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

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Truths RARELY acknowledged

[My response to Christy Somer's response to my earlier postings about Lavoisier and Jane Austen]

Christy, I am very glad you enjoyed taking a closer look at the Lavoisier Preface and its resonance with the themes of JA's novels, and gave me such a rich response. Indeed one of the passages you quoted, the one about how children learn, is part of the lengthy quotation I gave in my initial post about Lavoisier, for the same reasons you mentioned. JA was very much concerned with young female education in particular.

I have two quick, additional comments:

First I know I suggested that JA would have read Lavoisier as a teenager, and that is why you responded with your own guarded speculations in that regard, but I also want to point out that none of JA's novels was published before 1811, when she was 36, and therefore all of NA, S&S and P&P were revised much later in JA's life than her teenaged years, and so my claim of a Lavoisier allusion in P&P does not in any way depend on JA having read Lavoisier as a teenager. And I am quite certain that as an adult, JA found a way to get to all the books she needed, as sources for her novels.

And now I have a theory for how JA preserved many of these quotations without the necessity of having to maintain some secret filing cabinet---I bet she made a practice of immediately writing those quotations in her novel manuscripts themselves! All she would have to remember thereafter was the source of each quote, and I am sure she had a sufficiently retentive verbal memory to do that. But...I also thing that JA, like her alter ego, Mary Bennet, made lots of extracts too!


Second, I want to emphasize the significance of JA's ironic send-up of great intellectual writers like Lavoisier, Hume, Smith, Burke et al. These were all works of high intellectual tone and content, in which famous and influential men of letters and science spoke to the world about weighty subjects which affected world events in their respective fields of chemistry, philosophy, economics, politics, etc.

So while Nancy's description of the ironic humor of JA's turning the words of these influential men into an introduction to the not so weighty topic of courtship is a good one, the actual Lavoisier allusion, with its context of the discussion of how children learn, and how errors of perception and cognition can occur in science and in life, adds a very sophisticated and important layer to that irony.

By using phrases like "truth universally acknowledged" and invoking in the minds of her learned readers the distinct recall of those great men of learning, JA assumes the role of "scientist", and SEEMS to mock and parody it, as if to say, as she wrote to James Stanier Clarke, that she knew nothing of philosophy or science.

BUT....I claim that JA was mocking Clarke with that absurd self deprecation, because in actuality, JA clearly prided herself on her wide knowledge of all the liberal arts and sciences, both theoretical and applied, and so the ANIT-parody is that JA knew she was writing novels which were, as it were, a new kind of science, with the subject matter being human psychology and interpersonal dynamics in particular. And so she hid in plain sight her own proud assertion that she was indeed a "player", fully worthy to (implicitly) tell the world what SHE had discovered about the games people play, which turn out to be of the highest importance.

In shorter, JA's novels ARE complex representations of truths RARELY acknowledged about human behavior and psychology.

Cheers, ARNIE


P.S.: By further digging, I was able to find ANOTHER Austen connection to Lavoisier in one of JA"s novels, because Lavoisier was at one degree of separation from ANOTHER man of science who is named in one of JA's novels. Can you guess, or figure out, who it is? ;)

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