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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

THE ANSWERS to my little quiz about Northanger Abbey, Mrs. Allen and The Wife of Bath

Here are some summary answers to the clues to the allusion to the Wife of Bath in Northanger Abbey which I discovered.

Later on, when I have a chance, I will provide some more details, IF people respond and ask questions, etc.---otherwise I will just provide a full explanation in my book, exploring all the ins and outs of a very rich matrix of layered allusions, which will require about 20 pages to do it justice.

So here goes:

“a literary work published LATE in the 18th century (i.e., during JA's youth), fairly well known then but unknown even to literary scholars today”:

ANSWER: John Gay’s 1710’s play, The Wife of Bath, is alluded to by John Thorpe’s quoting the proverb about one wedding bringing on another. Gay (who also wrote the fable The Hare and Many Friends which Mrs. Elton quotes), in his early career a literary protégé of Pope, wrote this comedy of marital intrigue which has as its central conceit the mythology of the Eve of St. Agnes.

Per Wikipedia, “Saint Agnes is the patron saint of young girls; folk custom called for them to practice rituals on Saint Agnes' Eve (20–21 January) with a view to discovering their future husbands.” These rituals include getting into bed naked and dreaming about their future husbands.

I don’t think I need to tell any Janeites who know Northanger Abbey that on the night after Catherine meets Henry, she drinks wine and dreams about her future husband. What you don’t know is that JA cleverly set up the calendar of NA so that Catherine does this dreaming ON THE EVE OF ST. AGNES (Ellen Moody was therefore about 11 days off in her calendar, which is understandable, because she did not recognize the allusion to the Eve of St. Agnes!).

This also, by the way, is strong evidence that the calendar for NA is not set in 1798, as Ellen speculated, but in either 1797 or 1809, the two years during that period of JA’s life when the Eve of St. Agnes fell on a FRIDAY, which is the night that Catherine meets Henry.

AND…I then did some further legwork and saw that (at least) TWO OTHER Austen novels ALSO have this secret Eve of St. Agnes motif going under the surface:

First, Marianne Dashwood in London gets her really good night’s sleep on the Eve of St. Agnes, even though Elinor drinks the wine that Mrs. Jennings brought for Marianne—because, you see, Mrs. Jennings wants Marianne to dream about a future husband to REPLACE Willoughby! And that’s why she sounds a LOT like John Thorpe the wooer when she invokes another proverb: “One shoulder of mutton drives down another”, although, when you think about that proverb as a metaphor for “Marianne will find another man to marry”, it’s a pretty darned vulgar turn of phrase-but that’s ol’ Mrs. Jennings for ya!

And second, in MP, the Eve of St. Agnes falls during the 3-4 days after Henry Crawford leaves Mansfield Park, and Edmund is surprised that Sir Thomas expects Fanny to miss Henry. It’s because Sir Thomas knows it is the Eve of St. Agnes, and he was hoping for a prophetic marriage dream to bring Fanny around!

Ellen’s calendars for S&S and MP are just a little off, again, because she does not realize the Eve of St. Agnes connection.

And finally, in Persuasion, it just so happens that Benwick proposes to Louisa during a brief period of time that includes the Eve of St. Agnes, and you will recall that I mentioned the other day that Louisa’s head injury is in a metaphorical sense similar to a dream, and when she wakes up and sees Benwick, she is, like the heroine of Gay’s Wife of Bath, convinced he is her dream lover!

And speaking of Benwick, Anne’s morose poetry-addict, that leads me to the next clue I gave, which some of you have no doubt already guessed, based on the foregoing:

“a VERY well known literary work (when first published and continuously since then) published AFTER Northanger Abbey, written by a VERY famous Romantic poet!”

ANSWER: That would be John Keats’s very famous poem The Eve of St. Agnes, written very shortly AFTER Northanger Abbey was published! And I can tell you that Keats’ poem not only resonates strongly to Gay’s play, it also has been linked thematically by several scholars to Northanger Abbey, PLUS it also turns out that Keats famously was very focused at that time on The Mysteries of Udolpho (in which the most tragic character, Laurentini, goes by the name Sister AGNES!).

I therefore make the additional claim that Keats very slyly but pervasively was alluding to Northanger Abbey and Udolpho (as to which Keats obviously understood the symbiotic connection created by JA) in this very famous poem of his, which, like Northanger Abbey, oscillates on the knife’s edge between the Gothic and the parody of the Gothic, exploiting that ambiguity exactly the way JA does in her novel.

So I am the first to now prove that KEATS WAS CLEARLY A JANEITE!

And, as I suggested at the top of this post, there are numerous other textual nuances and goodies which flesh out the skeleton of the above outline in the most remarkable ways which I will address in my book.


So it turns out that the shadow Mrs. Allen is, to paraphrase the Osmonds, a little bit John Gay’s Wife of Bath, a little bit Chaucer’s--she really is intended by JA to partake of both. Both of her literary ancestors are game-players, women who use disguise and chicanery to further their goals in the realm of courtship and marriage for both themselves and for the younger women they take under their wing, and BOTH of them find younger men very attractive, and are not too shy to play the “cougar” as well! That is, precisely, the shadow Mrs Allen I see in the shadow story of NA!

And now you know why I am so certain that the footnote to the scene in NA when Catherine dreams of her future husband is NOT JA’s but her brother Henry’s doing—I bet that Henry knew about the Eve of St. Agnes in JA’s novels, and did NOT want that Pandora’s Box to be opened by any clever reader, so he made a point of providing a plausible, if lame, alternative allusive source for Catherine dreaming romantically, so that people who knew about St. Agnes would be thrown OFF the scent. Samuel Johson's Rambler is NOT the passage JA was alluding to, it is Gay's play!

AND...now you also know why both NA film adaptations were SPOT ON in their depiction of Catherine’s sexual dreams, because the legend requires that the young virgin be nude in bed while she dreams about a man. This is coming straight from Jane Austen!

AND….there’s ONE MORE allusive source on the periphery of the above—Samuel Foote’s very popular play written during JA’s youth, The MAID of Bath, the title of which is a tip of the literary hat to Gay’s play, and which, while it did not take place on the Eve of St. Agnes, was a thinly veiled "comedy a clef" about Richard Brinsley Sheridan and his tragic wife, Miss Linley, which is ALSO alluded to in a host of complex ways in Northanger Abbey.

You see how complicated it all is, but also how marvelous it is--JA hid this "elephant" in plain sight in NA!

I think that’s enough for now. I will be guided by the reactions I receive, in terms of what I say further on this subject.

Cheers, ARNIE

4 comments:

Southerner said...

Arnie, what is the point of all this? What you say doesn't add to the enjoyment of reading any of Jane's novels. They are good and great enough to fascinate, intrigue, challenge and delight without all your theories, surely?Making them into a puzzle is pointless. Finding groupings of words that make a quotation from Shakespeare, so what?? If you have found Shakespearian references; Shakespeare wrote about real life and real human interactions. It wouldn't be difficult to say about any author,that they use references to Shakespeare; that they have Shakespearian characters in their book.There are only so many personality types around.

Tony

Arnie Perlstein said...

Terry, if you had bothered to read my blog, you would know the answers to all your questions, because I have addressed each of them somewhere in one of my posts during the past few monthss.

The primary question, to me, is what Jane Austen intended, not what I like, or what you like. And it is absolutely clear from all my research that Jane Austen intended to do this. I am honoring her artistry.

Maybe puzzles and hints and allusions don't float YOUR boat, but then, is YOUR reading experience the gold standard? I don't think so...

My book will be about Austen's shadow stories. My second book, I hope, will be about Shakespeare's shadow stories. If you really are curious about what I've found, you will want to read them. But I have a feeling you are not someone who would enjoy them.

Cheers,
Arnie

Nafeedah K said...

Hello Arnie :) Amazing discoveries as usual:) You just made my day by confirming that the Romantic poet you were referring to was John Keats :) Keats is my fav Romantic poet, and The Eve of St Agnes, my favourite narrative of his...( add to it that I enjoyed th wife of Bath, my fav dramatist is Shakespeare n my fav crime novelist is Agatha Christie and you can guess why your findings are of such interest to me.) One thing I don't quite get though is..Keats's letters... Why do you think there is no mention of Jane Austen in his letters if he ws a fan of her novels?... Given th scope of his letters, I would have expected some mention at least of Austen if you catch my drift... Am not challenging your position mind, but am very interested to know your reasoning:)

Am starting to believe that Austen and Keats , amongst others, formed some kind of secret circle -and thereby lies the reason for the shadow stories :P:P:P Ridiculous u'd say but... all tht intricate interconnectedness sure is mindblowing!!!


Incidentally, while doing undergrad work i once wrote about Othello and used Christie's 'Curtain' to further my analysis-let's just say that my tutor was uncomfortable with that particular bit and asked me to change that.. This is just to say that... people do not always like the classics tampered with...or traditional interpretations waylaid :) So hang on there tight and keep the discoveries going :) Cheerz:)

Arnie Perlstein said...

"Amazing discoveries as usual:)"

Nafeedah, responses like yours are part of what makes my research so much fun for me!

"add to it that I enjoyed th wife of Bath, my fav dramatist is Shakespeare n my fav crime novelist is Agatha Christie and you can guess why your findings are of such interest to me."

We're both barking up the same interesting trees! ;)

"One thing I don't quite get though is..Keats's letters... Why do you think there is no mention of Jane Austen in his letters if he ws a fan of her novels?... Given th scope of his letters, I would have expected some mention at least of Austen if you catch my drift... Am not challenging your position mind, but am very interested to know your reasoning:)"

You clearly know Keats well, and I don't--but my guess would be what you wrote, below:

"Am starting to believe that Austen and Keats , amongst others, formed some kind of secret circle -and thereby lies the reason for the shadow stories :P:P:P Ridiculous u'd say but... all tht intricate interconnectedness sure is mindblowing!!!"

It fits perfectly with all I have found. It's as if they enjoyed being part of a covert tradition based on only being fully understood by those who had earned that understanding.

"Incidentally, while doing undergrad work i once wrote about Othello and used Christie's 'Curtain' to further my analysis-let's just say that my tutor was uncomfortable with that particular bit and asked me to change that.. This is just to say that... people do not always like the classics tampered with...or traditional interpretations waylaid :)"

And Agatha CHristie surely would have laughed all the way to the bank, because SHE knew that the same novels that earned her a billion dollars were ALSO very sophisticated literary games for connoisseurs at the same time!

Cheers, ARNIE