my interpretation of the scene in Chapter 22 in the Parsonage must be very clear. But I want to take this
opportunity to make a much larger point about how JA wrote.

This example is one of hundreds in her novels which illustrate what an extraordinarily meticulous artist JA really was, i.e., the lengths to which she would go, in order to flesh out a rich but largely subliminal
background (or "shrubbery", in metaphorical terms) as setting for the scenes she depicts, so as to most fully "catch the hearts" of her most discerning and observant readers, those who would struggle to bring to consciousness, and therefore to deeper understanding, these subliminal cues.

When we take note of the obvious allusions to visual artists and theorists like Repton, Gilpin and Reynolds, when we read the famous discussion of multiple perspectives at Beechen Cliff in NA, these are not merely background, not merely passing references to the artistry of others, worthy of a clever footnote of interest mostly to those interested in JA's life and times. Yes, they fulfill that worthy
function very well, but they are also MUCH more. These are markers deliberately left by JA, to alert her careful readers that she HERSELF was a radical innovator as a literary author, one who invented many
techniques and ways of translating the picturesque and the sublime into words on a page--she was a word "painter" as radical in her techniques as Van Gogh, Cezanne or Picasso were in theirs!

Look at what she does in relation to that short scene in Chapter 22, and ask yourself if she is doing this solely to bring out the difference between Fanny's and Mary's aesthetic sensibilities.

She verifies that Northamptonshire is a County of Hedgerows, so that Fanny can make a passing reference to hedgerows.

She adds a few seemingly trivial words to a description of the Parsonage in Chapter 7, which create a fleeting image in the mind of the reader of what Edmund sees when he listens to Mary play the harp--the pretty girl sitting near a groundfloor window, so that her lovely face is framed by the rich foliage of the shrubs just outside the windown. Why? So that fifteen chapters later, when Fanny and Mary are outside, a faint bell will ring in the close reader's mind, reminding of that earlier scene, and giving the reader one more reason to think of Edmund.

She sets a strikingly similar "stage" for two outdoors scenes in MP, so that when the second one, in Chapter 22, begins, the reader will be reminded of that first one in Chapter 7, and give the reader yet ANOTHER reason to think of Edmund looking at Mary 'set' in the Parsonage shrubbery.

Those who claim that JA gave very little physical description reveal only their own lack of imagination in reading her novels. She was actually an extraordinarily visually sensitive writer, who had a
hyperacute sense of physical setting--but she was a radical minimalist, she expected her readers to be active partners in responding to her subtle hints and cues, in order to bring the full story to life on the
"stage" she created with words.

And this is not just about veiled conversations between characters. There is a fantastic recent article by Janine Barchas which demonstrates, beyond the tiniest shadow of a doubt, that all the seemingly random and trivial driving about in Bath in gigs and carriages, and John Thorpe's obsession with computing exact rates of speed, is anything but random and trivial. Barchas demonstrates that if you drive around JA's Bath and its environs on the streets, and at the speeds, indicated, you find that the novel is itself a virtual map of Bath of uncanny accuracy!

So those who claim I ascribe miraculous powers to JA, and say that she could not possibly have intended her readers to pay attention to all these details, must explain why it is that, over and over and over again, close readers of all these details, of whom I am only the most prolific and extreme, but am far from alone, find that JA had constructed amazing structures of time and space, and amazing
alternative realities, hidden just beneath the surface of the greatest love stories ever written.

And one more point---JA, in that Chapter 22 passage, was also making a comment about the process of that struggle of the reader to bring her subliminal cues to awareness. And who better to deliver such a message than the bookish, poetically-sensitive, deeply contemplative Fanny Price?:

"Three years ago, this was nothing but a rough hedgerow along the upper side of the field, never thought of as anything, or capable of becoming anything; and now it is converted into a walk, and it would be difficult to say whether most valuable as a convenience or an ornament; and perhaps, in another three years, we may be forgetting -- almost forgetting what it was before. How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind!” "

Having been working off-and-on on my project since 2002, and then increasingly toward full time and then overtime during the past 6 years, I can say that I am utterly amazed, when I look back, at how my own mind has been altered by this process, to the point where, among other effects, I see JA's writing so differently than I did before. Fortunately, I have the archives of Janeites to refer to, to remind me
of what I saw, and didn't see, back then.
But I am certain that this passage was JA's message to her readers so inclined, saying, "If you want to join me on this adventure, it won't be easy, and it won't be quick--in fact, it will at times seem like a
serpentine path that leads nowhere--but it's worth the effort, because over time, mysterious things will happen in your brain that will enable you to turn a rough hedgerow into a gorgeous lush shrubbery. Welcome to my garden. That's me over here, amid this particularly lovely section of the shrubbery--and behind me, can you see that there is a rather charming wilderness where we might take a turn later......"

Cheers,
Arnie

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