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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Aunt Leigh Perrot as Mrs. Allen, Mrs. Tilney AND General Tilney

As I was just delving deeper into Mrs. Allen as a representation of Aunt Leigh Perrot in NA, I realized that Aunt Leigh Perrot was actually a kind of allusive "ghost" who "haunts" not only Mrs. Allen, but also BOTH General and Mrs. Tilney, as well as the Wife of Bath!

I've already pointed out that:

Mrs. Allen is obsessed with clothing, and dearly loves a bargain; Aunt LP is obsessed with clothing in a different way--as a kleptomaniac.

Mrs. Allen and Aunt are both rich and childless, and people expect each of them to bequeath wealth to the "heroine" (i.e., Catherine in the novel, the Austen family in real life)

Mrs. Allen chaperones Catherine in Bath; I think I am correct in recalling that it is widely believed that Aunt LP chaperoned JA around Bath when JA was about 23.

But now read Henry Tilney's famous speech as a farcical sendup of the trial of Aunt Leigh Perrot!:

‘“If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to — Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”’ They had reached the end of the gallery, and with tears of shame she ran off to her own room.”

I was ROFL reading that passage in this way, it is something straight out of the Daily Show or Colbert, comic exaggeration. And I think that JA was not only mocking her Aunt, she was simultaneously mocking the absurdity of a legal system that could hang someone for petty theft like this, or deport someone to Australia for 14 years. In effect, theft was treated as if it were murder!

There are other clever wrinkles in this same vein:

Catherine imagines Mrs. Tilney imprisoned by her husband somewhere in the Abbey; Aunt LP WAS forcibly "confined" to live with the gaoler for an extended period, until her acquittal at the trial.

Catherine imagines General Tilney guilty of a serious crime, and is castigated by Henry, who asks Catherine to imagine if such a thing is "probable"
in England; the authorities imagined Aunt LP guilty of a serious (at least in terms of punishment) crime, and she is acquitted after the Judge asks the Jury to imagine if it is "probable" that such a rich woman would shoplift a petty item.

Henry tells Catherine that General Tilney grieved for his wife; Uncle Leigh Perrot lived with his wife in the gaoler's house!

Henry refers to supposedly trustworthy figures as "voluntary spies"--Uncle Leigh Perrot hired a small army of character witnesses to defend his wife's character, and it worked.

Catherine is obsessed with Udolpho, and in particular with the "black veil"; Aunt LP was accused of stealing "black lace".


How clever of JA, to layer in these veiled allusions to Aunt LP--and no wonder Henry AUSTEN took such pains to prevent anybody from noticing these veiled allusions. The subtitle of Northanger Abbey could very justly have been "The Shadow story of Jane Leigh-Perrot"!

Cheers, ARNIE

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