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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Mysterious Footnote in Northanger Abbey (and its connection to my Freudian slip of several days ago)

This post is apropos my discussion earlier today with Christy about whether the footnote in Northanger Abbey---the ONE AND ONLY footnote in ALL of JA's six published novels (at least as far as I can recollect at this moment)---was (as Christy argued) inserted by JA into her own manuscript, or whether (as I claimed) Henry Austen put inserted it after her death, when she was no longer around to object.

An ADDITIONAL explanation just occurred to me for why Henry Austen might not merely have been trying to put the kibosh GENERALLY on any embarrassing roman a clef aspects of JA's novels, but might have had very SPECIFIC and POWERFUL motivation for adding THAT footnote to THAT particular passage in NA. I.e., I believe that Henry Austen wanted to stay on the good side of the wealthy widow his Aunt Leigh-Perrot, who was still very much alive and kicking in 1818 when NA was published, two years after her husband's death--a wealthy widow who had lots of largesse to bestow, including the estate at Scarlets (which sounds, semantically, suspiciously like Rosings).

I've just made a case, over the last week, that the connection of Mrs. Allen with the Wife of Bath, is itself connected to the real life Aunt Leigh Perrot. And even though Mr. Bennet advises Mr. Collins near the end of P&P NOT to count on Lady Catherine (the owner of Rosings, whop has been seen by some Janeites in addition to myself as a representation of Aunt Leigh-Perrot) being generous to him, perhaps Henry Austen decided to count on his real life "Lady Catherine" nonetheless.

The Henry Austen of 1818, who had become a clergyman a few years earlier, to my mind bears an eerily disturbing resemblance to Mr. Collins, in the way that Henry Austen, in the most obsequious and dishonest way, sucked up to the relevant powers that be in 1819, maneuvering to glom the Cubbington living after (if memory serves me right) the death of brother James, holder of that living for 27 years. So I see Henry Austen as being the kind of guy who would be very concerned that someone might tell his rich Aunt that she was being lampooned in NA, which Jane wrote but WHICH HENRY WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR GETTING PUBLISHED!!! The buck would stop with him, and he was not going to allow THAT to happen!

So I now see Henry's repeated claims in the Biographical Notice that Jane never wrote about REAL people, no, no, no...and also that footnote pointing to a specific Rambler issue written by Samuel Johnson which does not in any way connect that passage in any way to Mrs. Allen or Aunt Leigh Perrot....and finally also Henry's taking pains to mention specifically how much Jane LOVED Samuel Johnson (although I think JA covertly lampooned Samuel Johnson, too, as I will explain in my book!), all as a coordinated and desperate attempt to prevent the publication of NA from tanking his (and perhaps also his surviving siblings') chances to inherit one day from Aunt Leigh Perrot (who in 1818 was already 74, and could be expected to be not long for this world). How could Henry have foreseen that she would live eighteen more years, till the ridiculously old age of 92! As Fanny Dashwood suggests to her husband, some people are just so greedy that they will refuse to die when they're supposed to!

So maybe, Christy, apropos your sense of CEA as not ever being willing to be part of a decision against Jane, perhaps CEA was able to rationalize not objecting to Henry's inserting that "harmless" little footnote, because she believed it was for the greater good of the Austen family, and what did it matter, because almost no reader would be clever enough to spot the allusion to their Aunt anyway!

And of course, ironically, it was all for naught, because the ultimate winner of the Leigh-Perrot inheritance jackpot was not one of the surviving Austen siblings, but was James Edward Austen Leigh---who returned the favor to his aunt by EXPANDING on Henry's claims, four decades earlier, that JA did not allude to real people, no, no, no, and also sucking up to his great-aunt's grandeur in the most smarmy way in the Memoir.

And I finish by pointing out that this all connects to my Freudian slip several days ago, when I meant to write Henry Austen but wrote Henry Tilney instead--what perhaps was lurking in the back of my mind was the disturbing sense that perhaps the interaction between Henry Tilney and Mrs. Allen in NA was in some way a depiction of real life interaction at some point along the way between Henry AUSTEN and Aunt Leigh Perrot! That would be one final reason for Henry to want to prevent anyone from ever looking beneath the surface at the character of Mrs. Allen--so he, like his namesake Henry Tilney at the Abbey, protests way too much, thereby inadvertently revealing the truth of the Austen family secrets he seeks to deny.......

Cheers, ARNIE

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