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

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Historical allusions in Northanger Abbey

The following is my response to comments and questions (shown in quotes, below) by a couple of other participants in the Janeites group:

"I have been lurking as usual and following the posts on Janine Barchas talk at the AGM. I found it fascinating. Looking at my notes from the talk, I cannot find the source of her references to the names Tillney and Drummond being associated with Farleigh-Hungerford Castle. Did I imagine this, or were these two names in the talk?"

No, you did not imagine it, Vicky, because I remember them too, and I am 100% sure it was Barchas who mentioned them. The reason I am so sure is that in the Q&A for Barchas, I pointed out that in the presentation I'd be making the following morning, I was going to be talking ANOTHER Tilney, ANOTHER Bluebeard and ANOTHER "awful memorial" besides the ones Barchas had pointed out. Do you recall?

So this is yet another example of JA layering her covert allusions like a wedding cake. The Farley Hungerford allusion is in alignment with those I discovered and presented about.

And I also distinctly recall that Barchas mentioned a Drummond somewhere in the Farley Hungerford family tree, and I know it was not mentioned in any of the other 3 breakout sessions I attended. And by the way I recognized your name as one of the other presenters at the AGM, and I was sorry I missed yours, but I was attending my friend Christine Shih's excellent presentation on JA's borderlines during your time slot--would you be willing to give us some brief snippets from YOUR presentation in advance of publication of your article in Persuasions?.

" A Richard Warner wrote a Guide book in 1811, so that can't be the one Jane Austen knew in 1801. Susan ( previous title of NA) was begun before 1801 so we'd have to look at earlier books."

Nancy you are offbase for two important and related reasons:

First, NA was not published till in 1818 after JA's death, and it is clear for various reasons (both those discovered by others, and also those discovered by myself) that JA made changes to NA as late as 1816. So the notion that JA did not change NA after 1801 is completely wrong, and she could easily have amended NA to reflect Warner's 1811 publication.

The second reason why you are offbase is that the guide book that the Austen family owned, and that had handwritten comments in, which Barchas brought to everyone's attention, was written by a man named THORPE. Which, when you think about it, makes it all the more certain that JA was alluding to it in NA--after all, the rattle's surname in NA is not Warner, it is THORPE. So it really doesn't matter, in terms of the validity of Barchas's claim, if JA knew Warner's book or not, it's THORPE's book that matters most. Even so, my guess is that JA was VERY thorough in her research and therefore knew Thorpe's book initially, and then learned of Warner's book later. If JA was going to master the geography of Bath and its environs, she would have left no stone (or guidebook) unturned.

"Despite the apparent resemblances to actual events, everything mentioned in NA does happen in some Gothick novel or other."

And if Barchas's or my or any other historicists's evidence consisted only of isolated vague resemblances, then you would be on point. However, Barchas and I and numerous other historicists deal in CLUSTERS of very strong resemblances, including both names and circumstances, which vastly reduce the chance of random resemblances being claimed as allusions. JA made sure to give enough evidence to make sure that a thorough researcher would have strong confidence in a historical attribution. Barchas's work is a perfect example, she was so thorough that she found two dozen ways in which the Farley Hungerford allusion was embedded in NA. And I found a few more, using my own techiques of analysis of the text of NA.

"Doesn't a parody of a genre lose some of its force as a parody if it is found to "merely" recount actual events and not fictional ones? "

And if NA were truly only a Gothic parody, that question would be of concern. However, as I keep saying, in my talk at the AGM, I cited numerous scholars such as Brian Southam as background support, and then vividly illustrated in four different ways of my own discovery (from the text of NA itself, from the text of several literary works to which it alluded, from JA's own letters, and from historical sources) that NA contains an ANTI-parody, i.e., that only on the surface is NA a Gothic parody, but beneath the surface (and not very far beneath the surface) it completely undercuts the parody of the Gothic, and shows that JA was not a critic of the Gothic, only of superficial readings of the Gothic. She actually recognized the Gothic as a rich literary genre (this is one area in which Ellen and I are in complete agreement), with mythic resonances that reflected on the real lives of women in England.

And so that is why I love Barchas's findings, both about Farley Hungerford and also about Ralph Allen. They all fit perfectly with all the material I have found, and only make my claims that much stronger.

So, to answer your last question, Nancy, you've just provided further support for my claim, because indeed JA undercuts the apparent parody of the Gothic genre in numerous ways, and you've just added one more to a long list. That is precisely the point--Henry Tilney's rant about living in a Christian country is ironic precisely because horrors did occur IN ENGLAND, within the ordinary English family---that's what I keep saying, and not just about NA--Sir Thomas is another General Tilney, another domestic Montoni, except Sir Thomas's horribleness is half-masked, whereas General Tilney's not masked at all. Both represent the Man (and Husband) of Power in England, and neither is a pretty picture.

Cheers, ARNIE

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